Illustration of a skinny and a muscular ectomorph doing biceps curls

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Hypertrophy Training

Most exercise programs are designed for overweight guys. Even most lifting programs are designed for overweight guys. After all, overweight or not, who doesn’t want to be big and strong? Thing is, most guys intuitively overeat, and so year after year, they gain pound after pound (study). They don’t gain muscle quickly, they gain it relentlessly.

Skinny guys are different. We don’t naturally overeat. We aren’t muscular by default. But once we start bulking, we can usually gain muscle more quickly than any other body type. We’re far enough away from our genetic potential that our bodies are primed for muscle growth. The average guy would be lucky to gain ten pounds of lean mass in a year. Some of us skinny guys can gain up to forty, defeating our skinny genetics in a single year.

Thing is, most weight training programs aren’t actually designed for muscle growth. Yes, they often produce some muscle growth as a byproduct. But as naturally skinny guys, we shouldn’t be doing workouts that stimulate muscle growth as a byproduct, we should be doing workouts that are designed to stimulate as much muscle growth as possible—on purpose.

So how do we deliberately train for muscle growth? With something called hypertrophy training. Let’s talk about how to build muscle, and why hypertrophy training is the most effective way to bulk up.

The History of Bulking Workouts

The Very First Bulking Program for Skinny Guys

What's the best workout for ectomorphs? Charles Atlas' Dynamic Resistance Program?

Back in the 1920s, Charles Atlas came up with the first muscle-building program for skinny guys. This was back in the good old days, back before the word “ectomorph” was coined, back before skinny guys even knew they could build muscle. Back then, being skinny was just a body type. If you were skinny, you were skinny. That was it.

Problem was, the good old days weren’t so good for skinny guys. Even back in the 1920s, muscular men got more attention from women and more respect from other men. The skinny guys didn’t want to be skinny, but since it was considered immutable trait, they didn’t realize they could do anything about it. They thought they were stuck that way.

Charles Atlas saw an opportunity there. He designed a workout program that he could market to these skinny guys. He called it the Dynamic Resistance Fitness Course. He placed advertisements in magazines calling out to “98-pound weaklings” who were eager to bulk up.

It worked, too. All over the world, pre-ectomorph ectomorphs began placing their orders, eager to finally build up enough muscle to look good on the beach, eager to finally stop having sand kicked in their face.

Atlas’ theory was that you could “pit muscle against muscle” to create the tension needed to stimulate muscle growth. For example, when you flex your biceps, you need to clench both your biceps and your triceps. The two muscles work agonistically, allowing them to flex against each other. He claimed that this muscle-against-muscle tension would stimulate muscle growth. Then, as your muscles become stronger, the resistance you create becomes more intense, allowing you to become stronger still. Best of all you could do this workout program from the privacy of your own home. No equipment required.

However, Charles Atlas was soon accused of false advertising. Bob Hoffman, the founder of York Barbell, believed that lifting weights was the only way to build an impressively muscular physique. He saw that Atlas was impressively muscular, and so he suspected that Atlas was secretly building his muscles by lifting weights but claiming that the results came from his flexing routine. A fraud.

On the stand, Atlas insisted that he did do his flexing routine every single day. But when the lawyers asked him if he also lifted weights, he admitted that, yes, he also lifted weights “on occasion” to test his strength. Pressed further, he admitted that he “tested his strength” three to four times per week.

Charles Atlas didn’t even trust his own routine.

Funny thing, though. A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that doing a biceps flexing routine three times per week for 12 weeks produced a 4% increase in both biceps and triceps size. You can build your biceps simply by flexing them. Now, is that a good workout routine? No. Not by a long shot. That isn’t very much muscle growth. But Atlas’ routine wasn’t total bull, either.

This is the grey area that most workout programs live in. They work, yes, just not very well. And they work on most people, yeah, but not on everyone. This is how skinny guys can wind up trying a ton of different workout routines while never getting the results they’re after.

Nowadays, this same thing still happens. Not always fraudulently, but still, it can be confusing. For example, P90X is a bodyweight workout routine that’s supposed to help guys build muscle (among other things). It’s fronted by Tony Horton, a former bodybuilder. Before Horton even joined the company, he had already bulked up by lifting weights. However unintentional, there’s a bait and switch there. It leads people to believe that they can build the body of a bodybuilder by doing fitness workouts.

I don’t mean to single out P90X. This is standard practice in the fitness industry, and oftentimes it’s entirely innocent. You’ll have a guy who builds a bunch of muscle by lifting weights. At that point, maybe he loses interest in building more muscle. After all, he’s already accomplished his muscle-building goals. So then he becomes passionate about callisthenics, say. But people don’t realize that he built his muscle by lifting weights.

You see the same thing in reverse, too. There are a few popular programs where the founders did bodybuilding for a few years, hit a muscle size plateau, got bored, and then switched to strength training. At that point, they started seeing results again. They broke through the plateau. So what do they do? They recommend that skinny beginners start with strength training. But they’re forgetting that they themselves built the majority of their muscle mass through bodybuilding. They’re asking skinny beginners to follow in their footsteps, but they’re giving them a training routine that they only started using once they were already muscular. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

A more nefarious variation of this is someone building an impressive physique using traditional methods: lifting weights, eating enough calories, eating enough protein, maybe supplementing with some creatine. Then, once they’re already muscular, they’re asked to promote various bulking supplements that they never used while they were bulking up.

This all goes to show that we can’t look at what someone does now to see how they built their muscle in the first place.

The Colorado Experiment and the Magic of Muscle Memory

Is HIT an effective way to gain muscle size for ectomorphs?

Jumping forward to 70s, and Arthur Jones is one of the biggest names in the fitness industry, famous for inventing new bodybuilding equipment and methodologies.

In 1973, he introduced his most famous idea: High-Intensity Training (HIT). The idea behind HIT is that you do a single set for each exercise, moving the weight extremely slowly, and going all the way to total muscular failure. This style of training is quite hard to do with free weights simply in terms of the balance it requires. So to allow the lifters to focus all of their energy on simply pushing the weight through a fixed path, he recommended his Nautilus lifting machines, which he had invented for this very purpose.

Is HIT an effective way to gain muscle size for ectomorphs?

To advertise this new bulking method and his new lifting machines, he enlisted the help of his protégé, a professional bodybuilder named Casey Viator. Over the course of 28 days, Arthur Jones coached Viator through the HIT program. They trained just three times per week, each workout lasted only 30 minutes, and yet over the course of those 28 days, Casey Viator gained an astounding 63 pounds of muscle.

This was unheard of at the time. It’s still unheard of to this day. Was this revolutionary new bulking routine really that powerful?

To understand how this is possible, we have to look at the context of Casey Viator’s transformation:

  • Viator had some of the best muscle-building genetics the world had ever seen. He had won the title of Mr. Universe at age 19, and he was known for his ability to lift incredibly hard and eat enormous amounts of food.
  • He had a reputation for his steroid use, which causes more nuclei to be drawn into muscle fibres. This is a permanent adaptation that makes it easier to gain and regain muscle mass. There’s also no reason to think that he wasn’t taking steroids during the experiment.
  • In the year before the experiment, got into an accident where he lost part of his little finger. He got a tetanus shot to prevent infection, but he had a severe allergic reaction to the shot. He lost his ability to eat and exercise for almost a year, losing dozens of pounds of muscle mass.
  • In the two months leading up to the experiment, Viator intentionally lost a couple dozen more pounds of muscle by following a starvation diet (800 calories per day) and by strictly avoiding weight training. Casey Viator was going to be paid a tremendous amount for every pound he gained, and so he wanted to make this upcoming transformation as dramatic as possible.
  • During the experiment, there were even rumours that Casey Viator, certain that the HIT program wouldn’t be effective enough, had been sneaking in extra workouts in order to boost his muscle growth.

There are a few cases of people using a similar approach to rebuild muscle and getting similarly impressive results. Arthur Jones followed the same protocol as Viator. First a starvation diet, then detraining, and then rapidly recovering 17 pounds of lost muscle in just 28 days.

The results were advertised, the starvation diets and detraining leading up to those results were not. HIT went on to become a popular way to bulk up despite a mounting pile of evidence that it didn’t work very well.

Over the past five decades, research has consistently shown that slow lifting isn’t a good way to build muscle (study, study, study). Neither is low volume training (systematic review). Taking sets to all-out failure doesn’t help either (study, study).

However, research has also shown that many muscle-building adaptations are permanent. This means that recovering muscle mass is much easier than gaining it in the first place. Gaining muscle tends to be fairly slow, but people can rebuild tremendous amounts of muscle in extremely short periods of time.

Why is this relevant today? In his Geek to Freak experiment, the best-selling author Tim Ferriss followed the same protocol as Casey Viator, using it to rebuild 34 pounds of muscle mass in 28 days. Like Viator, Ferriss was detrained and underfed in the year leading up to his transformation, which is what allowed him to regain so much muscle so quickly. And to be clear, Ferriss was fully open about this. I don’t consider this be a case of deceptive or false advertising.

The only problem is that when Tim Ferriss published his fitness book, The 4-Hour Body, it featured his Occam’s Protocol bulking routine, which was based on Arthur Jones’ old HIT routine. For a few years, that workout routine became extremely popular with ectomorphs who were trying to build muscle. They saw that Tim Ferris was skinny in the before photo and muscular in the after photo, not realizing the role that muscle memory played in the transformation.

Eventually, it became clear that most skinny guys weren’t able to reproduce Tim Ferriss’ dramatic results, and so it gradually faded from popularity. We rarely hear about it anymore.

Now, to be fair, results always vary. Even with the best bulking program, you shouldn’t expect your progress to look exactly like someone else’s. We all have different genetics, bone structures, and lifestyle constraints.

My point is that looking at these anecdotal “it worked for them” stories is a poor way to find a workout program. When it comes to those one-in-a-million progress photos, perhaps that’s due to one-in-a-million genetics or circumstances. Who knows what other factors influenced those results?

It’s Hard to Tell What Builds Muscle Without Research

There are plenty of bizarre muscle-building routines that have been marketed to skinny guys over the years. As a teenager, I tried my fair share of them. I thought that maybe, just maybe, a radical new workout program could produce radical new muscle growth.

However, there was a flaw in my thinking. If the tree you’re climbing isn’t sturdy, you shouldn’t climb even higher up, you should look to the foundation. The very things that make bulking routines unique are also what make them ineffective. The most revolutionary muscle-building techniques are the ones that deviate the most from the foundational principles. They’re the routines with the least amount of evidence behind them—the ones that are the least likely to work.

We’re quick to toss out conventional wisdom because we want to go beyond it. We want to get better-than-conventional results. And so the assumption there is that we need to get those results from unconventional methods. For example, consider low-volume high-intensity training (HIT), which was touted as being a more efficient way to build muscle. Here are the results of a recent study, extrapolated for a 150-pound man:

  • 1 set of squats: 0 pounds muscle, 0 pounds fat, squat strength went up 36 pounds.
  • 4 sets of squats: 0 pounds muscle, -3 pounds fat, squat strength went up 46 pounds.
  • 8 sets of squats:  5 pounds muscle, -2.5 pounds fat, squat strength went up 82 pounds.

These HIT bulking programs with their single sets to failure might not produce any muscle growth or fat loss in the average person. The workouts may be short, but it’ll take forever to get results out of them.

However, to make sense of these results, there’s also some nuance that we need to discuss. Looking at the 1–4 set squatters, they gained an average of zero pounds of muscle. Not good. But that doesn’t mean that everyone gained zero pounds. This average is the result of some participants gaining muscle and others losing muscle. The gains are cancelled out by the losses.

Even with poor bulking programs, some guys will still succeed in spite of their sub-par workouts. This is balanced out by the people who get absolutely terrible results out of them, sometimes finishing worse off than when they started. Whoever you are, though, it’s better to be in the 8-set group, especially if you don’t have good muscle-building genetics.

This unexplained variation in muscle growth is a well-studied phenomenon. In another study that looked into it directly, the researchers put participants on a 12-week arms-only lifting program (bicep curls and tricep extensions):

  • Most participants added around two inches to their arms.
  • A few gifted participants were able to add 5.3 inches to their arms.
  • A few hardgainers lost 0.1 inches around their arms.

The reason some participants lost muscle size in their arms can likely be explained by the fact that most people intuitively eat enough calories to gain weight, whereas naturally skinny guys tend not to eat enough to keep up with their metabolisms. In this case, the hardgainers probably needed a bulking program that included information about how to eat. But since their diets weren’t monitored, we can’t know for sure.

Nevertheless: some people naturally respond favourably to lifting weights while others need to be more deliberate about it. That means that if we want to gain muscle consistently, especially if we’ve failed in the past, then we have to ground ourselves more firmly in the foundational principles of muscle growth. The answer isn’t in the one crazy trick, the answer is in the basics.

We need a good bulking workout routine, a good bulking diet, and we should also consider whether any other aspects of our lifestyles could be bottlenecking our muscle growth (such as not getting enough sleep).

The best way to guarantee a successful bulk is to stack together these foundational principles of muscle growth.

To do this, we must understand those foundational principles.

The Foundational Principles of Building Muscle

The Power of Specificity

Specificity is a pretty simple concept to understand. If you want to get good at a specific thing, you should train for that specific thing.

If you want to be able to deadlift more weight, you need to gain size and strength in the muscles that will help you deadlift (your hips and back), and you need to improve your deadlift technique. The best way to build those muscles and develop that coordination is to deadlift.

The same thing is true with other types of training. If you want to run a marathon, you need to improve your cardiovascular system, muscle endurance, and running technique. Deadlifting probably won’t help you do that. Better to practice your jogging.

So when it comes to gaining muscle, we need to train specifically for muscle growth. Not for strength, not for endurance, not for fitness, but specifically for muscle growth. This is all the more important because we’re naturally skinny. We aren’t the types of people who build muscle by accident.

Yes, if we train for strength, perhaps some muscle growth will come along as a byproduct. The same can be said with general fitness training. And perhaps that bodyweight workout routine or CrossFit circuit will yield a bit of muscle growth. But make no mistake, these routines aren’t designed for building muscle. They’re not bulking routines.

If your goal is to bulk up, better to do a dedicated bulking program—a hypertrophy program. This is going to mean lifting weights, and it’s going to mean spending most of your time in the moderate rep ranges (6–15 reps per set). Some strength and endurance will come along as a byproduct, but the main adaptation will be building bigger muscles.

The same is true with the specific areas that you’re trying to grow. No amount of deadlifting, squatting, bench pressing, and rowing is going to give you bigger biceps. Biceps strength simply isn’t a limiting factor on those lifts. So if you want bigger biceps, then you’ve got to make sure that your workout program contains chin-ups and biceps curls, which are the exercises that are best for bulking up your biceps.

The 2–3 Pathways of Muscle Growth

When evaluating different types of training, it’s important to have a clear grasp of what makes a muscle grow. As the research currently stands, Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, has the dominant theory of hypertrophy, which posits that there are 2–3 pathways that stimulate muscle growth:

  1. Mechanical tension: This is the tension placed on the muscle as you lift weights. The heavier the weight (study) and the larger the range of motion (studystudy, study), the more muscle you’ll build. An example of this would be doing heavy chin-ups for your biceps, starting from a dead hang and bringing your chest all the way up to touch the bar. If you aren’t strong enough to do a full chin-up yet, you can jump up to the bar and then lower yourself back down. Even with lowered chin-ups, you’ll still get a tremendous amount of mechanical tension simply by resisting gravity on the way down. These heavy compound lifts are where most of your muscle growth will come from (study).
  2. Metabolic stress: This is the “burn” or the “pump” that you get while lifting weights, causing your body to produce local growth factors in the muscles that you’re training (study). For example, after finishing your heavy chin-ups, you might want to do some biceps curls to build up a biceps pump. This will produce extra local growth factors that will cause your biceps to grow slightly more quickly. How much more quickly? If we pool the data from the seven relevant studies, we can predict about 27% more muscle growth from doing curls after chin-ups. (This data analysis is from Monthly Applications in Strength Sport).
  3. Muscle damage: This is how much damage you inflict on your muscles during your training. The muscle soreness you feel a couple of days later is caused by inflammation as your body sends in nutrients to repair the damage. If everything goes right, your body will build your muscles back bigger and stronger than they were before (study). This is by far the least important factor. In fact, you may even want to minimize muscle damage so that more of your resources are used to build muscle instead of repair it.

So there are technically three pathways that allow us to stimulate muscle growth, but the third pathway is too weak and tenuous to put much faith in. In fact, we might even want to intentionally minimize it. Mechanical tension and metabolic stress, however, are quite powerful. They’re a foundation that we can build a reliable bulking routine on top of.

In fact, you could build a bulking routine out of one or the other. If you really wanted to focus on mechanical tension, you could build muscle with a heavy strength training routine, whereas if you wanted to focus on metabolic stress, you could build your routine out of high-rep pump work. So long as the routines are properly programmed, both will produce a similar amount of muscle growth.

These pathways fit in with specificity. If you specifically train for muscle growth—doing a 6-rep set of chin-ups followed by a 12-rep set of biceps curls, say—then you’ll be building muscle via mechanical tension and metabolic stress.

If you were to train less specifically—with strength training, say—then you might only stimulate muscle growth via mechanical tension. Less specificity, and therefore a slightly less relevant adaptation. That works well for a lot of guys. It tends to work less well for skinny guys.

The Principle of Progressive Overload

Progressive overload can be illustrated with the apocryphal story of the ancient Greek wrestler, Milo of Croton. Milo was eager to bulk up, so he started training by carrying around a young calf in his arms. He was skinny, so even that small calf was enough to challenge his small muscles, provoking an adaptation.

Illustration of Milo of Croton, used to demonstrate the principle of progressive overload

As his muscles grew bigger, so did the calf. Before long, he was famous for being able to carry around a full-grown bull on his back. In fact, Milo became so confident in his strength that he tried to tear a tree apart with his bare hands. Unfortunately, he got his hand stuck in a crevice in the trunk and got devoured by a pack of wolves. It’s amazing what one can accomplish with a little grit and patience.

Just like Milo, we must challenge our muscles by lifting just barely within our means, right up against the limit of what we’re capable of. Our muscles will realize that they need to grow bigger and stronger, and so they will. Then we need to use that greater strength to lift greater weights. And so on.

This is why weights were invented. They allow us to lift progressively heavier as we grow progressively stronger. Every workout, we can increase the load by a couple of pounds.

Barbells, dumbbells, and exercise machines are all great for this. Dumbbells and barbells stimulate more overall muscle growth by demanding that your muscles also work to stabilize the weight. However, regardless of what you’re using, the important thing is that you gradually lift heavier and heavier weights as you grow stronger.

Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and chin-ups are also valuable, but since you need to make them heavier as you grow stronger, they won’t stay bodyweight exercises for very long. Lowered chin-ups soon turn into bodyweight chin-ups. Bodyweight chin-ups soon turn into weighted chin-ups. This can make it tricky to build muscle with bodyweight workouts.

Every time that you lift weights, consider progressive overload. That means knowing how much weight you lifted last time. That way you can ensure that you’re always outlifting yourself. That’s how you’ll gradually grow bigger and stronger, just like Milo did. Eventually, with enough patience, you may even be devoured by wolves.

Lifting Often Enough (But Not Too Often)

Lifting weights stresses your muscles, provoking an adaption. Then we have to wait until the adaption takes place. During this period, we’re weaker (and often sore). Then, once we’ve adapted, we can go stimulate a new round of muscle growth. We’ll be stronger than before, so we should be able to lift a little heavier, or eke out another rep.

That gives us our bulking cadence:

  • Lift
  • Rest
  • Lift more
  • Rest
  • Live even more

A good bulking workout will stimulate 24–72 hours of muscle growth in the muscles that you train, at which point you can lift weights again to stimulate a new wave of muscle growth (study).

This is why doing full-body workouts three times per week tends to be the quickest and most reliable way to build muscle, especially as a beginner or early intermediate lifter. That way you can stimulate every muscle with a few challenging sets each workout, keeping your entire body growing steadily all week long.

Of course, you could lift more often than that if you wanted to. You could split your workouts up into different body parts. For example, you could train your lower body one day, your upper body the next, allowing you to lift weights every day. It wouldn’t hurt. It just wouldn’t help, either.

Beginners are quite good at stimulating muscle growth but also quite vulnerable to muscle damage, which means that we need to cautious about overdoing it. If your first workout causes a week of crippling muscle soreness, you’ve overdone it.

For beginners, doing just a few challenging sets per muscle group per workout tends to be best. That makes it quite easy to stimulate a maximal amount of growth in all of your muscles with a full-body workout.

A good bulking routine might look like this:

  • Full-body workout 1
  • Rest
  • Full-body workout 2
  • Rest
  • Full-body workout 2
  • Rest
  • Rest

You don’t need that second day of rest, but it can help to clear up any lingering damage and fatigue before starting a fresh week.

Even at an intermediate level, full-body workouts can work quite well. If you ever run into a plateau, you might want to add a fourth day of training, though. Or maybe you simply enjoy training more often. 3-day routines work well, but they’re by no means mandatory, especially beyond a beginner level.

What Type of Lifting is Best for Bulking Up?

Alright, now that we’ve talked about how to build muscle, let’s talk about a few different types of workout routines that guys will often use to bulk up. The frustrated skinny guy that I was, I’ve tried all of these. I even succeeded with some of them.

General Fitness Workouts

At one end of the spectrum, there’s the idea that we don’t need to get strong in order to build muscle. This is where bodyweight workouts, P90X, and CrossFit come in. This concept is even more tenuous: that by becoming more physically fit, we can become more muscular.

Improving your physical fitness does cause a number of beneficial adaptations:

  • Improved muscular endurance
  • Better blood flow
  • More efficient oxygen usage

General fitness workouts are great for you, don’t get me wrong. However, they’re also awful for making our muscles bigger. Yes, you’ll build some muscle, especially if you’re a total beginner, and especially if the exercises are still quite heavy for you. But you won’t build very much.

The problem with fitness-oriented training is that the limiting factor will very rarely be mechanical tension or metabolic stress in your muscles. You’re much more likely to be limited by your cardiovascular fitness, your coordination, or your pain threshold. And since your muscle strength isn’t a limiting factor, your muscles won’t see any need to grow bigger.

It doesn’t matter how gruelling the workouts are, how fearsomely your muscles burn with a Hellish fire, or how many times you throw up. If the stimulus isn’t heavy enough, it won’t cause you to adapt by becoming bigger and stronger (study, study, study, study, study).

Now, don’t get me wrong. These aren’t bad programs. They’re popular for a reason: because they work quite well for most people. It’s just that most people aren’t ectomorphs who are desperately trying to bulk up.

The Pros and Cons of Strength Training

An illustration of a low-bar barbell back squat
The Low-Bar Barbell Back Squat

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s this idea that strength is everything. This is a much more compelling argument, especially since it’s mostly correct. However, the Devil is the details.

When I started searching for bulking information online, I kept running into programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts, Reverse Pyramid Training, nSuns, 5/3/1, and GreySkull LP. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re strength training programs that seem to be advertised to everyone, regardless of their goals. The idea is that if you want to build muscle, just get stronger at the big compound movements, and the muscle size will eventually follow.

That’s where the “just lift heavy” mantra comes from. It comes from guys who are interested in eking more strength out of their already large muscles. By lifting heavy, they strengthen the neural connections between their brains and their muscle fibres, allowing them to contract all of their muscle fibres simultaneously for a single all-out rep (study).

That adaptation, nicknamed neural gains, helps people lift more efficiently with the muscle they already have. It makes people stronger for their size.

Strength training is great in a few different ways:

  • It’s focused on the big compound lifts. Most strength training programs are built around the squat, bench press, and deadlift, which are fantastic lifts for building muscle. They stimulate hundreds of muscles at once, loading them up with a tremendous amount of mechanical tension.
  • It uses free weights. Strength training is usually done with a barbell, which does a great job of building up stabilizer muscles, bone density, and tendon and ligament strength. Furthermore, the strength that you build will be totally versatile.
  • Progressive overload is always front and centre. They always keep the focus on gradually lifting more and more weight.
  • The programs tend to be simple, focused, and methodical. You can’t get much simpler than Starting Strength or StrongLifts, and that’s a good thing. It makes lifting seem much less overwhelming.

The problem with strength training is that while it certainly does stimulate some muscle growth, it doesn’t do it very quickly or efficiently. There are a few reasons for that:

  • Strength training technique tends to be centred around lifting heavier weights, not building muscle. For example, Starting Strength is build around the low-bar barbell back squat not because it’s better for building muscle, but because it gives people better leverage, allowing them to load more weight on the barbell.
  • The range of motion is totally arbitrary. Some people can squat deep, others can’t. There are a variety of reasons for this, ranging from technique to mobility to anatomy. With strength training, though, guys who can squat deep are usually incentivized to cut their range of motion short, missing out on the benefits of going deeper. Worse, the guys who can’t squat deep still need to hit depth, so they have to force it.
  • The Big 3 lifts themselves are arbitrary. The squat, deadlift, and bench press aren’t the foundation of strength training programs because they’re the best lifts for bulking up, they’re just the lifts that are tested at powerlifting competitions. The chin-up, for example, is an incredible lift for stimulating muscle growth in your biceps and upper back, but since having big biceps is irrelevant to powerlifting performance, you won’t find it in most strength training programs.
  • The rep ranges are too low for hypertrophy. Strength training is all about doing sets of 1–5 reps. That will yield some muscle growth, sure, but it’s by no means ideal for building muscle. For most of us, it’s better to spend most (but not all) of our time lifting in moderate rep ranges.
  • Volume is generally pretty low. Heavy compound lifts impose a large amount of stress on our central nervous system. As a result, we fatigue quite quickly. In fact, we fatigue before we’ve stimulated a maximal amount of muscle growth. 
  • There’s too little upper-body development. Powerlifting is 2/3 lower-body training, which is perfectly fine, but most guys would prefer to have a more balanced physique with more upper-body size and strength.

I find strength training interesting because it’s so close to being good for building muscle. If you want to learn more, we’ve got a full article about strength training for muscle growth.

Long story short, strength training programs are absolutely brilliant at developing killer strength, it’s just not quite the kind of strength that will help us build muscle. It’s also not ideal for avoiding injuries, improving our appearance, or improving our general health.

Besides, most of us aren’t trying to get stronger for our size. If we’re small, why limit ourselves to being strong for a small guy. Why not become big and strong?

The Pros and Cons of Bodybuilding

The word “bodybuilding” has a few different definitions. To some people, bodybuilding is a sport that involves cutting down to very low body-fat percentages, getting a spray tan, and stepping on stage in a thong. Most of us aren’t interested in becoming competitive bodybuilders, though, so we can forget that part of it.

To most people, bodybuilding is simply lifting weights with the goal of building muscle and becoming better looking. We’ll use that definition. Still, though, most bodybuilding routines trickle down from the competitive bodybuilders, so the workout routines don’t tend to be much different.

Anything that helps to build muscle can be incorporated into a bodybuilding routine. As a result, there are a ton of different bodybuilding routines out there. Still, most of them have a few things in common:

  • More emphasis on the pump (metabolic stress). Instead of loading up the bar with as much weight as possible and lifting for 1-5 reps, a bodybuilder will often prefer sets of 8-20 reps. They’ll focus on building up a mind-muscle connection, feeling the burn, and getting a pump.
  • Totally customized lifting technique. Instead of adhering to powerlifting competition standards, bodybuilders have total flexibility with their lifting technique. They can squat, bench, and deadlift as deep as benefits them. No more, no less. They can also pick the variations that suit them best, and allow them to stimulate the most muscle growth. This can make bodybuilding less likely to cause injuries, too.
  • More exercise variety. Having more exercise variety won’t cause you to gain more muscle size, but it will cause you to build muscles that are rounder, fuller, and more evenly developed (study). Again, this can make bodybuilding less likely to cause injuries.
  • More emphasis on the upper body. If you’re doing a push/pull/legs routine, then about 2/3 of your training will be dedicated to your upper body, which is about twice as much as you’ll find in a standard strength training routine. This is done to improve aesthetics since aesthetics depends mostly on upper-body size.

Most of these things are quite good. If your only goal is to build a bigger and more aesthetic body, then your training is going to be quite good for that. And since there’s less of an emphasis on getting stronger at three specific lifts, the risk of injury tends to be quite a bit lower, too.

However, bodybuilding routines are often criticized for a few reasons:

  • There’s no foundation of strength. Strength training routines are built around the big 3 compound lifts. Progress is measured in terms of how much strength you’re gaining on those lifts. This keeps strength training workouts focused and deliberate.
  • There’s not enough mechanical tension. The main driver of muscle growth is mechanical tension, and bodybuilding workouts are notorious for not having enough of it. They’d benefit from putting more emphasis on the big compound lifts. Maybe not going as heavy as 1–4 reps, but certainly as heavy as 5–10 reps.
  • Bodybuilding workouts are often quite inefficient. Bodybuilders have a reputation for doing leg extensions, leg curls, glute bridges, and calf raises instead of simply squatting. Yes, there’s a benefit to exercise variation, but squats are still the best exercise for building a bigger lower body.
  • More days in the gym. The most classic bodybuilding routine is a push/pull/legs split. You train your chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday. Then you train your back and biceps on Tuesday. Then you train your legs and abs on Wednesday. And then you repeat the routine, finishing on Saturday. Sunday is rest day.
  • Bodybuilding workouts can be chaotic. You show up in the gym and do a dozen different exercises for your chest. But is your chest actually getting bigger and stronger? If so, what’s causing the growth? And what happens if you plateau? Increase the volume, I suppose.

So although bodybuilding tends to be better for bulking up than strength training, it also abandons many of the things that make strength training so appealing.

As a result, many people combine the two types of training together.

The Pros and Cons of PowerBuilding

Powerbuilding is a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding training. Strength training is great for gaining strength, but it isn’t ideal for bulking up or becoming better looking. Bodybuilding is great for gaining size and aesthetics, but it loses that foundation of strength that makes strength training so badass. Powerlifting is the attempt to get the best of both worlds.

And you know, in most ways, powerbuilding succeeds. It will indeed make you big and strong. And for a long time, I thought this was surely the best way to bulk up.

Powerbuilding usually goes something like this:

  • Start with strength training. Start your workout with big compound powerlifting lifts to improve your strength, make your workouts more efficient, and gain the many benefits of heavy barbell training.
  • Finish with bodybuilding. Finish your workout with bodybuilding exercises to gain more muscle mass, improve your aesthetics, and bulk up your upper body.

There are a few different variations, though. For example, with daily undulating periodization (DUP), you’ll have a couple of heavy strength training days and a couple lighter bodybuilding days every week.

That’s a pretty compelling approach to training. It won me over, anyway. Except then you realize that you’re also getting the downsides of each style of training:

  • You’re still doing the powerlifting lifts with arbitrary technique and range of motion. You’re still doing those damn low-bar barbell back squats to legal powerlifting depth. Those still aren’t great for building muscle.
  • You still have the mind-numbing inefficiency of a bodybuilding routine. You’re still doing a ton of different lifts with a high volume and in painfully high rep ranges. Except now you’re doing it after a strength training routine.
  • Your workouts will take forever. Strength training workouts plod along slowly because you need to rest so long between sets. And bodybuilding workouts grind on for ages because of how many different isolation exercises they have you running through. With powerbuilding, you have to do both.

So if you don’t like strength training, you won’t like powerbuilding. And if you don’t like bodybuilding, you won’t like powerbuilding either. In fact, the only people who are going to like powerbuilding are the people who love both powerlifting and bodybuilding.

Over the years, I’ve realized that I like some aspects of strength training: the structure, the emphasis on big compound lifts, the idea of being deliberate and minimalistic, the focus on progressive overload.

But I’m not a competitive powerlifter. I don’t want to go through the pain of optimizing my body for a sport that I don’t even play.

I’ve also realized that I like some things about bodybuilding, too. I like how the varied lifts produce more versatile muscles, I like the lower risk of injury, I like the extra emphasis on the upper body, and I love the idea of actually getting bigger.

But I don’t want to run around doing leg extensions six days per week, I don’t want to abandon my foundation of strength, and I want a more structured approach to becoming bigger and stronger.

This is all to say that powerbuilding is cool for the people it’s designed for—people who love both powerlifting and bodybuilding—but I’ve realized that it isn’t for me.

Hypertrophy Training

Illustration of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular

When I’ve been talking about strength training and bodybuilding, I’ve mostly been talking about stereotypes. There are plenty of strength training programs that don’t recommend spending all of your time doing low-bar back squats.

For example, Chad Wesley Smith is a powerlifter who’s famous for his idea of “building a wide base.” His approach involves doing a wide variety of big compound lifts to become strong in general. Then, using that base of strength, you can specialize at the powerlifting lifts in the months leading up to a competition.

What’s interesting about his approach is that he only does the powerlifting variations of the lifts in the months leading up to his competitions. Why? Because he knows they aren’t ideal for developing general size and strength.

For another example, Mike Israetel, PhD, makes powerlifting programs that start with hypertrophy blocks, where you spend 1–3 months focused on simply building bigger muscles with big compound lifts. Then you do strength blocks, where you become stronger for your size. And finally, you do a “peaking” block where you prepare specifically for your powerlifting meet. It’s only during these peaking blocks that you spend all of your time doing low-rep powerlifting variations.

Again, he knows that the big powerlifting lifts aren’t ideal for gaining general size and strength and that they carry a higher risk of injury. So even with his powerlifters, he recommends that they focus on other big compound lifts except in the months leading up to their powerlifting competitions.

These styles of strength training don’t suffer from any of the downsides that I mentioned when criticizing strength training. However, these aren’t the most popular strength training programs. Furthermore, these aren’t “general strength” programs, they’re specifically designed for people who are interested in becoming competitive powerlifters.

The same is true of bodybuilding. There are plenty of great bodybuilding programs out there that are built around the big compound lifts. Except, again, they don’t tend to be the most popular programs. They aren’t enough to reverse the negative bodybuilding stereotypes.

But this is all to say that if we back off from the strict training styles associated with strength training and bodybuilding, we can build a routine that has the advantages of both, with none of the downsides.

There’s a perfect word for this, too: hypertrophy training. Hypertrophy, after all, simply means muscle growth. It’s not bodybuilding or powerlifting, it’s just bulking.

That’s what I want. I just want a bulking program. Something that will help me become bigger, stronger, improve my health, and look better.

The Big 5 Approach to Bulking

Most strength training programs are focused on the big 3 lifts: the squat, deadlift, and bench press. And with good reason, too: they’re fantastic lifts for developing and testing strength.

However, unless you’re a powerlifter, you’ll probably want to use a different approach. The Big 3 are great for developing the lower body and spinal erectors but inevitably lead to physiques with limited upper-body size and strength.

If you’re trying to bulk up in a way that improves your general strength, muscle size, and aesthetics, you’ll be better served by focusing on the “Big 5” movement patterns:

  • Squats (knee-dominant)
  • Deadlifts (hip and back dominant)
  • Horizontal press (chest dominant)
  • Overhead press (shoulder dominant)
  • Upper-body pull (biceps and back dominant)

That gives us a program that’s around 3/5ths upper body (depending on how you count the deadlift), which we think is a pretty good balance for overall size, strength, and aesthetics.

If we had to choose a best bulking lift for each of those movement patterns, we’d wind up with something like this:

However, these are all fairly advanced lifts. They’re what an experienced lifter would use to test and develop his already formidable strength, not what a beginner would use to bulk up for the first (or second) time.

If you’re already big and strong, we talk more about these end-game lifts here. But if you’re still fairly skinny, let’s talk about the best lifts for gaining your first 20–30 pounds:

  • Goblet Squats: Goblet squats are done by holding a dumbbell on your chest. They’re simple and easy to learn, and they bring your shoulders and biceps into the lift, making them a true brute strength lift. This allows beginners to build a ton of muscle and full-body strength. Of course, dumbbells only go so heavy, so once you can goblet squat the heaviest dumbbell for a dozen reps, it’s time to progress to the front squat. (Or, if the front squat is too difficult, to a high-bar back squat.)
  • Romanian Deadlifts: Full deadlifts require a great deal of hip mobility and spinal stabilizer strength, making them a poor choice for beginners. A better lift is the Romanian deadlift, where you start in a standing position and then lower the barbell as low as you can comfortably go. It’s going to bulk up our posterior chain just as well, but it’s safer and easier to do correctly.
  • Push-Ups (Or Dumbbell Bench Press): Once you get strong enough, the barbell bench press is hard to avoid. There’s only so heavy you can load a push-up. For beginners, though, it’s usually best to start by mastering the push-up. They’re just as good for developing the chest, but they also help to bulk up your abs and serratus muscles (the muscles under your armpits). When you can do 20 push-ups with a full range of motion, switch to dumbbells. When the dumbbells are too heavy to comfortably get into position, switch to a barbell.
  • Incline Bench Press (or Landmine Press): It takes quite a lot of shoulder mobility and stability to overhead press with good technique, let alone to push press with good technique. As a beginner, you can bulk up your shoulders with dumbbell incline bench press or landmine presses, which will help to develop the strength and mobility you need to press weights overhead. (After that, progress to a one-armed dumbbell press.)
  • Lowered Chin-Ups (or Lat Pulldowns): Most skinny guys can’t do sets of chin-ups with a full range until they’ve built up a significant amount of size and strength in their biceps and upper back. A good way to work our way there is with lowered chin-ups or lat pulldowns. Rows done alongside biceps curls can help, too.

Because we aren’t locked into the powerlifting lifts, we have the option of starting with lifts that make bulking up much, much easier on beginners. In fact, I’d already gained 40 pounds by the time I tested our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Going back to these beginner variations spurred on a new wave of growth. That’s how I wound up gaining 55 pounds overall.

These variations can seem simple, but their simplicity means that your muscles need to work damn hard to move the weight. For example, you won’t find a harder full-body lift than the goblet squat. You’ll often see grizzled lifters challenge themselves to see how many reps they can goblet squat with the heaviest dumbbell (often 120 pounds).

However, we aren’t locked into doing a minimalist program, either. Narrowing in on just a few specific lifts will cause your muscles to develop specifically to those lifts. Instead of becoming bigger and stronger in general, they become bigger and stronger in a more specialized way. This leads to muscles that aren’t as well-developed or versatile.

Barbell Biceps Curl Illustration

For example, if you’re a skinny guy who’s trying to bulk up his lanky arms, you’re definitely going to want to be doing biceps curls. Chin-up variations are great, sure, but you’ll only get complete biceps development if you also include curls in your routine. Not only will that give your biceps more overall stimulus, but it will also work them through a different range of motion with a different strength curve, causing different muscle fibres in your biceps to grow.

There are a few different accessory exercises that we consider fairly essential for ectomorphs:

Muscular Neck Illustration

That last point is an especially weird one. Neck training is super common in sports training. If you play football or rugby, or if you fight, then you need a thick neck to defend against concussions and knockouts. Neck size also has a huge impact on how strong and aesthetic someone looks. But for some reason, hardly any strength training or powerlifting programs include any neck training.

I asked Eric Helms, PhD, about this. He’s a top hypertrophy researcher and a competitive natural bodybuilder. He told me that professional bodybuilders don’t bulk up their necks because the steroids already cause neck growth. As a result, further neck training could result in overly thick necks that restrict airflow (causing sleep apnea and such).

Developing an overly thick neck isn’t a concern for non-obese people who don’t use steroids, of course, but bodybuilding culture flows down from the professional bodybuilders, and so neck training isn’t a judging factor. So the natural bodybuilders don’t train their necks either.

Then with strength training, of course, neck strength simply isn’t relevant on the big 3 powerlifting lifts. Just like with biceps, it doesn’t matter, and so it’s ignored.

Bulking With a Strong Foundation

This has been a long post. You must surely know everything by now. And even if you don’t, there’s still the rest of the site to explore.

To wrap up, we believe that the best way to bulk up is to:

  • Build a foundation of strength with the big compound lifts, including squats, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead pressing, and chin-ups. This is a base of overall strength, not just powerlifting strength.
  • Choose variations that are best for bulking. This is going to vary based on your anatomy and experience level, but the guiding principle of exercise selection is specificity, and so we should be choosing our lifts based on which are the best at helping skinny guys bulk up.
  • Focus on the mythical hypertrophy rep range. It’s true that you can build muscle with anywhere from 1–40 reps, but you’ll get the most bang for your bulk if you spend most (but not all) of your energy lifting in the 6–12 range (study).
  • Add in accessory exercises. You’ll build rounder, fuller and more versatile muscles if you add in biceps curls, lateral raises, chest flyes, and, dare I say, neck curls.

There are many different ways to structure a good bulking program, but 3-day full-body workout programs tend to be pretty ideal, at least for beginner and intermediate lifters.

The way we approach that is to use a full-body “split” routine where each full-body workout is a bit different. That allows us to do all of the big compound exercises around twice per week, the accessory exercises more like once per week.

We also start our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program off with an optional Phase 0 that eases new lifters into bulking, with the rest of the program using progressively more advanced exercise variations—all of them specifically chosen because of how effective they are for helping skinny guys bulk up.

We’ve been refining this system for eight years now, and we’ll keep refining it over the next eight years. Here are some of the bulking transformations it has produced so far.

About Shane Duquette

Shane Duquette, BDes, is a writer and illustrator with a degree in design from York University. He co-founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he specializes in helping skinny people bulk up. More about Shane here.

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214 Comments

  1. Justin on May 8, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Great info. I’ve read your post on and off for a while and I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I’m a 36 year old skinny-guy and have gone through all the motions trying to gain weight. I like this article because it addresses an issue I noticed with strong-lifts 5×5. I recently watch a video of a guy who had been doing 5×5 for a year and weighing, I think he weighted 150lbs and was deadlifiting over 300lbs. It was incredible to see someone my size lifting that much weight. But I was left wondering why he wasn’t bigger. He had gained 20lbs, and looked great, but dead lifting 300+lbs I would have thought he would have been much bigger. I’m pretty sure this article explains why. I love doing 5×5, it simple and builds real strength, but being a skinny guy, I would like to max my size. Anyway, thanks for the great info again. Oh, also I believe your program is legit because of the photo’s of your members. There not huge, ripped dudes. Being a skinny guy for years, the before and after pictures are compelling because gaining 20lbs to guys like us is huge. Most program show guys with huge gains, and I know thats total bs.

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Hey Justin, thanks for the kind words, man – glad you dug it!

      Exactly. On one hand you could say that it’s super badass to be able to deadlift 2x bodyweight, and you’d be right. On the other hand, if the goal is to gain bodyweight, you’re right, might be best focusing on emphasizing building muscle mass a little more alongside your strength.

      And I agree, I think 5×5’s are sweet. Simple and effective strength builders, and quite a bit of fun. I managed to add a lot to my bench press with 5×5’s, and was able to do what you describe – people were impressed I could bench press so much for such a little guy. The problem was I didn’t want to be a little guy …

      It’s not like it went to waste though, and having all that chest strength helped me very quickly build up chest size.I think you’ll find that any strength gains you made lifting heavy will very much help you build up mass 🙂

  2. Bogdan on May 8, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Shane, great article, as usual: structurized and pleasant-to-read!
    Got few questions!
    So what is optimal overall volume per muscle group, if I train 3 times a week?
    In lack of equipment, can I do only one exercise for muscle group for more sets, rather than doing couple of exercises for fewer sets?
    Aaand the last one 🙂 If there any way to increase tension without increasing weight on the bar? For example, will it do the trick: to keep the time of lowering the weight the same, but to extend the lifting time up to 3-4 seconds? The same reps, same weight, staying in the “hypothrophy TUT zone”, but harder execution of exercise?
    THANK YOU in advance!!! 🙂

  3. Gav Holmes on May 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Fantastic article, when I started my training last year I def fell into the hypertrophy category.

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks Gav. Starting with hypertrophy isn’t a bad place to start at all. Bodybuilding is fairly safe and from there it’s easy to work in some more strength lifts, if you wanted 🙂

  4. Eli on May 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Hey Shane,

    Awesome article! I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while, haha 🙂
    I have a few questions– firstly, above you mentioned doing pec flys in addition to bench pressing to stimulate the chest more– would you recommend supersetting those with the BP or doing them as a separate exercise?

    Second, I am a member of the XC team at my high school from about September to late October. My goal right now is to weightlift consistently until the start of the XC season, because then I’ll be running almost every day. Is it possible to maintain the muscle I’ll have gained over the summer by lifting once a week in addition to all of that running? It seems like a lot of exercise… but can it be done?

    I just want to say thank you for these awesome, free articles! You guys are awesome! God bless!

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Hey Eli, glad you liked it!

      Haha yeah, I’ve been saying I was going to post it for a while now, eh?

      I think total volume would be more important than the timing of it, so I think supersets would work well, as would doing them later on in the workout. Which would be better? I’m not sure.

      Have you seen our article on cardio?
      http://bonytobeastly.com/should-ectomorphs-do-cardio-while-building-muscle/

      Long story short, I think you would be able to maintain your muscle just fine, so long as you keep eating well, eat enough that you aren’t losing a significant amount of weight, and keep lifting heavy. Lifting once a week should be fine, so long as you hit each muscle group and maintain strength. Once you already have the muscle mass built up, it doesn’t take a very high training volume to maintain it. That would free up plenty of recovery ability to work on your XC 🙂

      I hope that helps, and good luck man!

      • Eli on May 10, 2014 at 11:34 pm

        Hey Shane, thanks for the advice! I just have one more question– so as much as I’d like to use your program, I simply can’t afford it right now. I’ve been looking around for routines that are created for ectomorphs–would you recommend a two-workout program performed three times a week, with exercises like bench press,barbell rows, bicep curls for one workout and deadlifts, pull ups, etc for the second? Or a routine that has a chest/triceps day, back/biceps day, and a legs/shoulders day? or does it not really matter as long as my nutrition is in check?

        your website rocks!!! thank you!!!

        • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

          Quality of your workouts matters a ton, even if your nutrition is in check. Both components are very important, although you can certainly make good progress even if you aren’t training/eating perfectly well, especially at first!

          We do full body workouts. That isn’t the only way to train optimally, just our preferred way. A triple split done twice per week can work equally well, for example. (push, pull, legs, push, pull, legs, rest.) An upper/lower split is also effective (and you’d probably train four times per week in that case). I prefer to train just three times per week though, so we make our workouts a little longer (about an hour) and we work each major muscle group each time.

          Our program certainly isn’t the only rad one out there. I’d recommend finding a good program that you trust and actually following it how it’s programmed. Volume is a finicky thing, and if you take a program that’s already optimized and then start doing it more or less frequently than recommended you might run into issues there. So if you find an upper/lower split, do it the number of times the person who programmed that workout recommends, not more and not less. Does that make sense?

        • Eli on May 12, 2014 at 6:49 am

          my questions are answered! thanks a ton!

  5. mc on May 8, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Your claim that “low volume training is ineffective compared to higher volume training,” in particular that eight sets are better than four sets, seems unsupported by the quoted papers. Some of these papers’ conclusions say that three sets are better than one, and some say there is no difference between one and a greater number of sets (between three and twelve). While you may have found one data point for which eight sets was clearly better than less sets, none of papers’ authors make this claim more generally.

    This is not to say your contention isn’t true, only that you should support it with more relevant evidence.

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      Hey MC, thanks for holding me accountable!

      I tried my best not to cherry pick the data, but rather to post every study looking into volume, convenient or not. I’m not invested in high or low volume training – I’ll gladly do whichever works best.

      This study looks at ALL the studies done into volume and came to the conclusion that higher volume training improves muscle growth by around 40%!

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300012

      This meta-analysis looking into all relevant studies about the relationship between strength and volume found that higher volume let to 46% greater strength gains:
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19661829

      While some studies do show no statistical significance, this is perhaps due to the small subject size, short during of the studies, and the high variability in how well people respond to weightlifting. This makes it very easy for a study to prove statistical significance, but if you look at the actual results of the studies … I would very much prefer to be in the higher volume groups, because they tend to do better!

      It’s like the bicep hypertrophy graph in the article, where the conclusion of the study is that no statistical significance was detected … yet the guys doing curls nevertheless made WAY better gains. It’s just that there weren’t many study participants, the duration of the study was relatively short given how long muscle growth takes, and there was a lot of variation between individuals.

      As more studies come out, this seems to lend support to this … but I’m super excited to see new research come out on this topic. This paper by Schoenfeld was super fascinating, and raises some interesting questions about the relationship between how heavy you lift and ideal volume. It showed that if powerlifters began lifting with higher volume, they made size gains equivalent to a bodybuilder’s … but became much more fatigued, meanwhile the bodybuilders were feeling fresh and may have responded to even higher volume training!

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24714538

      I’m totally game to adjust my opinion based on new evidence though, so I’m stoked for more to become available! 🙂

  6. David on May 8, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Enjoyed the article… very informative. I’m not sure that the study you cite is conclusive, and it wasn’t very specific in terms of, how intensely each set of squats were performed. I have read guidance from other bodybuilding coaches and authors that suggest that hardgainers shouldn’t max out squats or deadlifts for more than 1 or 2 sets, with the other sets being low rep warm up sets.

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Hmm, I would assume that guys who have a harder time gaining would want to do a HIGHER volume to better their chances of making consistent gains. If any signs of overtraining start to crop up though, we always tell guys to reduce volume and/or intensity, but that very very rarely happens – I can only think of a couple occasions.

      With that said, we don’t “max out” on our lifts per say. In order to keep our volume high and recover well we don’t usually go to failure, especially on the bigger lifts with lower rep ranges (as those would be the ones that would most tax our recovery abilities).

      As for intensity in the studies, these studies normally go VERY hard. Like … they have a researcher standing over you making sure that you very nearly die. They’re often performed to absolute failure, and the participants normally hate life. If anything, you can normally get away with training a little MORE than the people in the studies, since it’s very hard to go that hard in a realer life setting.

      This is true in the squat study we used above – they used 80% of their 1RM and went to muscular failure. Three minute rest between sets.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21451937

  7. Jason on May 8, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Hi!

    ¿What do you think about Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program? I dont have money to afford B2B program but i managed to get the 531 program for free and it focuses strength and hypertrophy. ¿Have you heard of it?

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      This would fit the description outlined in the strength training section. It’s a pretty textbook powerlifting strength program. So overall I think you would make great strength gains and probably decent size gains too (if you’ve got your nutrition dialled in). Whether it’s appropriate for you or not would depend on your goals and experience level 🙂

  8. john on May 9, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Hey Shane great article and website. By following your recommendations I have gained 10 pounds in 6 weeks (currently 5’10” 150pounds). Thanks for taking the time to write all of these articles. They are so informational and easy to read I actually didn’t realize you guys were selling a program till a couple days after discovering the site haha. I will be buying it soon! Thank you!

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      Ah that’s awesome John – that’s over a pound per week. Congratulations!

      Stoked to see what you’ll be able to do with b2B, too. Hope to see you in the community soon!

      In the meantime, good luck and keep it up 🙂

      • john on May 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm

        hey Shane thanks for the support! My only issue now is I’m having a hard time recovering post workout. For the past 1 1/2 weeks I’ve been sore for 2 days. Im pretty sure I’m eating enough and have been also drinking protien shakes post work out. it also feels like it could be tendon soreness mixed with muscle soreness. should I take a week off? I love working out and don’t want too, is doing a light workout for a week OK?
        thanks!

        • Shane Duquette on May 14, 2014 at 4:28 pm

          Soreness isn’t necessarily bad, especially if it’s only for a couple weeks, and not month after month after month. You might be overreaching though, and if you sustain that for a few months it can lead to overtraining.

          It could be that your intensity is too high for what you’re doing (i.e. you’re going too close to failure), that you’re lifting too heavy too often (i.e. your rep ranges are very low and your volume is high), or just that your volume is too high in general (too many sets / reps per muscle group per week).

          A light week could help! I would go easy on the volume maybe, not necessarily the heaviness. So for example instead of doing four sets of heavy bench press, you’d do just two sets of heavy bench press.

          • john on May 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

            Thanks for the help! you guys have been awesome. I will tone down the sets for now. I typically do 4 sets for compound workouts. (1 warm up 12 reps.
            2 moderate weight 10 reps, and 1 max load for 4-6reps. I do some accesorie workouts (fly’s and curls) and for those I do 2-3 sets for moderate weight. When I start the B2B I’m sure it will only get more efficient.
            Thanks again for the reply!



  9. Balmoral Hazard on May 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Terrific article. Just found your site, and it’s the bomb BIGGY. Thanks for all the research and great advice, and for sharing your fitness-nerd love with us hardgainers.

    I shudder at the years I’ve lost as a 42-year-old ectomorph beating my head against the wall on mesomorph-friendly workouts, and wish your site had been available way back when. Of course, you would’ve been in diapers when I started lifting, but still….

    Anyway, I don’t want to seem creepy, but I love the way you guys’ clothes fit in the pictures. You must have advice on finding apparel for the guy who has a 32-ish inch waist and 50-ish inch shoulders (if I recall from an article, those are close to your measurements, Shane). I know this isn’t a style blog, but you guys seem to have found some good solutions to what I’m sure becomes a common problem for readers of this site. Dressin’ ain’t easy in a world of north american fatties.

    PS no advice needed on cutoffs. They ugly yo (and I hear they get you thrown out of the gym 🙂 )

    • Shane Duquette on May 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm

      Hey Balm, glad you dig it! Thanks 🙂

      Yep, those are indeed pretty much exactly my measurements!

      I’m wearing a large Wings & Horns shirt in the “Who We Are” photo. Jared is wearing a Gitman Bros vintage fit button-down shirt. I’ve also tailored a few shirts, including t-shirts, to get the waist narrower. If I don’t tailor it in I have to tuck it in … otherwise I look like I’m wearing a baby doll dress.

      For pants, most straight/slim/skinny pants seem to have an itty bitty butt because they’re made for skinny guys who haven’t much muscle yet. A good brand that doesn’t go too slim in the tush is Levi’s “Made & Crafted”.

      These aren’t cheap, but if you’re going to the trouble of finding clothes that fit / tailoring clothes to make them fit, then I find it easiest to buy good quality stuff and just not have a lot of it. The girls I date probably assume I’m a superhero, given that I wear the same outfit on date one, two, three, four, etc.

      I hope that helps!

  10. Mark on May 11, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Hey Shane,
    First of all I’ve got to say I love your website and what you’re doing. I was training for a while but didn’t start to gain weight at all until I read your fantastic article on diet. However, I have to disagree with your take on bodyweight training. I’ve actually been training exclusively with progressive bodyweight exercises (wanted to avoid the gym if I could!) and have managed to go from 155 to 185lbs since February (I’m an ectomorph, 6’1, and have put on a few pounds of fat at most).

    While I probably could have gained more (or faster) by lifting weights, and know that I will plateau at some point, I think that bodyweight training is grossly underestimated. Trust me when I say that going from regular pushups to one-armed pushups (through several different progressions) is going to do more than increase your stabiliser muscle strength! Same goes for one-armed pull up, one-legged squat etc.

    Mark

    • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      That’s amazing! 30 pounds in just a few months is wildly badass. Really glad we could help! Congratulations, Mark 🙂

      I think that many people, weightlifters especially, probably do underestimate it. I mean, we’re the first people to recommend bodyweight training if a gym (or home gym) isn’t an option – something is always a million times better than nothing – and our program even has some bodyweight workouts that we use to build muscle while people are traveling/busy/etc.

      On the other hand, I think many of us naturally thin guys grossly overestimate bodyweight training. (I sure did.) We often get people writing to us who are doing bodyweight workouts and wondering why they lost so much muscle while cutting, or why they’re gaining so much fat when bulking.With that said, those people invariably come in far more fit than sedentary people, and have often made a lot of great progress! And I mean, you’ve certainly shown that without a doubt it can be VERY effective!

      It sounds like you’re also doing it very cleverly. I mean, I would even call pull-ups heavy weightlifting! You need a piece of equipment for one, and for most people you can build a TON of muscle before you can do more than 15-20 full range of motion chin-ups or pull-ups (dead hang at the bottom, chest to bar at the top)! If you’re also gaining bodyweight while doing it, well, then the weight is getting heavier each week, too!

      And you’re right – there are a ton of ways to progress bodyweight lifts. When I can’t make it to the gym I get my 130 pound (female) roommate to sit on my back and I’ll do push-ups. I can hold her in my arms and do front squats. And she can hold her cat if we need an extra few pounds 😉

      With a little creativity you can make a bodyweight workout quite effective.

      I didn’t mean to say that bodyweight training wouldn’t work on anyone and that it wouldn’t work at all. I think your opinion of it is correct – that it CAN work, and that it can even work quite well … but by lifting weights you can build even more muscle, build it even more consistently, and better avoid plateaus.

      Thanks for the kind words,man, and let us know how you continue to progress! Sounds like you’re kicking some serious ass 😀

      • Mark on May 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm

        Thanks for the reply and the encouragement! I agree with you. Ultimately, I think resistance is resistance, whether it’s coming from weights or your own body. It’s definitely easier to progress by steadily adding weight to lifts instead of doing wacky bodyweight exercises, but I’m enjoying it!

        I’ve got a lot of great information from your blog anyway, so if you want me to return the favour you can drop me an mail or something, I can tell you what kind of exercise I did or let you know when I plateau!

  11. VT on May 12, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Great post (as always), since you guys started talking about clothing, will b2B crew consider making some official shirts?

    • Shane Duquette on May 13, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Hmm. We worked up a design a little while back but never went into production. We’ll probably come out with SOMETHING, but it may not be t-shirts. Stay tuned! 🙂

  12. Mike Willmot on May 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Layne Norton is not natty, he takes tren.

    These stats that you come up with are absolutely absurd, gaining 5 inches on their arms from tricep extensions and curls? That man gained 63 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks etc.

    Utter bullshit.

    • Shane Duquette on May 18, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Dr. Norton is very heavily tested, very adamantly natural and he recently (very successfully) defended himself against steroid charges in court. Anything is possible, but if I were to guess I would instead say he’s very clever, very genetically gifted, very hardworking and very consistent … not on drugs. Where is the tren accusation coming from?

      I never said anyone gained 5 inches on their arms. I double checked to make sure I didn’t make a typo somewhere, but I don’t see it.

      And I recounted a story of a man RECOVERING 63 pounds of lean mass in four weeks after having been starved. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but I could very well be wrong!

      • Matt on September 27, 2019 at 9:31 pm

        “I never said anyone gained 5 inches on their arms. I double checked to make sure I didn’t make a typo somewhere, but I don’t see it.”

        You did say exactly that, right here:

        “A few gifted participants were able to add 5.3 inches to their arms.”

        • Shane Duquette on September 28, 2019 at 5:28 pm

          Ahhh, from the results of the genetics study. You’re right, Matt. And I’m clearly a moron. I don’t know how I forgot about that. I’m sorry.

          To add to my response to Mike, then: those are the results found in a peer-reviewed study. As far as I can tell, it’s a credible study from reputable researchers, too. Are those outlier results, though? Absolutely. That’s the entire point.

  13. ER on May 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

    hey Shane,

    great article! i was wondering if you have heard of anthony mychal–he used to be a “skinny fat” ectomorph but worked to get an awesome body (what he calls the x-physique). the one thing he encourages is tricking, which is basically a blend of kicks, flips and twists all put together to look cool. what are your thoughts on anthony and his website? (anthonymychal.com) can information for skinny fats apply to regular ectomorphs as well?

    thanks for your awesome articles!

    • Shane Duquette on May 18, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      I’ve spoken to Anthony Mychal a few times! He seems like a great guy 🙂

      I think he’ll be the first person to tell you that things are a little different depending on your body type and goals. He mentioned us in one article where he wrote about that, saying that our approach is great for skinny dudes trying to build muscle (get bigger and stronger), whereas his approach is targeted at skinny-fat guys trying to improve their body composition.

      I’m a pretty classic (and extreme) ectomorph, but we get lots of skinny-fat guys coming into Bony to Beastly. He’s not wrong that we do indeed need to take a different approach there, although it depends on WHY they’re skinny-fat. Some skinny-fat guys don’t do any heavy lifting, don’t eat very well, eat a liiittle too much … and wind up gaining mostly fat when in a calorie surplus. If you don’t have rad genetics, you can wind up gaining a poor ratio of fat to muscle. Some skinny-fat guys don’t have much insulin sensitivity in their muscle cells (which good weightlifting would help address). Some might have lower levels of testosterone (which might at least in part be due to poor exercise or nutrition habits). Some might have naturally higher numbers of fat cells, which makes fat storage easier when eating in a calorie surplus. Tons of potential reasons, so each case is a little different. With great training your typical skinny-fat guy is able to build muscle at a slower pace if he wants to keep it lean … but on the bright side sometimes he’ll be able to lose fat simultaneously. (This is why he says he doesn’t bulk or cut – presumably he focuses instead on body recomposition.)

      Similarly, there are lots of different reasons that a guy can end up skinny. Some guys have smaller appetites, some guys have faster metabolisms, some guys have smaller stomach capacities, some guys don’t eat when stressed, etc. I’m a textbook example of all of those things. (More on that here.) And that’s just the nutrition side of things! With great training and nutrition though a typical skinny guy is often able to leanly build up muscle at a pretty damn rapid pace, as you can see in all our transformation shots, both ours and our members’. A lot of us just alternate between maintenance and bulking. If we bulk leanly, after all, we may never need to cut ever. (Especially since in maintenance mode we often wind up getting leaner anyway.)

      To highlight one difference, Anthony Michal says he can take in enough calories eating just one meal per day. That’s a physical impossibility for most ectomorphs. Our stomachs couldn’t handle enough food, our metabolisms are too high, and besides, limiting the number of meals that you eat is a trick designed to REDUCE overall calorie consumption.

      So sometimes the skinny / skinny-fat situations overlap, sometimes they don’t. (That’s one reason why we pride ourselves on our community. We can handle each situation on a person-by-person basis.)

      With all of this said, an evidence-based approach to things is still the best. In both cases you’d want to be eating a diet that encourages muscle growth while doing a form of exercise that encourages muscle growth. (Calorie intake may differ, since a skinny guy would want to get bigger, whereas a skinny-fat guy may want to get smaller in order to lose fat.)

      I suspect the tricking is designed to burn calories? Probably not very helpful for an ectomorph trying to leanly build muscle … especially if you’re the kind of ectomorph that I am, where it’s already a struggle to eat enough when bulking. Might be helpful for a skinny-fat guy trying to burn fat / control their appetite / etc! Combined with lifting that could indeed help!

      (I should also point out to anyone else reading this that Anthony Mychal lifts heavy free weights to build his muscle. I imagine the tricking is a great way to ENJOY the muscle and strength that he builds – and perhaps free up some extra calories so that he can eat some more food – but I don’t think he would rely on it to actually build muscle.)

      Does that help?

      And no problem – glad you dig our articles, ER!

      • ER on May 18, 2014 at 6:19 pm

        Wow–I wasn’t expecting such an info-filled reply! That’s what I love about you guys, you’re so eager to help and all of your responses to comments are really supportive, which helps a lot!

        Based off of his website, Anthony’s reason for tricking is to put the muscle gained to use. His way of putting it is something along the lines of “there’s no point in getting a lean, athletic musculature if you can’t do anything athletic,” so you’re right, it is a way to apply his muscle and it just looks pretty cool. I agree that if you’re pretty muscular, why not show off your strength in something like tricking? I dunno what you personally think about that, to me it just seems neat.

        I have one more question– since going to a gym isn’t really an option for me, I’ve decided to invest in a bench/squat rack. Do you know of anything that costs between $200-250? I’m not looking for anything fancy, just something that can hold a few hundred pounds and do the job correctly.

        Thanks again!

        • Shane Duquette on May 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

          No problem, man. It was a really good question!

          I think some types of callisthenics seem really cool, and I think that’ll be what I work on slowly outside of the gym now that I’m pretty happy with my size. Doing push-ups with my roommate on my back, shoulder pressing girlfriends, learning to do free-standing handstand push-ups and planches and stuff. If I could hold a girl overhead with one hand I think that’d be pretty badass.

          Anyway, learning to do cool stuff with your body is rad indeed. I think I’m just such a nerd that in my free time you’re more likely to find me tinkering with illustrations, doing research or writing music, not outside being a badass doing flips. But now that I’ve got all this energy, I do indeed need outlets for it 🙂

          My main goals these days though are to continue improving my big three lifts. Right now I’m working on form and mostly just maintaining strength, but I hope to get that rock solid and then work on moving those numbers up again!

          For your rack – I’d check to see what you can find secondhand! If your budget is small, oftentimes it’s best to get something high quality secondhand instead of something brand new that’s cheap. Just my two cents.

  14. Ben on May 18, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Hey, dope article, had been expecting it for a long time but it was worth the wait 🙂

    quick question about volume, when you speak about doing BB style routines with higher rep ranges, doesn’t it mean that all-in-all the total tonnage must go up ? if I do 5×5@190lb (total tonnage 4750lbs) easily,with tucked-in elbows and kind of an arched back, shall I prefer doing something like 3×10@160lb bodybuilding style to begin with (total 4800lb)?

    seems counter intuitive if we think about 1RM% and hypertrophy (i.e too light?)

    I actually do the “texas method” with some added volume with 2 drop sets at the end of the 5×5, and dips, chin ups, or sometimes dips+chin ups supersets at the end of each workout, pretty good at building size and strength mixing it up like you write it at the end, but I still find the 5×5 part too hard on my sh*tty fragile joints.
    Even when you consider yourself an intermediate lifter after 2 years of dedication, good nutrition, there’s still so much work to do, gotta love it.

    • Shane Duquette on May 20, 2014 at 12:13 am

      That’s a tricky question and up until recently we really would have had no idea. A recent study comparing bodybuilding style training with powerlifting style training kind of sheds some light on it though. It looks like there might be a certain mechanical tension threshold where, once crossed, it stops being beneficial. That could (maybe) mean that even though the lighter bodybuilding routine wouldn’t be as heavy, you’d still get optimal growth with less stress on your joints (and have more recovery ability to use elsewhere). That’s pretty helpful for us skinny guys, as our ectomorph bone structures aren’t always the sturdiest, especially when we’re relatively new to this stuff. The study used 7 sets x 3RM compared with 3 sets x10RM, but I imagine the results would be similar to 5×5 vs 3×10 using a weight you’re comfortable with.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24714538

      (Note that in this study the total tonnage would have been MUCH higher in the powerlifting group.)

      As for what form you’d use … that’s a totally different question. A bodybuilder bench press and a powerlifting bench press have very different goals. We favour more of a powerlifting bench press, but we also use lots of other accessory lifts (and dumbbell bench presses) to get the pecs growing. I wouldn’t rely on just a powerlifting style bench to grow a great chest unless you’ve got a really dominant chest when pressing. (My pecs are so dominant that I managed to get away with it – I built my chest using pretty much exclusively with heavy powerlifting style barbel bench presses – but most guys probably couldn’t. Jared needs to build his chest a much different way.)

      Congrats on all the strength you’ve built already. Good luck with year #3!

      • Ben on May 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

        Wow, awesome answer, that study is nuts for us. Will certainly stop pushing forward with heavier 5×5 @ bench and squat, and try to do longer series+ some more accessory lift to end my sessions.
        Thanks a lot !

        • Shane Duquette on May 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm

          Hope it goes well, Ben! 🙂

  15. Jared on May 20, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Hey, great article!
    I don’t understand though how this translates to sets and exercises per muscle group
    So you said 16 sets weekly is the best thing to train a muscle group, do you follow this number? If so how do you get to it with 3 full-body workout a week?
    1 exercise per muscle group and 5 sets per exercise? Or 2 exercises per muscle group and 3 sets per exercise?

    Overall, I thought on a full-body you only need 1 exercise per muscle group otherwise there would be too much stuff to do. But it seems like 2 exercises per muscle group are the minimum to get an adequate volume? Do you think 1 compound exercise and 1 accessory exercise for each muscle group is a good balance on a full-body?

    • Shane Duquette on May 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Hey Jared, there are lots of ways to structure a workout program! It depends on how heavy you’re going, how close to failure you’re going, how experienced you are, etc. You’d probably spend some months working a particular muscle group with a high volume like 16 / group, and other times working it a little less.

      We follow this number sometimes. It depends on the goal of the phase. Sometimes it will be lower and heavier, to emphasize strength, and sometimes it will be temporarily even higher!

      On the first day of week in the first phase of our program, for example, we have three exercises that hit the chest (for a total of 7-10 sets depending on the week), but on the second workout of the week we only have one chest exercise (3-4 sets). Nothing says you need to have an equal volume on each muscle group each workout. Each day will have a certain emphasis.

      That’s why triple split workouts are a valid alternative. While I don’t feel (and I don’t think the research supports) that they’re optimal, you can very easily put 4-5 exercises in a single day that target a single muscle group and get your weekly volume optimized that way!

      One main exercise and one accessory lift is probably good, yep! The biceps study we talk about above used just chin-ups and curls and saw good results! Better results than just chin-ups, but just chin-ups also worked.

      • Jared on May 22, 2014 at 6:37 am

        Shane, thanks for your thoughtful answer!
        You said you don’t need to have an equal volume on each muscle group each workout but you do need to have an equal volume on each muscle group at the end of the week, right?
        I mean the day you just do 1 exercise for chest you must compensate with 3 exercises for back or legs, is that right? Otherwise I think one muscle group could develop more than another and create an unbalanced physique.
        I guess this is different thought for small muscles like arms and shoulders and they need would need an equal low volume at each workout. Am I wrong?

        • Shane Duquette on May 22, 2014 at 3:56 pm

          No problem, man 🙂

          That depends on your goals! Sometimes people need to pull (i.e. train their back) with twice as much volume as they push (i.e. train their chest) in order to fix imbalances. I mean, not everyone starts of balanced, so sometimes adjusting volume makes a lot of sense. Different people have different muscle-building / strength / aesthetics goals as well.

          Your arms and shoulders will get plenty of stimulation with the big compound lifts, so if anything, especially if you’re adding in arm isolation lifts, they’ll often get a very HIGH volume. If you’re talking about accessory lifts though, then yeah, they wouldn’t need much since they’re already getting a lot of work elsewhere.

  16. VJ on May 22, 2014 at 3:37 am

    Hi Shaun, VJ from India here, a few questions.

    About 10 days I started working out an hour a day. After 10 days of regular weights, I went from 59 kg to around 61.5/61.7. But my arms, chest and even shoulders look different now :). My arms are now visibly slightly bigger, esp forearms and biceps. My shirt is filling up. But at the same time, I am 6ft 1 in height and had a weight of 132 pounds. My chest and stomach was absolutely fatless. :D. I mean there was NO excess fat. Not even skinny fat. My friends were like I is a bikini model. Nothing, no man breasts. Now I have gained some fat on my belly and my pecs have started emerging. How can I keep my fat to low levels? My gym instructor here claims that some fat gain when you do regular weight training is inevitable, and that you cannot avoid IF your are underweight. He said if you are underweight by 10-20 pounds, fat gain is inevitable. How can I continue gaining muscle and strength while keeping body fat as low as possible? Or burn off the body fat on my tummy? By tummy, I dont mean I have a paunch. Just that there are some rolls of fat I want to get rid of.
    2. Is it possible to get stronger and more muscular while keeping your weight low? In other words, can you be a very strong and muscular 65-66 kg as opposed to a weak 61, but at the same time not gain much weight? If so how do you achieve that? I am talking of gaining muscle and strength without much weight gain? IF that is my objective. Both in terms of diet and weight gain-what tips do you have?
    3. Though muscle gaining is a good thing and being healthy is great, isn’t it all neccessary to be happy with us the way we are? I feel we should also try to be happy with our bodies as they are, and not to let our physiques affect our chances of happiness in life in general. I mean, we shouldn’t say that we must be happy ONLY when we become strong but instead never let our physiques or our complexes about our physiques ever limit us from having fun in the fear that only if we become stronger, we can have fun or enjoy life. Should we not happy and cool with what we are too, while getting stronger? Your site is a great place, but I just felt that once in a while, you must remind people being fat or very thin is not a curse of any kind, and that it need not stop you from anything in your life.
    4. As I am 6ft 1 and 61.7 kg, measured today :D, what would be a healthy weight for me?

    • Jared on May 22, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Hi Vj
      I wanted to answer on your point 3, if you don’t mind.
      I think happiness, in this life, is 90% about feeling good in your body.
      You know those days when you wake up and feel bloated, tired, sore? Those days you don’t feel okay whenever you go. You could have a beautiful house, be on an esotic place on vacation, having a beutiful family, going on trip to see beautiful things but you won’t feel happy or okay no matter what situation. On the other hand when you wake up feeling strong, fit, full of energy you can sit on a grassland all alone the whole day and you will feel happy and fulfilled anyway. That’s how feeling good in your own body is important.

      Some skinny people are too weak, sore, tired to feel really happy. They have far less opportunities they could have had because of this. Same for overweight and obese people.

    • Shane Duquette on May 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Hey VJ, I wouldn’t say that building muscle means that you need to gain fat, although it depends on your priorities and how you approach it. If you’re determined to build muscle as rapidly as possible to makes sense to overshoot your calorie goals, not undershoot them. When you notice that you’re gaining fat you scale back the calories until the gains are lean. If you wanted to emphasize staying as lean as possible you’d just do the opposite – you’d gradually increase your calories until your weight starts moving up slowly and leanly.

      Worst case scenario though you accidentally gain a bit of fat and then you spend a couple/few weeks burning it off. So long as you don’t let your fat gain get out of control it’s very easy to get rid of … so I don’t think it’s anything really to be scared of. As soon as you notice that you’re gaining some though I’d say it’s time to adjust what you’re doing!

      Obviously your training and nutrition can affect the amount of muscle you can build, of course. The better your weightlifting program the more insulin sensitive your muscle cells will be and the more inclined to build muscle your body will be. The same is true with nutrition – you need to get your nutrition handled if you want to keep your gains as lean as possible. The affects of both of these things are huuuge.

      With a good weightlifting and nutrition program though … it’s often just a matter of adjusting calories 🙂

      And of course you should be happy with yourself the way you are now! You make a very good point. It’s much more enjoyable to lift weights, be active, eat well, etc when you love your body and want to treat it well. Mind you, when I first started this stuff I was quite unsatisfied with my skinny body and pretty desperate to build muscle / gain weight. Sometimes being satisfied with where you are now is easier said than done. I encourage you to work towards both goals though! Improve your health/strength/physique AND improve your confidence/satisfaction. Oftentimes they work well when done together, too.

      For your last question I’d ask your doctor. That would depend on a variety of things. I’m 6’2, started at 125-130, and feel/look my healthiest between 180-190. That’s just me though!

      I hope that helps!

  17. VJ on May 23, 2014 at 2:30 am

    Hi Shaun thanks for the answer, if I get you correctly:

    Currently I am doing about an hour of weights+cardio every day six days of the week. I also do light cardio on the seventh day MAINLY to ensure that exercise becomes a habit for me. 🙂 Now, my weight is around 61.3, up from 59 11 days ago. but I want to ensure that the gains are mostly lean muscle and NOT fat. If I am to do this, should I continue with my regular exercise and simply reduce my diet or reduce what I eat in general? Should I eat more protein and less carbs and fats? What sort of diet should you eat if you want to keep the fat to as low as possible while building your physique? Or should you just generally eat less, esp for lunch and dinner? How do you balance your body’s need for extra nutrition given your exercise versus the desire to keep the fat levels to as low as possible?
    Second, currently I am doing my workout before breakfast on an empty stomach. Is this conducive to fat gain or muscle gain? Should I eat before my workout? Or is it fine the way it is? Is it ok to workout on an empty stomach or just drink/lemon juice etc and then work out?

    Third, to give a perspective I am around 6ft 0 (not 1), weight 132 and have a waist of 32-33 inches. I am 26 years old, dont smoke or drink.

    • Shane Duquette on May 23, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Hehe I could write a dozen pages to answer just one of those questions! And it seems like you have a lot. I would find a program to follow that will give you a clear idea of how all this stuff works, and if you really like to master every single variable, perhaps a program that includes support/coaching. I’d recommend ours, of course, but there are others, too. With a good understanding of the muscle-building fundamentals it will all make sense.

      If you don’t want to buy a program, we’ll be coming out with a ton of new articles on the blog and hopefully we can answer a lot of those questions in some depth 🙂

  18. Ben on May 24, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Hey Shane!

    What’s the optimal number of sets per week per large and small musclegroups if you do both strength and bodybuilding rep ranges?
    How much rest days are needed in this case? 5 would be enough?

    The blog is amazing and very informative, keep up the good work! Can’t wait for the new articles!

    • Shane Duquette on May 24, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Hey Ben, thanks!

      That depends on your goals, intensity, strength, rep ranges, heaviness of the lifts, etc. Probably a maximum of 16 total as a general rule if building muscle size, aka hypertrophy, is your goal (this would vary depending on the muscle group and emphasis of your program), although I’d also recommend periodizing things. You’d want about half that if strength were your goal, and alternating between strength and hypertrophy will often lead to the best gains in both.

      How many rest days? We use just one rest day haha, so yes, five would be enough! Again, that depends on many other factors, notably intensity (aka how close to failure you’re training).

      I hope that helps!

  19. MJ on May 29, 2014 at 8:35 am

    This article has me completely puzzled.

    I always thought the consensus was: If you have a skinny bone structure / are a hardgainer / genetically disadvantaged, then the bodybuilding routines with lots of sets and lots of reps will do nothing for you.

    I can see the point in adding one or two isolation exercises with a higher rep range. But are you actually recommending high volume for the big compound lifts? I think we skinny guys are really disadvantaged when it comes to recovery. So if I wanted to increase my reps & sets, I’d have to use considerably lighter weight … it just doesn’t feel right 😀

    • Ege on May 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Same here, i thought lifting for strength was the best option for ectos. What if we alternate between bodybuilding and powerlifting style workouts every week, would it be good or we would sacrifice mass?

      • Shane Duquette on June 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

        There are different ways to periodize a program and get the best of both worlds, but I’ve never heard of alternating week by week like that. I imagine you’d have better luck doing both every week … but I can’t say for sure! I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to that question (yet).

    • Shane Duquette on June 3, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      We’re saying that the research shows that there’s a certain optimal volume that most people respond best to. In the squat study that we used as an example above, only the low volume group had participants who didn’t respond at all to the training. It was the LOW volume training that the hardgainers didn’t respond well to.

      Obviously some people need to adjust the volume to suit them on an individual level, but oftentimes with guys who are genetically disadvantaged you’d want more, not less.

      And we aren’t recommending “high” volume per say, we’re recommending “optimal” volume. If the volume is too low OR too high results will suffer. As with most things in life, volume is an inverse U curve – the best results are seen in the middle. The challenging part is figuring out where that optimal middle zone is!

      • MJ on June 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        I have a follow-up question/comment. 😀

        I am completely open-minded, but I’m not convinced just yet. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on the optimal volume of heavy compound lifts (squats or deadlifts). You cite one meta-analysis and 7 studies to prove your point that high volume is better while low volume is ineffective. Unfortunately, I only have access to the abstracts, so my judgement is purely based on those.
        – I cannot see what kinds of exercises the meta-analysis is looking at, so I’ll just consider the other studies.
        – One of the studies is only looking at older adults aged 65 to 78, and another one is only looking at biceps curls.
        – Of the remaining 5 studies, two come to the conclusion that higher volume is better for leg exercises when it comes to strength and muscle mass … while three come to the conclusion that there are no differences between low and high volume training (again, only for the leg exercise!).

        So I’ll say the evidence is not quite so clear. My hardgainer-biased opinion would be: In dubio pro low volume 😀 … (placing my bets on long-term benefits when it comes to recovery). Then again, I realize “volume” is a loaded term and the whole situation is probably overdetermined by too many variables (reps, sets, load, weekly workouts). Does that make any sense?

        Interested in hearing your take on this!

        • Shane Duquette on June 7, 2014 at 12:22 am

          Hey MJ, it’s really the meta-analysis that you want to look at, since that’s the analysis that takes into account ALL of the studies. I tried to include potentially relevant studies that weren’t included in the meta-analysis as well, but it’s the meta-analysis that will draw the most accurate conclusion.

          I’m also not claiming that lower volume is ineffective, just LESS effective.

          Also keep in mind that if you’re reading the abstracts you’re missing out on a lot of the relevant details. For example,if you look further down in the post you’ll see the study finding “no statistically significant differences” between chin-ups and chin-ups + bicep curls (I think there were bench presses and triceps extensions too). Even though the study failed to find a statistically significant difference you can see that the chins+curls produced FAR better results. It’s just that the study was short and the sample size was small. Over longer time periods (more than 8-12 weeks) this can lead to huge differences in results.

          This is common in weightlifting studies, so you really need to go further than just the abstracts. (And you of course always need to be mindful of drawing “conclusions” based on statistically insignificant studies as well!)

          Volume currently seems to be one the factors most associated with growth, so if it were me I would err on the side of doing what the meta-analysis suggests … but obviously even doing a lower volume plan may indeed produce good results if enough of your other factors are optimized! (Intensity, nutrition, exercise selection, form, etc.)

  20. Roy on June 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Hello 🙂
    I have a question about busy workput schedule. I was wondering if your e book was also for busy people who can only work let us say 3 to 4 times a week only. If not can you help me out with a few questions?

    First of all I believe I can only do each muscle group once a week because of my busy schedule. Here is a typical workout routine for my busy schedule –

    Ex) Monday – Chest/Triceps (includes bench press)
    Wednesday – Legs/Shoulder (includes squats)
    Friday – Back/Bicep (includes deadlifts)

    As you can see here, I have pretty much all the compound lifts but I only have once a week.for each muscle.group. Would this be problem in terms of growth RATE? Any suggestions would be fantastic.Oh and one last thing, I split the three so I can maximize my busy schedule and resting times as well. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!! Buying this book if it matches my schedule needs

    • Shane Duquette on June 3, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      You might be able to improve the rate that you can build muscle by turning those into full body workouts. Most studies show that a higher training frequency is optimal for muscle growth, so with a triple split like yours you’d split each workout into two. Chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, chest on Thursday, legs on Friday, back on Saturday, rest on Sunday. For guys who like to do short workouts every day that works well.

      If you wanted to train four days a week then upper, lower, rest, upper, lower, rest, rest works well.

      With three days per week I’d do what we do – three full body workouts. With smart exercise selection that’s more than enough to build muscle as effectively/efficiently as possible.

      All options are equally effective, since each muscle group is being hit 2-3 times per week, which is optimal. It’s a matter of preference. If time is a factor, however, the most efficient option is to train three times per week.

      Does that help / make sense?

      And I hope you decide to join us, man – I think you’d dig it!

      • Roy on June 3, 2014 at 11:26 pm

        Thanks for the reply! I can tell your replies are so time consuming 🙁
        Anyways! I guess I get what you’re saying, somewhat. So are you implying that doing full body workouts on a three day split routine is the best possible way (for me) since you are hitting a lot of muscle groups; which in return, will help grow muscle in the most efficient way? If doing, per se, a 3 day full body workout, what would one routine look like? I’ve looked online and I saw that full body workout recommends, like, doing squats, bench presses, shoulders, leg curls, ETC. on the same day – of course switching off a few exercises for a more focus on certain muscle groups. But more or less, I get what you’re saying about full body exercises in terms of compound lifts, but the main question is – what about the sub muscle groups such AS the triceps, biceps, and etc.? Will those just come naturally through good form of other compound exercises?

        And also, I will be able to workout a lot during the summer. With your recommendation of higher training frequency, just doing Chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, etc., etc., are you saying this is the BEST of the BEST? And is my workout routine that I mentioned bad, in any way? 🙁 THANKS so much.

        • Shane Duquette on June 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm

          I reworded my first response to make it a little clearer and more detailed 🙂

          I meant to say that there are many ways to properly structure your weightlifting workouts. There’s a certain optimal volume and frequency per muscle group, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make different routines out of that information.

          If you were training 4 times per week you could do an upper/lower split to hit each muscle group twice per week. If you were training 6 times per week you could do a triple split to hit each muscle group twice. If you’re training just three times per week though you’d probably want to do full body workouts so that your training frequency is still optimal (2-3 times per week is optimal). ALL of these options are the best of the best as far as results go. Three times per week is the best of the best as far as EFFICIENCY goes, since you’re training less and still building maximal amounts of muscle.

          You will probably see the best growth if you include some accessory lifts. We include accessory lifts in our full body workouts. (Check out the chin-ups/curl study in the article.)

          Your routine isn’t bad, it’s just not entirely optimal. The most important thing is that you lift though, not that every factor is totally 100% optimized. You’ll still get great results so long as you actually do it 🙂

  21. Edmund on June 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Hey, Shane. I have a question for you. I’ve been training for about three weeks and I’m already experiencing a steady gain in weight. About 5 kg, to be precise. I’m eating a lot, sleeping a lot and training 3 times a week. I’ve been doing mostly heavy lifting, with a bit of cardio as well. My legs grew, my arms grew and to my horror, so is my lower tummy!! FYI, I don’t do any sort of sit-ups or core crunching (not sure if this is acceptable, please let me know if it’s not!!). It seems like my lower abdominal region is bulging (not by much but it is noticeable) and felt firm.

    Now it’s only three weeks since I started this new lifestyle and I shouldn’t really worry a lot but this is bothering me. I did some research and I thought I was getting hernia!! It could due to heavylifting according to some websites. I want to know if you experience anything like this when you first started your incredible journey to 185 pounds!!

    Is this ‘bulge’ a normal thing or am I not paying attention to my abdomen? Currently, I’m really focused on my arms, back and legs as a start.

    • VJ on June 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Shane, I have had exactly the same experience in the last 4 weeks as Edmund! My weight is up 4 kg in almost 4 weeks. Here too my lower tummy has actually grown a bit. But thanks to pull ups, it has also become firmer-not a lot-but perceptibly so. It has kind of spilled out.
      One point: when I do cardio, I notice that my feet, especially just above my ankles pains when I run on the treadmill but as soon as I stop, within minutes it vanishes. In day to day course it doesn’t pain. But it does pain when I jog. Any idea what could be the cause?

      • Edmund on June 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm

        I wonder if this could also be caused by sitting too long or sitting with a bad posture or maybe both. I do slouch once in a while sitting in front of the PC, during class lectures and tutorials (which could last hours and hours!!). Sitting for too long may not be so easily avoidable because I’m a student but I will try my best to maintain my posture (although I should do it anyways whether or not this is the cause!!).

        Do you sit like a ‘good girl’ all the time, Shane? Do you even sit longer than 10 minutes??!!! I t could be one of the factors as well.

        In the end, I’m very frustrated with this ‘bulge’ and I want it gone!! Please tell what I could be doing wrong and how I could possibly fix it!! Thanks!

    • Shane Duquette on June 7, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Sounds like you’re gaining weight more quickly than your body is building muscle, so some of the surplus calories are spilling over into fat gains. The lower stomach is where men tend to store fat the most readily, so noticing the first signs there is very normal.

      It’s good that you’ve noticed. You can trim back the calories and go for a slower rate of weight gain before you accumulate too much fat 🙂

      • Edmund on June 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm

        Thanks for the reply! Might want to cut back a little on my nutrition if that’s the case. But if I don’t, will sit-ups or core workouts solve the problem like elevated leg crunching?

        • Shane Duquette on June 8, 2014 at 7:53 pm

          Core workouts will just make the muscles in your core bigger and stronger, in turn making your waist bigger.

          It may help with your posture though, depending on how you do it. However, you’ll probably have better luck improving your posture with core stability exercises (like planks) rather than core flexion exercises (like crunches).

  22. Eli on June 8, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    what’s up Shane,

    I train my back twice for every time I train my chest, as you recommended in your ectomorph aesthetics article. I have a question about volume and frequency though. I have two workouts, one has rows for my back and the other has heavy weighted pull ups. Do you think I could substitute the rows for weighted chin ups (not pull ups) an still see muscle gain? or is it better to stick with the rows? I’m doing about 3 sets of 8 reps for each.

    thanks man

    • Shane Duquette on June 8, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      Better to stick with the rows! Rows are a horizontal pull, whereas pull-ups are a vertical pull. It’s best to have both, just like it’s best to have some variation of both bench presses (horizontal press) and overhead presses (vertical press).

      I’d replace the pull-ups with the chin-ups – you’ll hit your lats just as well and also get some other muscle groups (like your biceps) going a little better.

      • Eli on June 11, 2014 at 11:54 pm

        thanks! I have another question about training– do you guys at B2B recommend a 3 day split, for example, pressing movements/pulling movements/legs? or two different workout that each have different exercises for each body part? that’s what I’m doing right now so I can hit each body part twice a week.

        thanks man!

        • Shane Duquette on June 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

          We do three full body workouts per week, as most studies indicate that a frequency of 3x per week per muscle group is optimal for most situations, and we program the volume per workout / per muscle group accordingly.

          But what you’re describing is also fine.

  23. Ea on June 10, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Hi,
    Is this any good? (i dont normally trust bb.com but this one looks nice)

    • Shane Duquette on June 11, 2014 at 1:38 am

      At a glance it looks good, yeah 🙂

  24. Red on June 16, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Hi, Shane. I’ve been working out quite a lot and eating well. So far, my body is showing progress (in terms of weight) and I am gaining muscles here and there. But the one part about the body that isn’t showing progress is my chest. It still looks kinda flat-ish and I’m wondering if I’ll ever build a nice chest. Sometimes I wonder if there’s actually muscles there because initially, I could almost see the rib bones.

    Why is the chest such a difficult part to build? I’ve been doing my fair share of bench presses but it only seems to be helping my back and arms. I don’t even know what to do next. Help?

    • Shane Duquette on June 16, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Barbell bench press? That won’t grow the pecs of many people, and us long and lanky-limbed ectomorphs often struggle with that the most.

      Pec genetics certainly play a role in how your pecs will be shaped when fully developed, but as far as SIZE goes you should be able to have a fair amount of control over making them larger.

      First of all, you may benefit more from learning how do rock a really mean dumbbell bench press instead of barbell bench press. Second of all you’ll want to incorporate some assistance lifts for your pecs, since you may be lifting primarily with your arms and shoulders instead of your chest. Flys usually work well.

      For learning how to use your pecs when doing compound presses, we often have a lot of success by teaching guys how to do great push-ups, and then loading those push-ups heavier and heavier. It translates pretty well into a good barbell bench press a lot of the time. Push-ups are great too, so you’ll probably like what they do for your posture, core, triceps, shoulders, pecs, etc. If you aren’t doing ’em, I’d add them in!

      (It’s a little strange that your back is growing with your bench press, but not totally abnormal. With more of a powerlifting bench press style your lats can play a bigger role. Your upper mid back is used isometrically too, to help maintain a good lifting platform to push from.)

      • Red on June 17, 2014 at 5:31 am

        Thanks for the tips! I do struggle with push ups sometimes but I got the form right and I was able to maintain it so yeah, I would definitely pay more attention to it from now on.. You the man!!

  25. prospect on June 28, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Hey man, I’m 130 pounds ,18 years old, and I train in basketball and muay Thai, I consider Myself to be fairly fit , I can do 50 push ups easily, but I want to gain around 40 pounds this year, it sounds very difficult especially cause I do insane cardio, Im leaving muay Thai and focussing on basketball. and really being 130 pound point guard, well I get bullied alot, the coach says I need to gain muscle fast,I’m getting desperate. What do you recommend.

    • Shane Duquette on June 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Hehe well, and admittedly I’m biased here, I recommend a program like ours! A good weightlifting and nutrition plan designed to build as much muscle mass as possible onto a naturally skinny frame is exactly what you need.

      Our stuff translates pretty well into athletics, too. That’s a big passion of Marco’s, so you should be coming out with better mobility and strength, too 🙂

      With that said, 40 pounds is a lot to gain in a year! We see it happen all the time, and some of our members are able to do it … but it’s no walk in the park!

      • prospect on June 28, 2014 at 3:12 pm

        I understand all that, but do you really believe I can gain around 40 pounds in one year even though I’m burning so many calories. I mean on an average day I spend around 1 hour in intense basketball training. And then go to this club where I play around 2-3 hours of more basketball, and usually I don’t stop there. And I do that at least 3 days a week,
        My point is it even possible. Please note that my nutrition is basically terrible . I eat very little , and drink tons of energy drinks,
        I did lift some weights, but only gained 10 pounds in the last 2 years, and that was probably from growing

        • Red on June 29, 2014 at 6:43 am

          It is TOTALLY possible.. If you’re not getting results, you are doing it wrong. I gained 20 pounds in just a month of eating, sleeping and good ol’weightlifting. I’m not joking. 20 POUNDS in ONE MONTH, not one year.

          If you are really serious about gaining weight, you may have make some sacrifices (talking about your basketball) and be super disciplined. I currently weigh 142 pounds and I’m 6’2. I’m more confident now than ever and this is just the beginning!! If I can do it, so can you (Asian here).

          What I did was to train 3 days a week (no excuse) for no less than an hour. It usually involves a lot of lifting with some cardio to make sure you don’t end up skinny fat (worse than being skinny). My cardio don’t usually take more than 10-12 minutes per session. I mean, I’ve eaten a lot before and after training. Why do serious cardio for 2-3 hours to burn the very thing that’s gonna build your muscles?? I know you love your basketball but you have to set your priorities straight, you want to play or you want to build muscles? In your case, you can’t really do both. But sure, you can still play during rest days but be moderate.

          You have to eat a lot. Sleep a lot. Train 3 days a week. Do some basketball. Simple.

          To make it even simpler, join the Beastly program. Frankly, I don’t have the money to afford the program but I’m making progress and there’s nothing to complain about. You can even read some of the articles here to help you along the way. I wish you luck!

  26. Jamin on July 7, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Hey Shane, Marco and Jared,
    I’m 16 years old (in a month) and from Germany.
    I wanna know, if it would be wise to do this training, because I’m still growing. My second problem is, that I don’t have the time to go to a gym.
    So, should I still buy the program?
    Hope you guys can help me

    • Shane Duquette on July 10, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Hey Jamin,

      For sure! I remember hearing rumours back when I was younger that lifting heavy weights would stunt growth and stuff, but those were just old wives’ tales. I’m not sure what rumours are circulating these days, but most research actually shows that it’s safer than most sports (like soccer) and offers the high intensity heavy lifting causes wicked brain adaptations in young guys. Marco started at your age, and I wish I had too. By the time I started he’d already gained 63 pounds!

      Here’s a good article on the New York Times blog if you want to read up on it a little more. They recommend starting as early as 7!

      You should definitely get permission from your parents though. Even though it’s quite safe comparatively, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any risks at all.

      And if you don’t want to go to the gym check this article out.

      We do have a bodyweight workout, but you’d rather quickly grow too strong for it and need some heavier things.

  27. MJB on July 15, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Are you guys aware of hypertrophy specific training?

    Is this more or less what you program dictates; gradually decreasing volume with gradually increasing intensity – working out at sub-maximal loads, hitting a peak in each volume range every 2 weeks (so in this case, they go from 15×1 – 10 x 2 – 5 x 3 – though it can be taken to the extremes, starting at 20 reps)…

    Without asking you to give everything away, some idea about the overall structure of your training program would be appreciated. I think the program above is the way forward for me, but i’m curious to understand the differences you might have come up with.

    I’m at the extreme end of ecto, short muscle bellies, lanky frame, poor appetite under stress – many of the things you talk about. I appear to have an intolerance for low volume training over a medium – long period of time: I’ve trained heavy (5×5, Starting S routines and others farily simm, low volume strength training essentially) and did well over a period of 3 months. However, I eventually burnt out psychologically; the constant cramming of food and load on my joints resulted in general bloat, constant tiredness and pain/injury that eventually causes the mind to give up – back we go to ectomorph. I wonder if you know what i mean – whilst the effect on my body was positive, it wasn’t sustainable. So, what i’m looking for is something that i can keep to long term – something that makes the mind feel good too!

    It’s a tricky process but what you guys have apparently taught me is that there are certain adaptations to be made that i had not considered (tricking the appetite with the right food and inhibiting that fairly understandable desire to lift HEAVY all the damn time).

    • Shane Duquette on July 15, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Hey MJB,

      I wasn’t aware of it, but I’m aware of the principles they’re describing. There are some similarities between our program and theirs, although there are also a lot of differences. We both use compound lifts and full body workouts though with a similar frequency, we both pay a lot of attention to volume and intensity, we both focus on getting progressively stronger, we both have ways of periodizing and progressing our training, etc. We gradually increase volume and have scheduled periods of deload/recovery. Our volume is (usually) higher overall as well, as research shows this to be more conducive to muscle growth. I’m not impressed with the research being done into eccentric-only training either.

      Eccentric emphasis training makes sense theoretically as it recruits more fast twitch fibres and places them under greater mechanical tension (study, study) and it works FAR better than training emphasizing just the concentric … but in practice doesn’t seem to work as well as more traditional tempos where both are emphasized (study). This is an interesting area of research though.

      Mm, that’s a common issue with sustained powerlifting style training. The wear and tear on joints accumulates. You can ease back on the heavy stuff, work in some lighter stuff, recover, and then ease back into the heavy stuff again. (We usually try to schedule those periods so that we’re easing back before people feel too beat up.) You can do interesting stuff like that with your calories, too!

      Hehe yeah it’s tough to stay away from the really heavy lifting sometimes. I find it the most fun. Three rep front squats are one of my favourite lifts ever, whereas higher rep squats are a painful nightmare!

      • MJB on July 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        Hiya,

        It’s been some time since i’ve had to use all this terminology – the HST guys would probably say i’ve done a bad job of it (they would be correct). Anyway, they are also utilizing a period of rest “strategic deconditioning” as they call it, which actually involves no training at all for at least a week! As far as eccentrics (‘negatives’) go – although they are rather interested in it, it’s an optional extra and i gather most people who opt for the routine just transition into a 2 week period of 5 x 5, thus for the majority HST actually transitions into SST for a little while.

  28. Red on July 15, 2014 at 3:43 am

    Hey, Shane, I wonder if it’s okay to not workout for a week or more. I’ve made good progress and I worry this long break will slow it down or bring me back to square one. I usually workout on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. But there was one week where I only did Thursday and Friday and didn’t workout till the next Saturday. Today it’s Tuesday and I’ll be hitting the gym again on Thursday as usual. In short, I didn’t workout for 7 days until Saturday and another 4 days till this coming Thursday.

    Is this not a good thing to do? I have my reasons though (studies, exams) for skipping and gosh, it felt awful.. It’s more like guilt for not doing it and I hate it.

    Just how long does it take for an ectomorph to start losing his gains if he does not workout? And what can I do about it? I’m trying my best to make time for workouts but sometimes life takes over and you can’t do nothing about it..

    • Shane Duquette on July 15, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Hey Red, it would take quite a while to lose your gains. Generally you lose them when you combine detraining with shoddy nutrition and weight loss. If you’ve got a good lifestyle as far as nutrition goes then taking a week (or three) off from the gym should be just fine.

      The tricky thing is that oftentimes when we’re busy (or sick or on vacation) these things do tend to happen all at once, and we do lose some muscle. It comes back relatively rapidly though when you get back into the swing of things. Muscle memory is a real thing. The nuclei you develop in your muscles cells will stick around, and this will make it easy to rebuild lost muscle. So don’t stress too much.

      If you’re busy with studies and exams though I’d encourage you to keep training! Training should positively affect your energy levels, mental focus/clarity and willpower. That’s the last time I’d be cutting out training, although you may want to reduce the length, volume and intensity of it to free up some time and energy!

      • Jason on October 1, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        Generally it takes at least 2 weeks to start losing your muscle gains, you can expedite this by not providing your body with enough protein, and you can add fat over top of your muscle when your caloric intake shoots through the roof on your “off weeks”

    • Eldwin on September 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      And to add to Shane’s advice about not giving up training during studies/exam, there’s studies that show that exercising help decreases stress.

      I’m in the working world now and eventhough there have been days whereby I’d be too tired or stressed out I’d still make an effort to hit the gym to sweat it all out. Personally it helped a lot and I’d be able to sleep thru the night and start fresh again the next day.

      • Shane Duquette on September 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm

        I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  29. Ege on July 22, 2014 at 5:41 am

    Hi Shane,
    Thanks for answerimg all these questions for us. I have one more 😀 . Since its summer and schools out, i have all the time for working out and eating. Would it be ok to workout 6 times per week (2-3 x week for every body part) or i would be overtrained?

    • Shane Duquette on July 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      You could train six times per week, yep! Your workouts would either be rather short or made up primarily of smaller isolation exercises though. Keep in mind that the optimal training volume (total number of sets/reps per muscle group per week) for muscle growth is the same whether you’re training six times per week or three times per week. And you’re correct that you’d want to keep the frequency per muscle group at 2-3x per week.

  30. john versoza on July 27, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Can I help me , Please ..

  31. Cole on August 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Hey Shane quick question I feel you could help me with.
    I’m 6’3″ and 200lbs and I have recently put on some size (used to be about 190 since I started working out regularly), but it isn’t completely noticeable. I’m long and lanky and want to put size into my legs, chest, shoulders, forearms, arms and back. What type of workout would you recommend I do in order to get up to 215lbs and look generally bigger and wider in the those areas?

    • Shane Duquette on August 7, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Hey Cole, props on the 10 pounds, man!

      You aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong. I find for guys around our height that 12-15 pounds of lean mass seems to be the magic number. That’s when you look at before/after photos and really see some swell progress. If you check out the photos in the sidebar you’ll see that 20-30 pounds of muscle is where things REALLY get crazy. So it may just be that things are going perfectly and you just need to keep pushing onward to 215!

      With that said, you’re 6’3 and 200 pounds, so there are a couple more questions worth asking. First, how lean are you? Second, are you starting to hit all kinds of plateaus with your training?

      If you’re an ectomorph who’s a lean 200 and gunning for a lean 215 that’s when things start becoming complicated as far as training goes. You really need to work hard to progressively increase muscle strength and work capacity (the amount of sets/reps you can handle), and that can take some cleverness.

      For example, for your legs: heavy squats and deadlifts (5 or fewer reps), assistance lifts like romanian deadlifts and goblet squats in a moderate rep range (6-12), then maybe some finishers like leg presses, leg extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises in a slightly higher rep range (12-20). The heavy stuff will make you strong, the moderate and lighter stuff will add size, the wide variety of lifts will result in more balanced and consistent growth.

      Then you’d gradually work to lift heavier and heavier, more and more sets, etc. Each week you’d want to lift more pounds than the week before, but not so much that you can’t recover from it.

      Does that help / make sense?

      • Cole on August 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

        Thanks! This helped a lot! And to answer your questions,
        1. I am about 140-150lbs of lean mass
        2. I am hitting some plateaus, but feel as though I can hit more
        Another question, do you feel that full body workouts or split workouts are better and if so, how many days a week? I play basketball too so I get a lot of cardio in

        • Shane Duquette on August 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm

          There isn’t enough research right now for me to say confidently which approach is superior, and the best answer at this point is probably “it depends”. However most evidence points to a training frequency of 2-3 weightlifting sessions per muscle group per week, so three full body workouts per week and upper/lower splits (upper, lower, rest, upper, lower, rest, rest) seem to be pretty ideal. Fully body workouts also mean less fatigue per muscle group per workout, which means the training quality / amount lifted tends to be higher per muscle group per week. (If you were doing a “chest” day your chest would fatigue after a couple exercises, making you weaker for the rest of the workout. It would burn and cause a lot of muscle damage, but the quality/heaviness of your lifts would suffer.) This further supports the idea that working more muscle groups per workout is ideal, but admittedly that’s mainly theoretical at this point.

          There are some studies that have just been approved for the fall from some of my favourite strength and hypertrophy researchers. One of them will directly compare full body workouts with bodybuilder triple splits. I’m excited to see the results!

          If you’re a serious basketball player you may want to drop the frequency of your muscle-building training to put more emphasis on your sports specific training and athletic performance on the court—perhaps just two full body workouts per week and with a slightly lower intensity (staying a little further away from failure). In the off season you can rev back up your weightlifting to pack on some muscle/strength/power for the next season 🙂

  32. Luke on August 18, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Hey, another great article, love the site. Have you got any new articles on the way?

    • Shane Duquette on August 19, 2014 at 11:12 am

      We’ve got a couple in the works! Next is a skinny-fat article 🙂

      We regularly write articles on the member side of the site now, sort of like a magazine. We also try to really put a lot of effort into all of our articles, so we don’t release them all that often. We figure quality > quantity, since there are plenty of blogs already doing the opposite.

      Stay tuned!

      • Marco on October 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

        Wow.
        An article about skinny-fat ?!?
        When? Where?

        • Shane Duquette on October 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm

          It’ll be here on the blog. As for when, it’s hard to say. We don’t publish articles that often. But the article is already partly written and it’ll be the next one we publish 🙂

  33. Don on September 9, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Shane!

    This might be a long shot but here’s to hoping there’s hope for me!
    I’ve been skinny all my life and lately I find myself gaining a gut… I’m about 125-130lbs and about 5’7″.
    I’m currently a student so not much luck in the financial department.. I only have dumbbells and can probably scavenge my loose coins to afford a pull up bar for my doorway. The good news is the gym at school is free! 🙂
    Food wise, I don’t think I can fork out $300 a month. I’m just really tired of feeling tired and unhealthy, not fitting into most of my clothes or being called skinny. It’s so insulting and I’m just so frustrated. Any help would be appreciated, I just don’t know if I can afford to pay you upfront for the program and the knowledge but once I save up enough I will do just that! Please tell me there’s hope for this skinny dreamer.

    Sincerely,
    A desperate bro

    • Shane Duquette on September 11, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      There’s always hope, Don! We specialize in guys who have tried many times and failed. (We also deal with quite a few guys who have accidentally grown a gut. Our next article will be on what to do when you’re “skinny-fat”!)

      The nutrition side of things doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. Don’t underestimate beans, peas, whole grain bread, potatoes, bananas, rice, etc. There are tons of ridiculously cheap nutritious (and delicious) whole foods out there 🙂

      I hope you decide to join us one day!

  34. May on September 15, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Hey there nice website, I’ve read and been on so many sites and this would be the best one by far especially for us ectomorphs. I’ve got one question for now I am currently doing the 5×5 I had been doing flat bench with a wide grip but my shoulder would ache how do you recommend on doing the bench. I am trying the incline close grip with my elbows coming down beside my body, thanks

    • Shane Duquette on September 15, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks, May—really glad you liked it!

      Body aches are pretty common when you blast away with 5×5 style routines, since you’re always going so heavy. Perhaps scaling back the volume of the super heavy lifting and adding in some lighter rep ranges would reduce your joint pain.

      Also, I’d consider switching to dumbbells! The dumbbell bench press may (eventually) solve all of your problems, and may yield even greater growth in your chest.

      And oftentimes shoulder joint soreness is due to muscle imbalances. I’d make sure you’re training your back adequately. Many experts recommend two back lifts for every chest lift in order to prevent shoulder pain, alignment issues, muscle imbalances, etc.

      For now, you might want to take a break from the benching until the aches go away.

      I hope that helps!

      • May on September 17, 2014 at 5:39 am

        Thanks my workout consists of day A and day B, day A is Squats, Bench, Barbell Rows and day B is Deadlifts and Military Press. I try not to train for to long as I’ve heard ectomorphs are pretty easy to overtrain so I like to try keep it to 40mins max especially doing the big compound moves that burn more calories, correct me if I’m wrong. So it’s day A rest day B rest then back to A again. I’m actually trying to gain mass am I going the right way about it? Or is the 5×5 mainly for strength. I would love to join yous but as I don’t know how to use pay pal I cannot pay for it . But in time I will grow enough to ask my G.F how to do it but for now any advice would be helpful thanks.

        • Shane Duquette on September 17, 2014 at 11:02 am

          5×5’s are a simplified way of emphasizing just strength, yeah. If you check out the strength training and powerlifting section above you’ll see the pros and cons of that.

          You’re trying to gain mass, but you’re also trying to emphasize burning more calories? Even if your goal were fat loss I wouldn’t really worry about how many calories you’re burning with your weightlifting workouts. It’s usually much easier and more effective to create a calorie deficit by eating less, walking more, etc.

          Ahh I don’t know if us ectomorphs are easier to overtrain. We seem to respond pretty fantastically to the research proven “optimal” volume range. In this 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics (the most thorough study of its kind), the naturally skinny guys saw the greatest muscle gains, and they were following a fairly high volume per muscle group program! (Mind you they were studying just arm growth.)

          You will want to be careful with jumping right into doing solely heavy compound lifts though, as the risk of injury is higher with that approach:
          http://bonytobeastly.com/ectomorph-weightlifting/

          I hope that helps!

          • May on September 18, 2014 at 4:11 am

            No sorry what I meant was I try not to train to long as I’ve heard doing these big compound moves burn a lot of calories which I don’t want, just read all of it very good info. Thinking of lowering my weights going to 4 of 8 reps and superseting them with some isolation movements to get that burn for a couple of weeks and see how that goes. Thanks for the info Shane your the man, ohh and are there any new pics of your transformation would like to see some. Cheers



          • Shane Duquette on September 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

            I wouldn’t worry too much about burning calories with your weightlifting. You could reduce weightlifting volume (total sets/reps per muscle group), yes, but the factor more related to muscle hypertrophy is volume… so you’d be drastically reducing the pace that you build muscle! I’d say optimize volume and then have an extra glass of milk or whatever if you need to. The calorie burn wouldn’t be significant, after all. An extra couple hundred calories per workout, perhaps.

            (We got an article on how to eat more as a skinny guy trying to build muscle, and an article that deals with consuming calories while weightlifting.)

            I think the most recent photo of us is the one on our “who we are” page. We can take more soon 🙂

            Good luck!



  35. Jake on September 28, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Hey Shane,

    Loved the article. But how you’re supposed to BUILD muscle in fact? We should focus on slightly higher volume than 5×5, do some accessory work, focus on big lifts, go slightly higher on reps… but how do we actually apply more tension over time, how do we BUILD muscle?

    We do straight sets and add 2-5lb on the bar when we can do all prescribed reps on straight sets (say, we lift 100 lb for 10 reps all 4 sets)? We use a rep range (8-10) and add another 2-5 lbs to the bar when we can do the higher end reps? Who do you systematically apply more tension in order to promote muscle growth?

    • Jake on September 28, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Oops, I meant “How you’re supposed to to systematically (…)”*

    • Shane Duquette on September 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

      You’d try to add weight to the bar, yeah, or increase reps using the same weight (up to a point), or increase training volume per week. If you’re following a proper program all of the strategies to optimize adaptations will be taken care of for you. If you want to design it yourself, that’s where things get extremely complex. You could get a whole university degree on that and still have a lot to learn! However, it’s not like things need to be perfect in order to progress well, so if you enjoy the process of putting together your own plans, just do your best and learn as you go 🙂

  36. David on October 1, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Hi, I see that most people who start or comment on here are the 130pounds + range. I’m 5’11 and 115 pounds and I haven’t seen anyone as skinny as me on here. So I was wondering if you’d think the program would work for me?

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2014 at 10:54 pm

      Absolutely! We get very skinny guys coming in. Hell, Jared and I were very skinny guys coming in. I was 6’2 and 125-130, which is quite similar to you given the slight difference in height.

      If anything the program will work even better on you. This isn’t just speculation, studies into muscle growth have come to the same conclusion (study). You’ll be able to build muscle more rapidly than a genetically gifted mesomorph. You’ll be the guy gaining 30+ pounds instead of 20+ 🙂

  37. Jason on October 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Love this post.
    I think there are some important aspects to lifting heavy that most guys don’t know about, mainly the science that goes behind everything. Great post

  38. May on October 5, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Hey guys love the site, I’ve got a real problem with all the things I’ve read and heard I can’t seem to make my mind up on what kind of workout to do either a full body workout a upper lower split or what I’m so confused and I’ve actually been training for awile now and can’t seem to write me up or find a decent enough workout to stick to, would you be able to recommend a workout preferably one with a rest day between workouts as my rest days are my family time thank you oh and I want to train for mass not strength thank yous, yours truly another skinny bloke

    • Shane Duquette on October 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Hey May,

      Both approaches are valid, so long as the volume takes into consideration what kind of structure you’re following. If you aren’t seeing results, I don’t think that has anything to do with your doing full body or split weightlifting routines.

      As for what workout program we recommend… ours of course! 🙂

  39. Pedro on December 1, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Hi Shane,

    First let me thank for your website. Its so nice to see all this information in the ectomorph point of view.

    I am 39 years old. I am a pure ectomorph. 193cm and just 4 months back 65kg.

    I tried to gain weight and bodybuilding in the past, but I never had the focus and before the internet it was all very difficult to get info and specially the correct nutrition. On the last 4 months I started weight lifting first at home and then at the gym. I gain 11kg. I am very happy and I would like to continue probably to get the 20kg total. I am not sure my weight gain rhythm will continue like this.

    I train always 4x a week. I started top/legs/rest/top/legs/rest/rest and 2 months ago I changed to pec + tricipes/legs/rest/back/shoulders. I just got a new plan from the gym trainer, and I have a lot of sets like for Monday ( 4x machine incline press + 4 bench press + 4 dumbbell inclined press + 4 flies + 4 cable curls + 6 dumbbell curls + 4 preacher curls). With all this sets if I rest 3min I get 90min of training. Before I had 8 sets of pec now I have 16. All of the sets are with 12 repetitions.

    My main question is: Is this too much?
    I have a lot of commitment and I need to know if I can trust the plan and of course the gym coach.

    Thanks,
    Pedro

    • Shane Duquette on December 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      Congrats on the 11 kilos, Pedro—that’s awesome!

      It doesn’t sound like the most scientific approach to lifting. I don’t know why you’re using just one rep range. I don’t know why the workouts are divided like that. And the volume seems a little weird. Whether it’s too much depends on a variety of factors though—how close to failure you’re lifting, for example.

      I’d say it’s a little intense… but it’s hard to say. It’s not what Marco or I would program but it’s not THAT unreasonable.

  40. Pedro on December 1, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Sorry I did a mistake. The train is:
    pec + biceps/legs/rest/back/shoulders + triceps

  41. Paul on December 4, 2014 at 1:12 am

    The links to the studies aren’t working. Otherwise, awesome article! I can see you’ve done quite a bit of research and I’m looking forward to applying it in my quest to get bigger.

    • Shane Duquette on December 7, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Hey Paul, thanks for the kind words, man.

      The links are working for me. Which ones are giving you trouble? I’ll see what I can do about fixing ’em up 🙂

      • Paul on December 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        Under “For Muscle Building”: The third and fourth study links don’t work. However, the other ones that weren’t working are working now. I think it was just a temporary glitch.

        • Shane Duquette on December 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm

          Thanks for the catch, Paul—I’ll fix those up pronto 🙂

  42. jay on December 21, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Do i have to check all of your sources? You claim that low volume training is ineffective compared to higher volume training . But the second last study you cite there concluded exactly the opposite: “All 3 training volumes significantly (p < 0.05) increased muscle size, strength, and upper body power, with no significant between-group differences. There were no significant changes in hormonal concentrations. The results support the use of low volume training for muscular development over a 10-wk period."Hmmmmm….
    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/232177076_The_Effect_of_Weight_Training_Volume_on_Hormonal_Output_and_Muscular_Size_and_Function

    • Shane Duquette on December 21, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Hey Jay, we try to look at the overall body of evidence before coming to a conclusion. The studies you see on our site aren’t cherry picked to support our views, rather our views are based on all of those studies.

      We included that study because you’re right—not all studies are unanimous. However when ALL studies were considered in a meta-analysis (including that one) you’ll see 40% greater hypertrophy with high volume. Because the overall body of evidence showing 40% greater size gains (and 46% greater strength gains, I think) with higher volume training, that’s what we go for 🙂

      • jay on December 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        Cool. Thanks for the reply. I’m just starting out (I’m 44!) & so glad I found your blog. Very informative & fun to read. Great work!

        • Shane Duquette on December 26, 2014 at 5:20 pm

          No problem, man—my pleasure! Good luck, and I hope your holidays are going wonderfully well!

    • Shane Duquette on December 30, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      A new (December 24th 2014) study just came out showing a large benefit to higher volume training. Check this study out.

  43. Chidi on December 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Hey Shane, thanks for the info! I need some help here. I am 17,6’3 very skinny. I am a Sprinter and despite my scrawniness, and weakness I am quite fast (could be due to my West African genetics) I want to sprint at a higher level and would benefit from strength gains. I want to start off by doing calisthenics ( pushups, bodyweight squats etc.) however, I have no clue how to start, in regards to repetition, frequency, and progression eventually to a weight training program for size and speed gains.

    • Shane Duquette on December 27, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      Hey Chidi,

      We have a very simply callisthenics program included with our program, since some guys can’t sign up for a gym right away, some guys travel and can’t always make it to the gym, some guys want to master the movement patterns with bodyweight before loading up, etc… but why are you keen on starting with callisthenics? If your goal is to get strong and fast, why not progress to a weight training program by starting with a weight training program that’s appropriate for beginners (and ours is, although we also have a more advanced version included for more experienced guys).

      If you start with simpler progressions—goblet squats instead of back squats, for example—then you’ll be able to smoothly transition up to the beastly stuff, gaining size and strength (and speed/power) along the way 🙂

      If you want to learn more about movement patterns, check this post out.

      And this post talks a bit about the benefits of progressions in weightlifting, and how they work.

      I hope that helps!

      (And of course, our program would teach you all of this in a step-by-step way, and we’d be helping you accomplish your goals on a personal level.)

  44. Bradley Werritt on January 6, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Shane, I’m 17 years old and joined a local gym just over 5 months ago.

    For the first couple of months, I just followed a fairly basic ‘Beginner’s’ workout routine that I found online – a three-day split of full body workouts.

    After spending many hours researching online as to what programme to advance onto, I finally decided that I would be better off spending a long period of time focusing solely on strength training, as this would prepare and benefit me better for the future. Eventually, I want to get bigger, more defined muscles, with a lean look and very visible six-pack.

    For the past two months I have been following the Stronglifts 5×5 workout (although I have missed last week due to illness, and this set me back at least two weeks). I managed to gain 4kg bodyweight over the first four weeks, and despite my worries of some of this being fat, I’ve been surprised to see that I am beginning to look much more athletic (bigger upper body, in particular) and still have fairly visible abs.

    During the week in which I was poorly (and hardly eating) I lost most of this weight. The next gym session I did I was really struggling to lift the weights that I was supposed to be progressing onto, and even weights that I could lift easily enough before. I decided to drop roughly 15% weight on all of my lifts. To make matter worse, I hurt my lower back squatting 70kg with poor form, so it may be at least another week until I can do my squats/deadlifts again.

    Almost every day I wish that I could just do a bodybuilding programme that would make me look more aesthetically pleasing at a better rate (even though the 5×5 is doing a pretty good job of this), but I still plan to do the 5×5 routine for as long as I possible can (including the transitions down to 3×5, 3×3 etc when I begin to plateau), and only once I max myself out on this will I switch to a different programme…

    …which takes me to my last point… When I do change routine, what would be best for me? I assume by then that I’ll have gained quite a bit of weight, and huge amounts of strength, and that my new goal would be to get bigger AND leaner. Is this practically possible? I read in this article that strength training is the best way to lose fat whilst conserving muscle mass, but then this wouldn’t fit in with my size goals? A bodybuilding programme would yield the best rate of muscle hypertrophy, but can I get leaner at the same time, or would I have to do this later on (after doing some bodybuilding for a while) by adding in cardio or maybe doing more reps, for example?

    Sorry for the long read – hope to hear from you soon!

    Brad.

    • Shane Duquette on January 8, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      That’s awesome, Bradley! Congrats on the four kilos 😀

      Sorry to hear about your recent struggles, and that your strength and weight dipped a little bit. Don’t fret, it will spring back quickly. Rebuilding muscle / re-inflating after time off is always a breeze compared to doing it the first time around.

      When is the best time to start incorporating more exercise and rep range variety? I would say always! Even if your goal is developing maximal strength, there’s a huge benefit to using a variety of assistance exercises with lighter rep ranges. When do you need to switch routines? Well you don’t ever need to. If you’re seeing great results right now, you can ride those out for as long as you would like. One day you’ll plateau, and at that point it might be worthwhile mixing things up a little (strategically) to keep things moving. We have a lot of guys come into our program from Stronglifts and they do really well 🙂

      Can you be bigger and leaner? Of course! Being more muscular actually makes it easier to be leaner. More muscle mass means you’ll be more insulin sensitive. More of what you eat will feed your muscles, less will get stored as fat. This is one of the many reasons that building muscle is so great for longterm health!

      Strength training is the best for developing strength. Bodybuilding is good for developing size. A mixed approach to training (strength+bodybuilding) would be as good as bodybuilding for size, as good as strength training for developing strength, and the best approach for conserving muscle mass while losing fat. It would help you accomplish all three of your goals—strength, muscle mass, leanness.

      Does that help / make sense?

      • Bradley Werritt on January 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm

        Thank you Shane! You’re advice sounds great 🙂

        The only assistance exercises that I am currently incorporating are Chin-ups, Pull-ups, and Tricep Dips (each once per week), for 3 sets until failure. I’ll start adding weight to each one once I can do 3 sets of at least 10 reps on it.

        My back is recovering quickly, so I’ll be getting back to my Stronglifts 5×5 soon, but I am tempted to make some deloads on each workout so that I can ‘start again’ following the last three weeks in which my workouts have been very inconsistent. This will also help me to improve my form to hopefully prevent further injury when I do get back up to the weights I’m currently doing.

        When I do get to the cutting stage, and move onto a Strength Training / Bodybuilding (+ Calisthenics) programme like you have suggested, how would I need to adjust my daily calories from my current surplus? Do building muscle size and getting leaner contradict in terms of diet?

        Thanks, again.
        Brad 🙂

        • Shane Duquette on January 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

          No problem, Bradley!

          Gaining weight (e.g. building muscle) requires a calorie surplus whereas losing weight (e.g. losing fat) requires a calorie surplus. Guys can shift in and out of surpluses and deficits even over the course of a day (e.g. surplus surrounding meals, deficit while sleeping) so it’s possible to build muscle while in the surpluses and lose fat while in the deficits. Good training and nutrition really helps with this. Still, I’d recommend focusing on just one goal at a time, and maybe you’ll see a bit of progress in the other as a bonus. (You normally see simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain in guys who are either untrained or detrained.)

          You can cut and bulk with various degrees of surpluses and deficits. You might be bulking at 500 calories over your baseline, you might want to cut at 500 calories under your baseline. I’d try to eat as much as you can while cutting though, so starting modest with your deficit is probably wise. Maybe drop 750 calories to go from a bulk to a cut, and then drop further each week as needed (based on the rate that your weight is changing).

          I hope that helps 🙂

  45. Lucho on January 29, 2015 at 7:00 am

    Great website with good information and well-written posts Shane!

    Because of a very tight schedule I only manage to train 2 x week… Do you guys make any special recommendations for that particular sort of situation?

    • Shane Duquette on January 31, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      We include coaching with the program because everyone is a little different. We can help you figure that out for sure 🙂

  46. sunny on February 7, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Hey, great website. I gained quite a lot of knowledge from reading up on everything, but I’m still confused as to a couple of things.
    I’m an ectomorph who has recently started going to the gym, I am trying to build muscle and gain weight, currently at 60 kg’s.I start my exercises everyday with pushup’s and pull’ups in sets of 4 and then hitting the weight’s. Over the week I exercise for 4 days focusing on 2 major muscle groups per day. Is that approach correct, me being an ecto or should I concentrate on more muscle groups per day so that I end up working the groups several times over the week? Also, are push’ups and pull’ups an advisable way to start off a day in the gym considering that they would fatigue me in the very beginning and weaken my nervous system before I start with the machines and weights , thus leading to lesser energy required for the ‘pump’?

    • Shane Duquette on February 15, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Hey Sunny,

      There are a lot of correct ways to train. You could split up by muscle groups or do a split. Both work well. Most research shows that full body workouts done three times per week should be the ideal, but what matters far more is volume per week (total sets / reps) and intensity (how close you go to failure).

      I would organize your workout so that you can lift the most weight properly. If the push-ups are getting in the way of that, toss ’em onto the end of your workout instead. Chin-ups are a great way to start though, since that’s a big heavy compound lift that’s hitting a ton of major muscle groups.

      I hope that helps!

      • sunny on February 16, 2015 at 7:18 am

        hey!! thanks for the great reply.
        A couple more questions. As an ecto, are you advocating that one should go nearer to failure every wrokout with every exercise or otherwise? and by a full body workout, 3 times a week, do you mean every muscle group of the body worked every alternate day? Wouldn’t that be too taxing? basically, I’m getting confused as to how much exercise would trigger growth and not the opposite cause I feel sometimes I start losing whatever muscle I have, also I dont want to train too less, because that’s just being stupid.
        respect

        • Shane Duquette on February 18, 2015 at 10:25 am

          It would be very hard to do so much lifting that you cause your body to lose muscle. I’m not sure if that happens. You just wouldn’t build it as quickly or you’d get sick or lose motivation to train and such.

          How close you go to failure and what muscle groups you stimulate each workout really depends on your program. There are a lot of variables and a lot of ways to arrange those variables. If you go to failure you need to less volume, if you train more body parts each workout then you need less volume per body part per workout. We train every muscle group three times per week, and there’s a lot of evidence to show that this is the best way. We also make sure that everything in the program is designed for full body workouts done three times per week.

          I know it’s pretty complicated. I think that’s why there’s such a benefit to having a professional program the workouts if you’re looking for remarkable results. I still don’t design my own training program, I let Marco—the guy with the university degree and the training—handle that stuff. However if that isn’t up your alley, you’ll still make progress if you just do the best that you can do, keep track of your progress as you go, and learn along the way 🙂

  47. Pete on February 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Hey Shane, like the guys shown above I’m pretty much banging my head against the wall with my attempts to gain muscle. I’ve been working out for almost 3 years now and I have not seen anywhere near the results I was expecting. I’m 32, 6ft 2″ and 12 stone.

    I’m full of energy and would workout everyday if I could. I also find I gain some fat around my waist if I’m not careful (currently about 15% bf).

    My routine is shown below:
    Monday: bench 5×5, neg chins, weighted dips 3×5, deadlifts 3×8
    Tuesday: db bench 3×8-12, db rows 3×8-12, db military 3×8-12, neg chins
    Weds: squats plus other legs exercises
    Thursday: military 5×5, neg chins, bw dips to failure, deadlifts 3×8
    Friday: repeat Tuesday

    I’m really disappointment with my progress since finishing my first year (2 years ago!). I seem to be building no mass and continue to be poor at chins. I’ve looked into Anthony mychall’s website about the whole skinny fat thing and am wondering if this relates to me or does your approach suit my needs more (and does it really matter). Any advice would be welcome because I’ve been going in circles and it’s starting to get my down.

    I love gaining strength but I really would like to build some mass on my upper body. My legs (excluding calves) and arse seem to get bigger much easier which is why I swapped a leg day for another upper body day as I was becoming disproportioned and didn’t want to look like a wolly.

    I’ve been following the leangains diet for a while as another aid to help me but I find it very difficult to put so much food away in such a short window. Any advice appreciated!

    • Shane Duquette on February 28, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Pete,

      Anthony Mychal seems like a cool dude! We’ve spoken a bit and he certainly knows his stuff.

      Do you need to be taking advice specifically for skinny-fat guys? People don’t usually fit in a body type perfectly, it’s about learning how your body responds and adjusting accordingly. You could have a greater tendency to store fat than other ectomorphs, so your approach may be a little bit different. Maybe you need to build muscle a little more slowly, or you need slightly different macros, or you need a little cardio on the side. 15% is actually quite lean though! You can certainly get leaner, but it sounds like you’re far from skinny-fat.

      (We help all types of skinny guys—skinny skinny, skinny guys who have already built some muscle, skinny-fat guys, etc.)

      I’d recommend following a program that involves both weightlifting and nutrition, and then getting help to customize it as you see how you respond to it. I’m not sure what factor is holding you back. Perhaps too little emphasis on recovery, perhaps too little periodization—it’s hard to say. I think you’d really like our program, and we can help you get to the bottom of it on an individual level 🙂

      LeanGains is an evidence-based approach to nutrition that works well for naturally chubby guys with huge appetites and stomach capacities who are looking to lose weight and retain muscle mass. However, it doesn’t match up with your goals at all. Not only will it be hard to get your calories/macros in, the small feeding window doesn’t allow you to stimulate muscle protein synthesis very well. Even if you’re able to progress, which will be difficult, you’ll be progressing much more slowly than you could be!

      I hope that helps, and I hope you decide to join us! You sound like a really good fit 🙂

  48. Monica on March 22, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    So, I need this, but for girls… hahha

    • Shane Duquette on March 22, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Muahaha, check out Bony to Bombshell 😀

      • Monica on March 22, 2015 at 8:05 pm

        What the… OMG thank you, definitely gonna
        check it out! Thanks.

        • Shane Duquette on March 23, 2015 at 12:42 pm

          Our pleasure! 🙂

  49. Gary on July 1, 2015 at 10:25 am

    A little late to the party.

    Good stuff. But I had to add that there is a lot to be said for just focusing on a few very potent movements, particularly the full squat, the bench press, the one-arm row, and the deadlift. I was a skinny/skinny bastard, 125 lbs and 5’10”. I didn’t start filling out till I dropped all my “bodybuilding” nonsense and just focused on becoming as strong as possible. Now I’m usually around 180 lbs and have full squatted double bodyweight, power squatted 420 lbs in USAPL with just a belt, and deadlifted over 500 lbs in the same meet. This is all with just doing the competition lifts. The only variation I do is Olympic style (high bar squat, conventional deadlift) clversus Powerlifting style (low bar squat with belt, sumo deadlift with belt). I find that the Olympic style better builds strength for me to maximize the Powerlifiting style in competition.

    I maximized my muscular bodyweight by doing just four or five basic movements and programming intelligently. I learned the hard way to allow for enough healing and recovery between bouts of sensibly low volume and high intensity. I relied on much higher volume with squats and benches in the past, but I kept getting hurt. Now I just do 1-3 sets of triples at my top set and I keep progressing. That progress is very slow now because I’m near my natural potential in terms of muscle mass and strength, and I’m just plain getting old. But it is still coming.

    These articles are good. But I had to share my experience. I started as a 125-lb adult and became a 185-lb adult who was much, much stronger thanks to shooting for strength goals in the basics.

    Admittedly when I’m trying to be my strongest I cannot afford to worry about bodyfat levels and muscular definition. But I can get into beach mode in just six weeks if I’m willing to lose a few pounds of muscle and fat. I rather be strong most of the time, and I only have to be shirtless in public a handful of times each year.

    • Shane Duquette on July 1, 2015 at 11:55 am

      +55 pounds?! Nice. That’s sweet, Gary—congratulations 🙂

      I’m not saying that straight up strength training—focusing just on a few big powerlifting lifts—won’t work. All I’m saying is that the research unequivocally shows that it’s not the quickest, safest or most balanced way to build muscle mass (or even to develop strength).

      “Less is more” sounds really good. I even have a t-shirt with that written on it. However with weightlifting, oftentimes “more is more.” More exercise variety leads to greater strength gains on the big lifts and more balanced muscular development. More bodybuilding style training added to strength training leads to greater volume without much increasing recovery time (since it’s lighter and less stressful on the central nervous system, joints, etc), which increases muscle size and leads to greater strength. (Adding strength training to bodybuilding improves results as well.) The links to all of the studies that show this are in the article in their respective sections.

      (This can be done without making things super complicated or super time consuming, either. Doing 3 sets of chin-ups and 3 sets of biceps curls isn’t much more complicated than doing 5 sets of chin-ups but far more effective at developing the biceps. And since curls require less rest between sets, those 3+3 sets could be finished more quickly than the 5 sets of straight up chin-ups.)

      However that doesn’t mean that amazing progress can’t be made by using another approach, as you’ve discovered first hand. I didn’t mean to imply that there was just one way to make progress. Rather, I was trying to discuss a way to optimize all the variables that we can to make things quicker, easier, safer, better, etc.

      I hope that makes sense.

      And congrats again on your progress! I’m still just a couple years into lifting and have a long way to go yet, but I hope to get a 500 pound deadlift one day 🙂

      • Gary on July 3, 2015 at 10:49 am

        Thanks for the response. Instead of arguing I tooled around to find stuff to expand my point of view. I found this blog post through Anthony Mychal’s blog.

        I am biased toward believing that for completely natural hobbyists (i.e. enthusiasts who don’t get paid for their endeavors) with light frames a strength-focused program is plenty. I probably looked a tiny bit better naked when I was “bodybuilding”, but that was because of lower bodyfat levels, not because of the etchings I made in my toothpick body with a variety of movements 🙂

        But I concede your point! I think for those who don’t get bitten by the strength maximization bug you provide a breezily written, easily digestible alternative.

        I would just add, however, that to hit a 500-lb deadlift you will have to put in a stretch of strength specialization! You won’t less squat strength to power such a deadlift if like a lot of ectos your build is deadlift-favored. But conservatively you are going to need to squat mid-300’s Olympic style and low-400’s powerlifting style to get there. However you get there, best of luck!

        • Shane Duquette on July 3, 2015 at 2:27 pm

          No problem, Gary. Thank you for the comment! And damn, dude—what a thoughtful response! You’re the exact opposite of a troll 🙂

          Bret “The Glute Guy” Contreras is a wickedly smart and well-researched dude. I make sure to read all of his stuff (especially for our sister program, Bony to Bombshell, which focuses more on the glutes). That’s a great source to reference.

          For the sake of argument here (because I think that’s a way for everyone to learn more)…

          One of the things he mentions in that article is volume. (He calls it time under tension.) When volume is matched bodybuilders and powerlifters grow the same amount, so I think it’s a good point to focus on. Bodybuilders will often do a lot more sets and reps than powerlifters overall, since they require less rest time between sets, the lifting is easier on the joints, it’s easier to recover from, etc. It seems like you ran into this issue as well, saying that you needed to reduce your lifting volume when you switched to powerlifting in order to stay healthy.

          Studies have confirmed this. For example, last year Dr. Schoenfeld put experienced lifters on a volume-matched powerlifting or bodybuilding program. The powerlifting group would do 10 sets of 3 reps for all the lifts. The bodybuilders would do 3 sets of 10 for all the lifts. Same total reps overall. Both the powerlifters and bodybuilders built the same amount of muscle, since volume was matched, and volume is the most important growth factor. However, the powerlifters spent twice as long training, felt chronically lethargic, and were wearing down their joints, whereas the bodybuilders felt fresh and ready for more. Schoenfeld speculated that the powerlifters were already lifting beyond their ability to recover, while the bodybuilders could have handled more volume… and could thus gotten even more growth.

          This means that for the natural muscle-building hobbyists, they could get better aesthetic, size and health results by bodybuilding. The strength training group did develop more max strength, so if absolute 1-rep-max strength is the goal, then in that case powerlifting training was superior. Keep in mind that for anything above a few reps though, the bodybuilders probably would have been stronger. In the case of picking up and moving a couch, say, or picking up and moving a girlfriend, the bodybuilder would probably do better. In the case of picking up a fridge and then quickly dropping it, the powerlifter would probably do better.

          However thinking in terms of bodybuilding versus powerlifting is creating a false dichotomy. Both can easily be incorporated into a lifting program to get the best of all worlds. You can gain strength without wearing yourself down by keeping the powerlifting training to a reasonable volume, then add more muscle size by adding in bodybuilding lifts.

          Lots of research has shown that this not only gives you a balance of both size and strength, but that the bodybuilding added to the strength training improves strength gains, and that the strength training added to the bodybuilding improves size gains. They work together synergistically 🙂

          It’s worked well for me. Starting at 6’2 and 130 pounds with a 135 pound raised deadlift, over the course of three years I added 50-60 pounds to my body and nearly 300 pounds to my deadlift. Scientifically most research seems to be showing that a mix is best for both size and strength goals. And as far as experts go, it’s also the approach adopted by all of the modern drug-free world-record-holding powerlifters that I know of—Layne Norton, Jordan Syatt, Greg Nuckols, etc.

          It also seems to have worked for you! From the sounds of it, you’ve developed a great amount of size with bodybuilding, a great amount of strength with powerlifting. The powerlifting has also made you bigger. Surely the bodybuilding helped make you stronger. While currently you might not be doing both, many of the benefits of both powerlifting and bodybuilding are fairly permanent. You’re a good example of both being great, no?

          Admittedly one thing we aren’t mentioning is personal preference. If someone prefers strength training for whatever reason (it’s less painful for one), then why not just do strength training? If someone prefers bodybuilding for whatever reason (perhaps because it’s quicker and safer), then why not just do bodybuilding?

          I’m just saying that if someone prefers getting optimal results, then a mix is ideal. But once they build a body they’re stoked with, as you have, then going back to pursuing goals simply for the purposes of fun and athleticism makes a lot of sense 🙂

          • Gary on July 3, 2015 at 5:12 pm

            Testi



  50. Jared on July 2, 2015 at 2:26 am

    Hi Shane
    I keep wondering what’s the best way to maintain a rep range is?
    For example in doing a 4×8 should I do something like 1×8 first set, 1×7 second set, 1×6 thrid set…
    Or maybe it’s better to choose a smaller weight I can lift for 10 reps so as to lift it exactly 8 times at each set without failure?
    Or maybe it’s better to pyramid the set 4×8 then removing some weight and doing 1×8, 1×9, 1×10.

    What’s your thought?
    Thanks!

    • Shane Duquette on July 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Hey Jared,

      Let’s say you’re lifting 225 pounds and aiming for 8 reps. You lift 8×225, you show up to your next set weaker and get 7×225, then 6×225, then 5×225. That’s 26 reps with 225. Instead of squeezing that extra rep in that first set just to hit your 8 rep target, you’d get more total volume by leaving a rep (or two) in the tank and doing 7×225, 7×225, 7×225, 7×225 (28 reps total with 225). That’s not a huge difference, but over time that extra volume could lead to extra muscle growth.

      In your case, if you want to get 8 reps in all sets, you’d need to lower the weight a little. Maybe 215 pounds. And maybe the opposite happens. In your first set you realize you get to 8 reps and still have 2-3 reps in the tank, so you do 9 reps. Then another 9, and another 9, and another 9. Next week you go heavier, since you’ve exceeded your rep goal.

      The goal is to get more reps overall with the heaviest weight you can manage, and thus more volume, and thus more growth. It doesn’t need to be perfect though. Doing 8,7,6,5 one week isn’t the end of the world, you just don’t go up in weight next week. And then maybe next week you get 8,8,7,6 or whatever—increasing your total volume 🙂

      Does that help / make sense?

  51. Jared on July 14, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Shane
    Today I was talking with a friend who is all about 5×5 and minimalist routine.
    He if a fan of Starting Strenght which is very simple: squat, bench/press, deadlift/clean 3 times a week. That’s it

    I was trying to explain that some muscles are going to be negleted, that the rep range is not the best for hypertrophy and there’s too much leg work compared to upper body.
    So he eventually asked “how would you tweak it this scheme so make it better for hypertrophy”?

    And I was wondering what would you answer to this question.
    I know that it’s better to use a better program that tweaking this one, but it’s just a game of sort. How would you maintain the scheme while adding things or changing reps, sets in order to make it more complete and hypertrophic?

    • Shane Duquette on July 14, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      I’m not that familiar with Starting Strength programming. I know the idea behind it and I’ve read the book, but it’s never really lined up with my goals, so I’ve never actually done the program. I think you’re exactly right with your evaluation of it. It’s putting simplicity over results, strength over size.

      I think you could even make better strength gains if you put a bit more emphasis on size/variety too, as several studies have shown. However you’d lose the minimalist simplicity, which I think a lot of people really love.

      To make it better for hypertrophy you’re on exactly the right track. You’d add in more upper body volume, vary the rep ranges more, add in some assistance/isolation lifts.

      Instead of 5×5, could do 3 sets of 5 reps, then 2 sets of 10 reps of an assistance lift. Three sets of bench press + two sets of flys. On another day you do 3 sets of overhead presses + 2 sets of lighter lateral raises.

      Those lighter sets should be less stressful on your body and require less rest between sets. That frees up more time and energy for isolation lifts for the areas you’re eager to grow. So you bring in some bicep curls and tricep extensions or something.

      I think that would be a fairly simple way to do it. What do you think?

      (There are no upper back exercises? For bicep/back growth you might want some vertical and horizontal pulls. Chin-ups and rows, for example.)

      • Jared on July 15, 2015 at 1:53 am

        Make sense and yes it’s still the same scheme but very easy to figure out how to add extra hypertrophy work. Great reply as always!
        What do you think about the frequency though? Isn’t squatting 3 times a week a bit too much even with less sets and the added lighter work?
        Also I see 10 reps is considered light but how come a weight that I can lift 10 times seems actually pretty heavy for me? Maybe I’m using not a real 10, maybe it’s a real 8-9 where I grind that last rep with less control, bad form and breathless? Could it be?

        • Shane Duquette on July 15, 2015 at 2:58 pm

          Nah, squatting three times per week is totally fine, so long as your intensity is okay. If you’re doing heavy 5×5 sets and going all the way to failure then yeah, maybe it will be too much. But if you’re leaving a rep or two in the tank and/or including some higher rep stuff, then you should be just fine.

          However I should also point out that the most we back squat (or deadlift, chin-up, barbell bench press, etc) in our program is twice per week. We like to hit our muscles with more variety, so maybe we do heavy bench presses and chin-ups on Monday, push-ups and rows on Wednesday, then higher rep bench presses and chin-ups on Friday.

          In the early phases though we like getting guys practicing goblet squats 2-3 times per week with moderate reps (8-12) just to develop a mastery of that movement pattern though. The better you get at a movement pattern, the more you can get out of a lift. While more variety would technically be better for muscle growth, the extra specific practice early on can be helpful. Then once you’re proficient at the lift you start adding more variations into your arsenal, building it up bigger and bigger.

          That’s not the only way to do it, but it works very well.

          Why do reps of 10 feel heavy? Because that’s the heaviest you can lift for 10 reps! The reason we call them light sets is because the weight will be lighter than what you would use for lower reps. If you can do 1 rep with 315 pounds on the deadlift, you might be able to get 10 reps with 225 pounds. The 225 pounds is lighter, even though that 10 rep set will be bloody murder to finish.

          And yep, depending on your program, you may or may not want to go to failure. All depends on how intensity and volume are balanced. If you’re squatting heavy 3x per week I imagine that volume/frequency is prioritized over intensity, so you’d probably want to stay away from failure.

  52. typedeaf on October 2, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Great stuff. I really appreciate all the effort you have poured into this program. I think there is something missing. I think you should include a chapter in your program –I have read the chapter index, or an article on your site about steroids usage. Too many YouTube videos, muscle magazines, etc. recommend workout programs that only work optimally if you are on the juice –but there are no disclaimers.

    People need to know what a natural body looks like at full potential, and what someone on steroids looks like. For example, Joe Manganiello looks about as good as you can get naturally. However, Kane Sumabat uses (and denies it), but he just doesn’t look as obvious as someone like Jay Cutler.

    Anyway, my point is, I think you would be doing everyone a huge favor by informing them on how common steroid usage is, and educating them on what realistic goals are for steroid-free lifting. I think many people, including myself, can get discouraged when they compare their results to all these super ripped, generically enhanced builders that won’t openly admit that they use. Know your limits.

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, man 🙂

      As you may have guessed, none of us are steroid users. Jared and I are computer nerds who love doing research online. We don’t even know people who use steroids. Marco may, but he’s pretty far removed from that circle too.

      We do make sure to only reference studies done on natural guys though. You’re right—a lot of programs are based on anecdotal evidence from professional bodybuilders with great genetics and great pharmaceuticals. Ours is not one of those programs. Our program is based on exercise science and copious amounts of research. Moreover, all of our anecdotes and personal experience are from the perspective of guys with fairly meh genetics—we’re not just natural, but also naturally extremely skinny! 😉

      There are a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, Kane Sumabat has decades of lifting under his belt and might have world class genetics. The photos you’re looking at aren’t representative of how he normally looks, either. He probably looks that way for just long enough to snap a photo or to shoot a video. 15 minutes, maybe—while he’s dieted down to an extremely lean level + pumped up. It’s not totally impossible that he’s natural.

      Second, Joe Manganiello might be using steroids! Just because someone isn’t super ripped or enormous, that doesn’t mean they aren’t using steroids. Someone may take steroids and wind up much smaller than a natural with a more strategic approach to training and nutrition, more consistency or better genetics.

      You could say that looking at old school bodybuilders from the 40’s would be a good idea of what some people can achieve naturally. Steroids didn’t exist yet, so they were all natural. Mind you, they had the best genetics in the world.

      What can regular people achieve? Far less. What can people with poor genetics achieve? Far less still.

      Looking like Ryan Gosling might be the best that someone can do. That’s a whole helluva lot smaller and fatter than Kane Sumabat and Joe Manganiello, but still leaner and more muscular than you need to be to look optimally attractive and be optimally healthy 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      I’ve been thinking about this for the past hour and I think you’re right. I think we should make it free information too. We’ll put it up on the blog.

      There’s a lot of information up online about what can be achieved naturally, but most of it is written for professional or aspiring bodybuilders and athletes—people who are trying to figure out what’s achievable by the most genetically blessed people in the world.

      I think we should write a post focusing on what’s achievable by naturally skinny guys.

      I’m going to get to work on this.

      • Typedeaf on October 3, 2015 at 6:25 pm

        That’s great news. I see I didn’t adequately make my point very clear in my first comment, but I think you got the gist.

        I don’t know if Joe M. ever did roids. I just meant that his body is, in my opinion, about the best you could expect.

        As for Kane, who knows? In my opinion it is very unlikely that he is juice-free. If he is, then he really is a rare snowflake.

        BTW, I think Eugen Sandow is a great example of full natural potential.

        My point was, with all these questions about the right workout, people should know that the success of many or most muscle mag routines assumes the use of steroids. Plus, you need realistic goals and expectations. Steroid and hormone injection is so common now days that yes, even movie stars use them to boost their results.

        I am a very tall ectomorph. Every time I go to the gym, I see either other ecto’s following the advice and routines of non ecto’s, or worse yet I see them following the advice and routines of steroid users. It makes me so sad because I know from my own experience his things are going to end for them: disappointed and defeated.

        • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2015 at 7:37 pm

          Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You get Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies experimenting in the gym to figure out the best ways to build muscle, these techniques get written about in bodybuilding magazines, amateur bodybuilders and personal trainers read about them and bring them to commercial gyms, and bam—you’ve got everyday dudes doing routines designed around the personal experimentation of extremely genetically gifted pharmaceutically enhanced bodybuilders who have been lifting for decades. Those routines are pretty much the exact opposite of what’s appropriate for a skinny guy trying to build some muscle.

          Whether or not Kane Sumabat is natural, you’re right, it’s not a physique that’s realistically attainable by 99.9% of the population. However, I think giving the benefit of the doubt helps—and not just because he lives here in Toronto and has a killer hairdo 😉

          Eugen Sandow is a great example of what’s achievable naturally by the genetic elite given a lifetime of dedicated training.

  53. Bony to Beastly – The Skinny Struggle is Real on November 4, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    […] (For more details on the different styles of exercise and the adaptations they encourage, check out our article, The Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy.) […]

  54. […] There’s also some truth to the idea that bodybuilders tend to focus on growing their muscles via metabolic stress (“the pump”) instead of exclusively via mechanical tension (lifting heavy). This can affect how your body adapts, although many of the myths surrounding bulkier guys, like being slow or inflexible, are false. We wrote up an article on the different types of exercise / weightlifting and the muscular adaptions they cause here. […]

  55. […] How to build muscle leanly with exercise / weightlifting […]

  56. Marcus on May 17, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Hello! Great post, as always. I have a question regarding my workout routine and I’d love to get your expertise. I’m at the moment doing 5×5 mon, wed, fri that includes squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, bench press and overhead press. After I read this article I’m curious to try adding some accessory lifts also, but the gym I’m training at doesn’t have enough equipment for it. Or at least the dumbbells aren’t heavy enough, and the machines are ancient. Are there other solutions to do this? Can I use the barbell to do enough accessory lifts as a complement? Take care 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on May 17, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Hey Marcus, glad you liked it! Thanks 🙂

      you can use barbells to do accessory movements for sure. Close-grip bench press for the triceps, and barbell curls for the biceps, for a couple examples. Some accessory movements don’t require very heavy dumbbells either. Most guys can’t do lateral raises with more than 30 pounds, for example.

  57. Alex - Anabolic Health on August 14, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Nice article!

    Agreed and muscle building can be simple! For some people even 2 times a week is enough as long as you lift heavy and keep trying to increase your weights.

    But as famous bodybuilding legend Vince Gironda said, 85% is nutrition. Diet is key to gaining, maintaining as well as losing fat!

    • Shane Duquette on August 14, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      Well said, Alex! I agree 🙂

  58. Bony to Beastly—How Big Should Your Legs Be? on September 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    […] isn’t my favourite way to design a routine for several good reasons, outlined in this article, but these programs are not at all […]

  59. […] you’re a curious fellow, Shane’s written an excellent article titled “The Skinny on Just Lift Heavy.” It covers all the popular methods of working out and gives their pros and […]

  60. […] Supplements aren’t magic. You can build muscle very well with just a good lifting program, a good bulking diet, and some quality sleep. Cheap, simple and effective, and until you’re […]

  61. […] Here’s our article outline the pros and cons of different styles of lifting for an ectomorph. […]

  62. Maximise your Gains - 5 tips to go from Skinny to Stacked - on February 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    […] a website that offers a training program specifically aimed at skinny fellas like you and I, uses a combination of both compound and hypertrophy rep ranges.  The results their clients have received says […]

  63. JD on April 19, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    Only on a deranged bodybuilding site is a before image of Casey Viator considered bony.

    • Shane Duquette on September 28, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Hey JD, thanks for the kind words. We weren’t calling Casey Viator bony, though. Quite the opposite: he’s one of the most muscular people to ever exist.

  64. […] The best type of exercise for ectomorphs trying to build muscle […]

  65. […] Here’s our article about which type of lifting is best for gaining muscle size. […]

  66. […] right intensity, and doing enough volume (sets/reps) per muscle group without fatiguing yourself. (Here’s our article comparing different types of lifting and how effective they are for building […]

  67. […] more lean weight you’ll be able to gain, and the less likely you’ll be to store fat. Here’s our article about the best kind of lifting for building muscle. Remember that if you’re trying to gain muscle size, you want to be following a hypertrophy […]

  68. […] Follow a good bulking workout program: The more muscle growth your workouts can stimulate, the more lean weight you’ll be able to gain, and the less likely you’ll be to store fat. Here’s our article about the best kind of lifting for building muscle. […]

  69. […] we can’t rely on our genetics or everyday physical activities to build us any muscle. (More on that here.) So let’s talk about lifting like ectomorphs so we can turn ourselves into big burly […]

  70. […] Follow a good bulking workout routine: The more muscle growth your workouts can stimulate, the more quickly and leanly you’ll be able to build muscle. This becomes increasingly important as you gain more lifting experience. Here’s our article about the best kind of lifting to do while bulking.  […]

  71. Is Training to Failure Good for Muscle Growth? on September 2, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    […] muscle damage was thought to cause muscle growth, but now most hypertrophy research is showing that muscle growth is caused by mechanical tension and metabolic stress, not muscle damage. Furthermore, excessive muscle damage means that your body will need to invest more resources into […]

  72. […] You can read more about Casey Viator’s transformation in our in-depth article on the best type of training for ectomorphs. […]

  73. […] who follow a good lifting routine, eat a good bulking diet, and focus on gradually gain strength are able to accomplish incredible […]

  74. […] you’re curious, we’ve got a full article about how you should be lifting to build muscle mass. But long story short, the foundation of any good bulking routine should be the big compound lifts. […]

  75. The Complete Barbell Guide – Outlift on September 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    […] goal was still to gain muscle size, so I chose the type of lifting designed to stimulate muscle growth: weight training focused on the big compound lifts, and done in the mythical hypertrophy rep range […]

  76. Shawn on September 9, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Shane,
    Great article. I’ve read a great deal of your postings and truly appreciate your clarity, humor and grounded approach. I’ve been lifting off and on for 35 years now – I’m a 52! Also, I’m 6’6″. I’ve had a modicum of successes over the years with working on filling out that fram; consistency remaining my biggest challenge. I am really liking the The B2B program though and am pleased with how my body has already responded having just come off a months long time of relative inactivity.

    My main query though is, Do you have any articles you’ve researched and written – or resources you can point me to – regarding ectomorph training and gaining at this age range?

    Congrats on building what appears to be a beautiful life for yourself. Gratitude to the B2B crew.

    Shawn

    • Shawn Berry on September 9, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      Haha, lots of typos in my note..maybe I shouldn’t submit until I’ve had a cup of coffee =P

    • Shane Duquette on September 9, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Hey Shawn, stoked to hear that you’re liking the b2B program!

      Lifting as an older guy is a great idea for a blog post. The reason we haven’t written much about it yet is simply because most of our members are under 70, and under 70, people tend to gain muscle and strength fairly similarly.

      Lifting isn’t an extreme sport with early peaks, early retirements, and high injury rates. You’re a great example of that, having lifted for 35 years! So in the research, we tend to see similar rates of muscle growth and strength gain up until pretty old ages (around 60–70).

      There are definitely some nuances, though. Marco is great at that stuff. That might be a good article for him to write, now that you’re mentioning it. We should probably brush up on that research, too. It’s been a few years.

      I’m going to put that on our list of articles to write 🙂

      • Shawn Berry on September 17, 2019 at 1:27 am

        Thanks for the response here, Shane. I hadn’t come across the 70yrs threshold and find that surprising and gained some optimism. I’ll keep and eye out for the “old buck” article!

        -s

  77. […] organizations mean anyway. They simply mean lifting weights in a way that will make you stronger. A good bulking workout will certainly make you […]

  78. Mr Adam Nelson on September 16, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Hi. Just looking for advice. No-one seems able to help me…. I am a true ectomorph – tall, long limbs, thin wrists etc. I used to work out 3 days a week, increasing the weight used or reps every week, I was consistent, I did mainly compound exercises – 3-4 sets of 8 reps, some exercises i did 12 reps.

    I ate enough protein, 172g as I weighed 172ibs when I began. I gained 20lbs in 7 months, as I was eating 3400 calories a day, more or less, however, I still have NO MUSCLE at all. I am not fat either. What’s happening? What else can i do? Lack of testosterone or lack of sleep the reason? I’ve had my thyroid tested, but that’s fine.

    Why can’t I build any muscle, but can gain weight???

    Thanks. Adam from The UK

    • Shane Duquette on September 16, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      Well, if you gained 20 pounds while consistently gaining strength and without gaining fat, you certainly made some awesome progress. As for why you still aren’t muscular, maybe you started off fairly skinny—as we did—and you need to gain even more muscle.

      I gained 55 pounds, Marco gained 63, Jared gained 50. Maybe you just need to keep going. It sounds like what you’re doing is helping you bulk up, so maybe all it will take is some more patience.

      • Adam on September 18, 2019 at 4:47 am

        Thanks for the reply. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of patience then. I thought maybe it could be diet related or too much cortisol, as I do get stressed, working so much. Thanks.

        • Shane Duquette on September 28, 2019 at 5:46 pm

          My pleasure, man. Best of luck bulking up!

  79. Adam Nelson on September 16, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Also, I did use progressive overload too, I increased the weight or reps every week and still nothing to show for it. I do work 60 hours a week too, just to add. Thanks. Adam

  80. […] easy, but everyone—including skinny ectomorph hardgainers—can build muscle if they learn how to exercise and eat a bulking diet that suits their body […]

  81. […] to bodyweight workouts to bodybuilding. Now, as a general rule, we recommend that you do dedicated hypertrophy training if your goal is to bulk up, but for the purposes of this article, let’s talk about how to get […]

  82. […] Hypertrophy training is best for making you bigger and stronger. […]

  83. […] percentage points. This is true even for skinny guys. If you haven’t built much muscle yet, a good muscle-building program combined with a good cutting diet should allow you to gain a few pounds of muscle even while you […]

  84. How to Bulk Up a Bony Upper Back | Bony to Beastly on September 22, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    […] you’ve read our article about how skinny guys should lift to gain muscle size, then you know that we build our bulking routines around the “Big 5” compound […]

  85. […] when it comes to lifting weights and building muscle, embrace the inflammation and soreness in your muscles. That’s the good kind of inflammation. The […]

  86. […] good news is that it’s quite rare to get a back injury while following a good hypertrophy program. Lower back injuries are more common in sedentary people going about their day-to-day lives as they […]

  87. […] Hypertrophy training increases insulin sensitivity (study) […]

  88. Jason Jacques on September 25, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    Hey Shane, awesome article my dude. Lots of value in it for skinny guys, that’s for sure!

    After struggling myself as a skinny guy – through years of experimenting with many different methods (just like yourself) – I adapted my own method focusing on strength and hypertrophy. I like to use a hybrid of Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) and accessory work in the 8-12RM range. First, utilizing compound lifts, I use Double Progression with repetition ranges in RPT, for example, 4-6RM (then drop the weight 10%), 6-8RM (drop it another 10%), and then 8-10RM (and MAYBE add in another set at 10-12).

    Then, depending on the workout focus – the accessory work will involve biceps, triceps, and calves in the 8-12RM range.

    Cool idea on the neck curls man. Never thought to do neck-training, but I used to be in martial arts and would do a lot of neck bridges. Between those and grappling I acquired a decent amount of stimulus on the neck. I definitely see how neck curls would be beneficial for scrawny guys.

    Awesome work! Cheers.

    • Shane Duquette on September 28, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Hey Jason, I saw your name pop up on Quora the other day, loved your answer, and checked out your site. It’s awesome! I got sucked right into your stories. You’re a great writer.

      Your transformation is absolutely GNARLY, too. Totally killer.

      As far as reverse pyramid training goes, I’ve always meant to try it. It sounds great.

      Double progression is a robust way of progression, too. I should probably write an article on that, now that you mention it.

  89. The Very Best Bulking Foods | Bony to Beastly on September 28, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    […] However, the reason they’re on this list is far more rad than that. Recent research is showing that consuming foods that are high in nitrates—such as spinach and beets—is an effective way of improving the “pump” that we get from lifting weights (at least when doing hypertrophy training). […]

  90. Axel Ross on October 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    So I am a big advocate for body weight workouts. 1 because Im super busy and sometimes dont feel like driving to the gym and I can also get a quick workout at home before I shower and 2 I live in a major city and my gym is ALWAYS packed with people. With too many people around it can throw my concentration off. I like to keep it pretty simple but still want to gain more mass but I hit a roof in my gains. So I recently purchased this body-weight program that helps with gaining muscle and maintaining hypertrophy. I should be receiving it soon I can let you know how it turns out !

    If you want to check it out on your own heres the link yo : https://getgainz631038142.wordpress.com I thought it was SPAM until I got confirmation email and tracking number . So we’ll see if it works

  91. […] Depending on what you’re doing, there’s a good chance there’s a bulking workout that’s less tiring but does a better job of stimulating muscle growth. (And if you’re curious about what makes a good bulking workout, check out our article about hypertrophy training.) […]

  92. […] about much while on vacation. Just have fun, be active, eat delicious food, go back to your bulking routine when you get […]

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