Illustration of a skinny hardgainer with an ectomorph body type.

Most of us ectomorphs describe ourselves as being naturally skinny and we tend to have a hard time gaining weight. More specifically, though, ectomorphs are usually defined by having narrower shoulders, lankier longer limbs, thinner bones, and a lower body-fat percentage. Being an ectomorph is also associated with having a higher metabolism and a smaller stomach.

If you’re curious about whether you’re an ectomorph or not, there are a few simple tests that you can do. All you need to do is measure the width of your frame, the thickness of your wrists, and the length of your muscle bellies. You can do it at home in just a couple of minutes.

We’ll also cover how the various ectomorph traits affect our ability to build muscle, what our genetic muscular potential is, and how we should approach bulking up.

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Illustration of a naturally skinny guy building bigger abs.

Why do some skinny guys with a low body-fat percentage not have visible abs? After all, for the average guy, getting abs simply requires getting lean. But what if you’re already lean and you still don’t have abs?

If you try to search for information about how to get abs, there are two types of advice that you’ll probably come across, neither of which apply to skinny guys:

  1. Abs are built in the kitchen, not the gym. Yes, most men get abs by dieting down to a lower body-fat percentage. That’s because most men are overweight, and most overweight men already have large ab muscles. After all, when someone gains weight, at least 33% of that weight is going to be muscle. Plus, the heavier someone is, the bigger their ab muscles will need to grow in order to support that extra weight. Overweight guys already have big abs. Skinny guys do not.
  2. Abs are built with high-rep ab routines—crunches, sit-ups, and so on. The most popular ab routines are high-rep circuits that are brutally painful but aren’t effective at stimulating muscle growth. Doing high rep crunches to build bigger abs is like running a marathon to build bigger legs. High-rep circuits are designed for improving endurance and blood flow, not for gaining muscle size. Yes, you’ll see guys with great abs doing these routines. However, that’s not how they built their abs, it’s just something they do because they like their abs.

Neither of these pieces of advice work for skinny guys. After all, our problem is that our abs are too small. We need to build bigger ab muscles.

We need a bulking routine for our abs.

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Seven years ago, we published an article titled Ectomorph Aesthetics: The Science of Building an Attractive, Aesthetic Physique, covering everything you should know about why women find certain physiques more attractive than others.

However, although we covered what was attractive, we didn’t go into how to become attractive. To help remedy that, I made an infographic explaining the four steps you’ll want to follow in order to build a more attractive physique.

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I spent almost 10 years of my life trying and failing to gain weight. In fact, when I tried to bulk up, I would often lose weight. And whenever I did gain a few pounds, I’d get a cold or take a break, and the weight would melt right off. I’d wind up right back where I started.

I didn’t understand why it was so damn hard for me to gain weight. Was it because I had an ectomorph body type? Could it really be that simple? But if that were the case, how come so many ectomorphs are able to bulk up? How was I different? Was I a hardgainer? Was I non-responder to weightlifting?

Other people would see me struggling to gain weight and they’d figure I just I wasn’t eating enough calories. They’d tell me to “just eat more.” Then they’d look at me like they’d just solved all of my problems, totally confident they’d given me the information I’d been missing all my life.

I had been skinny all of my life, though. “Just eat more” wasn’t new advice. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t tried to eat more. Of course I had. I’d been trying to gain weight my entire life.

I get it. That advice would work fine for most people. After all, gaining weight is second nature for most people. If you tell the average dude to eat more, he’d be able to. Hell, he’d probably even like it.

So the assumption is that no matter how fast our metabolisms are, and no matter how small our stomachs are, we’re just supposed to tough it. We’re supposed to force-feed ourselves. But after grinding out a brutal bulking diet for a few weeks, feeling bloated and tired the whole way through, we’ll inevitably give up. It’s just not a sustainable diet.

So at that point, most of us blame our ectomorph genetics, thinking that we’re doomed to stay skinny forever. But some ectomorphs do it. Some skinny guys are able to bulk up. What’s their secret?

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why is it so hard for ectomorphs to gain weight?
  • What’s the best ectomorph bulking diet?
  • What type of exercise should ectomorphs do to bulk up?
  • How quickly can skinny guys build muscle?
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Illustration of a man on vacation with a woman in a bikini

Imagine being in the midst of a bulking routine, and things are going super well—you’re gaining weight on the scale each week, steadily building muscle. But then, lo and behold, disaster strikes. And not just a run of the mill muscle disaster, like running out of trail mix, but the worst kind of disaster imaginable: a vacation.

And I’m not talking about one of those cushy vacations at a resort that includes a gym, I’m talking about one of those vacations where we’re forced to stop lifting weights entirely. 

For many of us, even just the thought of taking a break from our workout routines gets our hearts racing, our minds spiralling down into the depths of pure terror. Unfortunately, I’ve been there too. I know what you’re thinking:

In desperation, you might start googling around to learn more, but since only 3% of the population is trying to gain weight, good luck trying to find an article for people who are worried about losing weight when they stop working out.

So what do you do? Cancel your vacation? Do bodyweight workouts? Or take a break from lifting?

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One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What exercise is best to grow my small chest (or arms, shoulders, abs, etc)?” It’s a surprisingly large question. Yes, some exercises tend to be better for activating certain muscle groups, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  • Effectiveness: how well they build the target muscle groups
  • Efficiency: how many different muscles they bulk up at once
  • Learning curve: How easy they are to learn and master
  • Risk-to-reward ratio: How likely they are to strengthen versus injure us

So we’ve put together a guide showing you the best exercises for each muscle group. These exercises represent your best chance of safely building muscle as rapidly as possible for your experience level.

Dive in
Illustration of a skinny-fat guy holding his stomach.

Skinny-fat is when you’ve got a body-fat percentage of over 20% but still look skinny in a t-shirt. It’s when you’ve got skinny arms but still have fat around your belly. Why does that happen? Why are you gaining fat instead of muscle when you gain weight? And why are you losing muscle instead of fat when you lose weight?

It’s a confusing situation to be in because it’s not clear whether you need to focus on bulking to build muscle or cutting to lose fat. As a result, some experts recommend body recomposition, where you gain muscle and lose fat while maintaining the same bodyweight. Is body recomposition the best approach for skinny-fat guys?

Finally, how should skinny-fat guys approach diet and exercise? What’s the best skinny-fat workout? What’s the best skinny-fat diet?

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Maybe you know that skinny guy who gets totally amped up to gain some weight and build muscle. He’s tried and given up in the past but blames his failure on not trying hard enough—on not having enough motivation. He starts off strong: hitting the gym 5 times a week, eating 100% clean (whatever that means to them), and spending hundreds of dollars on bizarro supplements that he read about on the Internet that even the supplement salesman is confused by.

A few weeks go by and after sacrificing so much in his life: time, energy, money… the scale hasn’t budged. Or maybe his weight even dropped because he cut out the easy calories he was getting from junk food.

Feeling disappointed and burnt out, he slowly stops going to the gym and throws in the towel.

Why does this keep happening? Some people might say that he didn’t have the grit or willpower to tough it out. But honestly, this guy has incredible willpower and motivation—that’s a brutal routine that many professional fitness models couldn’t even keep up. His willpower isn’t the problem. Anyone with that routine will either reach capacity and burn out, or switch their energy to something else—something new and exciting (new job, holidays, new relationship)… and then there’s no room left for the crazy muscle-building routine.

I’ve been that guy too many times to count. (And not just with building muscle, either.)

Us skinny guys aren’t even having a hard time building muscle because we’ve got bad genes, although that was an excuse I once used. No, us skinny guys are actually pretty great at building muscle!

In the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, partially thanks to a phenomenon called newbie gains, the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three months. You can see some examples of their muscle-building transformations here.

While this may sound crazy, especially if, like us, you’ve tried and failed to bulk up in the past… these results line up well with what’s found in research. The largest and most thorough muscle-building genetics study found that skinny guys build muscle faster than anyone else (study). Some guys in the study added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just the first three months.

Because we’re so far away from our genetic muscular potential, we’re able to build muscle at an accelerated pace.

So why do so many of us skinny guys fail at building muscle over and over again?

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It’s May 1st, 2010 and Shane and I just graduated from university a few days earlier. We’re living in a high-rise apartment with our good friend Payam in a less than ideal neighbourhood. We’re just starting our “Muscle May” experiment—a one month bulking challenge that Shane had presented to Payam and me. The idea was to have all three of us roommates hold one another accountable for 30 days of an extreme diet and exercise change.

At this point I have about $500 left on my nearly maxed out credit card, $38 in my bank account, and no savings. To make matters worse I have no income streams, as Shane and I just started up our design business a few days earlier. We’re looking for our next client, are in the process of applying for a business loan, and rent payments are coming up.

“Wait, so I’m going to need to spend more money on groceries?” I say, weighing in at a soaking wet 130 pounds of pure bone and a large head.

“No, you’re going to need to spend a normal amount on groceries. You’re horribly underfeeding your body right now. We all are.” Shane responded.

“How the heck am I supposed to pay for rent, more food and these supplements you keep talking about … like this nitrous oxide–

“– it’s nitric oxide. Nitrous oxide is what you put in your car.” Shane cut me off. “And it’s only for 30 days. Plus, some supplements, like protein powder, are actually cheaper than real food.”

Fast forward 30 days and I’m now 30 pounds heavier than I was before. (22 pounds from the nutrition and training + 8 pounds from the creatine.) I feel pretty damn incredible. But it looks like I  better figure out a way to pay for this new “normal” amount of groceries. Inside are the top 17 tricks I’ve found for cutting costs over the past 2 and a half years without compromising results.
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How Big and Muscular is Ideal for Aesthetics and Attractiveness?

(Under Construction) Most of us are eager to improve our appearance, but we’re also notoriously bad at understanding how to do it. Some of these mistakes are simply about how far to take things. For example, when men guess what degree of muscularity women find the most attractive, they’re off by thirty pounds (study).

But other guys have an even deeper misunderstanding. They don’t realize that our appearance is so influential because of how accurately it reflects our strength, fitness, and health. They try to become more attractive on a purely superficial level, muscle by muscle. That will never work. It will never be as convincing as the real thing.

So in this article, we’ll dive into:

  • What women find the sexiest (attractiveness)
  • Which physical traits men respect and idolize (aesthetics)
  • How those two ideals differ from one another
  • How to get the best of both worlds.

We’ll cover exact proportions and ratios, talk about which strength standards correspond with which degrees of muscularity, and dig into a bunch of fascinating research. By the end, you should have a full understanding of how far away from the ideals you are and know exactly how to improve your appearance.

We’ll also make sure that as you improve your appearance, it comes along with benefits that run far deeper. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ll make sure that as you get into better shape, it also makes you more attractive.

However, be warned, this article is long. I’ll understand if you don’t want to read the whole thing. If that’s the case, here’s a quick and simple trick that will make you instantly sexier: have a drink. It will boost your attractiveness (to yourself) by 50%. This is called the reverse beer goggles effect, also known as beauty is in the eye of the beer holder (study). I know it’s not a perfect solution, but it could save you a good half hour of reading.

If you’re looking for an improvement that other people will notice, too, don’t worry—that’s what the rest of this article is for.

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