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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. What’s an ectomorphs lifetime muscular genetic potential? If we lift for a lifetime, how big can we hope to get?
  4. 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.

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Should you lift while sore? Is it bad not to feel sore after a workout? Is soreness in your lower back normal?

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?
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Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

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.

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?

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The best chest exercises for mass

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
What is creatine? How do you take it? What side effects does creatine have? Can creatine cause balding? Stomach aches after taking creatine?

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?

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Illustration showing a 16:8 intermittent fasting meal schedule (with no breakfast).

Intermittent fasting is a common technique that people use to lose weight. But what happens if we use intermittent fasting while bulking—while gaining weight? Will it affect our muscle growth or fat gain? After all, intermittent fasting raises growth hormone production, which purportedly helps with muscle growth; it increases increase in insulin sensitivity, which could help make your gains leaner; and research shows that intermittent fasting can help preserve muscle when losing weight. This could theoretically make intermittent fasting a good bulking diet… right?

On the other hand, most bodybuilders bulk 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. That’s true of modern natural bodybuilders, too. Why is that? Is eating more meals per day better for building muscle?

Furthermore, we skinny guys are notorious for having tiny stomachs, raging metabolisms and small appetites—all of which can make bulking up much harder. Does intermittent fasting make it harder for hardgainers to eat enough calories to gain weight?

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How to know your bodyfat percentage using the mirror as a skinny or skinny-fat guy

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 much over 16% body fat?

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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.

But for us ectomorphs, things are not quite so simple. We’ve got a rarer body type, and it can be hard to find clothes that fit and flatter us.

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.

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Shane, Marco and I all built muscle. But our reasons for building that muscle in the first place couldn’t have been more different.

For Marco, as a teenager, his initial reason for getting into lifting was that he wanted girls to like him and he was dealing with injuries from sports. For Shane, he wanted to feel like a protector, instead of shyly taking jokes about being the one protected.

For me, at 23 years old, building muscle (45+ pounds) wasn’t even on my radar.

But pain was.

More specifically, my tendonitis—chronic tendonitis—or the newly coined term, tendinosis…. whatever name you’re familiar with. Well, my heavy computer use was keeping me up at night and kept me worried about work.

Long story short, I had tendinosis in my right arm by the time I was 18 years old. Shortly thereafter I became ambidextrous to continue to support my heavy computer use. I was spending all day on the computer building and running websites. It wasn’t long until I had tendinosis in my left arm. My physiotherapist said she had never seen tendinosis in someone so young, let alone someone who was suffering in both arms.

Whatever you believe about destiny, materialist chance, or providence—I feel so incredibly blessed to have been to be connected to Shane with his passion for bodybuilding, and his connection to Marco with his passion for helping people reach their full potential with athleticism and fix their injuries.

Because of lifting and eating well, I no longer deal with crippling tendonsis. It is a non-problem for me.

With this huge burden removed, I’ve come to discover some of the less talked about benefits of lifting weights that I didn’t know about when I was skinny. And my own hope would be that perhaps this article could play a minuscule part of passing these same blessings I experience onto you in your own story.

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Illustration of a man getting his shoulders measured.

Is it possible for a skinny guy to build broader shoulders? If you’re a naturally thin “ectomorph,” chances are you have a thinner bone structure, which often includes having narrower shoulders. Perhaps that’s why you’re interested in finding out if you can build broader shoulders.

Wanting to build broader shoulders isn’t unique to us skinny guys. Lots of men are trying to make their shoulders broader. Lots of those men succeed. However, for those of us with shorter collarbones, the path there can see a little different.

Inside we’ll discuss why so many guys want bigger, broader shoulders, what we can control and what we can’t, and then we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to help you add a few inches to your shoulder circumference.

Interested?

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