Illustration showing a skinny ectomorph having trouble with the barbell bench press.

Naturally skinny guys are often called “ectomorphs.” It’s a slang term referring to our thinner bones, narrower frames, shallower ribcages, or lankier limbs. Does that affect how we should exercise, lift weights, and build muscle?

Many of us ectomorphs also have atypical goals. Most people want to lose weight, we want to gain it. Most people intuitively eat too much food, we eat too little. We’re usually eager to bulk up, and we often have a hard time of it. Some of us may even worry that our muscle-building genetics aren’t very good. Does that change how we should train?

And there are a lot of different workout programs out there. Some, like CrossFit, are designed to improve our general fitness. Others, like Starting Strength and StrongLifts, are designed to improve our general strength. Still others, such as bodybuilding, seem entirely centred around helping naturally muscular guys gain even more muscle. What’s the best way to work out if we’re trying to gain muscle size?

How should ectomorphs work out?

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph building muscle and becoming muscular.

What is an Ectomorph?

Ectomorph” is a term borrowed from old refuted psychology research that attempted to establish a link between our body types and our personalities. Even so, the male body types caught on in the bodybuilding community, and naturally skinny guys are still often called “ectomorphs.” (For whatever reason, the women’s fitness community uses different slang. Thin women are usually called “bananas.”)

  • Ectomorph: a slang term for someone with a naturally thin body type: thinner bones, lankier limbs, less muscle, and less fat. It’s often used interchangeably with “hardgainer,” which refers to someone who has trouble eating enough calories to gain weight.
Illustration of the skinny ectomorph hardgainer body type.

Just to be totally clear, though, the term ectomorph is no longer a scientific term. Nowadays, it’s just a convenient way to refer to someone who has thinner bones, less fat, less muscle, and a narrower frame. If a bodybuilder calls you an ectomorph, they aren’t trying to imply that you’re naturally anxious, just that you’re naturally skinny.

Why Do Bodybuilders Call Us Ectomorphs?

The word ectomorph is based on junk science, yes, but it caught on like wildfire in the bodybuilding community, and there’s a good reason for that. Ectomorph is a useful term when we’re talking about working out, eating a bulking diet, and adjusting our lifestyles for muscle growth. Here’s why:

  • Not all skinny guys are ectomorphs. we could imagine someone who is naturally strong or overweight who becomes skinny. They have rather different issues from the typical ectomorph.
  • Not all ectomorphs are skinny. Many naturally skinny guys learn how to build muscle, bulk up, and are never skinny again. But they may still have thinner bones, narrower frames, shallower ribcages, less of a propensity to gain fat, and a hard time eating enough to gain weight. Perhaps when they get sick or go on vacation, they lose weight instead of gaining it.
  • Ectomorphs often have different goals. The average person is overweight, so even if they want to build muscle, they aren’t necessarily trying to gain weight. Naturally skinny guys, on the other hand, are often interested in getting bigger, heavier, and more muscular—we’re interested in bulking.
  • Ectomorphs often start off with less muscle and fat. This is relevant when lifting weights because, for instance, it means we need to bring the barbell down farther before it touches our chests, it means we have worse leverage when squatting, and it means we have less muscle mass to stabilize our spines when deadlifting. That can change the dynamics of our lifts by quite a lot.
  • Ectomorphs start off carrying less weight around with them. The average American man weighs 200 pounds (CDC), whereas I started off weighing 130 pounds. That means I was carrying around seventy fewer pounds when, say, climbing a staircase. On the one hand, that’s an enormous advantage when doing some lifts, such as the chin-up and the push-up. On the other hand, my legs, hips, and spinal erectors were quite a bit weaker than the average man’s, and I found it quite hard to learn the squat and deadlift.
  • Ectomorphs have lankier limbs. Some guys can build big arms just with the bench press and barbell row. That’s not the case for most ectomorphs. Most of us require quite a lot of biceps curls, triceps extensions, forearm curls, and so on.
  • We often have thinner necks. The average man already has a 15–16.5″ neck (study). My neck started out at 14″ and refused to grow until I started training it.
Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing an underhand chin-up.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it shows that, yeah, being an ectomorph can merit a different approach to building muscle. Now, not all ectomorphs are exactly the same, of course. Our starting points, circumstances, and goals can vary quite a bit. But most of us resonate with at least some of those points, and all of them can have implications for how we should work out.

Ectomorphs Can Build Muscle Fast

Some ectomorphs like being naturally thin. I don’t want to imply that every ectomorph should be trying to become muscular. But at least in my own case, I was clinically underweight, unhealthy, weak, and desperate to become bigger, stronger, healthier, and better looking. To accomplish my goals, I needed to gain a whole lot of muscle mass.

Before/after photo of Shane Duquette starting skinny, bulking up, and building muscle.

After years of struggling to build muscle, I finally learned how to train and diet for muscle size, gaining 55 pounds in two years. While doing that, I helped my roommate, Jared, gain 27 pounds in his first four months, finishing leaner than when he started:

Jared's before and after progress photos showing him going from being a skinny ectomorph to being muscular.

Meanwhile, Marco had gained nearly seventy pounds, gotten his Health Sciences degree and strength coach certifications, and was helping college, professional, and Olympic athletes bulk up. Many of them, especially the volleyball and basketball players, were naturally skinny “ectomorphs” who had a hard time putting on mass. The three of us then went on to create Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, all dedicated to helping skinny people build muscle. During these past ten years, we’ve helped around 10,000 naturally skinny people bulk up.

Before and after photo of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular.

Anyway, this is all to say that we have a lot of experience working with so-called ectomorphs, and in our experience, the vast majority of us want to be strong, muscular, healthy, and look great. And those are realistic goals. Not only are ectomorphs perfectly able to build muscle, but as we’ve just shown, we’re often able to do it rather quickly. In fact, as naturally skinny guys, we have a few factors acting in our favour:

  • There’s a law of diminishing returns that kicks in as we build muscle. But since we’re further away from our genetic muscular potential, we get that effect in reverse. This is often called “newbie gains.”
  • As we lift weights, we grow bigger, stronger, and also tougher. Our increasing toughness is called the repeated bout effect (RBE), and it means that as we continue to build muscle, it becomes harder to provoke more muscle growth. But since we’re new to lifting weights, our muscles are still very responsive to our workouts.
  • Many of us are naturally leaner, meaning that we can bulk more aggressively without worrying about gaining too much fat. That doesn’t mean we should intentionally gain fat, just that we can often build muscle quite fast without gaining a noticeable amount of it.

These factors combine together to allow most ectomorphs to build muscle quite fast, especially when they’re still quite thin and haven’t gained much muscle yet. Now, as with all of this, that doesn’t mean that all of us can build muscle faster than the average person, but it seems to be a trait that’s more common with our body type.

Illustration of a skinny guy becoming muscular from doing biceps curls.

The catch, though, is that we need to actually train for muscle growth. Most of us have naturally less muscle mass. We can’t do CrossFit, burn some fat, and expect to come out looking muscular. Some overweight people can get away with that. Naturally thin people cannot. We can’t chisel away our fat to reveal muscle, we need to actually build muscle.

So how should we work out if we’re trying to gain muscle size?

Bodybuilding Versus Strength Training Versus Power Training

When some people talk about how to train for muscle growth, they call it “bodybuilding.” But bodybuilding has its own unique culture that includes spray trans, speedos, clean eating, and more calf training than neck training. Not all bodybuilding is that way, but it’s a term with a lot of baggage.

Illustration of a geared powerlifter doing a barbell back squat in a squat suit and knee wraps.
Strength training is designed to improve our powerlifting strength.

So other people say “strength training,” but again, strength training has its own unique culture. It’s typically rooted in powerlifting, it’s often built around the “big three” lifts, the rep ranges tend to be pretty low, lifts are chosen for the leverage they provide, and isolation lifts are usually frowned upon. Again, not all strength training programs are that way, but Starting Strength and StrongLifts are. And besides, even just the meaning of the word implies that the main goal is to gain strength instead of size.

Illustration showing a man doing a snatch.
Crossfit is designed to improve our general fitness.

That brings us to another type of training that people often use to build muscle: power training. The most popular brand of power training is CrossFit, which is a blend of Olympic weightlifting and general fitness training, giving it the categorization of high-intensity power training (HIPT), and it’s pretty bad for building muscle. It’s designed to challenge our cardiovascular systems more than our muscles, and even when our muscles are challenged, it’s with the Olympic lifts, kipping pull-ups, and so on, none of which are good for stimulating muscle growth. Traditional bodybuilding and strength training are both much better for building muscle.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat.
Hypertrophy training is designed to stimulate muscle growth.

But why stop there? There’s a style of training that’s designed purely for the goal of gaining muscle size. It’s called hypertrophy training. “Muscle hypertrophy” means muscle growth, so hypertrophy training is simply training that’s designed to stimulate muscle growth. Since muscle size is what we’re after, we may as well train for it directly, right?

The Principles of Hypertrophy Training

The way that most ectomorphs should work out is by doing hypertrophy training. No speedos or spray, no powerlifting meets or 1-rep max tests, and no kipping pull-ups until we vomit. So, what does a hypertrophy training program look like? There’s no single best approach, but even so, most hypertrophy training programs are built around a few key principles:

  • Working out with free weights is usually best. It’s possible to build muscle with bodyweight hypertrophy training, but free weights make building muscle much easier. Doing most of your training with dumbbells or a barbell is ideal, and if you have access to cables and machines, you can use those, too.
  • The lifts should match your strength and skill level. One of the most important things when training for muscle growth is to choose lifts that we can do at least somewhat competently. Not only does that make our training safer, but it also allows us to stimulate more muscle growth. For instance, front squats are one of the best bulking lifts but most beginners can’t do them without intense forearm pain. In that case, it’s much, much better to choose a simpler variation, such as a goblet squat, allowing us to stimulate more muscle growth right from our very first workout.
  • The lifts should be chosen for their ability to stimulate muscle growth. We want to choose lifts that challenge our muscles at long muscle lengths, allow us to lift a lot of weight, and put the stress on our muscles instead of our joints. This will involve some classic strength training lifts, such as the bench press, deadlift, chin-up, and front squat, as well as some classic bodybuilding lifts, such as triceps extensions and biceps curls. We can use the best of both worlds.
  • We should use a mix of compound and isolation lifts. there’s no doubt that the big compound lifts stimulate the most overall muscle growth, and for stocky people, that may be good enough. But compound lifts don’t challenge all of our muscles enough to stimulate much growth. For instance, the bench press isn’t very good for bulking up our triceps (study), the barbell row isn’t very good for bulking up our biceps (study), and the deadlift isn’t very good for bulking up our lats. Even if we include lifts like the chin-up for our biceps and upper back, our biceps will likely still lag behind. We can build more muscle, especially in our limbs, by including isolation lifts in our training.
  • We should do most of our lifting in moderate rep ranges. Moderate rep ranges stimulate more muscle growth than lower rep ranges (systematic review), so we can build muscle more easily by spending most of our time lifting between 6–20 reps, probably favouring more like 8–15 reps, and occasionally going as wide as 4–40 reps.
  • We can use a mix of longer and shorter rest periods. when doing big compound lifts in moderate rep ranges (6–12 reps), our cardiovascular systems can be worked quite hard. It can help to rest 2+ minutes between sets to give our cardiovascular systems enough time to recover, allowing us to lift heavy on subsequent sets. That way, we gain muscle size and strength instead of just improving our cardio. But when doing smaller isolation lifts, our cardiovascular systems won’t be challenged as much, giving us an opportunity to use higher rep ranges (10–20 reps) and shorter rest times (30–90 seconds) to increase our muscle growth by “pumping” in a bunch of local growth factors.
  • We should train each muscle 2–3 times per week. Most research shows that we can gain muscle the fastest by training all of our muscles 2–3 times per week (study). This is because a workout stimulates around 48 hours of muscle growth, meaning that we can stimulate a new wave of growth every second day—three times per week. The most efficient way to do this is to do three full-body workouts per week, but other approaches are effective as well.
  • Our training volume should be high enough to stimulate rapid muscle growth. the popular strength training programs tend to have fairly low volume for stimulating muscle growth. Partially because the rep ranges are so low, and partially because they avoid isolation lifts. By using moderate rep ranges and adding in isolation lifts with shorter rest times, we can stimulate more muscle growth without even needing to lengthen our workouts (study).
  • We should train to failure sparingly. most research shows that if we stop lifting before hitting muscular failure, we still build just as much muscle (study), but we’re less likely to get injured, we cause less muscle breakdown, and we’re able to practice better lifting technique. However, some research in novice lifters shows that training to failure stimulates slightly more muscle growth (study, study). A good solution, then, is to stop shy of failure on our big compound lifts most of the time, but to take some of our isolation lifts all the way to failure, especially on our final sets of each exercise.
  • We should lift explosively, lower under control. Both the lifting and lowering portion of the lift stimulate muscle growth, so we should make the most of both. We don’t want to jerk or throw the weights, but we do want to accelerate them, engaging our muscles fully right from the beginning of the lift, improving the strength curve. The reason we want to lower the weights under control is that it forces our muscles to resist the weight as they lengthen, stimulating a bit of extra muscle growth. Bonus points if you can keep tension on your muscles throughout the range of motion, especially with isolation lifts.
  • We need to focus on progressive overload. The trick to getting bigger and stronger over time is to have a programmed workout routine and to write down how much weight you’re lifting, how many reps you’re able to get, and how many sets you’re doing. Then in your next workout, try to lift more weight, do more reps, or add more sets. That way you’re always pushing your limits and provoking new waves of adaptations.

This makes our hypertrophy workouts look quite a bit different from strength training, CrossFit, and even most bodybuilding workouts (although good bodybuilding workouts will use most of these principles). Our bulking program does all of this, but it’s not the only one. There are a lot of good bulking programs out there.

The “Big Three” Strength Training Lifts for Ectomorphs

As we’ve covered above, there’s a difference between strength training and hypertrophy training. Strength training is usually rooted in powerlifting culture, and it’s built around the Big Three powerlifting lifts: the low-bar squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell sumo deadlift.
The sumo deadlift tends to suit ectomorphs quite well.

Ectomorphs aren’t necessarily built for powerlifting. It’s a sport that tends to be dominated by stockier people. But we aren’t necessarily bad at it, either. One of the best powerlifters of all time is an ectomorph named Lamar Gant, who was able to deadlift over 600 pounds at a bodyweight of 120 pounds.

If our goal was to lift as much weight as possible, we could make the most of our proportions by adjusting the powerlifting lifts like so:

  • Deadlifting with a wide sumo stance so that we can maintain a more upright torso. This allows us to take advantage of our longer arms while making it easier to stabilize our thin torsos. However, sumo deadlifts aren’t as good for bulking up our backs, making them a poor choice when trying to build muscle. For building muscle, conventional deadlifts tend to be better.
  • Squatting with a wide stance and a low-bar position. Again, this minimizes the back strength we need, and it allows us to leverage our strong hip-extensor muscles (such as our glutes and adductors). This makes the squat more similar to a sumo deadlift, allowing us to lift more weight and have greater overlap between our lifts. However, again, it’s not a great way to stimulate growth in our spinal erectors, it’s not the safest way to squat, and it doesn’t work our quads through as deep of a range of motion. For building muscle, front squats and high-bar squats tend to be better.
  • Bench pressing with an ultra-wide grip. The wider we grip the barbell, the more we can minimize the range of motion and minimize the moment arms at our shoulders. However, it removes our triceps, upper chest, and shoulders from the lift. For building muscle, it’s usually better for us to bench with a moderate grip width, use a larger range of motion, and then add in the dumbbell fly if we want extra stimulation for our mid and lower chest muscles.

So what we’re seeing is that powerlifting is all about choosing the lifts that reduce the demands on our long limbs and reduce the range of motion, thus allowing us to best leverage our strengths. But if we’re trying to build muscle, we want to do almost the exact opposite of that. We want to give our lanky limbs extra attention, use the deepest range of motion we can manage, and bring up our weaknesses.

So let’s talk about how to lift in a way that helps us build muscle faster and more easily while bringing up our weaknesses.

The “Big Three” Hypertrophy Lifts for Ectomorphs

When we first start working out, we don’t have the strength or experience of seasoned lifters. Most of us don’t have the mobility to squat deeply, the strength to do deadlifts or barbell rows without rounding our lower backs, or the shoulder stability to do barbell overhead presses. For a lot of skinny beginners, it’s even a struggle to set up in a sturdy bench press position and bring the barbell all the way down to our chests.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing the bench press with long arms and a thin ribcage.

For some people, with some coaches, they can learn the lifts right from their very first workouts. But for most ectomorphs who are still skinny and still new to lifting weights, even with the help of an in-person coach, we aren’t able to do these lifts properly. That also means that we aren’t able to load them up heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth. Not only is it frustrating and slightly risky, but it’s not the best way to build muscle.

As we mentioned earlier, for beginners to build muscle at full speed, we need to be able to take our lifts at least somewhat close to muscular failure. That means choosing lifts that we can properly challenge our muscles with, and then as we grow bigger and stronger, gradually shifting to more advanced variations so that we can continue to challenge our muscles with heavier loads.

Illustration of an ectomorph doing a low-bar barbell back squat with a short range of motion.

Some programs do this very well, other programs don’t. Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5 are both online programs that advise novice lifters to start immediately doing the big compound barbell lifts. Not only that, but they favour the powerlifting variations, such as recommending low-bar squat instead of the high-bar or front squat. StrongLifts sneaks around the issue by recommending that people start by lifting an empty barbell, even for the skinniest ectomorph, an empty barbell is unlikely to be the correct load for stimulating muscle growth. If we start with an empty barbell, we’ll be working out for weeks (or months) before we start stimulating any muscle growth.

So let’s talk about how to adjust the big compound lifts so that a skinny ectomorph can safely build muscle at full speed right from his very first workout.

How to Bench Press as an Ectomorph

The bench press is the very best lift for building a bigger chest, it’s an amazing lift for bulking up the fronts of our shoulders, and it’s somewhat okay for building bigger triceps. Some of us can do it properly the very first time we try it, but the bench press tends to be a hard lift for a lot of ectomorphs. Most of us have long arms, thin ribcages, and haven’t built much muscle size, strength, or coordination yet. It would be great if we could set up in a powerful bench press position… but sometimes we can’t.

Illustration of an ectomorph with long lanky arms and a thin ribcage having trouble doing the bench press.

Most ectomorphs look something like this the first time we try to bench press. Not all of us are this thin, but I sure was, and by the time the barbell touched my chest, my elbows were almost touching the floor. Lifting with a larger range of motion is often a good thing, but we also need to make sure that we’re lifting from a sturdy position that’s safe for our shoulders. When our elbows move that far past our torsos, especially if our shoulders aren’t very strong yet, and especially if our technique isn’t very good yet, it can limit the amount of weight we can use and it can be hard on our shoulders. That’s not a great combination for building muscle.

Illustration of an ectomorph doing the bench press with proper technique.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean we should avoid the bench press. Once we pack some muscle onto our chests and upper backs, improve our arches, and learn how to retract our shoulder blades, we’ll be able to bench with a much better shoulder position. At that point, our thin ribcages become an advantage. It allows us to get a better stretch on our pecs at the bottom of the lift, stimulating extra growth in our chests.

Illustration of a man doing a push-up.

Ectomorphs aren’t necessarily bad at the bench press. Lamar Gant was able to break a world record on the bench press despite having incredibly long and lanky arms. He just worked really hard to build a bigger arch and improve his leverage. It’s not that it’s a bad lift for us, it’s just that we often benefit from starting with something easier, such as the push-up.

Push-ups are just as good as the bench press for stimulating muscle growth (study), especially for new lifters, and they have the added benefit of training our abs at the same time. You can do them instead of the bench press or in addition to the bench press.

Here’s how to do the push-up:

If push-ups from the floor are too hard, you can raise your hands up on a bench or do them from your knees. If they’re too easy, you can raise your hands up on push-up handles, weight plates, or speculative fiction novels to enhance the stretch. You can also add weight plates to your back, wear a backpack full of cheap thriller novels, or wear a weighted vest. By the time you can do 20–30 deficit push-ups with good technique, you’re more than ready for the bench press.

There are a few different ways to build a bigger chest while learning how to do the bench press:

  • Push-ups: as covered above, starting with push-ups is one of the best ways to build a big chest while preparing your body for a strong bench press. It’s just as good for stimulating muscle growth and the strength transference between the two lifts is almost perfect.
  • The dumbbell bench press: the advantage of dumbbells is that allow they allow us to use a comfortable range of motion instead of forcing us to bring the barbell all the way down to our chests. For some people, the dumbbell bench press can be even easier to learn than the push-up.
  • The board press: by placing boards on our chests, we can mimic having a thicker ribcage. This can help to keep our shoulders in a stronger position as we develop strength in deeper ranges of motion. You can start with thicker boards and gradually work your way down to thinner ones, eventually getting rid of them altogether. The reason we want to use boards instead of just reversing the barbell in midair is twofold. First, we want our technique to be consistent from rep to rep and from workout to workout. Second, it’s risky to bench press when you can’t control the full range of motion. If you get too tired or accidentally go a bit too deep, your muscles won’t be able to control that bottom part. (Also, make sure to bench press with safety bars or a competent spotter.)
  • Add in the dumbbell fly: the thing that makes the bench press so great for building muscle is that it allows us to train our chests under a heavy stretch at the bottom of the movement. But if we aren’t benching deep, we aren’t getting that benefit. Fortunately, the dumbbell fly is a simple lift that gives us that same effect. It will also help to strengthen our shoulder joints in a safe way (provided that it’s done correctly).
Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell fly.

I remember during my first year or so of working out, whenever I tried to bring the barbell down to my chest, my shoulders fell out of a strong position and I’d get pinned under the bar. If I tried to tough it out, my shoulders would hurt. I figured that my proportions were such that I would never have a strong bench press, but Marco got me doing more push-ups and practicing the board press. Within a few weeks, I was able to do a full barbell bench press comfortably.

How to Deadlift as an Ectomorph

The conventional deadlift is the best lift for stimulating overall muscle growth, bulking up our hips, hamstrings, spinal erectors, traps, and forearms.

Diagram showing the muscles worked by the deadlift.

For stocky people with shorter and thicker torsos, the deadlift tends to be a hip-dominant lift, with most of the muscle growth going to the glutes and hamstrings. For us ectomorphs, most of us have thinner spines that are harder to stabilize, and so the deadlift becomes a back-dominant lift, with most of the growth going towards our spinal erectors.

The deadlift is a movement pattern called a “hip hinge,” where we bend at the hips while keeping our spines locked in a neutral position by bracing our cores and tensing our spinal erectors. But when most of us try to pick the bar up, it winds up looking something like this:

Illustration of an ectomorph rounding his back because his back isn't strong enough yet.

The problem is, the deadlift has a rough learning curve. It’s one of the hardest movements for a beginner to learn, and it gets even harder for ectomorphs with long torsos and weak spinal erectors. It’s not that it’s a dangerous lift, it’s just that it’s a hard lift to do correctly, and doing a lift incorrectly increases our risk of injury. But even setting aside injury risk, as we covered above, if we choose lifts with too big of a learning curve, it can take a long time before we’re able to challenge our muscles enough to stimulate muscle growth.

Plus, if you don’t have access to bumper plates, then the minimum weight we can deadlift is the 45-pound barbell with a 45-pound plate on either side, giving us a starting weight of 135 pounds (60 kilos). If we use smaller 10, 25, or 35-pound plates, then the barbell won’t be raised up as high, demanding even more mobility from our hips and strength from our spinal erectors.

We could avoid the problem by avoiding the deadlift, and many of us do—I sure did—but then our spinal erectors will stay weak, and weak spinal erectors can be a real handicap when lifting weights. It also doesn’t look as good, and it can set us up for back pain as we age. Better to build a thicker and stronger torso.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing a stiff-leg Romanian deadlift.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple fix: the stiff-legged “Romanian” deadlift. Instead of starting bent over, we start in a standing position. It’s more intuitive to brace and set up a neutral spine when we’re standing. From there, we stick our butt back while maintaining the brace and keeping our knees somewhat stiff. We lower it down until we feel a nice stretch on our hamstrings, at which point we lift the weight back up. It’s still a bit awkward to learn, but it’s much easier than the deadlift.

The Romanian deadlift also has the advantage of being absolutely brilliant for building muscle. It challenges our hamstrings and glutes in a stretched position, it allows us to use a great lifting tempo, it works well in moderate rep ranges, and we can keep constant tension on our muscles throughout the entire range of motion. In fact, it’s such a good lift for stimulating muscle growth that many advanced bodybuilders prefer them to conventional deadlifts, especially when trying to target their hamstrings.

Here’s how to do the Romanian deadlift with a barbell:

Now, is there a downside to the Romanian deadlift? Sure. Because we aren’t bending over as far, our spinal erectors have better leverage, and so they don’t need to work as hard. For an intermediate lifter, that can be a bad thing. One of the best things about the deadlift is that it bulks up our spinal erectors. Marco is also a big fan of the conventional deadlift because it has such a great carryover to real-world strength and injury prevention. Learning how to pick something heavy up from the floor is one of the most useful physical skills to develop.

But when we’re just starting out, it’s nice to have a variation that eases our spinal erectors into deadlifting. And then, as our spinal erectors get stronger, we can progress to more advanced variations, such as the conventional deadlift.

Here are some good beginner progressions for the deadlift:

  • The dumbbell sumo deadlift: a great way to learn how to pick up a weight from the floor with a proper hip hinge. The downside is that it’s quite light, making it good for rank beginners, but progression will need to come quick muscle growth will grind to a halt.
  • The stiff-leg “Romanian” deadlift: a great muscle-building lift for everyone at every level that can be done with dumbbells or barbells. It’s especially useful for novices who are struggling with their deadlift technique because it makes learning the hip hinge movement much easier.
  • The below-the-knee rack pull: when we’re ready to start practicing lifting a barbell from the floor, it can help to raise the barbell up a little bit. That way we can warm up with lighter weights instead of needing to start with 135 pounds. It also reduces the range of motion we need in our hips, making it easier to maintain a neutral spine. And because we can maintain a slightly more upright torso, the demands on our spinal erectors are proportionally lower. (Make sure to lower the weight down slowly, though. If you drop a heavy barbell on the safety pins, it can damage the barbell.)
  • The raised deadlift: if you’re having trouble keeping a neutral spine when doing deadlifts from the floor, try raising the barbell up by a few inches, opening up your hip angle a little bit. Over the course of a few weeks, you can then gradually lower the barbell down to the floor.

Now, of course, it all depends. If you can deadlift 135+ pounds from the floor with great technique and no issues, then it’s no problem. Feel free to start with a conventional deadlift. It’s a great hypertrophy lift—one of the very best—and it’s safe when performed correctly. But most skinny guys benefit from starting with a stiff-legged “Romanian” deadlift instead of a conventional deadlift. It will stimulate more muscle growth (given our situation), it’s easier to learn, and it’s easier on our lower backs.

How to Squat as an Ectomorph

The low-bar back squat is a great lift. It’s the heaviest squat variation and it fully engages our hips and quads. However, it’s not the best squat variation for stimulating muscle growth throughout our bodies. After all, it’s designed for powerlifting, not bodybuilding. It’s designed to maximize our leverage and minimize our range of motion, not to help us squat deeper or to challenge our spinal erectors.

Illustration of an ectomorph struggling to do a low-bar barbell back squat.

Plus, when most of us try to do a back squat for the first time, we wind up over-arching our backs, our hips tilt forward and jam up, and we aren’t able to squat very deep, reducing the stimulus on our quads and increasing the wear and tear on our bodies. To fix that, we could work on improving our low-bar squat technique. Most people can squat to parallel or a little deeper, and ectomorphs don’t have any genetic disadvantage there. But that learning process will delay our muscle growth, and it’s not the best squat variation for building muscle anyway.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat.

If our goal is to build muscle, the front squat tends to be better: it’s safer, it’s easier to use good technique, it does a better job of improving our posture, it works our quads through a deeper range of motion, and it’s not just a lower-body lift—it also bulks up our upper backs. We need to use lighter weights, yes, but it’s a better lift for stimulating muscle growth.

Diagram showing that front squats allow us to sink deeper than back squats.

Front squats shift our centre of balance, allowing us to keep our torsos more upright. We can “sit down” instead of “sitting back” into our squats. This frees up space in our hips while giving our quads a deeper stretch. Holding the barbell in front of our bodies is also really hard on the spinal erectors in our upper backs, too, helping us to build a thicker and stronger torso.

The problem is, front squats are hard to learn. It’s easier to brace our cores and get a deeper range of motion, but most people don’t have enough mobility in their shoulders or wrists to hold the barbell properly. Plus, for naturally skinny guys, it can be uncomfortably to put a heavy barbell on our collarbones if we haven’t built much muscle in our shoulders and upper chests yet.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing a deep dumbbell goblet squat.

A good solution is to start with a goblet squat. It’s a simple brute strength lift that can be done with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or weight plate. It’s easy to set up, the technique is easy to learn, and it makes it much easier to squat nice and deep.

Here’s how to do a dumbbell goblet squat:

The main downside to the goblet squat is that you need to support the weight with your hands, biceps, shoulders, and upper back. But if you want to grow those muscles, too, that downside becomes a benefit. It means that the goblet squat becomes a full-body bulking lift, stimulating even more muscle growth. As a result, it may be the single best beginner bulking lift, stimulating even more overall muscle growth than the mighty deadlift.

The only real problem with goblet squats is that as you continue getting stronger, eventually you’ll be able to do 12+ reps with the heaviest dumbbell. That’s fine for building muscle, but delving into ever higher rep ranges will become increasingly hard on your cardiovascular system, and so goblet squats will become increasingly painful. When strong guys do goblet squat challenges with 100-pound dumbbells, seeing how many reps they can get before hitting failure, it’s not uncommon for them to throw up afterwards. They’re a brutally hard lift once you get strong enough.

Eventually, you’ll want to switch to a front squat, back squat, or grab a second dumbbell. But in the meantime, the goblet squat is absolutely brilliant for stimulating full-body growth. 

A Sample Beginner’s Bulking Workout

Okay, so we’ve talked about the principles of hypertrophy training, how to design workouts for gaining muscle size, and which lifts tend to be best for beginners who are naturally skinny “ectomorphs.” But what should our workouts actually look like?

There’s no single best bulking workout, but here’s a sample of what the first few weeks of a beginner workout might look like.

The Workout

This is a simple full-body workout routine that works all of the major muscle groups in your body and requires just dumbbells and a bench. You don’t need to do every circuit every workout, and you don’t need to do the circuits in this order, but doing this full routine three times per week should help you stimulate a ton of muscle growth, especially during your first few weeks of lifting.

Circuit A

  • Push-up: 3 sets of as many reps as you can. When you can do twenty reps on your third set, choose a more difficult variation.
  • Romanian deadlift: 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

This circuit is designed to bulk up your posterior chain, abs, chest, shoulders, and triceps. You can choose any bench press or deadlift variation, but what’s nice about this combo is that we’re mixing a free weight exercise with a bodyweight exercise, meaning you only need to set up one piece of equipment.

Circuit B

  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: as many reps as possible with the dumbbells you used for your bench press.

In this second circuit, we’re doing an antagonist superset. The bench press trains our chest and triceps, whereas the row trains the opposing muscles: our back and biceps. Antagonist supersets are great for stimulating muscle growth.

Again, you can choose any exercise variations. This particular one works well because we’re using the same bench and dumbbells for each exercise, making it quite convenient.

Circuit C

  • Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Pullover (or lat pulldown): 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

In this circuit, we’re training our quads, glutes, spinal erectors, lats, chest, and the long head of our triceps. The reason this circuit works well is that we can set up a single dumbbell for each exercise, allowing us to switch between them conveniently. (Or, if you’re doing a lat pulldown, you can bring a dumbbell over to the machine for your goblet squats.)

Circuit D (optional)

  • Biceps Curls: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Triceps Extensions: 2 sets of 10 repetitions

In the final circuit, we’re doing some isolation lifts to bring up muscles that we’re particularly eager to grow. Our biceps and triceps have gotten a bit of stimulation from our compound lifts, but not enough. Doing some biceps curls and triceps extensions will ensure that they grow at full speed.

You can replace these exercises with anything, though: neck curls and extensions, dumbbell flyes and reverse flyes, and so on.

How To Do The Workout

This workout is organized into little circuits or “supersets.” The idea is to alternate between the two exercises, resting around 60 seconds between each one. For instance:

  • Push-ups (set 1)
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Romanian deadlifts (set 1)
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Push-ups (set 2)
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Romanian deadlifts (set 2)
  • Rest 60 seconds

By resting between each exercise, you give your cardiovascular system a minute to recover, keeping the challenge on your muscles. By alternating between two exercises that work different muscles, you give each of your muscles around three minutes to recover before being worked again. This allows you to stimulate more muscle growth in a shorter amount of time, and as a bonus, it’s also good for your health. (These workouts are about half as efficient as dedicated cardio training, so if they take you an hour to complete, that counts as doing thirty minutes of cardio.)

You don’t need to do the circuits in order. This workout starts with push-ups and deadlifts, which is great for emphasizing growth in your back, chest, shoulders, forearms, and abs. It’s great for general strength, overall size, and aesthetics. But let’s say you were especially eager to bulk up your quads. In that case, it might be better to start with the squat circuit. That way you’re doing your squats while you’re still fresh. It’s up to you. (Leave Circuit D to the end, though. Better to save the isolation lifts for last.)

Each workout is a full-body workout that trains most of our major muscle groups. To build muscle as quickly as possible, we recommend doing them 3x per week with a day of rest in between them.

  • Monday: workout 1
  • Tuesday: rest
  • Wednesday: workout 2
  • Thursday: rest
  • Friday: workout 3
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: bonus rest

Every workout, write down what you can do. Next workout, try to beat those numbers.

It’s important to get close enough to failure. We’ve intentionally chosen lifts that are easy to learn and fairly safe to perform. That doesn’t mean we should lift recklessly, but it does mean that we should push ourselves. If you aren’t sure how close to failure you’re getting, try taking a set all the way to muscular failure. We don’t want to leave more than 1–3 reps in the tank, so it’s important to test ourselves to make sure we aren’t stopping too far away from failure.

After a few weeks, we recommend moving onto a periodized program. That way we’re progressing the exercises, the rep ranges, and the number of sets you’re doing each week. This is important because as we adapt to our workouts, we grow bigger, stronger, and also tougher, reducing the stimulus you get from your workouts but also allowing you to handle more rigorous training. If we’re increasing your training volume as your tolerance for training volume increases, it should lead to faster muscle growth over time. (Almost every hypertrophy expert recommends this approach, it works well in practice, and it makes sense mechanistically, but so far, periodization has only been proven to increase strength gains, not hypertrophy.)

The other thing is that a lot of repetition helps during your first few weeks of training. It flattens the learning curve and gives you plenty of practice with each lift. But as you gain more experience, you can start doing a wider variety of exercises. This can lead to more balanced muscle growth, it can reduce wear and tear on your joints, and it can help prevent muscle growth plateaus. For instance, Monday’s workout could have biceps curls and triceps extensions, Wednesday’s workout could have shoulder raises and crunches, and Friday’s workout could chest flyes and rear delt flyes.

Summary

Ectomorph is just a slang word used to describe a naturally skinny guy with a thinner frame. Having thinner bones and lankier limbs can affect our biomechanics, meaning that we might benefit from using slightly different lift variations and techniques, especially at first. The main thing that separates us from the average person, though, is that we aren’t overweight and trying to lose weight, we’re underweight and trying to gain weight. As a result, most ectomorphs benefit from training deliberately for muscle size.

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

The style of training that’s designed to stimulate muscle growth is called hypertrophy training. It involves lifting in moderate rep ranges (most of the time), using a mix of compound and isolation lifts, doing enough sets and reps to stimulate a maximal amount of muscle growth each workout, and training each muscle group 2–3 times per week. A good way to do this is to do three full-body workouts per week, each including 3–4 compound lifts and 3–4 isolation lifts. These workouts needn’t take longer than an hour.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell goblet squat.

Another important part of working out as an ectomorph, especially as a beginner, and especially if you aren’t very strong yet, is to choose lifts that match your experience level and strength. That might mean starting with goblet squats instead of front or back squats, starting with Romanian deadlifts instead of conventional deadlifts, and starting with push-ups instead of the bench press. That will reduce our risk of injury and ingrain better lifting coordination, and it will also allow us to train more rigorously and stimulate more muscle growth.

Finally, don’t worry about getting everything perfect right away. Developing perfect lifting technique is something that happens over years of training, not before you ever do your first squat. We can choose beginner lift variations that make it easier to stimulate muscle growth, but even then, your technique won’t be perfect. That’s another advantage of including simple isolation lifts. Even as you learn how to squat and deadlift, you can be taking your sets of biceps curls, push-ups, and chin-ups to failure.

If you want help building muscle, I think you’d love our Bony to Beastly Program. It’s built by skinny guys for skinny guys, and it’s designed specifically to help us build muscle as fast as possible.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping nearly ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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166 Comments

  1. Joram on March 6, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Great article as usual Shane! 🙂

    Some good tips for posture as well… I recently started (again), so they’ll definitely come in handy!

    • Shane Duquette on March 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Right on Joram, good luck!

  2. Lance on March 6, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Great article Shane! Reminded me of a post by Marco that I saw earlier today: basically it’s great to have that hunger and drive to excel and grow and push yourself to new levels, “but you gotta earn the right to push hard.” And a lot of us beginners have plenty of earning and learning to do as our step 1!

    • Shane Duquette on March 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Ah yeah I love that quote of Marco’s!

      Glad you enjoyed it man 🙂

  3. Romulo on March 6, 2013 at 7:25 am

    That’s awesome!

    Some legit information there! Something that worked for me when i started deadlifting was doing it with free weights at first. After a couple weeks i started doing in the barbell easily!

    • Shane Duquette on March 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      That’s a great point. Lifts like dumbbell romanian deadlifts are great for building up mobility.

  4. Sean on March 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    What a brilliant article, thanks alot for taking the time to write this in depth and very interesting article.

  5. Sam, London UK on March 7, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Excellent article once again. I was having problems squatting deep, but reducing the weight to almost nothing but the bar itself allowed me to build up a decent range of motion and flexibility in my hips and legs. Difficult for us ectomorphs though when we see other guys at the gym squatting and lifting huge weights. Form is everything though, right?!

    Thanks again mate, much appreciated.

    • Shane Duquette on March 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks man, glad you enjoyed it.

      That’s sweet man, glad to hear it worked out well for you.

      For sure! Mastering form first is definitely the way to go, and you’ll soon blow past the people who don’t 🙂

  6. syed on March 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

    so ectomorph shouldn’t be touching their chest when bench pressing?

    • Shane Duquette on March 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      That depends on your proportions. A lot of us have narrow ribcages and long arms, which causes our shoulders to go into a dangerous position when we tried to touch our chest.

      I would focus on your shoulder positioning. If your elbows drop bellow parallel with your body in order for the bar to touch your chest … you probably shouldn’t touch your chest.

      Everyone is built a little different though.

  7. denis on March 11, 2013 at 3:55 am

    It woud be also cream on the top, if you could explain the overhead press lanky technique…long arms, neck, torso. Cheers

    • Shane Duquette on March 17, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      Ah that’s a tricky lift and I think deserves a whole article of its own! The majority of ectomorphs, and men in general, need to overcome some physical limitations before they can safely press overhead.

      Most guys have poor shoulder mobility, meaning that they need to get mobility elsewhere (often from their lower back). You should be able to lift your arms straight up overhead with your abs flat and your ribcage locked down. Most guys can work at it and eventually build up that shoulder mobility and torso stability, but it takes some work.

      Many guys, from desk work and computer use, are a little kyphotic (slightly hunched) in their upper backs as well, which can also cause difficulties. Once again the tendency is to lift the ribcage instead of un-rounding that stiff kyphotic upper back.

      The overhead press is one of the most badass exercises out there, but definitely not something everyone should be doing starting out.

  8. Random Viewer on April 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    No offense but you look like you lost all your gains in your video. Oh and starting strength by mark ripptoe works fine

    • Shane Duquette on April 5, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I originally started at 130. I think our latest video is me at 164, after doing our “lean to mean” experiment and before putting together Bony to Beastly. The latest photos are more recent, and show me after testing the program, at around 184. I’m happily hovering around 190 these days.

      We should definitely start shooting some more videos …

      Starting Strength is rather different from us, and agreed – great book! I really enjoyed it 🙂

  9. Chadd on April 27, 2013 at 6:11 am

    My job requires a lot of walking 5+ hrs of light walking. I work at a restaurant. Will I need to eat more calories in addition to what the program says to make up for lost calories or can I just pass that off as my weekly cardio?

    • Shane Duquette on April 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      We don’t really require any cardio on top of our strength training workouts. Are workouts are organized into circuits/supersets, so they’re actually pretty rad at giving you all the health benefits of cardio. Many of our guys do cardio on top though, play sports, physically demanding jobs, etc. That never holds any of them back though, and oftentimes it even helps.

      You would need to eat more than a sedentary person, yep! You’d likely see some advantages too though 🙂

  10. chris on May 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Why am I so scrawny but so strong? In high school I could bench twice my weight, but I look like i never lifted a weight in my life. No pecks and skinny arms.

    • Shane Duquette on May 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      That’s an interesting question. It’s possible to get strong relative to your weight, certainly. And that’s probably a really really good sign that you naturally find yourself so strong!

      Are you saying this because you want to look as strong as you are? (Or look stronger and be one whole hell of a lot stronger than that, even.) It’s definitely possible to get the best of both worlds, too 🙂

  11. Rose on May 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Just came by this site after googling Ectomorph and weight-lifting and thoroughly enjoyed the writing on this site. Gonna forward it on to my Ectomorph brother.

    Would you be able to recommend any resources for female ectomorphs looking to make significant strength gains? Oh course with women skinny is seen as being desirable, but I still think it sucks to struggle with 4lb dumb bells, and similar stuff re skeletal fragility applies.

    • Shane Duquette on May 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      That’s awesome Rose! Glad you dig our stuff.

      It’s actually really really hard to find good sources for female ectomorphs looking to get strong and feminine. We’ve been testing our own workout / nutrition program for women though. Check out:

      http://www.bonytobombshell.com

      If you like the sound of it shoot us an email! (us@bonytobeastly.com)

      -Shane

  12. Bradley Gorman on June 11, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Awesome article dude. Just wanted to say thanks.

    • Shane Duquette on June 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      No problem man, glad you liked it!

  13. Dave on June 15, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Hi bony to beastly guys! Just want to say that I enjoy reading the articles on this website. They are all very well written and loaded with great info. It’s nice to see all this great information put out there for us ectomorphs to read, thanks! I too am an extreme ectomorph ( 6′ 135lbs ) and I’ve been experimenting with my bulking diet and workout routine. I’ve been doing a 3 day split workout ( chest/tri, back/bi, legs ) basically hitting each muscle group once a week doing compound lifts, and I have seen some moderate gains. I read that you guys do a 3 day full body routine? So do you hit each muscle group 3 times per week? I am curious because I was thinking about changing my routine to a more full body workout, but I am concerned about over training. Anyways thanks again for all the great info.

    • Shane Duquette on June 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      Hey Dave, thanks for the kind words. Glad you’re liking our ectomorph articles 🙂

      Split routines work, so if you prefer them you can continue on with them. I would argue that they won’t work AS WELL as full body routines though, and we’ve seen our best results come out of full body routines, for sure. Especially for us ectomorphs full body workout routines seem to be magic for producing muscle.

      I doubt you’ll run into overtraining, and it’s not that scary a thing if you ever were too, as, since you’re aware of the possibility, you’d realize very quickly. Many elite trainers and athletes make a compelling argument for overtraining being a myth, too. I’m not sure how I feel about that idea though, since I’ve definitely felt worn down at certain points in my training (when I’ve felt particularly “inspired” and added in a bajillion extra lifts). You can certainly increase your capacity though, and many advanced lifters are able to train twice a day, even.

      The general rule (and there are tons of studies to back this up) is that there’s an optimal volume (sets/reps) you should do per muscle group per week. As far as overtraining goes, it doesn’t matter much if you do all your back exercises in one day or spread out over three workouts … so long as the overall volume is the same.

      So why not try taking your split routine and just shuffling the exercises up. That’s a sure way to keep the volume the same, and you already know you’re comfortable with that volume. Try and get 2 lifts per body part each training day, say, instead of 6 all in one day.

      Does that help / make sense?

      -Shane

      • Dave on June 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        Thanks for the reply Shane, I very much appreciate it! Yes, this info does help. I will be trying this for a few weeks to see how it goes.

  14. Jay Nosa on June 27, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Thanks ever so much dude..I’ve just adopted some friends to the gym and they have gone from apprentices to gurus particularly on the bench…when it comes to core workouts, deads, chins, hanging cleans etc they are still novices but the hoisting of weight horiszontally has been my challenge..now I know why…

    • Shane Duquette on June 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm

      Glad we could help Jay! That’s sweet that your friends are taking well to the gym, too.

      Hopefully this helps get your bench beastliness where it should be 🙂

  15. Jordan on July 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Hey shane,
    Great article bro, probably one of my favourites because its so core and vital.

    I also wanted to know if my emails would be replied to anytime soon?

    • Shane Duquette on July 26, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      Looks like I found your emails long before I found your comment … so the answer, as you know, is yes! 😉

  16. Aman on September 8, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Hey Guys!
    Lots of great reads here!
    I’m a 6’1″ 19 year old weighing in at 158 pds. I lack a lot of motivation to workout and I feel like I always need a workout buddy or otherwise I can’t do exercises like bench because I can’t attempt to lift as heavy (my mental excuse i guess). What are some really good motivation trips to workout? I want to become ripped and thicker cause i’ve been called scrawny with no ass, for too long. Please help! Thanks.

    • Shane Duquette on September 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Bench pressing solo … well it’s debatable whether you should do that at all, unless you’re in a power cage or some such – we’ve got an article about using gym equipment coming out in the next couple days.

      You can, however, rock a heavy dumbbell bench press. You might feel more comfortable pushing yourself when you know you’ve got a safe way out of the lift if something goes wrong.

      Then there’s the whole issue of how hard SHOULD you be pushing yourself. Many of our strongest guys who get the best progress never miss a rep EVER. They always leave a couple reps in the tank, come out of workouts feeling worked by energized, and wake up each morning ready to crush the day, not feeling like they need a massage.

      You don’t NEED to beat yourself up in the gym, you just need to follow a good plan, stimulate your muscles (vs annihilating them) and then kill it in the kitchen, making sure you’ve got enough to recover and grow.

      If everything is going according to plan you show up for your next workout even stronger, and the weights you lift progressively become heavier.

      Some motivation tips:
      a) Get into a routine. I train Monday, Wednesday and Friday … every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They’re pretty much blocked into my schedule, and if I shift one I immediately actively block it in somewhere else.

      b) Carry nerdy workout sheets. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Hard to be motivated when you aren’t properly tracking your progress / you aren’t following a plan that you’re confident will give you results. Nothing worse than going to the gym and having even a hint of aimlessness or doubt.

      c) Coffee! Brew up some nice black coffee before your workout. Like steak, don’t overcook your coffee – i.e. go for a medium roast (higher caffeine content, more flavour, more nutrients).

      d) Watch a movie or something with fit manly men in it. I recommend avoiding bodybuilders / guys in steroids though – that can lead you down the wrong road as far as body image goes. You might want to go for something like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon or something. Will Smith, Brad Pitt > the Rock / Arnold. (Bonus points if you snack on healthy food, like greek yogurt + berries, while doing it!)

      Does that help?

  17. God on September 11, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Great read. 6’4″ 180pds ecto here. I’ve always owned in deadlifts but its my squats I suck at. Just started working them back into my routine using only the bar. Getting used to it and probably going to add some weight in a week or two. Never give up guys! And don’t be embarrassed to go light on the weight to perfect your form, there will always be someone stronger than you. Most of the time I destroy the guys I see squating heavy with my deadlifts and pull-ups. 🙂 everyone’s different and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Merry workout to all.

    • Shane Duquette on September 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Ah a true ectomorph! For sure. Most lanky-limbed folk do better at pulls (e.g. deadlifts, pull-ups) than presses (e.g. squats, bench press, overhead press).

      Glad to hear you’re making solid progress and you’re determined to get this mastered 🙂

      We usually recommend that guys start with goblet squats, but it sounds like you’re on the right track as far as back squats go – starting slow and progressively building up to beastlier and beastlier weights.

      Good luck man! Let us know how it goes!

  18. ernst on October 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    well….since 2 months i’m actually thinking of quitting gym, i’m following my lean muscle diet religiously,(i’m a ectomorph with a beer belly yes) i’m busting my ass at the gym, walking about 3 miles every second day,yet, i havent gained a pound, nor have i lost a pound, i havent gained or lost an inch. so basically i’m stuck with what i have.doesn’t matter if i eat junk food or healthy,i cant get rid of my belly(which is actually small) and i cant gain muscle. i’m 6.13″ and 178 pounds with 16% bodyfat.so i’m actually quite average.

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Hey Ernst, now actually sounds like the perfect time to NOT quit the gym!

      Sounds like you’re doing lots of relaxing active recovery (walking), you’ve built up great fitness habits (going to the gym consistently and regularly) and you’ve made some changes to your nutrition (hopefully for the better).

      Now’s not the time to quit, although I know it must be crazy frustrating and it must feel like it. I’ve been there many many times, and I really regret not having worked through it instead of reverting back to my old defective lifestyle that also wasn’t getting me anywhere.

      Now’s the time to tweak and adjust until you can get things working, not the time to abandon everything and start from scratch. You’d be throwing the baby out with the the bathwater, as they say.

      Some things to consider:

      1. Are you trying to lose your beer belly (aka lose weight, the weight coming from fat) or are you trying to build muscle (aka gain weight, the weight coming from muscle)? If you’re caught somewhere in the middle it’s not surprising that you’re neither gaining weight nor losing weight and your body isn’t changing much. Without a calorie deficit your body won’t burn fat very well, and without a calorie surplus your body won’t build muscle very well. I mean some body composition changes will very very slowly take place, but not at a pace that you’d likely notice.

      2. What’s a lean muscle diet? That sounds kind of like a fad thing, especially since you’re using the words “religiously” – I’m getting a very restrictive diet vibe. (Eating only “clean” foods, avoiding grains/gluten, low carbing, avoiding meat for health reasons, etc.) Oftentimes restrictive diets make things a whole lot less enjoyable and, in this case, perhaps not entirely effective, based on your missing results.

      3. It’s usually not quite so simple as avoiding junk food and eating healthy foods instead. Eating mostly nutritious and minimally processed foods is good (80-90% of your diet from whole foods is great). That’s a BIG part of leading a healthy life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose fat or build muscle though.

      4. What’s your workout plan? You don’t mention what you’re doing in the gym!

      I would pick a whole plan (one with both nutrition and weightlifting, like ours) and follow it. A good plan will tell you how to tweak what you’re doing to get you moving towards the results that you’re after.

      Losing a beer belly and building muscle is very possible and it sounds like you’re mostly on the right track. Sounds like it’s time to figure out the little bit that’s giving you grief and holding you back!

      It’s probably easier / simpler than you think 🙂

      Good luck man!
      Let me know if there’s anything more we can do to help!

      If you’re looking for a program, I really do recommend ours. It sounds like exactly what you need based on your situation. Admittedly though, I’m biased 😉

  19. Cyrus on October 12, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I’m a frikken giraffe xD

  20. isaac on October 19, 2013 at 4:01 am

    could an ecto gain 100 pounds of fat in 3 months. What do you think is the best rep range for getting stronger. I heard too low can cause injury.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Ahaha where is that 100 pounds of fat question coming from?

      I don’t know if ANYONE can gain that much weight in 3 months, let alone a naturally skinny guy / an ectomorph. The largest overfeeding study I know of looked into the Guru Walla (the traditional fattening season ritual that Cameroonian men undergo). They force feed themselves as much food as possible in order to gain as much fat as possible.

      Over the course of two months they gain around 37 pounds – 25 pounds of which is fat.

      So, even if you were trying your absolute hardest, I doubt you’d be able to gain 100 pounds of fat over the course of three months – not even close!

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1503058

      Also keep in mind that ectomorphs would like be able to a) eat less and b) would be more fat resistant for a variety of reasons.

      ***

      You can get injured with any rep range really, although if you’re doing it properly and pacing yourself the chances are fairly small. Compared to sports, for example, weightlifting has a ridiculously low injury rate. It’s always wise to be smart with things, lift within your means, and learn / practice good technique. Staying away from technical failure helps too. (Technical failure = the point where your form starts to break down in order to eek out extra reps.)

      Lifting “too” heavy would be bad, yeah. I think you’re also correct – delving into very low rep ranges (1-3) would likely up your risks of injury though, yep. That would be especially true if you were inexperienced, practiced poor technique, hadn’t built up the tendon strength, were lifting too heavy to use proper form, etc etc.

      Hope that helps Isaac!

  21. Anonymous on November 3, 2013 at 12:29 am

    There’s no such thing as an ectomorph (somatotypes) you uneducated [censored]

    • Shane Duquette on November 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      It depends on the context!

      Somatotypes were originally developed as a way of associating body types with temperament types … which, not surprisingly, failed to be valuable.

      But associating body types with body types, i.e., categorizing skinny guys as ectomorphs … well that obviously makes a whole lot of sense.

      So in the context of stuff like this – lever lengths, leverages, and weightlifting –somatotypes are brilliant.

      That’s why they’re pretty much only used in the context of fitness and nutrition these days. (And not psychology.)

      • LewisBW on December 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        Hey Shane, I know this is coming a bit late but I just wanna say congrats on the way you handle negative and rude comments. I’ve read a few rude comments on a couple of the articles and if you’re anything like me (or most people) you’d wanna talk some s@#t right back at them, but you always handle it really well. Just thought you should know how much I appreciate the general maturity of discussion that you B2B guys have created – it’s like the anti-bodybuilding.com! haha

        • Shane Duquette on January 2, 2014 at 2:59 pm

          Thanks Lewis, I really appreciate that 🙂

          Ahaha yeah it’s tough! My gut instinct is always to turn it into an epic argument and/or spend hours researching all kinds of studies to disprove their points. Not only would that be a tremendous waste of time though, it’d also be pretty bad science. (Always best to approach research with an open mind, I find.)

          I remember reading way back when (on Tim Ferriss’ blog I think) that it’s best to invest your time helping the guys with genuinely good questions, rather than bickering with the negative Nancy’s and trolls. I’m pretty grateful that I learned that early. Some of the best blogging advice I’ve ever read.

          Happy New Year man – see you on the forum!

        • nKash on January 5, 2015 at 7:45 am

          I second that.
          Exercising also helps mentally, I think. We learn to be more giving, accommodating, calm and compassionate.

          • Shane Duquette on January 6, 2015 at 10:15 am

            Studies back that up, too! It’s been shown to help improve mood, reduce stress, improve focus, increase willpower 🙂



  22. Nate on November 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Hey
    Im really interested in this program! Im a very skinny guy(bout 135) and kinda tall(6ft,1in) and the video where you were describing your experiences and thoughts about becoming stronger really resonated with me. I have looked for a good program for about 2 years now and I have the exact same thoughts about being so skinny all the time Im tired of it
    Heres the problem…
    The price of your program makes me think that you guys are really legit unlike many others i’ve found that advertise programs that give “incredible gains! (like 50 pounds!) in 2 months “for only 29.99!”
    The only issue is i don’t have the financial means to pay for this! (right now at least) Do you have any tips on what i should do in the Gym, workouts and such? I’m really motivated right now and i just want to start building at least some muscle!!
    Thanks

    • Shane Duquette on November 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      Whoa, yeah – very similar height and weight.

      We’ve been working really hard trying to revamp the first chapter of the eBook. We want it to include more practical information so that when you subscribe to the newsletter and get it for free you can learn some fundamentals and do some cool stuff with it.

      We’re trying to work on a few different things right now for our members – we just finished revamping the workouts, training videos and member forum – so it might take a little while to get it up and running.

      … but I recently wrote an article about how to train at home, and I tried to do a solid job of breaking down how to put together a rad training program. You can take the same principles and use ’em in the gym. Check this out:

      http://bonytobeastly.com/how-to-build-a-badass-home-gym/

      I hope that helps man! Good luck!

      (And stay tuned!)

  23. Harry on December 16, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Hi Shane,

    I’ve never come across a site like this and am liking it :). I have been trying different strength and bulk up programs like stronglifts 5×5, tim ferris’ four hour body, etc. With stronglifts, I was progressing nicely until my squats stalled at 55 kg. Then I tried four hour body and found eating that much food made feel like vomiting most of the time not to mention I gained ugly fat belly while still skinny everywhere else.

    Now, I am just going to the gym to focus on having fun, trying out different machines (staying away from free weights except for deadlift because I know my forms suck). My diet has changed as well. I read The New Evolution Diet by Art De Vany. Very interesting book and guy. He recommends low carb, emphasizing on meats, fist, vegetables, fruits and nuts. No grains or starchy carbs like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams etc, and he condemns portion control. On that diet, I have reduced my belly fat and by training without a method but focus on experimenting, my muscles look a wee bit visible although still puny.

    I feel great on this diet, I eat as much as I need and want, just no grains and starches. Do you think I can gain a decent amount of muscle with this diet coupled with your workout program? I know the one time investment is more expensive than others out there, but as I read more articles here, I am liking you guys more and more 🙂

    Peace,
    Harry

  24. rollair on December 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Hey Shane,

    How would you recommend I deadlift if I don’t have access to a squat cage? All I have is the barbell + weights and no time or money for a gym membership.

    Thanks for all of the info.You guys look like you know what you’re doing 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      You can raise the barbell using anything, really, like extra weight plates. Alternatively, you could build up your mobility with other lifts (like romanian deadlifts, dumbbell sumo deadlifts, etc) until you’re able to deadlift from the floor with rad form 🙂

      There are some photos here of how to do a dumbbell sumo deadlift, and that’s a brilliant first step if your back isn’t all too strong and/or your mobility isn’t all too well developed yet:

      http://bonytobeastly.com/how-to-build-a-badass-home-gym/

      I hope that helps! Good luck man.

  25. Rollair on December 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for the info!

    Also, when you work out, do you tend to do more supersets and big sets or do you rest a lot (1-2 mins or more) between sets? I’ve heard that more intensity is good for ectomorphs but also that resting a lot helps get your strength back for the next exercise. Do you have an article on this I’ve missed?

    I just want to thank you guys for this awesome website. A lot of the articles on Bodybuilding.com didn’t really make much sense, seemed too complicated, etc. Your articles actually make sense and I can understand them easily, so whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it!

    Cheers

    • Shane Duquette on January 2, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      Glad you liked it man 🙂

      We often do supersets/circuits, especially when we’re lifting big and heavy and the rest times are long. Rather than sit around waiting for a few minutes between each heavy chin up session, for example, we toss in a goblet squat. But that’s more of a time saver than anything else. There are some fitness/health benefits, but it’s not really a major factor when it comes to bulking up or anything, other than that it makes the workouts so much shorter and more efficient.

      There are a lot of different factors to consider when scheduling rest times, and if building muscle mass is the goal there are a few relevant studies to consider:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095405
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19077743
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20543741
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22032491

      To make a long story short, a good rule of thumb is to rest enough that you can lift well. If your first set is 5 reps of 100 pounds and for your second set you’re a little gasses and need to drop it to 5 reps at 80 pounds … you may have been better off waiting a little longer and doing the second set with 100 again. You’ll get in more big heavy reps that way, and volume, mechanical tension (more on that in later articles) and muscle gains very closely linked. The other thing to keep in mind is that you always want to keep your form tight. If you’re overly fatigued your form can degrade a little, so resting up long enough to lift with great technique is key. So overall just rest long enough to lift well.

      (Also, if you rest TOO long … there’s no downside really – at least not as far as building size/strength goes.)

      I’ll be writing more about this in the next article, perhaps: The Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy”, so stay tuned!

  26. Rollair on December 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    whoops, I posted that twice

    • Shane Duquette on January 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Fixed 🙂

  27. Joey on December 30, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Im pretty sure you guys have answered this question before but in your program, is it 3 times a week? And about how long are your training sessions in the program? Reason I ask is Im starting school soon and trying plan out my workouts.

    • Shane Duquette on January 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Hey Joey,

      Correct – we recommend training three times per week. The workouts usually take a little under an hour to finish, except for once every month or two, where we go a little harder and a little longer. We intentionally overreach every now and then to spur on bigger gains and prevent plateaus. Those overreaching workouts often take closer to an hour and a half, especially when you get wicked strong and start hauling big weights.

      I hope you do decide to join us man 🙂

      And happy New Year!

  28. rollair on January 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Hey Shane,

    It’s me again. How does being sore after workouts relate to building muscle, if it relates at all? For example, after doing some deadlifts yesterday, I feel a little sore in my thighs, but not in my lower back (today). Is this a good/bad thing? I’ve heard that being sore is a way of telling you worked your muscles hard enough… But I feel that if I had added more weight to the bar I would have hurt myself or lifted with bad form.

    Thanks for all of these awesome articles.

    • Shane Duquette on January 4, 2014 at 1:15 am

      That’s a tricky question that deserves a pretty hefty answer. Now that you’re mentioning it, I may go into a bit of detail in our next blog post (the Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy”).

      Short answer: delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is just waste and inflammation accumulating in your muscles as your body repairs them. It means you’ve damaged them (which does mean you’ve hit the right muscle with your training!), but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve optimally stimulated them. Similarly, not being sore doesn’t mean you haven’t optimally stimulated them. Soreness is thus a very poor way to measure the success of a workout, especially considering there are much better ways.

      You should use your strength increases (or lack thereof), body weight, measurements, and appearance to track your progress.

      Ideally you’d feel sore rather sparingly and rather mildly – just when intentionally overreaching and/or when gearing into a new style of training that you aren’t well adapted for yet.

      Does that help / make sense?

      • rollair on January 5, 2014 at 6:22 pm

        Yeah, it does. Thanks for the clarification.

        But is there a way I can know I’ve stimulated my muscles in the short term? I can’t tell if I’m lifting as much weight as I could, but like I said,I don’t want to risk injuring my back.

        When I deadlift, it feels challenging,but it’s not like I’m straining to get out the last few reps.It just feels unsatisfying, know what I mean?

        • Shane Duquette on January 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

          Well I’d err on the side of playing it safe with the big compound lifts. Pushing yourself to failure with a bicep curl is one thing, but you really don’t want your form falling apart on the big lifts. That’s one reason why training styles like Crossfit are criticized so harshly – they recommend pushing big compound lifts into extreme fatigue, at which point they become really quite dangerous.

          As for how to know if you’ve successfully stimulated and grown your muscles – one way is to measure them every few weeks (we recommend measuring every fifth week), and even more short term than that is to track how your strength is progressing each week. That way the emphasis is placed on getting bigger and stronger, not on accumulating soreness and fatigue.

          If you’re doing bodybuilding style lifts that put a bit more emphasis on metabolic stress – we do some after we finish our bigger strength lifts – then you can work on feeling it in the muscles, i.e. feeling the ‘burn’ that comes along with the lactate buildup. Many bodybuilders swear by learning to develop a mind-muscle connection.

          With a deadlift that’s tough. It’s not a lift you’d do so many reps of that you’d feel the burn or anything, so you’d never get the same sensation as you would with lifts that use a higher rep range, like a curl. I’d focus on keeping your form perfect, gradually lifting more and more, and measuring your progress based on how your strength (and form) is progressing.

          • rollair on January 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm

            Thanks for the advice!



          • Orkle on December 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

            Hi Shane. Great site, excellent writing. However, I disagree about never getting the kind of burn when deadlifting that one would from any other exercise. Through a deadlift properly executed you will feel enormous muscular sensation – including lactate build up – particularly shooting up the hamstrings and glutea. And the lower back will potentially pump up big time. You seem to imply a lesser rep range for deadlifts. But doing 9-10 reps of a deadlift over 2-3 working sets (after 2-3 further warm-up sets) has seen me gain around 60% on my deadlift in 4 months. I would even go so far as to say that if you don’t feel a burn on a deadlift, you’re not executing it optimally. I get a tremendous surge of sensation up through the hamstrings; and I’ve read several sources that say this denotes optimum form.



          • Shane Duquette on December 17, 2014 at 6:45 pm

            Feeling a deadlift in your hamstrings is awesome! That’s one of the target muscles. You’re correct that we deadlift a little differently, too, and that could very well account for the differences in how our bodies respond.

            The reason we don’t feel a burn when we deadlift is because we lift from a dead stop and then set the bar back down fully before picking it up again. We also use lower rep ranges. Research shows that this is the sweet spot of being optimal for strength development and also for safety.

            Your style is very different, and sounds more similar to how we program Romanian deadlifts, where we use higher rep ranges and we keep constant tension on the muscle groups being works (like the glutes and hamstrings). Feeling a burn there is very common, and I’d argue that it’s a better lift for building mass, because of the higher rep range, higher volume and great time under tension.

            Different people have different ways of programming things though, and everyone responds to lifting a little differently. I’m not saying your way of doing things isn’t as good—just that we lift a little differently over here 🙂



  29. Faiyaz on January 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Hey folks, I’m a true ectomorph. This is my first time on this forum and I’ve loved everything that has been covered in the write-up here.

    I’ve been able to build decent amount of muscle but I always lose all the muscle I build once I reach a plateau, get disinterested and lay off for extended periods. Since September to December I’ve been able to put on 25 pounds. I’ve lost 10 of those pounds because I lost focus during the holidays and everything. Getting back to the gym in 3 days.

    This forum definitely seems an awesome start!

    Cheers!

    • Shane Duquette on January 4, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Glad to hear you’re liking the blog Faiyaz 🙂

      Congratulations on gaining 25 pounds (15 now) – that’s amazing! You must be stoked.

      Ahaha while your average person gains a pound or so over the holidays … we’re all definitely the guys who lose a bit of weight when our routine gets juggled around like that. There’s a lot of truth to all that muscle memory stuff though – once you’ve built muscle once it comes back very quickly and very easily.Don’t fret – it’ll come back in no time.

      (Most of the weight you lose in short term periods like that is just fluid, glycogen and gut contents anyway, not muscle mass or fat.)

      It’s also normal for your weight to settle at a slightly lower weight than what you’ve peaked at. When we stop eating in a surplus our bodies deflate a little. (And if we stop training our bodies deflate a little bit – our muscles may still be big and strong, but they’re no longer inflamed and swollen. When you get back to training they’ll swell back up again.)

      One thing you may find really helpful is focusing on maintenance for a month or two after you finish a successful bulk. You need to re-establish homeostasis as a bigger and stronger dude. Let your body adjust to your new burlier weight, let your metabolism level out, your appetite adjust, etc. You can gradually eat less food as you go, until you’re eating a similar amount to what you were eating before the bulk, but radically cutting your calorie intake back at once can be troublesome.

      The other thing that would REALLY help is turning this into a lifestyle. If you can get into a routine where you’re hitting the gym and keeping your strength up, then your body will hold onto muscle no problem 🙂

  30. Trell on February 4, 2014 at 2:12 am

    Wuzup shane! Good article u wrote man i enjoyed it i knw im really late with dis question but i read one comment in which u recommended ya workout plan and im just curious on what it is?? Im in desperate need of a gud workout plan! Thanx

    • Shane Duquette on February 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      Hey Trell, glad you liked the post, man! There’s no such thing as being late – no worries. I even go back and update old posts sometimes, as new evidence becomes available 🙂

      Check out:
      http://bonytobeastly.com/the-program/

      That’d cover absolutely everything you need!

  31. Adam on March 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Hey Shane i want to plan ahead of my training, thats just how i am, i need to know what do you do after the program, to ensure that the gains are still coming. Do you train differently, do a specific part again….
    thanks again

    • Shane Duquette on March 7, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Hey Adam, We just just solved that, actually! Up until now people have just been repeating the program. (We have two versions, so it works surprisingly well.)

      No we have an advanced program out for existing members to do. Each month we teach new techniques, try out new things, experiment with specialization phases (for bigger arms, or chest, or back, or a better deadlift, a bigger bench, etc) and keep striving towards mastery of the fundamentals (of both nutrition and weightlifting).

      Did I understand/answer your question?

  32. Jacob on April 1, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Hey Shane! I am the absolute definition of an ectomorph. I got them chicken legs…. I weigh 145 at 6’2 and my goal is to reach 200 pounds. Can you give me an example of a good stable workout routine? My diet isnt really on point at the moment but im working on it… I’ve been around the whole web looking for routines but I cannot decide on which one… If you can guide me the right direction it would be very much appreciated.

    • Shane Duquette on April 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Ah right on – that’s a little heavier than where I started out, and I little heavier than I weight right now. (I went from 130 to 185-190 at 6’2.)

      Hehe if you want a badass workout program I would (and I’m totally unbiased, of course) recommend ours 😉

      If you’re looking for free information though and you want to see what movements we use to structure a solid full body workout check this post out. And if you have any more questions about it or anything just let me know!
      http://bonytobeastly.com/how-to-build-a-badass-home-gym/

      Also, I think you’ll really like our next blog post (“The Skinny on Just Lift Heavy”). We’ll be talking in more detail about the research on building muscle as efficiently and rapidly as possible as a naturally skinny dude trying to bulk up 🙂

      I hope that helps!

  33. Dan on April 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Great article. Growing up, I was (and still am for the most part) an ectomorph. At 14 years old I was 5’11” 135. When I graduated high school i was 6’2″ 165. Now, at 45 years old, I weigh 190-195. So many articles on working out fall into the “one size fits all” category. We’re all different shapes and sizes and when working out, this is VERY important, not only for muscle building, but for avoidance of injuries: I’ve had two shoulder surgeries due to bench pressing the standard way of lowering the bar all the way down to my chest, so once again, your article is spot-on.

    • Shane Duquette on April 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Ah right on. And thank you for the kind words, Dan 🙂

  34. vish on May 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Hey great article over der just loved the tips. 😀
    I literally used to wobble during my overhead presses. Now i can go 70 lbs easily. I am an ecto 6’1″ 157pounds . I started 4 months ago and packed on some fluctualting 10 pounds. I do pack on some whey supps 2wice a day but dey jus seem like keepin ma weight constant. Also i am a lactovegan so i can’t just pound up a chicken breast or eggs twice a day. What would you suggest me to do. Thanks. 😀

    • Shane Duquette on May 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Congrats on gaining 10 pounds, man. Sounds like you’re doing well already. If you can’t get enough protein from whole foods, you’re correct to supplement with a protein powder 🙂

      • vish on May 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

        Thanks a lot!!!
        Yeah jus tryin to pack on more weight using a combination of protien shake as well as
        whole foods . But truly this article would be a huge impetus for doin the same!! 🙂

  35. John on May 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

    An excellent article, I being Asian, am exceptionally tall and always have had problems with my long body, making it tough for me to maintain good posture with my scrawny ectomorph physique. always finding it awkward to do certain exercises with ease. In particular, the back section helps a lot in posture strengthening for ectomorphs. Thanks for the great read!

    • Shane Duquette on May 20, 2014 at 12:15 am

      Glad you liked it, John – good luck! 🙂

  36. Eli on May 24, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Hey Shane,

    I’ve been having a problem with my deadlifts for some time now. I watched your youTube video and Marco’s form is what I’m trying to aim for– buy whenever I deadlift (my back is straight), my legs straighten out and then my back follows, so while my legs are almost straight my back is still almost parallel to the ground. How can I stand up all in one motion? My back has been sore for days and it’s extremely frustrating.

    Thanks

    • Eli on May 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      In addition, I’m trying to keep my weight backwards instead of forwards, so more on my heels. And even though my back is straight, I don’t feel a lot of work being done in my legs.

    • Shane Duquette on May 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      You’ll want to keep your chest nice and high at the beginning. If your shirt had a logo on it and there were a mirror in front of you, you’d want to be able to see the logo in the mirror. You really only want to be hip thrusting the bar when the bar gets to about your knees. The hip part should come then, not right at the beginning. The beginning is more like a leg press, where you’re pushing the ground away from you.

      It sounds like the main problem is that you’re lifting too heavy. Since your legs/hips/core can’t do the lift your stronger muscles (your lower back, it seems) are picking up the slack, resulting in an awkward stiff-legged deadlift. It’s common for powerlifters to use a technique similar to what you’re describing because it allows them to lift heavier. That doesn’t mean it’s advisable or safe though.

      For you though I would go lighter and practice your technique. You might want to begin with rack pulls or raised deadlifts instead. And getting some Romanian deadlifts in your arsenal as an accessory lift would probably help.

  37. kulu on August 19, 2014 at 12:46 am

    guys i would love to buy your programe because i’m an ecto myself
    my question is can i pay by debitcard

    • Shane Duquette on August 19, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Hey Kulu, glad to hear it man. You can! PayPal processes our payments, which allows people to pay either with a credit card or a PayPal account. Since you have a debit card, you’d want to pay with PayPal itself. Instead of clicking “pay with a credit card” you’d just sign up for an actual PayPal account and use your debit card to set it up. Does that make sense?

      If you have any trouble with the process just shoot me an email at us@bonytobeastly.com 🙂

  38. Mark on August 28, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Thank God for this article, I’ve been benching since a year and barely gained any pecs not to mention that lately my shoulders have been killing me, was on the verge of going into a depression and quitting the gym. Hopefully the bench will work I’ll try it tomorrow 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on August 30, 2014 at 1:50 am

      Hey Mark,

      If your shoulders are killing you that’s probably something you should address. Could be a few things. It could be a posture/alignment thing, it could be a strength imbalance thing. That problem is usually fixed by spending more time building up strength in your back and less time spend benching.

      I’d switch to dumbbells for a couple months. Better for building up your pecs if you struggle to build your pecs, and oftentimes easier on your shoulders, too!

      Regardless, good luck, man! 🙂

  39. Jason on September 26, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Love this post!
    “Taking their cues is like asking a 7’2 guy how to dunk a basketball. He may very well say “uh just reach up and put it in.””
    – Why we don’t ask big guys in the gym for help. Brilliant

    • Shane Duquette on September 26, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Thanks, Jason 🙂

  40. AL on September 29, 2014 at 3:05 am

    Stuart McGill says that for preventing back injuries, endurance is more important than strength. Your thoughts on this?

    Waterloo’s Dr. Spine, Stuart McGill:

    • Shane Duquette on September 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

      Dr. Stuart McGill is the man! It’s just a soundbite, so it’s hard for me to tell what point he’s trying to get across with it… but he’s brilliant with this stuff—I’d be inclined to trust him. He has other soundbites too. Talking about how heavy strength training (deadlifts in particular) cause the spine to adapt by becoming much stronger:

      “Fortunately, [the spine] is fatigable and adaptable, just like muscle tissue. As the nucleus pressurizes, it creates a doming effect on the endplate down into the vertebrae, and the trabecular bone is what backs it up. So progressive training over the years lays down bone that’s heavily adapted to bear mammoth-compressive load.”

  41. Andres on November 13, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    The artical was great so true Ive been looking for a solution because ive been exercising since freshman year but I have had the same results no change in my body but more solid I was doing wrong for 4 years and now I will try your advice

  42. Emi on November 22, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Really liked the article! Would love to see more articles like this on the bombshell program too haha

    • Shane Duquette on November 22, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      That’s a very good point. Let me see what I can do 🙂

  43. Panos on November 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Hi Shane, i am ectomorph, i train for 8 years without results. I am very disappointed, when i bulk i gain only fat. I can do only 3 total sets per workout, i usually do 1 set bench press, 1 set barbell row and 1 set squat. If i try to do more i get dizzines and i feel very tired. What is your opinion about this?
    Can i pay with bank transfer for the program because i have not paypal yet?

    Thanks.

    • Shane Duquette on December 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      Hey Panos,

      There are a lot of factors here. Are you lifting all the way to failure? Are you performing the lifts correctly? Are you sleeping and eating well? Hydrated?

      Feeling dizzy after just a small amount of lifting seems like something you might want to bring up with your doctor. If he’s on board with you lifting, we’d love to have you man 🙂

  44. Zedic on December 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Where has this been all my life? I’m stoked! For 3 years I went through off and on phases in the gym and saw some gains & benefits of weightlifting but for the last 2 years I’ve been pretty consistently building strength in the gym & taking my nutrition more seriously, but feeling like there was no real direction/science to the madness. Apparently I’ve been asking the wrong guys. I’m ready for this! I’m thirsty for more. Let me know where to begin!

    • Shane Duquette on December 7, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      Hey Zedic, glad to hear you dig our scientific approach, man 🙂

      You sign up here. I hope you decide to join us!

  45. Fabian Gonzalez on December 12, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Hey Shane nice article! Finally there’s a cool program for skinny guys. I am 5’8 and 128 pounds. I’m really looking forward to starting my journey! My story is just like yours homie, I have trained MMA and I’m currently going to school to be a graphic designer. I’m currently working part-time at a gym and have a free gym membership. I really hope this works out! My only problem is eating, It really tough for me to eat so much. I will try my hardest because I have a lot motivation at the gym. Thanks dude!

    • Shane Duquette on December 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Whoa your story is a LOT like mine! You’ve read our article on ectomorph appetites, yeah? The skinny on “just eat more”? We go into more depth about that in the program, but that’s a good starting point when trying to figure out how to eat more 🙂

      Good luck, Fabian!

  46. Bryan on January 25, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    So, how many reps and sets should I do?

    • Shane Duquette on January 31, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Hey Bryan,

      That’s a good question, but not a simple one. That depends how many exercises you’re doing that hit the same muscle group, how close to failure you’re going, how many reps are in each set, how many times you’re training per week, whether you’re doing full body routines or splits, how experienced you are, what your periodization structure is like, etc.

      To oversimplify it tremendously though, it’ll probably be between 9-24 sets per muscle group per week. And you’ll probably want to use a variety of rep ranges, from 3 reps up to maybe 20 or even 30.

  47. marc on February 5, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks you so much for the information.

    As I am lanky, i was experimenting pain in the right shoulder while doing bench press..
    thanks to your advice it isn hurting that much..

    Have you got any article about the scapulas? I have heared that they are important during the benchpress in order to dont damage your frontal shoulders!

    • Shane Duquette on February 6, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Glad to hear it helped, Marc 🙂

      We don’t have an article on it, no—yet! We should film a video for it on YouTube. You’re right. When doing the bench you want to keep your back nice, firm and stable. Different ways of benching have you positioning your scapula in different ways, and there’s some debate about what’s optimal. We should put up a video!

  48. Mike on February 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    How many calories would this program require me to take? And what kind of weight gain goals do you recommend to set?
    I weigh 135 standing around 5’9, and I’m interested in the program, but so far my trouble has been finding a program which helps me understand what specific goals to set in terms of weight gain/caloric intake.

    • Shane Duquette on February 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Hey Mike,

      Those are two really good questions, and they both have the same answer: the rate that you gain weight is determined by the degree of your calorie surplus, and you want to eat enough calories to gain 0.5-2 pounds on the scale each week.

      How many calories will that be? It really depends. A fairly skinny guy who’s fairly lean will usually do well aiming for two pounds per week, whereas a skinny-fat guy will want to take a slower pace to avoid gaining fat, and an already very muscular guy will want to take a slower pace because he won’t be able to build muscle as quickly.

      Different people also burn different amounts of calories each day for a wide variety of reasons. More on that here.

      And the better your weightlifting program, the more quickly your body will be trying to build muscle, so the more quickly you can gain weight.

      We use a pretty complicated formula in our program that takes into account a lot of variables, but 18-22x your bodyweight (in pounds) will be somewhere close. From there you can adjust your intake based on how much you’re gaining on the scale each week and it looks. 🙂

      I hope that helps! Good luck!

    • Shane Duquette on February 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      And I really hope you decide to join us! You sound like a good fit 🙂

  49. Sam on February 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    So you advocate half repping? The greater the range of motion the more muscle fibres are activated – I am an ectomorph yet I still bench with good form (bar to chest, arched back, strong foot position, squeezed shoulder blades). If you use the correct movement patter and elbow angle when benching then you won’t injure your shoulders. Similarly piling more weight onto a squat whilst sacrificing depth is pointless. unless you can squat a weight to PARALLEL then it’s too heavy period. Advocating half repping and poor form seems a quick way to injury and a lack of progress

    • Shane Duquette on February 28, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      Hey Sam,

      There are certainly instances where partial reps have their advantages, but for the most part a larger range of motion is ideal. However most people will have some sort of limitation on how large a range of motion they can use. We usually recommend using the largest range of motion that you can safely use most of the time. You’re right, that will activate the most fibres and lead to the most growth, even if the weight lifted is lighter.

      It’s great that you can bench to your chest with good form 🙂

      Given that you can do it safely and properly, it’s probably the best bet for you. I can do it now as well, although I couldn’t at first. Many skinny guys cannot—it damages their shoulder joint (and ruins their leverage). This is because in order to get the barbell to touch their chest they’re needing to go way past parallel. This may not be true for you, or even most people out there, but it’s true for many long-limbed skinny guys with narrow rib cages and slender torso musculature.

      As a solution to that, what we’re recommending is the bench press equivalent to squatting as deep as you safely can. Ass-to-grass squatting is great, but parallel is as deep as many people can go, and some can’t even safely go to parallel—at least not at first. We’re recommending benching to parallel (upper arms to a parallel position) rather than barbell to chest —the bench press version of “ass-to-grass” (going as far as your joints allow).

      I hope that makes more sense!

  50. Luis on April 19, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Hey Shane! I have a question, so currently I weigh 107 pounds, have 16 years, have a 28 inch waist and am 5 foot 6 inches tall. Should I start doing weights? Currently I only have a home gym available for me to use… Also, should I concern myself with body fat and all of that stuff? And lastly, about how long does it take to get noticeable abs?

    • Shane Duquette on April 23, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Hey Luis,

      Hell yeah you should start lifting weights! I mean ask your doctor and parents of course, but 16 is a pretty perfect age to start, and I think you’d love what it does for you, both physically and mentally. Marco started at your age, and by the time I’d gained my first pound at 20, he’d already gained 63 pounds!

      A home gym is perfect. Check this article out if you want to see our recommendations for how to build/use a home gym.

      Concern yourself with bodyfat? Sure—within reason. As a skinny guy you won’t struggle with it nearly as much as a naturally chubbier guy… but you should make sure that when you bulk you’re building mostly muscle, not fat. You want to grow more muscular after all, not just bigger.

      How long does it take to get noticeable abs? That depends on where you’re starting and what you’re doing. If you don’t have abs and you’re bulking up… you may not get abs until many months later if/when you decide to cut. Check this post out if you’re skinny, don’t have abs, and are wondering what to do about it.

      I hope that helps! Good luck!

  51. Damian Pros on May 26, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Hey,

    I have just found your site and want to tell you that it’s great! Keep up the great work!

    I have a question regarding the article: Bringing up your waist in bench press to reduce the range of motion is said to be better for the shoulders. But what about the lower back? Isn’t it harmful?

    • Shane Duquette on May 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks Damian, glad you dig it 🙂

      If you have a healthy back, you use good form (lats and glutes engaged and whatnot), and your arch isn’t extreme… it’s usually pretty safe. You could also do a bench press with a smaller range of motion while keeping your back in a more neutral position. That’d be safe quite safe for both your shoulders and your lower back.

  52. kesavan on May 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    It’s a great information about ectomorph bodu type. I got that somethings shld be change in my daily workouts . Thanks for sharing this article ☺

    • Shane Duquette on May 31, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      No problem, man—glad it helped 🙂

  53. Big Slim on June 22, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    6’6″ 195lbs here. I workout 4-5 days a week and would say I am in above average shape. I used to be 6’6″ 165 lbs, 15 years ago but thankfully weights and a good diet have bulked me up a good bit. Anyway, I would like a new program to mix things up a bit. I see yours looks tailored more toward beginners, would you agree?

    • Shane Duquette on June 23, 2015 at 12:28 am

      Hey Big Slim,

      Props for having made it up to 195 pounds! That’s awesome 🙂
      At 6’6 sounds like you’re one helluva beastly dude!

      You could say that the beginner stage is where you’re making neural gains (aka you’re learning how to use your muscles) and your muscles grow eagerly in response to any style of lifting (provided your nutrition supports that growth). Programming doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to properly lay a good foundation for the intermediate level. We try to get our beginners out of this stage within a couple months, with a couple dozen pounds to show for it.

      You could say the intermediate level is the “bulking” part of a guy’s life. With the rapid neural gains out of the way, the best way to get stronger is to get bigger (and vis versa). At this point your body doesn’t adapt as readily though, so programming needs to be amazing to see good consistent growth. (This is why so many beginners hit a wall as soon as they get to the intermediate stage. What was good enough before isn’t good enough anymore.) This is what our program is all about—building muscle/strength as quickly as possible at an intermediate level via excellent programming (and nutrition).

      Advanced would be the stage where you hit your genetic muscular potential and need to increase strength by again focusing on improving technique, and at this point training becomes very very different. It doesn’t just need to be “better”, it needs to be pretty extreme. However most guys, aside from professional powerlifters and bodybuilders and whatnot, need to worry about this. Or you could go down an athletics training path, or into Olympic lifting, etc.

      We have our beginners start a little lighter and with simpler regressions of the lifts so that they can lift heavy enough to grow optimally right from day one (safely). We have another workout stream for guys who are coming in already ready to lift heavy though. We could start you there 🙂

      I think you’d dig our approach. I bet it’d be pretty different from what you’re used to, too.

      I hope you decide to join us!

  54. Matthew on June 24, 2015 at 1:43 am

    hey, guys! I have a question. so today, I was in the gym and I had started a set of incline bench press. I usually come down to where my arm (from my shoulder to my elbow) is parallel to the floor before pressing back up (learned that from you guys). a guy who looked like he was experienced in lifting weights told me that I was only cheating myself by not going down to my chest. he helped me by telling me that I needed to go all the way down to my chest (he wasn’t being mean or anything). but going down to my chest caused me to have to drop weight (like almost 30 pounds). my question is should I do what the gentleman said or keep doing what I’ve been doing? thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on June 24, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      Hey Matthew, that’s a really good question!

      Let’s take the example of the squat. More range of motion in your hips and knees is good—it’s further stretching out the muscles that you’re trying to strengthen and grow (your butt, quads, hamstrings). Research shows that more range of motion is more important than how much weight is on the bar, so in this case, even if it means lightening the load, this would be a good idea. More range of motion in your lower back is bad, since you’re no longer getting that range of motion from the “right” place. Research shows that this will increase the risk of spinal injury. This means that when squatting, you would probably want to go as deep as you can before you start to bend in the lower back. For some, that will be ass to grass—more than enough to count as a full powerlifting rep. For others, that won’t even be down to parallel—which would be considered “cheating” by competitive lifters.

      The same is true with the bench press, except it’s less common for people to have a good understanding of the shoulder joint. If you can get a fuller range of motion by further stretching out your pecs without compromising your shoulder positioning, great. If bringing the bar to your chest puts your shoulder in a bad position though, you’re getting the range of motion from the “wrong” place, increasing the risk of injury without improving the growth stimulus to your chest.

      When in doubt, I wouldn’t bring your upper arms past parallel. With an incline bench press though, it might be more useful to think of “parallel” as being parallel to the bench/your upper body though.

      Your abilities will change over time too. I started off doing raised deadlifts, and now I’m doing them from the floor. I started off limiting the range of motion of my bench press, and now I’m bringing it to my chest. Beginners tend to do better with a smaller range of motion, since they don’t have as much mobility yet.

  55. S on July 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    This is kinda funny to read. I am 5’6″187lbs and was called “short and stocky” by some guy in the gym the other day, haha. But I came across this site looking up exactly what that means. Anyway I have noticed that taller guys also don’t dip properly either because of their longer legs. So I thought I would mention. And it is funny that so many guys have issues over their height. I am happy to be my height, sure I can’t run far for long but I am explosive and powerful

    • Shane Duquette on July 1, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      Ahaha yeah, you’ve got the stocky physique that all us naturally skinny guys are jealous of in the gym! Crazy how this article comes up not just when googling about (sometimes tall) skinny ectomorph hardgainer lanky look-like-a-marathoner stuff, but also about short and stocky stuff!

  56. rob on July 20, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    hi shane, is this sort of weight gain age specific ? is it possible into your thirties ?

    • Shane Duquette on July 20, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      Hey Rob,

      The largest muscle-building genetics study to date took guys ranging from 18 to 40 and found no difference in their ability to build muscle.

      Age does play a little bit of a role though when it comes to keeping things safe. If you’ve been inactive for many years, you might benefit from doing higher rep training to start (12+ reps) because your tendons and ligaments are a little more frail. It’s a little safer and will still have them building muscle at a great pace. Gradually we can start working the rep range down. That’s something we normally see in much older guys though.

      Thirties isn’t old, and a lot of the transformations in the sidebar are from guys around your age. In your thirties you’d actually be quite young for a natural competitive bodybuilder.

      So hell yeah you can build muscle in your thirties!

      • rob on July 21, 2015 at 7:27 am

        cheers mate, increases the motivation 🙂 although i have noticed that when i tried working out 10 years ago it was easier to buff up. its too bad i didn’t follow it thru long enough to see permanent gains. its relatively slower now. maybe its partly due to smoking. making the effort now to hopefully find the gains 🙂

        • Shane Duquette on July 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm

          Glad to hear you’re ready to get back into it, Rob. I hope it goes well! Don’t underestimate your abilities, either 🙂

  57. Cole on August 7, 2015 at 12:31 am

    In the article you say that you should do conventional deadlifts to build lower back size and strength , i recently measured my limb sizes and found my proportion more ideal for a sumo stance. So i should continue to focus on a conventional stance despite probably being better suited to a sumo stance?

    On a second note if i were to add Sumo wouldn’t that strengthen my conventional deadlift ? , Eg. strengthening weak points and such.

    • Shane Duquette on August 7, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      That’s a really good question, Cole.

      Switching to sumo deadlifts is a good way to lift a little heavier for a lot of us ectomorphs because it reduces the range of motion and requires less back strength. But it’s also a poorer way to strengthen our back muscles and improve our mobility. So it comes down to a) whether your goal is lifting heavier weights or building muscle, and b) whether you need to minimize strain on your back for other reasons.

      If you do decide to focus on sumo deadlifts, just be sure to take breaks from lifting maximally and to keep the conventional deadlifts in your lifting rotation. Alternate between the two. The wide stance you adopt when doing the sumo deadlift can beat up your hips a little, since it’s a bit weirder of a pose. So that’s a case of what you’re mentioning: if you were to just use the sumo you might develop some weak points. Use both and you should be okay 🙂

  58. Smilo on September 30, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Finally after years of being on and off the gym because of embarrasment and also lack of proper motivation, I recently stepped up and joined the gym two days back with the aid of hardgainer protein shakes to boost my muscle and strength.

    Fast forward the time and it’s already day 3, upper body is in heavy pains as we speak (not sure if it’s injury or either muscle stretching) and also in the process I noticed more challenges along the way: First two reps I can do whilst adding further would immediately require assistance. And lastly whilst bench pressing my right arm is weaker than my left arm which seriously disturbs my balance when pushing to my ecto limitations.

    How can I combat my above obstacles?

    • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2015 at 11:20 am

      Hey Smilo,

      Are you saying that you can’t lift the weight anymore after just two reps? How many reps does your program say you should be able to get? And how close to failure are they saying you should go? I suspect failing after two reps means the weight you’ve chosen is too heavy.

      It’s normal to have some muscle imbalances when you first get started. Weightlifting can be pretty good for correcting them. Perhaps you should start with a dumbbell bench press, stopping when your weaker arm hits failure (or before hitting failure—this would depend on the program).

      Does that help?

  59. Smilo on October 2, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Now that you mentioned it I guess the fault is me not even having a program to follow as like the guys at gym, it seems like they pick whatever weights they come across.

    Though taking note of not being able to join your program due to finance limitations I’l use the articles yall guys post and intergrate them to my own program.

    Keep up the stellar work guys

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Even just following your own program, while it may not be totally optimal, will work wonders for you. Weightlifting is great for your health, your bone density, your mood, even your brainpower. If you’re able to eat enough to gain weight you’ll do a great job of building muscle too—at least at first, while the gains are easy. You can always shop around for a program once you run into a plateau 🙂

      Best of luck, man—and make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter! If you’re after some free programming and info we’ll be sending out some cool stuff via the newsletter soon 😀

  60. Smilo on October 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Will definitely do,

    Thanks again.

  61. Angel on December 13, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Training on forearms?

    • Shane Duquette on December 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      Yes 🙂

      (Can you clarify your question a little?)

  62. ernest on January 13, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Very well explained with a such optimistic way in every word,makes me getting interested now.So im an ecto with a pretty long belly which is thin as hell.Is it possible to thicken that part with some exercises?Will deadlift and hyper extension do the job?Do i need to work on abs too?I dont really mean to be having a rocky-like body with a square muscle everywhere,all i care is wrapping this bone with something so i dont look like a pink panther.Thanks man.

    • Shane Duquette on January 13, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      Hey Ernest,

      When skinny guys say that they have a “long” belly what that normally means is that they have excessive anterior pelvic tilt. When our hips are tilted forward this shortens our lower back muscles and lengthens our ab muscles, giving us a long, protruding stomach. This was the case with Jared, Marco and me, and a good 90% of all of our members. It’s a very common issue with skinny guys.

      You may also have a long torso—also common with ectomorphs. (And certainly true of me!)

      To address that particular issue I would recommend lifts like the plank and farmer carry that will teach your body how to hold a neutral spine. Lifts like the deadlift and chin-up will also help with this… provided you can do them with good technique! I would start with easy variations—dumbbell sumo deadlifts, lat pulldowns with your ribs down and your abs braced.

      However, in order to wrap some meat around your bones, I’d really be doing a balanced program. We’ve got some good exercise ideas in this article here.

      If you want more, there’s always The Bony to Beastly Program. That’s where we could teach you absolutely everything you need to know as well as coach you on an individual level.

      I hope that helps, and good luck!

      • Matt on February 16, 2016 at 8:45 am

        Shane, I love reading all of your thoughtful responses! Thanks for sharing so much with us, as I learn something new with each post you make. Your words are inspirational!

        • Shane Duquette on February 16, 2016 at 4:19 pm

          Thank you so much for the kind words, Matt! So glad to hear you’re been liking our posts 🙂

  63. Manuel on January 23, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Shane, i have a few cuestiones about the program, i dont know where to ask them so i write here. Sorry

  64. ernest on January 31, 2016 at 6:59 am

    Hey Shane,i have seen your progression pics its truly inspiring to see such a progress,especially your chest and shoulder.Did you do incline bench to fill an area around your clavicle? Or just flat bench will do the job?

    • Shane Duquette on February 1, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Hey Ernest,

      Studies have found that the difference between the incline bench and the regular bench press is surprisingly small when it comes to stimulating your upper pecs. (4% difference or something, if I recall correctly?) The main thing you’re doing is shifting more emphasis to your shoulders when you bench on an incline. I never did it.

      (Although if you bench press with a big arch you might be doing more of a decline bench press movement when trying to do a flat bench press, thus stimulating more of your lower pecs.)

      My chest grew a lot because I was able to active my pecs well when bench pressing, and also because I used a lot of assistance lifts (pec flys and push-ups and whatnot). I would highly recommend working on your technique and learning to activate the target muscles, as well as adding in the appropriate assistance lifts for your body. If your pecs activate easily, perhaps you do triceps isolation lifts. If they do not, perhaps you do more chest isolation lifts.

      My shoulder growth I credit mostly to lateral raises to begin with and then eventually overhead pressing 🙂

      I hope that helps!

      • ernest on February 2, 2016 at 7:51 am

        Thanks man, that really helps a lot.

  65. Carlos on February 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Hey guys, what rep range and sets do you recommend for ectomorph leg exercises? 6-8 x 3-4 sets? I find that legs are the most challenging to see growth in size.

    • Shane Duquette on February 16, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      I’d recommend a variety of rep ranges. So for your quads, for example, maybe you squat heavy—doing 5 rep sets for a few sets, then you do a lighter leg press session with 8–10 reps for a couple sets, then some lighter split squats with 10-12 reps for another couple of sets—that kind of thing.

  66. Matt on February 16, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Hey Shane,
    I love this article! I have struggled with gaining lean weight for 10 years. After reading your article I believe I am a true Ectomorph. I am weak on the bench ~175lbs and can’t do chin-ups for the life of me. I am 6’5″ 212lbs (recently lost 18lbs). I gain fat very easily and lose weight very easily, but then get too “skinny”. I have love handles that don’t ever seem to go away and my shoulders are not very broad. When I workout and cut calories I can lose 30-40lbs in 2-3 months no problem. But I don’t know how to gain muscle back! I know it requires eating more but I have yet to experience this kind of transformation.

    I used to weigh 188lbs 10yrs ago in grad school and was trim, cut and strong (for me). I benched ~230lbs, curled dumbells 50lbs for sets and a 33″ waist. 2016 is the year I prove that even in my 30’s I can be in better shape than when I was 23.

    When I read your article and a few others about Ectomorphs it all started to make sense. This one article I found, can’t remember where, said Ectomorphs are best working each body part 2-3x per week instead of the traditional 1x/week because our muscles need stimulation more frequently than a meso or endo. This is done in the 10,8,6,15 pyramid for 6 major muscle groups (back, bi,tri,legs,shoulders,chest) in one workout (~60min to complete). Then do a different exercise for the same body parts the next day. I just started last Friday and it has taken my workouts to a whole new level. I am completely exhausted yet feel great, not overworked, and I never go to low rep heavy like I used to, so there is less risk of injury.

    Thanks to your article I have learned that its OK not to touch my chest for bench, and to give myself a little slack when it comes to squats/deadlifts because of my long limbs. I am now hopeful that I will be able to transform my Ectomorph body into something to be very proud of. I still have about 10-15lbs of fat I want to lose before I begin the bulking phase. I am nervous and excited about it as I have never “bulked” before and don’t know what to expect as far as eating and results. I have a trainer who is going to help me. I can’t wait! Any words of encouragement is greatly appreciated! thanks in advance for your response!

    • Shane Duquette on February 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Hey Matt, thanks for all the kind words man. It’s awesome that you’re getting back into this. Being in better shape than when you were 23? I would sure hope so! You’re only in your thirties, man! You’ve got a long, long time before your age starts to get in your way!

      Hehe research is showing that everyone is best working each muscle group 2–3 times per week, ectomorph or not. That’s a relatively minor issue though. Overall volume per week is far more important than how you split it up. Those bodybuilder triple splits are popular but not optimal (except perhaps in rare circumstances). So yeah, these whole body workouts you’re doing are rad for muscle growth.

      Pyramiding your sets is good… but not the only good way to lift. However, you’re right that a wide variety of rep ranges is ideal for building muscle. 6–15 is pretty good. Your injury rates wouldn’t go up by much though if you carefully included some heavier sets as well. 3–4 rep sets could also be good. Not necessary, but certainly helpful when implemented properly. 20-rep and even 30-rep sets can be helpful in some instances as well.

      Ahaha you’ve forgotten your glutes, all your core muscles, and, hehe, it’s odd to think of your shoulders, biceps and triceps as separate muscle groups while your legs and back have far more (and far larger) muscles in them than your arms. For example, you’ve got vertical pulls working some muscles in your back, horizontal pulls working others. Similarly, different exercises tend to hit your hamstrings and quads in your legs, just like with your biceps and triceps in your arms. I get what you’re saying though, and I think your routine is sounding good.

      Sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job of this, having a trainer is awesome, and I think you’ll have great success! Good luck with the rest of your cut, man 😀

  67. Kellci on February 17, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Interesting read. But you keep implying that ectomorphs are necessarily tall. A person could be only five two and still be an ectomorph. A mesomorph can be 6-5 with short stubby arms.

    • Shane Duquette on February 18, 2016 at 9:49 am

      What makes an ectomorph an ectomorph is often that limbs and spines are longer than normal. For example, I have the wrist width of the average 5’6 guy while being 6’2. So my bones are as wide as a short person’s but as long as a tall person’s. A lot of my height comes from the long length of my spine. Marco and Jared are 6’4 and 6’0 respectfully, both with average bone widths but very long legs. However, this is just what often happens, not what always happens. The average height in our community is probably around 6′, so a good few inches taller than average, but we have lots of shorter guys too!

      You see the opposite oftentimes in stubby people. They have average head sizes and hand sizes but much shorter limbs. But that enormous strongman guy in Game of Thrones—the guy who plays the Mountain—is a good example of a very tall guy who’s also built like a barrel. That’s relatively rare though.

    • Shane Duquette on February 18, 2016 at 9:54 am

      Okay maybe this is clearer. Imagine a regular 5’10 guy. To make him stubby you’d shorten his arm, spine and leg bones. This would reduce his height by a few inches and make him stubbier. (If you simply shrunk him proportionally he’d be a smaller person, but not a stubbier person.) To make him lanky you’d lengthen his arm, spine and leg bones. This would make him taller by a few inches while making him lankier. (If you simply enlarged him proportionally you’d make him bigger but not lankier.)

      Interestingly, this is often what seems to happen. While you have tons of lanky and stubby guys at all heights, if you take the average height of the different body types you may start to see some trends.

      I’m going outside of what’s been strictly proven though—this is just what experts in the field are hypothesizing—so take this with a grain of salt.

  68. Ludwig on March 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Great article!

    I’m 6´6, long legs, long torso and very long arms almost like Lamar Gant. I destroyed my shoulders first year of training when I was told to hit the chest during bench press/shoulder press or I was a pussy etc etc. Today I only do floor press and cable variations and I’ve grown better this way with less pain(still pain from my shoulders but nothing special).

    The main problem with being an ectomorph is that you have to weigh around 300 pounds to make use of your leverage and produce decent results/strength.Its not an excuse but it clearly shows the astronomical difference between short and tall in terms of struggle for the same results in the same timeframe. Everyone is built differently but there’s nothing positive being tall, only problems 😉

    • Shane Duquette on March 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Ludwig!

      The Lamar Gant build makes lifts like the bench press a nightmare, where long arms increase the range of motion and hurt your leverages… but it’s not all bad! Your height and proportions also make you well built for lifts like the deadlift, where long arms reduce the range of motion and help your leverages. (Marco has a similar height and build as you and he casually deadlifts 405 pounds.)

      Hell, you’re also a beast of a dude just in terms of height alone!

      Sounds like you’re doing well, and good call strategically modifying your bench pressing like that. Floor presses and cable variations are great 🙂

  69. glen on August 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Good Article. Kevin Durant can’t bench his own weight, but he is strong enough to dominate in basketball. I used to sacrifice my overall physique just trying to increase my bench press max. Then I realized that my ectomorphic body type is mostly geared toward pulling. I decided to focus less on bench press, and more on doing heavy pulling exercises shuch as heavy dumbell/barbell rows, and pullups and doing SQUATS. Since my back and leg muscles are much larger than my chest, my overall muscle mass started to increase dramatically, and I was able to get shredded pretty easily once I was squatting 250 lbs and doing 10-pullup sets. I don’t even work my biceps or triceps because they are naturally huge and it makes my small shoulders look even smaller. I do push presses to mak my shoulders big, and I do lateral raises and reverse cable flys for the side/rear heads. I hit all three deltoid heads hard, and do biceps and triceps exercises sparingly, and it makes shoulders and arms about the same size. The key is to know your body type, and do heavy exercises for your biggest muscles. Everything else will follow

  70. Cedric on August 25, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    I am ectomorph (21yo, 6’2″, ~140lbs) with the upper cross syndrome you described in one of your articles. I am do stretches and exercises to correct it. I started weight training more seriously this year after a few years of not knowing what to do as a beginner and following all sorts of routines online. I’ve been doing Stronglifts 5×5 barbell training, because it is recommended for beginners. I have learned the movements and was able to add ~50 lbs to the squat and bench and ~80 to the deadlift. I couldn’t progress on overhead press. I found it very taxing on my nervous system, workouts were quite long and I focused more on movement than on muscle contraction. I gained a little weight and visible muscle size during the ~3 months I did the program. I read about your program and philosophy through the articles and it sounds like something that would fit me, but it is too expensive for me at the moment. Some of the things in the package, like the meal plan, I don’t think I’d need. I wonder if I should continue again with the Stronglifts program (I’ve taken a month off for vacation). I’ve heard from some sources that the program is mostly strength based, so if I want to gain weight I should add other exercises or higher volume (reps) to target the muscles. I am confused and don’t know how I should train for my goal.

    • Shane Duquette on August 26, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Hey, Cedric. Congrats on your strength and definition gains! Nice work. That’s amazing 🙂

      I think programs that use exercise progressions are better for beginners. Starting with a goblet squat instead of a back squat, for example. If you can already do all the big lifts with near-perfect technique, though, no need to go back to those simpler variations right now.

      If you’ve got that upper / lower cross sort of posture, with your hips tilted forward and your ribs coming up, then the overhead press could be dangerous for your lower back. That could be a lot of pressure you’re putting on just a few vertebrae in your spine. Probably best that you avoid that for now.

      Yes, Stronglifts is a strength-oriented program with a lot of volume for the lower body. 5×5 programs work pretty well, but if you’re eager to gain more size, especially in your upper body, then I’d use a different style of lifting.

      Yeah, you’d want a program that uses more higher rep sets mixed in with the lower rep ones. Muscle is best built with a wide variety of rep ranges, going as low as 3 reps per set, and sometimes even as high as 20–30 reps per set! That will get you better gains while also being easier on your central nervous system.

      Does that answer your question at all?

      • Cedric on August 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Hi Shane! Thanks for your reply!
        Yes you answered my question I was confused on. As I mentioned, I am doing things to improve my posture and it certainly has improved. I started with goblet squat until I could not progress on them as well, then went to barbell squats. If the Stronglifts 5×5 is not right for me at this time due to my goal, I’d willingly change routines or structure one for myself. However, I don’t know how to go about doing so. I hear many contrasting opinions from different people. For example, I hear that 5x5s are good for establishing a solid base of strength and muscle for beginners before moving to more advanced routines. Then I hear from others that a a higher rep range like 8-12 in best. Then I hear that a variety of ranges is best. Being in my first year of lifting for real, I don’t want to make things too complicated off the bat. Regardless of rep range, I hear that progressive overload is key to muscle gain and that’s what drew me to the 5×5, adding weight each session, which is easiest with barbell lifts that work multiple muscles at a time. I know there are other factors to muscle gain. So like, I said, I’d be willing to switch to another routine, but I’m worried I’ll fall into the trap of trying and switching between different routines again and not getting any results due to not sticking with a long term program. Is there a way to build a foundation of strength and muscle for skinny beginners other than a 5×5 routine like Stronglifts?

        • Shane Duquette on August 26, 2016 at 6:01 pm

          5 reps per set is good for growth. 8–12 is good, too. Combining more rep ranges together would be even better.

          If you HAD to pick one rep range, I would say 8–12 because it’d be easier on your central nervous system and you’d be able to handle higher volume. Your workouts would also be shorter and more efficient. You don’t have to pick one or the other, though.

          Whichever rep range you choose, you’d want to build your workout out of compound lifts. They wouldn’t need to be barbell lifts. The dumbbell overhead press outperforms the barbell overhead press for shoulder growth, and the dumbbell bench press outperforms the barbell bench press for chest growth. Barbell lifts are awesome too, though.

          I’m not saying that our program is a special unicorn and nothing else comes close. I can think of a couple competitors who offer fully optimal workouts. Eric Cressey makes really good athletics stuff. Alberto Nunez and Eric Helms at 3D Muscle Journey are amazing for competitive bodybuilding. I also like Jordan Syatt’s stuff for strength and fat loss. They aren’t free, though, or even cheap.

          Our unique specialty here at Bony to Beastly is helping naturally skinny guys gain muscle and overall size. To do that we use a lot of appetite tricks, we use a mix of strongman training, athletic training, bodybuilding, and strength training. You’ll see a lot of the stuff you love about Stronglifts in our program right alongside higher rep bodybuilding-style curls.

          I think the dilemma here isn’t what would be the best, but rather what the best free or homemade option would be, yeah? If you’re not going to switch over to a well-designed mass gaining program, sticking with Stronglifts might be your best bet (and certainly better than a homemade option). While we do think that the evidence points a different way, it’s still undeniably a good program.

          • Cedric on August 26, 2016 at 10:45 pm

            I appreciate your reply. I understand what you are saying. Thanks for clearing up some misunderstandings and lack of knowledge I had. I want to say that my unwillingness (hesitance) to pay for a well-designed program is not because of the money, but more so because there are so many well-designed programs out there telling you different things to the point that it can be hard to know who to trust. Not to say that I don’t think some programs, including yours, are true. I appreciate that your site shows evidence and research to support your program. One of the best I’ve seen. I think myself being in a new situation, still quite young, becoming more serious about getting stronger and muscular, moving away from the cookie cutter programs I’ve tried in the past that did not work, towards more proven routines, I will eventually turn to a program like yours where I may need to pay money, but in return I will get better results. Again, thank you for your replies and I will consider your program.



          • Shane Duquette on August 27, 2016 at 9:43 pm

            I know I’ve got a tidbit of a bias, but I think you’ll get your money’s worth out of it very quickly! And then some 🙂

            You’re going to be spending quite a bit of time in the gym. Being productive in there could be worth quite a lot.

            More more weeks, or months, wasted while not getting results, either.



  71. […] Here’s our article about how to lift with ectomorph proportions. […]

  72. Billy on June 22, 2019 at 5:28 am

    I have been trying Stronglifts for the past several months but I have been starting to get issues with my sleep which in the past has been similar to my issues with constantly doing lower rep sets. I think that the lack of variety on low rep sets has been too hard on my CNS. Not sure if any others had similar problems. I have been trying to build muscle but it is hard.

  73. […] We talk about some solutions for these weightlifting issues in our article, Why Ectomorphs Need to Lift a Little Differently. […]

  74. […] Note: Make sure that if you’re jumping straight into strength training that you’re doing a program that’s appropriate for beginners. A proper strength training program will be, but these are not the ones you tend to find online. It’s extremely rare that someone can just put a barbell on their back and squat with anything close to decent form, it’s even rarer that someone can deadlift a barbell off the ground with decent form, and I’ve never even heard of anyone picking up a barbell and pressing it overhead with enough technique that it’s even remotely safe. Rushing right to doing these big compound lifts is often dangerous and ineffective – especially if you’re a naturally skinny guy, since our bodies are longer and thinner. More on that here. […]

  75. […] an ectomorph. I had a thin torso, long arms, and just generally bad genetics for the bench press. That can make the bench press harder for ectomorphs to learn, for sure, and it explains why I couldn’t bring the barbell down to my chest, but a new study […]

  76. […] then, every lift has its nuances. Even just being a lanky ectomorph can change the dynamics of the big compound lifts. And when something feel off, it can really help to have a coach who can help you diagnose the […]

  77. […] The best way to lift weights as an ectomorph […]

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