One of the biggest obstacles to transform our bodies might not be in our genes. It’s not about being skinny. It’s not about being ectomorphs. Many times, what holds us back are our beliefs. We want to change our bodies, but… how can we get started on a new journey when—deep inside—we believe we won’t make it?
We say we want to gain weight and put on muscle, but part of us holds back. Otherwise, we should have already solved this, right? If you are still struggling with being skinny, chances are you need to take a look at your mindset.
In fact, if you can adopt the right mindset, it won’t just change your psychology, it will also change your physiology. It will improve the rate that you build muscle through a process akin to the placebo effect, where simply believing that you can grow will physically increase the rate that you’re able to gain muscle.
How much muscle and strength can an ectomorph gain? There’s plenty of research looking into rates of muscle and strength gain. But what if you’re a naturally skinny guy? Are there different strength standards for ectomorphs?
Ectomorphs do start off with less muscle mass, but what effect does that have on how quickly we can grow? Do we have an extended period of newbie gains, allowing us to gain muscle and strength more quickly? Or does having less muscle mass indicate that our genetics are poor, causing us to build muscle more slowly?
We do have thinner bones and narrower frames. We tend to start off weaker. Is that going to limit how strong we can become? Or can we still expect to become as strong as any other lifter?
In this article, we’ll go over two main questions from an ectomorph’s perspective:
- How much muscle can an ectomorph gain in his first year? Most guys can expect to gain around twenty pounds of muscle during their first year of lifting weights. How does that change for an ectomorph?
- How strong can an ectomorph get after a year of lifting weights? With a good workout routine, most guys are able to bench press 225lbs (100kg), squat 315lbs (140kg), and deadlift 405lbs (180kg). Are these numbers realistic for an ectomorph?
- What’s an ectomorphs lifetime muscular genetic potential? If we lift for a lifetime, how big can we hope to get?
- How strong can an ectomorph get with a lifetime of serious training? If we develop our muscles to their full potential, how strong can we hope to become?
Let’s dive in.
When I first started lifting weights, I was absolutely crippled by muscle soreness. People cringed when they saw me try to sit in a chair. I loved it. I was sick and tired of being skinny, and I thought the muscle soreness was a sign that my muscles were growing. But was that crippling muscle soreness a good thing?
A couple of months later, my soreness had faded away to almost nothing. I could sit down in a chair without everyone in the room grimacing. I could even hold myself upright in it. I started to feel less like a burning puddle of oil, more like a human being. It was awful.
My gains had started to slow down as well, and I was convinced that my waning muscle growth was connected to my fading muscle soreness. Was my fading muscle soreness causing my plateau?
Muscle soreness is intimately connected to muscle growth, but most of us have no idea how it works, making the whole process that much more confusing. So in this article let’s go over a few of the more common muscle soreness questions that we get:
- Should you work out if you’re still feeling sore?
- What’s the link between muscle soreness and muscle growth?
- Can muscle soreness interfere with muscle growth?
- What can you do to reduce muscle soreness?
- Can you build muscle without becoming sore?
- What if a specific muscle isn’t getting sore?
- What if your joints or tendons are getting store?
- What if your lower back is sore?
Inflammation is an odd beast. We’ve been getting some questions about it in the community, but most members are approaching it dead backwards. I don’t blame them—it’s totally counterintuitive.
I mean, inflammation is bad… right? Unhealthy foods cause inflammation, and if we eat too many of them, we can wind up chronically inflamed. Healthy bulking foods, on the the other hand, are rich in antioxidants, and if we eat enough of them, it reduces our baseline inflammation.
Similarly, being obese can cause inflammation, and is linked with higher risks of morbidity. Being lean, however, reduces inflammation and is linked with improved long-term health.
We’re interested in building muscle, though, and lifting weights causes inflammation. In fact, lifting weights causes a lot of inflammation. So much so that lifting may become your main source of inflammation.
And inflammation is bad… right?
In this article we’ll discuss why inflammation exists and what role it plays in building muscle. Once we have the general principles down, we’ll cover common questions, such as:
- Is inflammation good or bad?
- Should we try to reduce inflammation?
- Are antioxidants good for muscle growth?
- Do Advil, Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs affect muscle growth?
- Do post-workout saunas boost muscle growth?
- Are ice baths good for building muscle?
- How can you fix inflamed forearms (tendonitis)?
- What about shoulder pain and inflammation (shoulder impingement)?
To close off 2018 and kick off 2019, let’s take a closer look at the most important bulking research that was published last year, including studies looking into:
- How important are bicep curls for big arms?
- Does muscle memory really exist?
- How long should you rest between sets?
- What happens if you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
- Are high-protein diets healthy?
- Does casein before bed speed up muscle growth?
- Are 5×5 routines good for building muscle?
That last one, wow. It’s not just a single study, it’s a massive meta-analysis looking into every single study published on the topic. It’s not a total surprise given the research that has been trickling out over the years, but seeing them all together in one place like this—wow.
Anyway, all of those answers and more inside.
Our chest muscles are some of the largest and most powerful muscles in our bodies. Unfortunately, our pecs are also notoriously difficult to grow. In fact, if you’re a naturally skinny guy with either narrow shoulders or a shallow ribcage, bulking up your chest can seem downright impossible.
Fortunately, there are some lifts that can reliably stimulate even the most stubborn chest. And there are other lifts that are good for bringing up a lagging upper, middle, or lower chest. Some are heavy compound lifts; others are light isolation lifts. If you want the best results, we recommend using a mix of all of them.
By the end of this article, you should know exactly how to grow your lagging chest.Dive In
Once upon a time, I was 23 years old and 130 pounds at 6 feet tall. I was dangerously skinny and clinically underweight, with a BMI of 17.6. I stood hunchbacked from all my time spent hunched over my desk studying graphic design. I was not a beacon of health.
My roommate and business partner, Shane, was in a similar situation, so we made a pact to change our skinny ways. We called it Muscle May and spent much of April preparing for it. But even before I started lifting weights or eating more food, my body was already transforming.
In preparation for the start of Muscle May, I had started taking creatine monohydrate a week early. I wanted to load up on creatine beforehand so that my levels were optimized for my first workout in the gym.
I would mix in 5 grams of Allmax Creatine into blueberry Fruitopia juice. The creatine was grainy at the bottom of the dark purple juice, but it was tasteless. Unless you count taking some multivitamins as a kid, it was the first supplement I ever took.
Every morning I’d faithfully drink my grainy purple drink. And by the end of the week…
I had gained 8 pounds. I hadn’t even started working out. I hadn’t changed what I was eating. And I had gained 8 pounds of totally lean weight. I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy.
If you’re a skinny guy and you’ve struggled to gain weight, this might sound incredible—maybe even unbelievable—but this is a common “side-effect” of creatine. It draws more water and sugar (glycogen) into your muscles, making them look bigger and fuller, giving them extra strength and endurance, and, in my case, adding 8 pounds to the scale.
This initial success with creatine is what set the stage for our transformations. In our four-month experiment, I had gained over 30 pounds. Shane gained 25. We had such extreme results that random people on BodyBuilding.com were commenting that our transformations were either photoshopped or that we were using steroids. Neither of which was true. Oh boy.
Obviously eating a bulking diet and lifting weights were the keys to building rapid amounts of muscle (see our how-to article about gaining weight here), but creatine played a meaningful supporting role.
So, what exactly is creatine? How can it help build muscle easier—faster? How much does it improve our strength and muscle-building potential? Perhaps the skeptic in your head says that anything this effective and this cheap must ultimately be bad for us, right? Is that true? And if you do decide to try it, how exactly should you take it?
Have you ever wondered if intermittent fasting was good for bulking? After all, it helps you produce more growth hormone, which purportedly helps with muscle growth; it increases increase in insulin sensitivity, which could help make your gains leaner; and research shows that it helps preserve muscle when losing weight. This could theoretically make intermittent fasting a good bulking diet… right?
On the other hand, most bodybuilders bulked up by doing the exact opposite of intermittent fasting. The guys with the most famous physiques in history all ate at least a few meals per day. Why?
Furthermore, we skinny guys are notorious for having tiny stomachs, raging metabolisms and small appetites—all of which make bulking up way harder. Will intermittent fasting work for our skinny “ectomorph” body type?
There are good arguments to be made for and against intermittent fasting. In this article, we’ll go over the muscle-building advantages and disadvantages of intermittent fasting, then take a look at some studies that compared it against a traditional bulking diet. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if it’s a good approach for you while bulking.
Did you know that being skinny means you can’t use the normal way of measuring your body-fat percentage? Or that being just a little bit too skinny-fat might sabotage your ability to build muscle leanly? Or that most body-fat percentage charts are ruined by a fatal flaw?
In this article, we cover why your body-fat percentage matters even as an ectomorph, how to measure it properly, and then we’ll run through some real-life examples (with pictures) so that you’ll know exactly what to do next.
But first, let me show you just how ridiculous this can be for skinny guys. Let’s take a totally average guy in this study. He goes to get a DEXA scan, and he’s told that he has a body-fat percentage of 20%. Then he goes to sit in the BodPod, which puts him at 22%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident that he’s between 20–22%. Moreover, both of those body-fat percentages have the same implication for his health and appearance: he’s a decently healthy guy who looks a bit out of shape.
The overweight guy goes in next. DEXA puts him at 34%. BodPod puts him at 32%. Now it’s DEXA that’s estimating high, but the discrepancy is still just 2%. Again, not a big difference at all. He’s overweight either way.
Now you walk in. DEXA puts you at 9%. Amazing! Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. Next, you get your BodPod done. It tells you you’re 16% body fat…
Huh? 16% is a high enough body-fat percentage that you shouldn’t even be bulking at all yet. You should be cutting.
You’ve spent a few hundred dollars and an entire day getting two of the most accurate body-fat percentage tests in the world, and you can’t even tell if you should start bulking or not. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%. Totally useless.
So what should you do?
…and wait a second. Why shouldn’t you bulk if you’re 16% body fat?
Being a man is about being a good person, and part of being a good person is knowing how to fit into society. Demonstrating that social savvy will make you more attractive to women, earn you more respect with other men, and make frailer people feel safer around your strength instead of threatened by it.
As you gain more strength, that last point becomes more important.
There are a few things we can do. Being polite, knowing when to smile, improving our posture, and knowing what to wear.
Even by just fixing up our style, we can start living better almost instantly.
Then as we build muscle, we look better in clothes, yes, but new challenges are introduced. Having a butt means switching to a whole different cut of jeans. If you don’t, you’ll blow out the crotch.
Building up bigger shoulder muscles will bring you up a shirt size, but that bigger shirt will be enormous around your still-slim waist.
So now that you’ve bulked up and you need to buy new clothes anyway, let’s see if we can help you do it right.