Ectomorphs are the longer, leaner body type. It’s usually defined by having narrower shoulders, lankier limbs, thinner bones, and less body fat. It often goes along with having a higher metabolism. Most ectomorphs describe themselves as being naturally skinny and often have a hard time gaining weight.
Maybe that describes you perfectly, maybe you aren’t sure. These tests will help you figure out if you’re an ectomorph or not. They’ll also determine how much of a ectomorph you are, how that will affect your ability to build muscle, and what your genetic potential is.
To do that, we’ll teach you how to measure your collarbone length, your wrist thickness, and your muscle-to-tendon ratio. This is how researchers determine whether you have an ectomorph body type, but the tests are simple enough that you can do them from the comfort of your home.
Why do some skinny guys with a low body-fat percentage not have visible abs? After all, for the average guy, getting abs simply requires getting lean. But what if you’re already lean and you still don’t have abs?
If you try to search for information about how to get abs, there are two types of advice that you’ll probably come across, neither of which apply to skinny guys:
- Abs are built in the kitchen, not the gym. Yes, most men get abs by dieting down to a lower body-fat percentage. That’s because most men are overweight, and most overweight men already have large ab muscles. After all, when someone gains weight, at least 33% of that weight is going to be muscle. Plus, the heavier someone is, the bigger their ab muscles will need to grow in order to support that extra weight. Overweight guys already have big abs. Skinny guys do not.
- Abs are built with high-rep ab routines—crunches, sit-ups, and so on. The most popular ab routines are high-rep circuits that are brutally painful, but aren’t effective at stimulating muscle growth. Doing high rep crunches to build bigger abs is like running a marathon to build bigger legs. High-rep circuits are designed for improving endurance and blood flow, not for gaining muscle size. Yes, you’ll see guys with great abs doing these routines. However, that’s not how they built their abs, it’s just something they do because they like their abs.
Neither of these pieces of advice work for skinny guys. After all, our problem is that our abs are too small. We need to build bigger ab muscles. We need a bulking routine for our abs.
So, what’s the best way for skinny guys to get abs?
Seven years ago, we published an article titled Ectomorph Aesthetics: The Science of Building an Attractive, Aesthetic Physique, covering everything you should know about why women find certain physiques more attractive than others.
However, although we covered what was attractive, we didn’t go into how to become attractive. To help remedy that, I made an infographic explaining the four steps you’ll want to follow in order to build a more attractive physique.
I spent almost 10 years of my life trying and failing to gain weight. In fact, when I tried to bulk up, I would often lose weight. And whenever I did gain a few pounds, I’d get a cold or take a break, and the weight would melt right off. I’d wind up right back where I started.
I didn’t understand why it was so damn hard for me to gain weight. Was it because I had an ectomorph body type? Could it really be that simple? But if that were the case, how come so many ectomorphs are able to bulk up? How was I different? Was I a hardgainer? Was I non-responder to weightlifting?
Other people would see me struggling to gain weight and they’d figure I just I wasn’t eating enough calories. They’d tell me to “just eat more.” Then they’d look at me like they’d just solved all of my problems, totally confident they’d given me the information I’d been missing all my life.
I had been skinny all of my life, though. “Just eat more” wasn’t new advice. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t tried to eat more. Of course I had. I’d been trying to gain weight my entire life.
I get it. That advice would work fine for most people. After all, gaining weight is second nature for most people. If you tell the average dude to eat more, he’d be able to. Hell, he’d probably even like it.
So the assumption is that no matter how fast our metabolisms are, and no matter how small our stomachs are, we’re just supposed to tough it. We’re supposed to force-feed ourselves. But after grinding out a brutal bulking diet for a few weeks, feeling bloated and tired the whole way through, we’ll inevitably give up. It’s just not a sustainable diet.
So at that point, most of us blame our ectomorph genetics, thinking that we’re doomed to stay skinny forever. But some ectomorphs do it. Some skinny guys are able to bulk up. What’s their secret?
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why is it so hard for ectomorphs to gain weight?
- What’s the best ectomorph bulking diet?
- What type of exercise should ectomorphs do to bulk up?
- How quickly can skinny guys build muscle?
You’re eager to build up a more muscular physique, and things are going super well. But lo and behold, disaster strikes—and not just a run of the mill muscle disaster, like running out of milk, but the worst kind of disaster imaginable: a vacation.
I bet just the mention of a vacation has your heart racing and your mind spiralling down into panic mode. Unfortunately, I’ve been there. I know what you’re thinking. Will all of your hard-earned muscle wither away if you don’t go to the gym for a week or two? Can you build muscle with bodyweight workouts? How many mojitos does it take to spike muscle protein synthesis? Why don’t they make luggage big enough to fit a barbell? Is there real coconut in a piña colada, or does it count as junk food? Will the customs agent mistake your whey protein for cocaine? (Can you really get jacked in prison?) How much of a tan will be enough to disguise your now skinny-fat physique?
In desperation, you might start googling around to learn more, but since only 3% of the population is trying to gain weight, good luck trying to find an article about how to maintain/gain muscle while travelling.
So what do you do?
One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What exercise is best to grow my small chest (or arms, shoulders, abs, etc)?” It’s a surprisingly large question, since there are so many things to consider. There are a ton of studies looking into the best exercises for activating certain muscle groups, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So we’ve put together a guide showing you the best exercises for each muscle group. These exercises represent your best chance of safely building muscle as rapidly as possible for your experience level. We’ve selected these exercises based on a few factors: muscle activation, efficiency, learning curve, risk:reward ratio, etc.
Skinny-fat is when you’ve got a body-fat percentage of over 20% but still look skinny in a t-shirt. It’s a confusing situation to be in because it’s not clear whether you should bulk or cut. As a result, some experts recommend body recomposition, where you gain muscle and lose fat while maintaining the same bodyweight.
- If you were just skinny, you could focus on bulking: getting into a calorie surplus, lifting weights, and building muscle. But as a skinny-fat guy, this risks making you fatter.
- If you were just fat, you could focus on cutting: getting into a calorie deficit, being more active, and losing fat. But as a skinny-fat guy, this risks making you skinnier.
- And body recomposition tends to produce slow and unreliable results.
What’s a skinny-fat guy to do?
Updated January 4th, 2016. Maybe you know that skinny guy who gets totally amped up to gain some weight and build muscle. He’s tried and given up in the past, but blames his failure on not trying hard enough—on not having enough motivation. He starts off strong: hitting the gym 5 times a week, eating 100% clean (whatever that means to them), and spending hundreds of dollars on bizarro supplements that he read about on the Internet that even the supplement salesman is confused by.
A few weeks go by and after sacrificing so much in their life: time, energy, money… the scale hasn’t really budged. Or maybe his weight even dropped because they cut out the easy calories they were getting from junk foods.
Feeling disappointed and burnt out, he slowly stops going to the gym and throws in the towel.
Why does this keep happening? Some people might say that he didn’t have the grit or willpower to tough it out. But honestly, this guy has incredible willpower and motivation—that’s a brutal routine that many professional fitness models couldn’t even keep up. That isn’t the problem. Anyone with that routine will either reach capacity and burn out, or switch their energy to something else—something new and exciting (new job, holidays, new relationship)… and then there’s no room left for the crazy muscle-building routine.
I’ve been that guy too many times to count. (And not just with building muscle, either.)
Us skinny guys aren’t even having a hard time building muscle because we’ve got bad genes, although that was an excuse I once used. No, us skinny guys are actually pretty great at building muscle! In the b2B program the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three months. While this may sound crazy, especially if, like us, you’ve tried and failed in the past… these results line up well with what’s found in research. The largest and most thorough muscle-building genetics study found that skinny guys build muscle faster than anyone else (study). Some guys in the study added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just the first three months.
So why do so many of us skinny guys fail at building muscle over and over again?
Most exercise programs are designed for overweight guys. Even most lifting programs are designed for overweight guys. After all, overweight or not, most men want to be more muscular. 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.
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 lift more weight with the ample muscles they’ve already built (study).
I wasn’t like most guys. Puberty didn’t automatically plumpen my pecs, my shoulders never naturally grew wider, and my bodyweight didn’t naturally increase over time. When I lifted weights, my body weight dropped, which would be great for most people. But I wasn’t most people. I was already too skinny.
When I started searching for bulking information online, I kept running into programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts, Reverse Pyramid Training, nSuns, 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 lift heavy, and the muscle size will follow.
The problem with strength training is that it’s not very good for stimulating muscle growth. That’s simply not what it’s for. It’s a style of training designed to teach us how to contract all of our muscle fibres simultaneously for a single all-out rep. That adaptation, nicknamed neural gains, helps people lift more efficiently with the muscle they already have. It makes us stronger for our size. Better to become bigger and much stronger.
On the other 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, such as improved muscular endurance, better blood flow, and more efficient oxygen usage, but it’s awful for making our muscles bigger.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These aren’t bad programs. They’re massively popular for a reason: because they work quite well for most men. It’s just that most men aren’t ectomorphs who are desperately trying to bulk up.
Naturally skinny guys shouldn’t be doing workouts that stimulate a little bit of muscle growth as a byproduct, we should be doing workouts that are designed to stimulate a massive amount of muscle growth on purpose.
The good news is that once we start training for muscle growth, we can 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 muscle in a year. We can gain up to forty.
Growing up as a naturally skinny guy can be confusing. We’re living right in the middle of an obesity epidemic, surrounded by people who gain weight by accident, and yet no matter what we do, we can’t budge the scale. Why are we immune to weight gain?
Do ectomorphs really have faster metabolisms and smaller stomachs? Or is it something more nefarious? I remember wondering if I had some sort of leaky gut syndrome that was preventing me from gaining weight.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Do ectomorphs have faster metabolisms?
- Do ectomorphs have smaller stomachs?
- Why do hardgainers resist gaining weight while overfeeding?
- Do skinny guys have better insulin sensitivity and carb tolerance?
- What’s the best ectomorph bulking diet?