How can you tell whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter? That’s a good question. The answer can change which bulking lifts you build your routine around, which workout program you pick, how quickly you should gain weight while bulking, and how quickly you can add weight to the bar.
So in this article, we’ll go over the common ways of determining your lifting level. Then we’ll demonstrate why some of those methods are flawed. And then we’ll cover a more useful way of doing it.Dive In
A common issue with us skinny guys is that we develop a bony upper back that caves in on itself. Part of that is due to being skinny, so we’ll cover how to bulk up the upper-back muscles. And part of that is due to having poor upper-back posture (kyphosis in the t-spine), which is incredibly common with ectomorphs, given our longer spines and smaller muscles.
The good news is that both of these issues are the same issue. You can think of posture as simply being weakness in the muscles that are supposed to hold your body in the proper position. So if we can bulk up your upper back muscles, we can also simultaneously improve your posture. The trick is to make sure that you’re engaging all of the relevant muscles, including the prime movers and the stabilizer muscles in both your upper back and your core.
So in this article, we’ll teach you how to bulk up your upper back and improve your posture while you’re at it.Dive In
Sugar is often criticized for causing weight gain. It’s technically a calorie surplus that causes the weight gain. But sugar can certainly make it easier to get into a calorie surplus, and so increasing our sugar intake can indeed lead to weight gain.
What if we’re trying to gain weight? For a lot of us hardgainers, the idea of sugar causing accidental weight gain sounds like a potential benefit, and it can be. In fact, when Marco first started helping me bulk up, one of the first things he did was have me add some sugar (dextrose) into my workout shakes. It’s a common trick that strength coaches use with high-level athletes to help them get into a calorie surplus. Marco cut his teeth by helping college, professional, and Olympic athletes build muscle, so it was the first thing he thought of when I told him that I was having trouble gaining weight.
Look at drinks like Gatorade, designed for the Gators from the University of Florida to keep them fueled up while playing sports. It’s full of sugar. Or look at the recovery drinks we see at the supplement stores. Again, full of sugar (or starch). The same is true with weight gainers. Their main ingredient is usually either maltodextrin or dextrose—both of which are quickly broken down into sugar as soon as we drink them. Sugar is the main ingredient in bulking supplements and sports drinks.
In the general public, though, most skinny guys take the opposite approach. They’ve heard that processed sugar will raise our blood sugar levels and can lead to various health issues, including, of course, fat gain. So when they start bulking up, they intentionally try to reduce their intake of processed sugar. Now, there’s certainly no problem with that, and most health experts recommend keeping our sugar intake quite low anyway—often limiting sugar to 25% of our total calories but sometimes as low as 10% of our total calories (study).
However, the idea of limiting our sugar intake to 25% of our calories is based on the idea that eating more processed sugar can lead to nutrient deficiencies. If we eat more candy, that can mean eating fewer fruits and veggies. But that’s not all that relevant to us skinny guys who are intentionally driving ourselves into a calorie surplus to build muscle. It’s especially irrelevant if we’re getting that added sugar from sources that are rich in micronutrients, such as from fruit, fruit juice, honey, and milk. In that case, even though our sugar intake would be increasing, we’d be consuming more micronutrients.
Furthermore, sugar has a different impact on skinny guys who are underweight and exercising than it does on people who are overweight and sedentary. We don’t have the same issues controlling our blood sugar levels, removing most of the downsides to our general health. And, when combined with a good lifting routine, raising our intakes of sugar can lead to leaner muscle gains than increasing our intakes of fat.
So, what effect does sugar have on skinny guys as we bulk up? How much added sugar is helpful. How much is harmful? And how can we make it easier to bulk up quickly and leanly?
Cardio causes a different type of adaptation from hypertrophy training. Instead of stimulating muscle growth, cardio causes us to develop more blood vessels, gain additional mitochondria in our cells, and it even increases the size of our hearts. Make no mistake, these are all great adaptations. But they aren’t muscle gains.
If you want to increase the size of your muscles, no amount of cardio will help. Cardio simply doesn’t stimulate any muscle growth. So if we’re trying to build muscle, we need to focus on hypertrophy training, which is usually done by lifting weights.
But what if we lift weights and do cardio? Most people know that cardio doesn’t stimulate muscle growth, so this article is written for skinny guys who are considering lifting weights and doing cardio.
Doing both hypertrophy training and cardio causes us to adapt in two separate, competing ways. We get something called an interference effect, which can reduce muscle growth. That’s what people say, anyway. Is that true?
Things get even more confusing because we’re naturally skinny “ectomorphs.” The more cardio we do, the more calories we’ll burn, and the more calories we’ll need to eat. For us, even just thinking about cardio burns too many calories. If you think that’s bad, though, imagine needing to write about it. I can already feel my metabolism rising. I’m going to have to eat so much trail mix after this.Let’s Dive In
Bulking on a plant-based diet can work very well, with vegans building just as much muscle as anyone else. In fact, vegans already tend to be one step ahead of the general population when it comes to their health, especially if they eat a proper plant-based diet, and especially if they exercise (study). Vegan diets can lend themselves quite well to building muscle, too, given that the best bodybuilding diets are made up mostly of plants: fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes (study).
So bulking on a plant-based diet can absolutely be done, it doesn’t need to be difficult, and you won’t necessarily be at any disadvantage whatsoever. However, it still really helps to know what you’re doing.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- The general principles of building muscle as a vegan.
- Considerations for pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans.
- What does a fully plant-based bodybuilding diet look like?
- What muscle-building supplements should vegans take?
- How to gain weight more easily on a plant-based diet.
Bodyweight exercises can certainly stimulate muscle growth. There’s a lot that can stimulate muscle growth, though, ranging in intensity from resistance bands all the way to heavy barbell strength training. In fact, there’s even research showing that simply flexing your muscles can stimulate a bit of muscle growth (study).
But the question isn’t whether bodyweight exercises can stimulate any muscle growth, the question is whether they’re any good at stimulating muscle growth.
- How do bodyweight exercises compare against lifting weights for building muscle?
- Is bodyweight training a good way for a beginner to ease into bulking?
- How do push-ups compare to the bench press for building muscle?
- What advantages are there to bodyweight training?
- What are the disadvantages of bodyweight training?
Keto has been used as a weight-loss diet for over 200 years now. For example, in the 1970s, it saw a surge in popularity because of the Atkins Diet, which started with a strict ketogenic phase. But the fact that keto has a long history of helping people lose weight doesn’t tell us much about using keto to build muscle. Are there any advantages to doing keto when gaining muscle mass, gaining weight, and getting bigger?Dive in
Is strength training good for building muscle? Some of the most popular programs that skinny guys use to bulk up, such as StrongLifts 5×5 and Starting Strength, are designed for gaining strength. But what if we’re trying to become bigger and stronger? Are strength training programs good for building muscle?
If we look at a recent study comparing low-rep training strength training against moderate-rep hypertrophy training, we see that hypertrophy training stimulates more than twice as much muscle growth per set. Does that show that hypertrophy training is better for building muscle?
There’s new research coming out showing that doing metabolic training in higher rep ranges increases muscle growth by increasing the amount of fuel in our muscles—sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Lower-rep training is thought to stimulate muscle growth via myofibrillar hypertrophy. Does that mean that strength training builds harder, denser muscles?
Are the big three powerlifting lifts—the back squat, the bench press, and the deadlift—the best lifts for building muscle? And how crucial are isolation lifts when bulking up?
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.