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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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 it for muscle gain? What if do it while bulking? How will it affect our muscle growth and fat gain? After all, intermittent fasting raises growth hormone production, which purportedly helps with muscle growth; it increases insulin sensitivity, which could help make your muscle gains leaner; and research shows that intermittent fasting may help preserve muscle when losing weight. This could theoretically make intermittent fasting a good bulking diet… right?

On the other hand, most athletes gain their muscle mass and strength by eating several meals per day. The classic bodybuilders with the most famous physiques in history were famous for eating frequently—every few hours. And that’s true of modern natural bodybuilders, too. They eat more meals than the average person Why is that? Is eating more meals per day better for building muscle?

Finally, us 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 to eat enough calories to gain weight?

So, should we use intermittent fasting for gaining muscle?

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

As a skinny guy, it can be hard to figure out what your body-fat percentage is. Here’s why: 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, and he could stand to lose some fat.

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 22% body fat…

Huh? 22%? That’s not the end of the world, but you’re slightly outside of the healthy body-fat percentage range. You’re skinny-fat, you might say. And so you might want to start with a cut before bulking.

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 be bulking or cutting. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%. Totally useless.

So in this article, we cover why your body-fat percentage matters even as a so-called “ectomorph,” how to measure it properly, and then we’ll run through some real-life examples (with pictures) so that you have a better idea of how to judge your leanness at a glance.

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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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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 be 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.

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We’ve got a new guest post for you guys. This one from a naturally skinny science communicator who reads a lot. You might think some of his points are controversial, and we’d love to hear what you think. We think his perspective on dealing with body image issues as a skinny guy is incredibly thought provoking in the best way. Without further ado, Will Chou:

Recently, I met with some old friends for a reunion lunch. As we walked out of the restaurant, the conversation turned to what I looked like when I was young. Two of the guys mentioned that I was not just skinny: I was bony and scrawny. One of them even emphasized it with his tone like it was a huge deal.

They weren’t being mean; they were just giving me some constructive honesty. Having said that, I was still very surprised because I didn’t think I was that weak. But it turns out, that’s how they viewed me.

For 80% of my life, I have found myself in frequent situations where I was left out. I had focused on school and struggled with any weight training programs, so I was as skinny as they get.

The worst parts of my day was lunch. My school had a huge, noisy cafeteria with hundreds of people in it. And as you got to higher grade levels, you got to sit in more exclusive areas. The seniors had their own VIP area with its own curtain. But when I was a senior, I still sat alone in the freshmen section.

Sitting there alone for half an hour while everyone around you chatted away creates a constant reminder of isolation. I felt horrible because every few seconds, I was reminded that I was left out. You can’t help but wonder why. Was it because I was Asian? Socially unskilled? Skinny?

If you have ever felt insecure or excluded, you are not alone. Body image is a constant problem in modern society.

But my story doesn’t end there. Your past doesn’t have to destroy your future. Nowadays, I am healthier physically and mentally than I have ever been. You can become secure with yourself no matter where you are in your progression. You can and should change your self-esteem so that you stay resilient no matter how you look. You can and must change your perceptions about the world so that you develop good mental health for your own success in life.

I’m going to share with you some cool science-backed advice on how to have badass self-esteem. First, let’s tackle a big myth about “looks being superficial”…

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Couple quick questions.

Are you satisfied with how much muscle you’ve built?

If not… do you know what to do? I mean the basics: Eat 1g of protein per pound bodyweight, get into a calorie surplus, lift weights, and sleep. That kind of thing. Know them inside and out? Rad.

But if you know the basics and you’re not satisfied with what you’ve built so far, what’s going on?

How is it possible to not be where you want to be when you know everything?

I’m not asking these questions to be mean, or a downer. I’m asking because I really want to see you reach your potential.

I’m asking because I want to see if I can wake you up. Is it possible that there’s a gap between intellectual knowing something and actually doing it?

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