Skinny Guy Jogging Illustration

Should Ectomorphs Do Cardio While Bulking?

Cardio causes a different type of adaptation from hypertrophy training. Instead of stimulating muscle growth, cardio causes us to develop more blood vessels, gain additional mitochondria in our cells, and it even increases the size of our hearts. Make no mistake, these are all great adaptations. But they aren’t muscle gains.

If you want to increase the size of your muscles, no amount of cardio will help. Cardio simply doesn’t stimulate any muscle growth. So if we’re trying to build muscle, we need to focus on hypertrophy training, which is usually done by lifting weights.

But what if we lift weights and do cardio? Most people know that cardio doesn’t stimulate muscle growth, so this article is written for skinny guys who are considering lifting weights and doing cardio.

Doing both hypertrophy training and cardio causes us to adapt in two separate, competing ways. We get something called an interference effect, which can reduce muscle growth. That’s what people say, anyway. Is that true?

Things get even more confusing because we’re naturally skinny “ectomorphs.” The more cardio we do, the more calories we’ll burn, and the more calories we’ll need to eat. For us, even just thinking about cardio burns too many calories. If you think that’s bad, though, imagine needing to write about it. I can already feel my metabolism rising. I’m going to have to eat so much trail mix after this.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph jogging / doing cardio.

The Benefits of Cardio

Cardio stands for cardiorespiratory training, where the goal is to elevate our heart rate in order to improve our cardiovascular fitness. It’s a catch-all term for activities designed to strengthen our hearts and lungs—jogging, rowing, biking, aerobics, and so on.

Cardio is an important part of general fitness. In fact, cardio is pretty much synonymous with general fitness. With good reason, too. There are many benefits to cardio (study):

  • Cardio burns calories and helps people lose weight.
  • It makes our hearts bigger and more efficient.
  • It increases our lung capacity.
  • It helps to reduce our risk of heart disease.
  • It improves mood and reduces anxiety.
  • It can improve sleep.

Overall, cardio is great. No doubt about that. But for us skinny guys, one of those purported benefits is actually kind of scary. Most of us already have a hard time eating enough to gain weight. The last thing we need is to exercise in a way that burns more calories, raises our metabolisms even higher, and doesn’t increase our appetites by a proportionate amount. So I’ve crossed that “benefit” out. (I would have fully redacted it, but our blog doesn’t have that feature.)

The rest of the benefits are pretty rad, though, even for skinny guys. It would be a real shame to avoid cardio simply because we struggle with calories.

But as healthy as cardio is, it likely won’t make us look any better. It won’t make us stronger, either. And it won’t help us build muscle. To get bigger, stronger, and better looking, we need to do hypertrophy training. Most of us already know that. So let’s just assume that we’re lifting and that we’re considering doing cardio in addition to our hypertrophy training.

Should Skinny Guys Do Cardio While Building Muscle?

The short answer is yes. Most health institutions, including the World Health Organization, recommend doing at least 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength training workouts each week just for the sake of being generally healthy. That applies to everyone, including us naturally skinny guys.

Lifting and cardio provoke completely different types of adaptations, both of which are important. We should do both.

Illustration of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular

The longer answer is that it depends. In our case, one of the main benefits of cardio—weight loss—has the potential to harm us. So it isn’t as clear-cut as it is for someone who’s overweight. We need to make sure that the cardio we’re doing isn’t keeping us underweight.

Furthermore, you don’t need to improve every aspect of your lifestyle all at once. If you’re totally sedentary and your main goal is to build muscle, you could start by spending a few months bulking up, focusing on gaining 20–30 pounds of muscle. Once you’ve bulked up and your lifting habits have grown as strong as your muscles, that’s a perfect time to add in some cardio for even more general health benefits.

Now, you don’t necessarily need to add in dedicated cardio. Brisk walking can technically count as cardio, as can some forms of resistance training.

Lifting Can Count as Cardio (Sort Of)

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Exercise Science (study) evaluated a bodybuilding workout by cardio standards. They measured the heart rate of sixteen people while doing a typical bulking workout consisting of the bench press, lat pulldown, biceps curl, leg press, and so on. They did three sets of ten reps for each exercise. Again, fairly standard.

The researchers found that for about half of every bulking workout, the participants had the ideal heart rate for improving cardiovascular fitness.

Illustration of a doctor checking a skinny and muscular man to see if they're healthy.

This wasn’t in the study, but I’d also argue that if we wanted even greater cardiovascular benefits, we could structure our bulking workouts in a way that would keep our heart rates higher throughout. And, in fact, this is how we generally recommend training.

One way that we do this is by using modified circuits. In order to build muscle properly, we can benefit from giving our muscles plenty of rest time between sets. However, while a certain muscle group rests, we can lift with a different muscle group. For example, we can do a set of squats, rest a minute as our heart rate settles a little bit, then do a set of chin-ups, and then rest another minute before returning to the squats. That way we’re keeping our heart rates fairly high throughout our workouts, but we’re still giving our muscles at least two minutes of rest between each set.

That’s going to allow us to build muscle at full speed while also getting the benefits of doing more cardio. It still won’t be as ideal as a dedicated cardio routine, but it’s getting closer.

Anyway, if we’re doing bulking workouts, we can count at least half of our time lifting weights as cardio training. So an hourlong workout would count for 30 minutes of cardio. If we lift three times per week for an hour each workout, that’s already 90 minutes of cardio. That’s more than enough to help a sedentary person improve their cardiovascular fitness as they build muscle.

Then, when you’re ready to increase the amount of cardio in your routine, you could add in a brisk walk for an hour on the weekend or toss in a couple of 30-minute cardio sessions during the week. That will get you to the 150-minute cardio target.

Similarly, when we hear a recommendation to do “strength training,” that doesn’t mean that we need to do low-rep powerlifting-style workouts. That style of training isn’t as good for building muscle or improving our cardiovascular health. And besides, that’s not what health organizations mean anyway. They simply mean lifting weights in a way that will make us stronger, improve our bone density, and put some heavy loading on our spine. A good bulking workout will accomplish all of that.

Will Doing Cardio Make it Harder to Gain Weight?

Yes, doing cardio can make it harder to gain weight. One of the main effects of cardio is that it burns calories without causing a proportional increase in appetite (study, study). So if we burn 500 calories while jogging, we might only want to eat an extra 300 calories, leaving us in a calorie deficit of 200 calories. This is why cardio tends to cause weight loss.

For the average person, that might not be a big deal. In fact, having an excuse to eat more calories might seem like a blessing. But for us naturally skinny guys, that’s a nightmare. Most of us already struggle to eat enough calories to gain weight.

We struggled with that ourselves, and so over the years, we’ve become masters of helping skinny guys eat more calories. But it’s still hard. And the more cardio we do, the more calories we’ll burn, and the harder it will be to gain weight.

So, yes, the more cardio you do, the harder it will be to gain weight. And if you can’t gain weight, you won’t be able to build an appreciable amount of muscle. Your bulk will grind to a halt. This is how cardio can kill gains.

Does that mean that ectomorphs should avoid cardio while bulking? So, first of all, there’s a difference between your daily lifestyle and bulking. Doing cardio is part of a healthy lifestyle, so in general, you should certainly try and do some. If you’re going through a bulking phase, though, the question becomes harder to answer. It really depends.

To be fully honest with you, cardio was the last thing I was thinking about while bulking up. I was way more concerned about building muscle than I was about my longterm health. It was only once I solved my skinniness that I started caring about these longer-term health goals. So I won’t fault you if you don’t want to think about this just yet.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that cardio is good for our health. Technically speaking, we should do cardio, even as skinny guys, and even while bulking. But if it’s too hard to eat enough calories, you may want to take a break from it for a few months as you bulk up.

On the other hand, if your digestive system can handle some extra trail mix, and you’ve got the time and energy for it, then I’d definitely recommend doing cardio while you bulk up, even if you’re quite skinny. There are a few good reasons for doing cardio while bulking, some of which we’ve already covered, and some of which are still to come.

Does Cardio Reduce Muscle Growth?

Technically speaking, yes, cardio could kill your gains. Even if you can manage to eat enough calories to gain weight, you’ll run into something called the interference effect. Essentially, if you train for a marathon and a powerlifting meet at the same time, those signals will start to cancel each other out. After all, you’re training for extreme endurance and extreme strength. You’re training for adaptations that are at opposite ends of the strength-endurance continuum.

Some studies show that your endurance and strength gains would each be reduced by 20-30% if you’re training for both goals at once (study). That’s not ideal, no, but it’s nothing to be scared of, either. You’ll still get 70–80% of the strength and endurance. That’s still fantastic progress towards two worthy goals. Plus, keep in mind that we’re talking about training for both powerlifting and endurance training, not doing a hypertrophy training routine with a bit of cardio thrown in.

Moreover, most people forget that most of the adaptations that we make are location-specific. For instance, if you’re training for a marathon, it’s your legs that are going to develop better muscular endurance. That’s going to make it a little bit harder to bulk up your legs, sure. And maybe your squat strength doesn’t climb quite as high. But you’ll still be able to build just as much muscle in your upper body (so long as you aren’t struggling with overall fatigue). Since most guys are mainly interested in bulking up their upper bodies, that’s not a bad way to bulk up. You’ll have versatile legs, a strong heart, and a muscular upper body.

Furthermore, you probably aren’t doing marathon and powerlifting training. That’s the most extreme example, which is why it was studied. The researchers figured that if anything could produce an interference effect, it would be extreme strength competing against extreme endurance. Chances are, if you’re trying to bulk up in a healthy way, you’re probably doing hypertrophy training and then adding in a bit of cardio to improve your health (or because you enjoy it). The effects of that are quite different. The opposite, in fact.

Hypertrophy training is already in the middle of the strength-endurance continuum. And you probably aren’t combining it with extreme endurance training, either. If you play some casual sports or do some martial arts, biking, jogging, or yoga, that’s not extreme enough to interfere with muscle growth. In fact, a new study found that adding a bit of cardio to our weight training stimulates around 5% more muscle growth and adds more nuclei to our muscle fibres, making it easier to continue growing.

To summarize, if you’re training for a marathon and a powerlifting meet at the same time, yes, you’ll run into an interference effect, and your results will be reduced by up to around 30%. However, if you’re training to build muscle (hypertrophy training) and combining it with cardio for your general health and fitness, then it will probably help you build muscle slightly faster.

How to Combine Cardio With Bodybuilding

When mixing cardio into a bulking routine, just make sure that you aren’t totally killing yourself in the gym. Don’t lift to failure, don’t do multi-hour workouts, don’t train six days per week. None of those things will reliably speed up muscle growth, but they will make it much harder to recover from your training. If you’re doing a ton of cardio in addition to that, you might wind up totally crushed by the workload.

My main point here is that the interference effect won’t noticeably reduce your ability to build muscle. I wouldn’t worry about it. The main problem with adding cardio into a bulking routine is that it’s going to make it harder to gain weight. It can be a pure calorie issue. That can kill a skinny guy’s gains.

Does Cardio Reduce Fat Gain?

Doing cardio could conceivably make your gains leaner, yes. There’s an idea called energy flux (G-Flux). Ryan Andrews, RD, and John Berardi, PhD, are famous for writing about it over on Precision Nutrition. We’ve written about it in our article for skinny-fat guys, too.

With g-flux, the idea is that the more calories you burn, the more calories you’ll need to eat, and so the more nutrients you’ll be able to get into your system. That means more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, fibre, and phytonutrients. And since your overall food volume is higher, you don’t need to worry as much about making every calorie count. It allows you to eat a more flexible bulking diet while still getting all of the nutrients that you need.

Illustration of a lean man holding his stomach

Furthermore, the extra activity that you’re doing will improve your general fitness, make it easier to burn visceral fat, and speed up your recovery between workouts. Because you’ll be generally fitter, you’ll be in better shape to bulk up.

This means that cardio could help you build muscle more leanly simply because you’ll be in better shape, you’ll be getting more nutrients out of your diet, and you’ll be recovering more smoothly from your bulking workouts. This is going to facilitate muscle growth, leaving fewer resources available to be stored as fat. Put simply, bulking is easier when you’re in great shape.

How strong is this effect, though? Can cardio make your gains noticeably leaner? It’s unclear.

If you’re already lean and skinny with a fast metabolism, you probably don’t need dedicated cardio in order to keep your gains lean. Furthermore, trying to raise your g-flux is just going to make it harder to get into a calorie surplus, so it might get you into more trouble than it’s worth.

Personally, I’ve always had a high metabolism. I’ve never intentionally done cardio while bulking. The closest I’ll come to doing cardio is walking to the grocery store and carrying my groceries home. Or, more recently, going on a 20-minute walk every evening while carrying my son around in my arms.

If you’re sedentary and you’re a beginner lifter, you can probably gain muscle quite leanly with or without cardio. Beginners have such a strong response to lifting weights that cardio simply isn’t needed in order to make lean gains, especially for us naturally skinny guys.

However, if you’ve got more of a skinny-fat look even after lifting weights, then you might want to consider intentionally doing some cardio while bulking up. Some skinny guys store fat more easily. There are a variety of reasons for that, ranging from genetics to daily activity levels to how well you sleep. If you naturally have a higher body-fat percentage, adding in some cardio (or just moving more in general) is often a good way for skinny-fat guys to make leaner gains.

(Keep in mind that doing cardio can help you become leaner, but it won’t necessarily help you build bigger abs. Some ectomorphs have skinny abs, which means that you might also need to intentionally bulk up your ab muscles before you have good ab definition.)

But again, regardless of your situation, if cardio is making it impossible to eat enough calories, just save it for later. You can always add in some cardio after you’ve finished bulking up. Or perhaps after you’ve gotten your newbie gains, at which point your muscle gains will slow.

Does HIIT Pair Best With Building Muscle?

The next question we get is about what type of cardio to do while bulking. Generally, we recommend doing easy types of cardio that you enjoy, don’t leave you feeling fatigued, and don’t bang you up.

Remember, we’re skinny guys who are trying to bulk up. We don’t need the cardio right now, and we damn well don’t want to destroy ourselves with it.

Some people swear by it, but most sane people hate using HIIT to improve their cardio. It’s quick and efficient, yes, but so is eating a scorpion pepper. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to enjoy that short vacation in Hell.

When it comes to HIIT, I hate to sound like a wimp, but it really sucks, man. If you’re doing it properly, you’ll certainly hate being alive, and you might throw up, too. Even just in terms of compliance, it can take a lot of willpower to psyche yourself up for the intense pain. Most people do it for a few weeks and then find some sort of excuse to stop.

And besides, lifting weights is a form of HIIT anyway. You lift weights intensely for 5–20 reps, rest for a couple of minutes, then do another intense 5–20 reps. The difference is that lifting isn’t designed to stress your cardiovascular system anywhere near as intensely, so it doesn’t tend to suck. I mean, taking a 20-rep set of squats to failure would certainly suck, but most bulking programs wouldn’t ask you to do that.

There are some interesting pros and cons to HIIT, though. On the one hand, because it’s so intense, HIIT has a greater chance of interfering with your bulking workouts. Bike sprints are more likely to fatigue your legs than going on a brisk walk. But then on the other hand, because it’s so intense, HIIT can stimulate a bit of muscle growth in and of itself. So in the end, it will probably balance out.

The bigger worry with HIIT is that you might get injured, become too fatigued to lift properly, or you might hate it so much that you give up on your routine as soon as life gets stressful or busy. If your workouts always require a ton of willpower, they won’t be sustainable.

Anyway, if you like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and if you’re good at it, then you’re crazy, but feel free to keep being crazy. It’s going to be great for your health.

But if you aren’t already in the habit of doing HIIT, I’d recommend easing into cardio with an easier variation. Hopping on a stationary bike, going on brisk walks, doing some swimming, or just being more physically active in general tends to be an easier type of cardio to add into a bulking routine.

What Type of Cardio Goes Best With Bodybuilding?

The first thing we need to consider is the intensity of the cardio. There are a number of different style of cardio, ranging from jogging (LISS) to bike sprints (HIIT) all the way to CrossFit (HIPT).

  • Low-Intensity Steady State: LISS is the most traditional type of cardio, so most of the benefits you associate with cardio are most strongly associated with LISS. For example, this is the type of exercise that’s best for improving the efficiency of our hearts. This style of cardio is also the most different from weight training.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training: HIIT is a more modern form of cardio that’s touted as being a far more efficient, albeit painful, way to train. Weight training is also a form of HIIT, but when a routine is designed to promote cardiovascular adaptations, the emphasis is shifted to keeping our heart rate high, which makes a HIIT routine much better for improving cardiovascular fitness.
  • High-Intensity Power Training: HIPT programs, such as CrossFit, as sort of a blend of traditional weight training with modern cardio HIIT routines. They’re perfectly good for making small improvements in muscle mass and strength while making great improvements in cardiovascular fitness, and that versatility makes it great for many people. However, HIPT isn’t very good for bulking up, and it combines quite poorly with hypertrophy routines.
Illustration showing a man doing a snatch.

Of these different styles of cardio, I think traditional cardio combined with weightlifting is the most powerful way to improve our health and overall performance. However, there are some instances where HIIT can outperform traditional cardio, such as when doing both cardio and lifting in the same workout (which we’ll cover in a few seconds).

If we look at the research, we see that traditional cardio combined with hypertrophy training seems to produce the most muscle growth, too, although the differences aren’t major.

The second thing we need to consider is what type of exercise we should do to get our heart rate up. We can bring our heart rate up by jogging, biking, swimming, rowing, doing weight training circuits, and so on.

These different forms of cardio have slightly different effects on us (study):

  • Weight training circuits: Weight training circuits might seem like they’d be the best for stimulating muscle growth, and that’s true, but we’re already doing a hypertrophy program. Furthermore, this style of cardio overlaps so heavily with our bulking workouts that it’s the most likely to produce an interference-effect.
  • Jogging: Jogging is great for our cardiovascular health and produces a unique set of adaptations from lifting weights. However, unless you’re quite good at running, it can be pretty hard on our joints and connective tissues. You also need to catch your body weight on one leg with every stride, which can cause quite a lot of muscle damage. It’s not always an easy form of cardio to recover from. As a result, it’s usually not appropriate for beginners.
  • Biking: biking, especially if you’re using a stationary bike, produces the same beneficial adaptations as jogging, but without stressing your joints and without causing much muscle damage. This makes it incredibly easy to recover from. It also stresses just the lower body, meaning that it won’t interfere whatsoever with your upper-body size or strength gains.
  • Ellipticals, rowing, and so on: there are other styles of cardio that are fairly easy on our joints and fairly easy to recover from. However, many of them have an upper-body component. If you’re keen on building a bigger upper body, it’s usually better to do your cardio with your lower body. It’s not a big deal, mind you.
  • Walking: going on brisk walks can actually be a fairly effective form of cardio. It’s not efficient, but it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s low-impact, and it’s a breeze to recover from. Of all the types of cardio, this is my personal favourite.

The most important thing is choosing a form of cardio that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. However, if you have no preference, I think hypertrophy training combines the best with traditional cardio instead of HIIT, and I’d argue that walking and stationary biking are the best ways to do it.

Should You Do Cardio Before or After Lifting?

If you’ve decided to add cardio into your lifting routine, the next question is when you should do your cardio. Should you do it before lifting weights, after lifting weights, or keep it entirely separate?

  • The concern with doing your cardio before lifting weights is that it will make you tired. If you hop on a stationary bike for some HIIT or go for a jog on a treadmill, it’s going to be harder to do your squats and deadlifts afterwards.
  • The problem with doing your cardio after lifting weights, though, is that you might cancel out some of the growth that you’ve worked so hard to stimulate. Lifting weights tells your body that you want to become bigger and stronger, great. Then you hop over to the treadmill to do your cardio, and your body thinks you’ve changed your mind—it scales back the muscle growth to focus on improving your cardiovascular health instead.

How does this play out in the research? One study that looked into combining cardio with weight training found that guys gained strength just fine if they did their cardio after their strength training. However, muscle growth is a whole separate story. The researchers found that doing cardio after lifting cut muscle hypertrophy nearly in half. So for muscle growth, we definitely don’t want to be doing traditional cardio after lifting. Much better to do our cardio beforehand, or, even better, on a whole separate day.

However, keep in mind that not all cardio is the same. HIIT produces a very different set of adaptations from steady-state cardio. I’m personally of the opinion that since lifting is a form of HIIT, we’ll get better overall adaptations by doing both lifting (HIIT) and traditional cardio (LISS). However, if you’re trying to do both lifting and cardio in the same workout session, perhaps it’s better to combine your lifting with a HIIT cardio routine. Because the adaptations they produce are more similar, they’ll be less likely to produce an interference-effect.

So you shouldn’t technically do your cardio either before or after lifting weights. Ideally, you’d do your cardio on your rest days. If you want to bang out your cardio in the same session as your weight training, though, you’ve got a couple of options (study):

  • Do your heavy lifting, then do some HIIT on a stationary bike. HIIT requires quite a lot of muscle strength, so it’s not going to interfere with the muscle-growth stimulus. If anything, it’s just going to give your legs some extra training volume.
  • Train for strength first, then do your cardio. If your goal is to lift as heavy as possible in order to get bigger for your size—i.e. strength training—then it might make sense to do your lifting while you’re feeling fresh. Do your heavy squat sets first, then do your cardio afterwards.
  • Do an easy cardio session first, then train for muscle growth. If your goal is to gain muscle size, it’s often better to do your cardio first, then gear into your hypertrophy workout afterwards. It’s okay if you’re a tiny bit tired while doing your hypertrophy training, and this will ensure that the final signal you’re sending your muscles is to grow bigger.

So assuming your goal is bulking up, I’d recommend doing your cardio on your rest days. But if that’s not feasible, then do an easy cardio session before your hypertrophy workout or an intense HIIT cardio session after your workout.

Should We Do Cardio Fasted?

The short answer is no. There are no fat-loss or performance benefits to fasted cardio. Moreover, delaying your first meal to squeeze in some cardio will only make it harder to reach your calorie goals.

The longer answer is the same, just more emphatic: absolutely not. We’re not trying to lose weight, we’re trying to get some extra cardiovascular fitness benefits while building muscle. To do that, we should be doing our cardio and weight training in a fully fed state, which will not only improve our training performance but also make it easier to recover from that training. And besides, intermittent fasting isn’t good for bulking anyway.

Just to add some nuance to that, though, if you’re doing some easy steady-state cardio before having breakfast, it’s not the end of the world. Not all skinny guys have trouble eating enough calories to gain weight. And a small decline in performance won’t cancel out the benefits of doing the cardio. But there’s still no benefit to it.


For our general health, we should aim to do at least 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength-oriented workouts every week. Since we’re naturally skinny guys, I think it makes more sense to invest a little more heavily into gaining muscle size and strength, at least until we accomplish our bulking goals. I’d personally recommend doing three bulking workouts every week with 1–2 optional cardio sessions. But that’s just my own opinion.

If we do three bulking workouts every week, and each lasts about an hour, then that counts for 90 minutes of cardio. That leaves 60 minutes of cardio to account for. We can get that cardio from brisk walks, playing sports, being physically active, or doing dedicated cardio workouts. Personally, I get most of my additional cardio from walking, often while carrying things: groceries, my son, a backpack, etc.

Illustration of a man going from skinny to muscular from doing cardio

While you’re trying to bulk up, you probably don’t need to worry about cardio one way or the other. If you like doing cardio, feel free to keep doing it while bulking. You don’t need to worry about the interference effect. That applies more to maximal strength training combined with extreme endurance training, such as combining powerlifting with marathon training. If we combine hypertrophy training (aka bodybuilding) with more moderate forms of cardio (such as biking), it may actually help us build muscle a little bit faster.

But if you don’t like doing cardio, just save it for later. Your lifting workouts will likely provoke some beneficial cardiovascular adaptations anyway. Your general health will likely still improve and you should still be able to make fairly lean gains.

If you’re lifting and doing cardio, make sure that you’re not too intense about it. For example, going on long jogs, especially if you aren’t any good at running, can bang you up. It’s going to be hard to do your deadlifts if you’ve got shin splints. It’s going to be hard to squat if your knees are cranky. So if you’re new to cardio, better to choose the lower-impact forms, such as ellipticals, swimming, biking, or even just going on brisk walks. You’ll get the cardiovascular benefits but you’ll be saving most of your energy for your bulking routine, which is presumably your main goal right now.

The same goes for your bulking workouts. Those can bang you up, too, if you aren’t prudent about it. Low-bar squats might be hard on your hips, so choose better squat variations (such as goblet or front squats). Don’t lift to failure too often. Follow a professionally programmed bulking routine. Get plenty of good sleep. Just generally keep your recovery in mind.

The most important thing is eating enough calories to gain weight. If cardio makes it harder to eat enough calories, save it for later. If you can’t eat in a calorie surplus, you won’t be able to bulk up. That’s the only way that cardio could destroy your gains.

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

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

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  1. Joram Oudenaarde on October 3, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Great article as usual! 🙂

    I’ve been doing a combination (I fínally found the motivation to start moving again) of the two.

    A 10 minute cardio bike ride at the gym, primarily because that’s about the only thing that actually makes me sweat, since working out itself makes me warm but never sweaty 🙂

    After that it’s about a 45 minute workout as intense as I can handle (do you guys get dizzy/nauseated at some point as well?).

    I’ve noticed in the past when I was working out that biking my butt of didn’t really do much at-all. But it does, at least in my head, help with finding some extra energy to do that extra set during the actual workout 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks man, glad you enjoyed it!

      Props for getting back into it. Until it becomes a habit it can be really hard to stick with this stuff.

      I’m with you—working up a sweat can be fun. Good to see you’re working some variety into your program! Sounds like a good way to warm up and get excited to train.

      Oh man ever since I started doing Marco’s workouts with supersets I find I get sweaty pretty easily. Doing a set of 300lb deadlifts followed by a weighted chin-up has me sweating like crazy.

      … and those deadlifts can make me a little dizzy. if I push myself really hard—especially when I’m not well rested and well fed. I haven’t felt nauseated from training since my first month of heavy lifting, but the deadlifts were the culprits then too.

    • Greg on January 27, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      Dude how do you not sweat when you workout?! I’m pouring buckets and have to bring a towel to the gym so I won’t slip off the benches haha.

      • Shane Duquette on January 29, 2013 at 12:37 pm


    • george on December 8, 2013 at 6:35 am

      Thank goodness for this article. I’ve always been guilty for not running. I don’t go out of the house often so I substitute 8-10 3minute rounds on a punching bag in the morning then weight lifting in the evening.

      I’ve been thinking about getting a stationary bike though, since I thought that I ought to do more cardio to get rid of my tummy fat.

      • Shane Duquette on December 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

        Right on George. If you enjoy biking then a stationary bike could help. If your goal is to lose fat be sure to get in a calorie deficit! With or without the bike, that’s what matters most when it comes to losing fat.

        Good luck!

  2. Denis on October 3, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Running or any other slower paced cardio in a limited version (10, 15, 20, 30 min), following weight training is good for blood circulation to clear the lactic acid buildup from infected muscles.
    Personally, I recover much quicker with two 30 min cardios, as opposed to just doing nothing. This is 2 vs 5 to 7 days in regeneration process.
    And thats the only thing, I use it for. And of course pre-workout warmup.
    Would rather use a rower sometimes though.

    • Shane Duquette on October 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Right on. I’ve heard Marco recommend that to some people as well, to help with recovery—especially guys who are in the habit of training already and enjoy doing it more frequently than 3x per week.

      We actually don’t do cardio to warm up, although that’s certainly a good option. We do dynamic stretches to prime our muscles and get into solid movement patterns, followed by a couple light sets of our first pair of exercises, to practice our form and get the blood flowing in the right places.

  3. Luke Renia on October 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Thank goodness for this article. I’ve always been guilty for not running. I don’t go out of the house often so I substitute 8-10 3minute rounds on a punching bag in the morning then weight lifting in the evening.

    I’ve been thinking about getting a stationary bike though, since I thought that I ought to do more cardio to get rid of my tummy fat.

    • Shane Duquette on October 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      I’d say if you’re already weight training and hitting a punching bag you’d have better luck zapping that stomach fat through nutrition. Lower the calories, keep that protein intake high!

  4. Daniel on October 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Great post again Shane! When I’ve reached my weight goals I’ll be doing more sprint intervals so I can get back to playing football (soccer). I’d love to know what you think of Crossfit?

    • Shane Duquette on October 4, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      That’s a tough question, as I’ve never tried it. I would say it’s a decent system for fit and athletic guys with a LOT of experience lifting weights already. You’d need great posture, great form, and great core strength to do any of those exercises safely, let alone get decent results out of them.

      Some of the stuff they do is also pretty strange, like the high rep olympic lifts. I can’t really see any justification for that. They’re explosive exercises designed to train power, not endurance. Even for guys with years of experience practicing the lifts, it would still be quite dangerous and rather pointless. (I don’t personally know much about olympic lifts — I’m just regurgitating Mike Boyle here, and that guy’s a legend.)

      There are plenty of people who come out of Crossfit quite fit though, so to each their own 🙂

      I also dig their work ethic. Those guys train hard and don’t make excuses.

    • Shane Duquette on October 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Right on man. No need to halt the sprint intervals in order to gain weight—those things are great. They aren’t required, but you’ll certainly come out a beast!

  5. Mannie on October 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Really enjoyed reading this article, was actually how i came across your wonderful site! I was a long distance runner back in high school but that was just for the extra credits (and i was good at it :P) however, its no longer something i do.

    Iv been devouring your articles whenever i am procrastinating as i have exams at the moment haha! I have a question though as i am looking to join though my question may seem a bit different to the guys around here.

    I have never been in the gym before, your usual skinny fellah weighing in at 112 pounds and 5’5 in height. My question here is that if i gain as much muscle as is possible with a great gym program and an even better diet, in your opinion/expertise do you think i will look a bit disproportionate as i am only 5’5 ?

    That is my main concern with bulking up is that it might look weird on me. Hpe you understand what i mean! I have no doubt about my dedication and discipline, but this is concern is on my mind. Finish my exams in a week and i want to get a gym membership on the same day.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Shane Duquette on October 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Hahaha I remember during exams was when I surprisingly managed to get a lot of guitar practice in 😉

      That’s a good question. You may not need to gain, say, 30 pounds, but if you’re a thin guy I think becoming stronger and more muscular, well, it has a positive effect on everyone. You’d probably even see it in your face.

      I know what you’re saying though—I know some 5’5 guys that look very muscular at around 150. I’ve always thought it looked cool, but I can see why you’d prefer a slightly slimmer look.

      You can always stop when you feel you’ve reached the level of muscularity that you want. There’s a ton of good stuff to do at that point too. Marco reached his goal size a while back and now most of his goals have to do with strength, mobility and athletics.

      • Mannie on October 27, 2012 at 3:35 am

        Ah yes thanks Shane, should have figured (haha) that i can stop gaining when i don’t feel right about my size!

        Just want to add that i believe you have a very impressive blog, brilliant!

      • on June 30, 2020 at 4:58 pm

        Hey Shane this article was an eye opener for me. What surprised me was when you stated that cardo training well not help us skinny guys look any better or improve. our appearance. I have always believed that cardio training was important part of our appearance. Even to look visibly in great shape, but now I stop and think about it. It was only when I started adding muscle to my frame weight lifting men and women starting telling me how much better I looked. It makes a lot of sense. I did years of running, and I love running. I tried sprints training workouts for the last year for cardo fitness. Now I,m just wrestling for 1hour on Sundays and my 3 full body workouts there my cardo. Thanks much for your information Shane

  6. Paul on January 23, 2013 at 10:07 am

    The progress you made is extraordinary!
    I was wondering what exactly you did to lose pure fat instead of muscles as well so that the abs and other muscle groups were more visible… Is it with the help of HIIT training on an exercice bike/running, or just a good diet (with protein shakes?)?

    • Shane Duquette on January 23, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      Heavy weight lifting does a fantastic job of preserving muscle mass even in a pretty intense calorie deficit. To drop the fat I was eating well, doing 3 hour-long full body training sessions per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and running up and down the stairs of our apartment building for 15 minutes twice per week (Tuesday and Thursday).

      … nowadays when I lose fat I drop the stair-running. Really not a fun way to spend 15 minutes.

      • Paul on January 28, 2013 at 5:47 am

        So it sounds like the best way still is to lift as much as you can do and not to do as many reps as possible with low weights?

        You must have spend a lot of time on doing this all. Unfortunately I do not have that much time because of my superior school education… I might be able to do a full-body workout twice a week and run in between those two days.

        I still have a few questions if you don’t mind:
        1) How many reps did you do per set and how many sets per excercice and muscle group?
        2) Is it better to keep time between sets as low as possible to optimize the fat burning?
        3) Would you recommend rice, pasta and fruits to eat?

        • Shane Duquette on January 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

          It wasn’t very time intensive at all! We had just just graduated from university and were investing all of our time into building up our design business. We spent maybe 3 hours a week training at the university gym.

          1. 5-10 reps. 3-5 sets. More volume is great for losing weight, as it’ll result in a bigger boost to your metabolism. How much you can handle depends a lot on your fitness levels and how well you recover.

          2. Yep! Nowadays I recommend doing supersets/circuits to keep the time between sets low. I wasn’t doing that at the time, though.

          3. Not very much! Us ectomorphs handle carbs well, but generally when dieting you don’t want to be eating all that much starch. I’d keep that to mainly surrounding your workout. Veggies, protein and some fat for your typical meal.

          I hope that helps.
          Good luck man!

  7. N33 on January 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Hey there,

    I was wondering would sprints help with burning off excess fat around the belly?

    Iv been in the whole process of gaining weight ( im an ecto) for 10 weeks and had gained 8 Kgs in 7 weeks. I have done so with about 70-80% of my calories coming from clean food. Since then i havent gained weight as i am on maintanence calories.

    Even though i have made noticeable muscle gains on my body, iv gained fat around my belly that i didnt have before. Incredibly frustrating.
    Maybe i upped my calories too much. But now i am completely un comfortable with this sudden belly fat esp around the lower abs. Hence the question on sprints helping me to start burning off the fat.

    Thanks for any feedback!

    • Shane Duquette on January 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Congrats on the 8 kilos man, that’s awesome! 70-80% of your calories from nutritious food is pretty solid, and it’s likely a an overabundance of calories resulting in the fat gain. (Although it could also be something more insidious, like having your macronutrients way off.)

      To burn fat the main thing you need to do is cut back on the calories, with most of that reduction in calories coming from starchy carbs (i.e. keep your protein intake high).

      If you’ve got time and energy to spare, yeah for sure add some sprints alongside your workout routine – on rest days perhaps. The workouts will likely result in most of your results, but the sprints will help as well!

      I hope that helps man, good luck!

  8. Jared on February 26, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Hi Shane,

    I’m new to your site and am considering purchasing the product soon (I’m also a raging ectomorph achieving little to no results in the gym). One concern I had was that I go to play soccer once a week and spend some hours running and such. I don’t see this as something that will affect muscle growth and endurance. Do you? Thanks.

    • Shane Duquette on February 28, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Nah that’s nothing to worry about at all!

      Glad you did wind up deciding to join us man. Pumped to see what you can do with the program. I’m thinking you’ll see some improvements on the soccer field, if anything 🙂

  9. Armid on May 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Hey, awesome read!!!

    I’m actually hoping to get this program soon!
    I’m an ecto but do cardio(kickboxing) 3 x week, ( i compete a lot) you reckon this may hinder me?


    • Shane Duquette on May 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      That’s awesome man, hope you do decide to join us!

      Nah you should be fine. Kickboxing is pretty explosive stuff and martial artists generally do pretty kickass jobs of bulking up. Should help keep you lean, too 🙂

  10. Marcus on August 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Really well written, ambitious article. I’m 23, just discovered I’m a textbook Ectomorph. I have been jogging a lot for the past year and improved a lot in that field, I have also lifted weights/done pushups/sit-ups etc and have already gained a lot of muscles. I’m definitely going for having great endurance, but I still want a “normal” looking body, and I’m not quite there yet. My abs need some more work, for instance.

    Do you think my running will get in the way of this in the FUTURE? I run 3-4 times a week at a fairly high speed, 40 minutes each time, and finish off with some strength excercise. Some days, I only focus on lifting weights for example. And like I said, while the process has been slow I’ve still noticed my muscles have gotten bigger, especially my shoulders and arms. So, would you say this is going to be counterproductive if I want to gain more than I already have…? That I will hit a brick wall in the muscle-department soon? I want to make it clear that I’m NOT looking for a body builder-body, so to speak. Just a normal, healthy yet muscular body.

    Thanks a bunch if you’re willing to answer! 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on August 29, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      If you want a normal body that’s probably a lot easier than you think! Just start eating more McDonalds and more time sitting down :S

      But I think what you mean is that you want a normal healthy and athletic body though, like you said, i.e., one more similar to … David Beckham? I’m totally just guessing here. I mean Usain Bolt and Ryan Reynolds don’t have bodybuilder bodies and yet they’re very elite in their own respective ways (athletics / aesthetics). Obviously Bolt and Beckham both do a lot of running, although both have very different goals and physiques. (Bolt is wicked strong and can bench 305 pounds – pretty sweet.)

      Running and training can be a little bit counterproductive together, as they require your body to adapt in different ways (endurance vs strength/power) … but they aren’t THAT counterproductive. You can still make awesome progress towards both goals. David Beckham and Ryan Reynolds probably do a lot of running. This guy is aaalways jogging around the neighbourhood with his shirt off, and he’s a fitness model! (He also lifts weights quite a lot, because, well, his career depends on him looking a very specific way.)

      Marco runs too and plays a ton of rugby. Different type of running (more so sprinting) but still lots of running at varying paces. And Marco is prrretty jacked. Different goals and different ways to get there.

      I, on the other hand, don’t run at all. I don’t really enjoy it, so I get my “cardio” in by doing weightlifting circuits, i.e., I just lift weights with less rest time and get my blood pumping and heart rate up that way.

      Does that answer your question / help at all?

  11. Marcus on August 27, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Also, shouldn’t it be possible for us ectomorphs to be great runners AND athletes if we spend twice as much time (and eat twice as much) practicing the latter?

  12. Matija on October 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    First, I’d like to say that this is truly amazing blog and great source of information for me. I’m 177 cm in height and 69 kg in weight and I’m trying to gain more muscle mass. I’ve been struggling to get past 70 kg barrier for some time now and now I believe I’ve found possible culprit. It seems I’ve bee running too much. On average four times a week for about 5 miles. And I’ve been wondering why I can’t accomplish any gains. On top of that I’ve been doing some yoga and pilates but lacked in any more intense strength training.
    I’ve decided to change things up a bit. Cut back on running entirely as an experimenter and introduce some home strength and explosive cardio with adding in some supplements as you recommend in post about them. I don’t really feel comfortable in gym environment and due time restrictions prefer to do exercises at home. So I’ve come across some Bob Harpers DVDs like “Pure Burn Super Strength”, “Body Rev Cardio Conditioning” etc. Workouts are intense and present very big challenge for me. I can modify using heavier weights if necessary. No extra equipment required besides a mat and some space. I’ve been doing those workouts for about 5 times a week for period of three weeks and accomplished some better definition and gained about 2-3 kg in weight (started with 66 kg). I’d be really glad to read your opinion about my improvised workout regime and do you think that those hour long intense workouts can be enough to gain some good muscle mass?

    • Shane Duquette on October 14, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      I’ve got a bit of a moral issue with Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels (and The Biggest Loser in General). I don’t know whether it’s intentional or not, but I think they’re having a negative effect on people’s attitudes towards fitness and, especially in the case of overweight people, their body image.

      One of my main issues is that they mislead people into thinking that the effectiveness of a workout plan is correlated with how much it hurts, burns, exhausts you or sucks. That isn’t true when it comes to fat loss, and it absolutely 100% isn’t in any way true when it comes to building muscle. Feeling sore, tired, exhausted, etc should not be how you judge the effectiveness of your workout, and instead how much closer to your goals that workout gets you. Lots of guys doing Bony to Beastly walk out of the gym feeling more energetic than when they stepped in, and they wake up every morning feeling like they haven’t been hit by a truck. Every time they go to the gym they’re measurably stronger, and every time they step on the scale they’re measurably heavier.

      Anyway, that’s just one of the personal pet peeves of mine, and when using those DVDs I’d be wary of that.

      On the other hand, the fact that you’re gaining weight IS a good thing (assuming the weight you’re gaining is lean/muscle) and measurably so. Sounds like it’s working brilliantly well. Congrats Matija – that’s super badass!

      The other, and arguably most important, benefit of what you’re doing is that you’re improving your health and fitness levels tremendously! All forms of exercise, whether that’s cardio or strength training, does a million different incredible things for you, from increasing cognition and brain power to improving mood and alleviating anxiety to increasing your lifespan and reducing your chance of falling ill. If you enjoy the type of training you’re doing, even better. That’s a big part of turning it into a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle where you can actually start to see the long-term benefits of what you’re doing as well as the short-term ones.

      With most calisthenics, aka body weight, exercise programs you soon hit a plateau as far as gaining muscle mass goes though. In order for muscles to consistently get bigger and stronger you need to progressively overload them with heavier and heavier weights. At a certain point your body weight will become too light and you’ll stop progressing. Adding more reps will increase your muscular endurance, but it won’t increase your muscle size, power or strength. There are ways to progress the exercises, although if you’re looking to build a significant amount of weight I’d start building a home gym so you can transition to a heavier style of training that actually optimized for building muscle!

      (Cardio-specific training is important too, so you may want to continue doing yoga, pilates, running or doing a workout dvd once a week or so to fully max out on all health benefits.)

      If you do decide to take a heavier approach you can maximize on the OTHER health benefits of exercise: increasing your bone density, making it easier to stay lean/healthy, improving your strength, improving and strengthening good posture, reducing your risk of injury, making you more athletic, lengthening your lifespan even more, counteracting a lot of the effects of aging, etc etc.

      In regards to your particular goals, it’s also how you add muscle mass in the most effective way possible.

      (And it’s a ton of fun.)

      So long story short I think you should definitely continue on with your current training plan, you should keep your mind open to going heavier “soon”, when your muscular gains slow, and you should check the blog later this week (Thursday I hope). We’re posting an article on how to set up a sweet home gym optimized for building muscle, and then some detailed how-to as far as training at home goes. The equipment is very very minimal, so I think you’ll really dig it! We’ve got a ton of members who train at home and do a kickass job – just as well as the gym guys.

      Sign up for the newsletter (top right of the page) and we’ll shoot you an email when it’s live 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on October 14, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Whoa am I ever verbose. I should write novels.

      • Matija on October 15, 2013 at 5:06 am

        Thank you for your detailed answer. It really helps a lot. I think you could easily write a book just combining all the posts and answers on your blog. And it would be a good one. 😉
        I’m not very familiar with Biggest Loser series as DVDs I have are not part of it. But I guess the approach he uses is similar to the ones I do have. I’m aware that my muscle growth using them is limited due to issue of increasing resistance but I still have quite a way to go to find them to easy.
        The biggest reason I’m trying this approach at the moment is the fact that you can do this exercises right at home and you need a bare minimum of equipment – a mat and a set of dumbbells. Which I like due to my financial limitations and a fact you need minimum space. But I’d definitely like to read about setting up a home gym and would think about of investing in a few extra items. At the moment I have no idea where to start. I’ve already subscribed and I’m looking forward to your further posts.

        • Shane Duquette on October 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm

          Hehe we actually require LESS equipment than that. No mat, no TV and just ONE dumbbell.

          Strength training is simple too when you break it down to the fundamentals. You’ll see what I mean. I think the post will be one of our most informative yet 🙂

          It’s not about the DVD becoming easy, but more so about hitting the point where it stops making you stronger.

          Those programs will stress your aerobic system (making them hard) for much longer than they’ll stress your anaerobic system (making you big and strong).

          Stressing your aerobic system is good, so you don’t even need to stop. What you may find though is that you want to add in some heavy stuff soon, as your anaerobic system stops being stressed.

          Sounds like you’re on the right track!

          Ahahaha so true! An FAQ book or something.

          Glad it helped 🙂

  13. LKH on November 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm


    Thanks for your great post. Really enjoy it 🙂

    My height is 180cm and weight is 73kg. I workout regularly about 4 times per week.

    Previously i’m a skinny guy but now my body shape consider normal after i started workout. Now the problem is that i have belly fat. So 2 weeks ago i started doing cardio by running on treadmill for 20mins for 3 times per week.

    is that enough for me to get rid of belly fat? is it recommended to do cardio every day?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on November 6, 2013 at 12:36 am

      Props for getting yourself out of skinnyville man – that’s great 🙂

      If you want to get rid of belly fat it’s not a matter of doing cardio necessarily, but more so about entering into a calorie deficit.

      Cardio will allow you to burn more calories, yes, so it can help you lose fat – if and only if you’re also eating fewer calories than you’re burning overall.

      You could just as easily continue lifting heavy and doing your strength training workouts + eat to burn fat.

      Whether you do cardio or not is really up to you. Personally, when losing fat I just stick to my strength training and maybe shorten my rest times a bit to get my heart rate up a little more.

      At most I might walk around more or do some active things (went biking with a friend today) … but I don’t really consider cardio part of my routine.

      Burn the belly fat and keep your muscle with a calorie deficit, lots of protein – about a gram of protein / pound bodyweight / day (study), and lifting heavy.

      And then do cardio if you like doing cardio 🙂

  14. Igor on January 20, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Hey Shane,
    A friend of mine showed me your website as we are both skinny and looking to gain weight. I think this article is very well written and I like your style of writing. I have a question regarding cycling (biking or whatever you want to call it). I have been road cycling for the past two years during the spring, summer and fall; its very cold in New York during the winter and parts of spring so maximum 5-6 consecutive months out of the year. I have built up an incredible amount of stamina on my road bike and I recently, in September, finished my first 100 mile ride; needless to say I LOVE biking. However I started going to the gym in the beginning of January because I really want to gain mass and be in an ideal shape before I turn 27 in July. I’ve noticed that I’m not capable of lifting as much weight as I was when I was 22-24 years old and I did go to the gym sporadically. I fear that this is because I lost a decent amount of weight when I started biking, approximately 25-30 Lbs over the course of 2 years. I have 6 months to get into the shape that I want and I consider myself skinny fat despite others telling me I’m skinny. I weigh 150Lbs (up from 145 at the beginning of January woohoo!) and I’m 5’8″, a quick body fat test using the body fat analyzer at the gym stated I was at 14.7% body fat.

    I want to gain weight and get big as soon as possible but I cant place myself into a category of whether I am an ectomorph or more average in regard to how I approach nutrition and muscle gains. My biggest concern is that if I get back on the bike come spring time I will lose a ton of my gains from the winter. My average ride is 30-50 miles and constitutes for a 2-3 hour exercise. I love biking but I also want to be in the shape of my life by my next birthday because it will be my gift to myself and something that I dreamed about for a long long time. I’m just now starting to get into the whole weight lifting thing and its proven to be a challenge strength wise because my gym partner is significantly stronger and bigger than me and has been working out for over a year now. I go to a really uncomfortable type of gym where muscled gorillas grunt and generally make you feel uncomfortable if you’re holding anything less than a 30lb dumbell so its a bit embarassing for me.

    If you can tell me what you think about my concerns regarding biking and getting into shape at the same time I would really appreciate it. The article seems to indicate that biking would be an impediment to my gaining mass so I am a little disappointed. Looking forward to your response.

    • Shane Duquette on January 23, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      Hey Igor,

      I’ve got a lot of friends who are really really into biking. If you’re anywhere near as passionate about it as they are then I definitely understand why you’d be loath to give it up, and I’d be the last person to tell you to give up something that you love!

      Will doing 2-3 hour cardio sessions cause some interference with your weightlifting and muscle-building goals? Of course. Your body will be adapting to two different stimulus that oppose one another. Will that make it impossible to build muscle? Hell no.

      Seems to me like keeping up with a sport that you love is well worth the small downside, right? Given that you love biking and you’re eager to build muscle, well, I’d do both, just accept that you might gain at a slightly slower pace.

      Also, as far as endurance activities go, biking isn’t even so bad! With biking all you’re doing is pushing – There’s no eccentric, aka, the lowering under tension part – and that’s often the thing that damages muscle the most. Biking and weightlifting go together surprisingly well for that reason.

      If you were previously more muscular and much heavier … you’ll actually probably have a very EASY time building muscle anyway, since the muscle nuclei you built up in the past will likely still be around, allowing your body to construct new muscle much more rapidly. Guys who were previously stronger and more muscular build muscle very very easily until they surpass their old peak weight.

      We’ve got a marathon runner who’s doing great! I think you’ll able to accomplish your goals 🙂

  15. Jared on June 24, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Hi Shane,

    Your opinion please. I’m a skinny guy who has decided to start packing some muscle in for an upcoming Karate fight tournament I have in several months. What I’m worried about is whether I am doing too much Karate weekly that it would affect my muscle gain. I do Karate twice a week, 2 hours each and pack a giod sweat after it. What do you think? Can I still get muscle and continue my Karate as normal? Thanks.

  16. Arjun on July 21, 2014 at 4:55 am


    I have been an ectomorph all my life. I am 33 now. I have been working out seriously for the last 3 years and pretty happy with my results. A month ago, I had hit a plateau. I changed up my execise routine(Drop sets) and went on diet of higher than usual calories. My muscles grew, but so did my waistline by 3 inches. I have lost my paunch before but it came at the price of losing my hard gained muscle mass. This has happened to me before. Any suggestion of losing the gut but keeping the muscle mass.

    • Shane Duquette on July 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Congrats on the muscle growth Arjun 🙂

      As for some advice on cutting:
      Keep your protein intake very high, drop your calories from the other two macronutrients instead.
      Don’t lose weight too too quickly. A pound or two per week should do the trick.
      Keep training for building muscle — when cutting this is more important than ever.

      I hope that helps!

  17. Suddu on September 23, 2014 at 2:11 am

    Well written shane! I have been an ecto all my life too. I am 21 now and I am working out with heavy weights + strict diet as instructed by my trainer + protein supplements (as I am a vegetarian). The results are good.

    I have the following doubts:

    1) My work timings ensure that I get to work out only in the night (8-10ish). Immediately after my workout, I have a huge list of stuff to be eaten. That is followed by dinner. I get only around 30 minutes time before I sleep after I eat all this. So will all the food that is being consumed by me post workout be lying idle and eventually get wasted as I sleep without giving enough time for digestion?

    2) I have grown some muscles now, but a couple of sports events are gonna be played in my company, so I would be required to practice for the same. This would require a lot of running type activities from my side. Considering I am an ectomorph, would I lose muscles by running and exerting myself? Is it OK to workout along with heavy sports practice? Can any addition in my diet help?

    Kindly solve my queries

    Thanks in advance


    • Shane Duquette on September 23, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Congrats on your good results, Suddu 🙂

      1. What do you mean you have a “list” of things to eat? In order to maximize on your workout nutrition you’d need 30 or so grams of protein within a couple hours before training, and another 30+ grams of protein within an hour or two after training. If you’re doing that, then no need to stress so long as you’re eating enough overall to grow. Besides, your body is very anabolic during the night! The food being digested while you sleep would hardly be wasted. More likely it would be the opposite (although you’d need to make sure that you aren’t disturbing your sleep with your eating habits). Moreover, muscle protein synthesis is still peaked a good 24-48 hours later, so there’s no huge rush to get all your calories in 🙂

      2. Nope! It MIGHT slow down your progress by a teensy tiny bit, but so long as you eat enough protein/calories to grow and continue to lift well, you should be just fine! (During sports seasons many athletes will drop workout volume intensity to optimize sports performance. Two full body workouts per week instead of a four-day-per-week upper/lower split program, for example.)

      I hope that helps!

  18. 2014abs on November 15, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Great website, amazing transformations and so inspiring. I am no where close to where I want to be but seeing your before and after photos give me hope. I liked your video Shane, your enthusiasm and personal story is funny & endearing. Although I think you’d look a lot better without the 80s rocker hair. Regardless your body looks amazing, you should be proud if it, cause it isn’t easy for sure!

    • Shane Duquette on November 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      I’m really glad we could help you feel inspired! Good luck chiseling out those abs 🙂

  19. Nayak on December 29, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Hey Shane,

    Big fan of your site and videos, thanks for those.

    I had been an ectomorph since I was 10 till I was 20. Then something happened with my body 3 years ago (The only thing I did was to eat and rest) and I put up over 12 pounds over a course of 5 months and looked considerably healthier. Now, I had the impression that I might lose it again, being an essentially bony guy, but I didn’t, below a healthy limit. I have sort-of developed into an ecto-meso-morph. BUT. I continue to have narrow shoulders (although wider than before), thinner-than-ideal arms, and a small chest – which always keep bothering me and create an inferiority complex. I have a day-job now and have some amount of mental stress too. And I have never touched the 153-pound body again, which I had attained after that initial mass gain (I’m 5’7″ by the way). I also developed Vit-D3 deficiency about a year and a half ago, and that weakened my muscles a bit. The doc forbade Bench-press & deadlifts.
    I am confused, low in confidence and desperately looking for ways to look stronger and more masculine. And I don’t completely understand my body.

    Please help me out.

    • Nayak on December 29, 2014 at 8:52 am

      Correction: I put up over 22 pounds over a course of 5 months.

    • Shane Duquette on December 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Hey Nayak,

      It sounds like you’d benefit from nutrition geared for weight gain (article here) and weightlifting for muscle gain (article here). That would increase your bodyweight through your muscle mass, and you’d strengthen your bones, ligaments and tendons while doing it. No need to start with deadlifts and bench presses either or even ever do them if your doctor is telling you not to. They certainly aren’t mandatory in our program, and we recommend that every beginner start with easier progressions at first. We write a little bit about that here.

      You don’t even have to go to the gym if you don’t want to. You could do the entire thing at home (article here).

      I hope that helps! And good luck!


      p.s. If you want a full step-by-step guide to all of this, as well as a membership in the community and personal coaching from us, check out our program.

      • Nayak on December 30, 2014 at 12:58 am

        Thanks a lot Shane, for the swift reply.

        However, the problem is that I can’t use any kind of barbell-lifting exercise as it is puts a lot of pressure on my backbones (which went weak due to the D3 bdeficiency, although slowly recovering).

        Do you think a combination of the following will be enough? Do you recommend any?

        1. Pushups, Chin-ups, Pullups & Bench dips (with focus on Time-under-tension)
        2. Cable rows & Cable flies (focus on chest, shoulders & lats)
        3. Bicep curls & Wrist curls

        I really like your program but I can’t afford $197 as I am located in India and that amounts to a lot. Do you have any non-integrated programs, say, a consultation program? I may be able to afford those.

        Thanks 🙂

        • Shane Duquette on December 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

          I’d still focus on the main movement patterns if you want balanced growth (which would be ideal for aesthetics/athletics). Check this article out.

          No need for barbells anywhere. Instead of heavy deadlifts you’d do single leg RDLs, dumbbell sumo deadlifts, hip thrusts or glute bridges, etc—whatever is okay for your back. Same thing with the squat movement pattern—split squats, bulgarian split squats, one-legged squats, etc.

          Then you could add in some of the funner glory muscle exercises you’re gunning for, like some extra chest flys, bicep curls (and tricep extensions).

          Whatever you decide to do, anything (safe) is better than nothing! Your plan looks like it would only build your upper body, but that’s still a helluva lot better than building nothing! 🙂

  20. andy on January 20, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Great site, Shane.

    I have a doubt. I dont eat much, weigh only 160 pounds at 178cm, but i still have belly fat. i do lift heavy …. i tried going on a caloric deficit but only felt tired and weak since my intake is already low, so reducing it further made me too tired. So what do i do – do i increase my calories drastically to lose fat?

    • Shane Duquette on January 31, 2015 at 11:57 am

      Hey Andy,

      Your question is a very complicated one. In order to lose fat you do indeed need to reduce your calorie intake. Without a calorie deficit you won’t lose weight. But it sounds like that isn’t serving you very well. You may want to begin by leanly building muscle (and hoping for a tidbit of fat loss while you do it). That will raise your metabolism, increase your insulin sensitivity, increase your lean mass. All of that will make it easier to lose fat afterwards.

      It may also simply be that your fat loss approach wasn’t ideal. There’s much more to lifting than just lifting heavy, for example. And to lose weight you just need a calorie deficit, but to lose weight while feeling good, while maintaining muscle, while staying healthy… that’s a lot more complicated!

      Does that help / make sense?

  21. Mike on February 5, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Hi Shane, I am a 34 year old out of shape, overweight ectomorph. Wife, 2 kids, long hours at desk job, long commutes, lousy diet. I am 6’2″ and about 175. Used to be an athletic ectomorph in my late teens and only weighed about 140. I am trying to make sense out of what I should do first. My ideal weight is 185 with a V shaped torso, right now I have a U shaped torso. Should I try to lose 20 lbs and then gain? What is your best advice? Thank you! Love the website. Please email me about the payment plan options.

    • Shane Duquette on February 6, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      Ahaha I’ve never heard someone say they have a “U” shaped torso. And I understand the frustration. We see that a lot—ectomorphs getting older and developing a gut… while still being too skinny for their liking.

      I would train for muscle, eat for muscle… but eat in a calorie deficit. So you’d be doing everything to build muscle, but you’d be losing weight overall. Given your circumstances—having previously been more muscular, being a little overweight, currently being detrained/untrained—you should be able to build some muscle while you drop the fat. Not that much muscle, but some. When you get to your target leanness, you can then transition into a lean bulk until you get to your target muscularity.

      You’ll need to zigzag a bit to get to your goal, but it works very well 🙂

      And I just shot you an email about the payment plan.

  22. Micah on March 2, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Hey:Im Currently Been weight lifting for 5-6 months I Currently weigh 172 pounds mostly muscle. I want to start cage fighting/ mma 2x a week on my rest days i was wondering I this will interfere with my muscle building routine

    • Shane Duquette on March 3, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      It will probably have some effect, yeah, especially since MMA uses your muscle such a tremendous amount. Hard to say without more details, but you might want to scale back your lifting to a couple days per week. You’ll still grow wonderfully well, it’ll just be a different path to get to muscleville 🙂

  23. Sam on April 30, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Hello! This was a very helpful and interesting read. However, I was wondering if boxing/kickboxing is recommended for our body type? I’ve been doing it for a month, 2-3 times a week with some floor exercises before each session. Usually the whole workout (including the floor exercises and stretching/foot work etc) lasts for less than an hour and the actual time spent on the ring boxing is only 6 minutes. (2 minutes each round) It’s something that I love doing. I lost some of my ‘fats’ and had been more lean, but obviously my weight has been pretty much still the same. What do you think? Should I continue doing it or maybe add a different set of workout? Thank you!

    • Shane Duquette on May 2, 2015 at 7:02 pm

      Hey Sam, glad you dug it!

      I used to be really into martial arts! I figured if I couldn’t be big and strong, at least I could still protect the ones I loved by learning how to fight. Unfortunately, I also realized that size and strength were huge factors when it came to fighting. Even though I was strong and talented for my size, that meant I was mostly fighting against younger guys and lighter gals. The bigger and stronger guys would have pummelled my glutes into the ground. That’s why weight classes are such a big deal. Interestingly, it also generally works in your favour to pack on as much muscle as you can so that you have more muscle size/strength per unit of height. So building muscle/strength/power in the gym should definitely help your game in the ring.

      Will your practice in the gym help you build muscle? Probably not. You’ve already realized that. But that’s not the purpose of your conditioning anyway. It’s probably designed to make you wicked fit so that you don’t tire in the ring, not make you into a sizeable powerhouse. I’d use the gym to bulk you up, the conditioning to improve your fitness.

      Will the conditioning make it harder to gain muscle? Probably not. It’s more to recover from, so you might want to dial back the intensity/volume with your lifting (assuming you’ll be lifting in order to build muscle) and sleeping well and eating well will become more important than ever… but I think you’d have great success building muscle 🙂

  24. Michael Villarreal on May 24, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Hi Shane,
    I really enjoyed reading your article as it was very informative. I want to explain my situation in order to get your opinion on what I should do. I am currently a college student headed into my second year. I started lifting weights to build muslce close to a year ago. I have worked on the nutritional aspect of gaining muslce and I feel comfortable in what I’m doing since I have consulted with a dietician. I played soccer and ran cross country for four years in high school so by the time my last soccer season ended I was fairly thin and did not have much muscle which is why I decided to start lifting. I started at 135lb and I am now weighing in at around 146lb. Since I am trying to minimize fat gain and put on lean muslce by aiming to gain 0.5lb per week, I have found it hard to put on weight. Also, I am currently having to eat around 3,200 calories per day which is why I consider myself to be an ectomorph. Although by this point in time I feel that I should probably be at a higher weight since I am bulking, I also have to take into consideration that I had the flu at one point and I managed to lose 5 pounds in two days, and that I failed to adequately adjust calories over time to compensate for the slow progress. In addition, though I have not gained a significant amount of weight, I am noticing growth in muscles that I had not seen before which is a good thing. Another factor that I believe to be the main cause is that 2-4 times a week I will usually do what I consider high intensity cardio which is playing soccer, basketball, or tennis for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours each session. Personally I would like to continue to do this as I definitely enjoy being active and doing cardio. That being said, if I were to limit myself to 1-2 sessions of this per week then would I see results faster? Also, what should I do when I unexpectedly lose weight? I’m asking because it usually makes me feel as though I have lost progress and I am left not knowing whether or not to compensate for it. Although, I have heard some people say that the scale should not be my main concern and that instead I should track progress with pictures to see how my body composition is changing which I definitely find truth in.
    Thank you!

    • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Congrats on the 11-pound gain, man! Sounds like you’re a pretty fit dude, too.

      I concur. Eating 3,200 calories and not gaining weight would definitely put you into the hardgainer / ectomorph camp.

      Hrm. Losing a pound of fat requires a calorie deficit of about 3,500 calories. Two days of not eating anything would put you into a deficit of up to about 6,400 calories, so most of the weight you lost was just water / digestive system contents. It should have come back within a couple days of feeling okay again. Getting sick can definitely destroy your bulking momentum, but it shouldn’t take more than a couple workouts to get back to where you were (unless you were sick for quite a long time).

      I don’t see any problem with playing sports alongside lifting weights. That sounds like a good thing, if anything. But you do need to eat more to account for the calories you’re burning. Having some sort of sports drink (or chocolate milk) after your game would probably fix that problem right up.

      I think the scale should be your primary concern, but there will be some fluctuations that you can’t control, so we’re looking for overall trends here, not one outlier day where you’re dehydrated from drinking the night before and down 2 pounds, or bloated on a few slices of pizza the night before and up 2 pounds. If you find that weight fluctuations are throwing off your calculations, you could weigh yourself every day and then do a weekly average every Sunday to figure out if you need to eat more the next week.

      Tracking your progress using pictures and measurements is key also, but those changes take place more slowly so we only recommend doing that every 4–5 weeks. The daily or weekly weigh-ins will be what allows you to adjust your intake each week to ensure that after 4–5 weeks you get the visual and measurement progress you were hoping for 🙂

      • Michael Villarreal on May 25, 2017 at 8:40 pm

        Thank you for the quick and concise response, I really appreciate it! As far as the two days that I was sick, now that I think back, it was likely my fault that I didn’t quickly gain back the weight as you said I should have. After getting sick I reduced my calories because I thought that my intake had reduced while it really probably increased so I limited myself in fear of gaining weight too fast. Also, what you mentioned about weighing in every day and getting an average is actually something that I have been doing for some time now and it definitely shows occasional fluctuations, but it gives me a better idea of my actual weight. Lastly, I’m really glad that I can continue to play sports while weight lifting! This is definitely ideal as I have the goal of being aesthetic and athletic. Thanks again for responding!

        • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2017 at 8:46 pm

          No problem, Michael. Good luck!

  25. Ian Coleman on August 20, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    I’m 65, and I have maintained a regular running program since I was 25. Mostly this has been a good thing because, at age 65, I am not on any medication, which is rare for a male Canadian my age.
    But I’m an ectomorph. At age 20, I was six foot five and 175 pounds. That’s a skinny guy, but not an out-and-out weakling.
    When I was in my late teens, I took up a fairly vigorous program of weightlifting. (I followed the program you got when you bought a Weider barbell. ) My strength improved a little, but I did not gain any weight, in spite of eating roughly 5000 calories a day, every day. (This is not an exaggeration. I lived in a University residence where I could eat unlimited amounts of food, and I often had a pizza in the evening. I really did eat huge amounts of food.) Anyway, the weightlifting, far from improving my overall strength, actually diminished it. I was often tired and sleepy during the day, and finally, after a year of this foolishness, I quit. I dreaded working out too, because it was boring and painful.

    I took up running at age 25, after reading the book Aerobics by Kenneth Cooper. Very soon, (like about three months) after I started running three times a week, I was up to five miles a day. I could run easily, and with pleasure. Needless to say, I was still a skinny guy, but I was noticeably more energetic and stronger.
    I was never anything but a duffer when I entered ten kilometre races, but I always finished in the top third in my age group. But I did genuinely love to run. There was no fear of it, and plenty of real fun.
    When I was in my early forties, my knees went. I damaged them by running too hard in a vain attempt to forestall middle age. I tore the main ligaments and tendons on both. I was offered surgery, which I declined, and, over the next fifteen years, my knees slowly healed, and are now pain free, and fully functional.
    During that fifteen year period with sore and weak knees, I just kept running. Slow jogs and runs of five miles every second day were the thing. Often I ran with a limp. But by running, I maintained good bodily health, and it was certainly worth the effort.
    Of course, I’ve always been skinny. My advice to skinny guys (which I’m sure will be vigorously decried here) is forget about looking like a mesomorph, because you ain’t one. If you do succeed in bulking up it will be with a huge expenditure of effort and time which you would be better off expending by working to become successful at something for which you have real talent. Accept how you look (which isn’t really all that bad, surely) and forget about being a bodybuilder. Bodybuilding takes a natural, God-given talent, which God did not give you.

    • Shane Duquette on August 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Hey Ian, thank you for taking the time to comment!

      While I do disagree with the moral of your story, it’s an awesome story nonetheless, and I love how well it’s worked for you 🙂

      Plus, we love these heretical comments.

      Now, for fear of not meeting your expectations, let me offer a rebuttal:

      First, although we read all of the bodybuilding research, use many of their methods, and learn absolutely everything we can from them, this isn’t a website for bodybuilders, per se. This is a website about gaining tons of mass, and looking and feeling great as a skinny guy. More often than not we don’t come out looking like bodybuilders, but we do come out looking like visibly strong, healthy men (with a great body fat percentage also).

      Second, I think it takes substantially less effort to do a program like ours than it does to do the running regimen you’ve been following. This isn’t to knock you, but rather to praise your commitment, and to offer the argument that this path is the more reasonable one.

      Third, the injury risk is lower with lifting than with running, and so long as we do it properly, we aren’t wearing down our body in the process. Depending on how you lift, it also provides many of the cardiovascular benefits that running does.

      Fourth, you are correct that a mesomorph who also trains for muscle mass will ultimately become bigger than us, but becoming an extreme outlier is not our philosophy around here. We aren’t about becoming the next Phil Heath, we’re about getting up to the healthiest, most attractive BMI, looking like we could play the role of the next Hollywood superhero movie, and having the strength and mobility to do everything we could possibly want to do in our lives.

      Fifth, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with being naturally skinny or currently thin. Embracing our body type is something we fully agree with you on. (I wouldn’t trade my body type for any other now that I know how to get what I want out of it.) I just disagree that the best way to live a good life is to become an elite endurance athlete instead of becoming a well-rounded, strong guy who’s optimally attractive and healthy.

      Still, there’s something pretty badass about just truly running with your strengths, so to speak 😉

    • Shane Duquette on August 21, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      On the note of it being better to work at something in which we have a real talent, I also disagree. Not only are we perfectly able to bulk up to an objectively optimal level, but there’s also tremendous value in learning how to overcome strife.

      The guy who just does what comes naturally to him is missing a real opportunity to grow as a person, I think. For example, there was a point in your life when running had beaten you to a pulp. At that point, it was not natural for you to find a way to keep running. But you did anyway, even though it was rough. I admire that attitude greatly, just like I admire the skinny guy who has tried to bulk up, failed, and then decides to overcome that failure.

  26. Ian Coleman on August 21, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    Well, you’re a courteous guy, Shane, and let me tell you from the perspective of age that that is a great virtue.
    Believe me, I know where you guys are coming from, because when I was in my teens and early twenties I wanted desperately to be muscular. This was for aesthetic reasons, too. I didn’t want to play sports. I wanted to be built like Sean Connery, who was the reigning male sex symbol when I was young. I would go to the movies and think, if I just stick with the weights I can look like that in a year or so. But I just didn’t have the genetics.
    If you’re an ectomorph and you succeed in bulking yourself up, you’re like an endomorph who has starved himself down. Such a man is not a natural thin man, and has to expend huge amounts of effort to maintain a body shape which is just not in his genes. It’s a lifelong, daily struggle, and making that effort is going to wreck his happiness.
    Even though I eventually damaged my knees running (and this was the result of aggressive foolishness, and would never have happened if I had been training with a knowledgeable coach), running was something I did passably well, and truly enjoyed. When I was in my thirties, I would run about thirty miles a week. Most weeks I would run every day, at a comfortable pace. Maybe once in a while I wold crank out a mean one, which might involve two continuous minutes of moderate stress. It was fun, and it kept me quite healthy.
    I have the thin man’s gift of good health. Illness of any kind has been very rare with me, and several times I have gone five years without missing a day’s work. Unfortunately I have the thin man’s curse of limited stamina. I am frequently tired. If you could assign physical strength on a bell curve, parallel to the one for IQ scores, where a score of 100 would be average and 130 would be the threshold for competitive athleticism at the college level, my score would be about 80. Well below average.

    It took me a while to understand that I was not aesthetically displeasing. One of the most dangerous periodicals you can buy today is Men’s Health. Seen that one? On the cover will be a handsome guy in his mid-twenties who is not only physically gifted, but who probably spends about ten hours a week working out. And we are being told that this is an ordinary man and that we can all look like he does with a little effort. And that ain’t so. And I had to learn that I look okay even though I could never look like that.

    A good thing about being an ectomorph is that you can’t really become overweight. If there really is an “obesity epidemic” ( I suspect that this is a media trope), it’s going to pass me by. So that’s a good thing. Meanwhile I’m six foot five (and people wrongly assume that therefore I am strong) and I look like a spear. Which is not that terrible, even if I’m not as pretty as the young Sean Connery.

    Finally, I notice that you’re big on struggle. Well, you’re young, and a young man can take a lot of abuse and bound back. But I’m old, and I kind of sort of suspect that exaltation of enduring hardship is a bit of a con. Do you really want to be tired all the time, and having to get up the nerve to make more effort? Me, I don’t enjoy that kind of thing.

    • Shane Duquette on August 23, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      Having been very skinny myself, and having dealt with the skinniest guys around, I can tell you with a great degree of confidence that even the hardgaineriest of ectomorphs can get far bigger and leaner than Sean Connery in a very short timeframe without more than around 3 hours per week in the gym, with an extremely low risk of injury, and with an overall very positive effect on their health. How long will it take a very skinny guy to get to Sean Connery levels? I’d say 6 months on average if he follows a wise lifting and diet plan consistently.

      However, it can be very hard to do if you aren’t doing it properly. Even just eating enough to gain weight is a difficult and uncommon enough problem that many skinny guys just try to force-feed themselves, fail, and give up, thinking that it’s unrealistic to gain muscle. It’s not, but we do need to be pretty clever with our diets.

      We can run into similar issues if we build our workout routines around methods that only stockier guys excel at.

      You may also be overestimating the effort that it takes to maintain a bigger, more muscular physique. Once you get the physique you’re after, it’s incredibly easy to maintain your physique. It requires far less time in the gym, far less intensity, far less specificity, and the needs for a caloric surplus are gone, so you can go back to eating a comfortable, normal amount of food. You go back to listening to your appetite. Here’s our article on changing your set point.

      There is no lifelong, daily struggle. There is just an initial struggle to gain weight/muscle, and then you can coast along maintaining it with extremely minimal effort.

      Regarding Men’s Health, eh, it’s not the best or the worst. Some of the guys on the cover are fitness models, they’re photographed with exceptional lighting while pumped up and flexing, and then they’re photoshopped. It’s not usually a great idea to compare how you look in some candid photo to how a guy on a magazine cover looks. Still, though, it’s not that bad. Charlie Hunnam was on there, and a skinny guy can have a physique like that in no time if he works a little for it (and 3 hours per week is plenty), and he can maintain that with almost zero effort. You get stuff like that on there sometimes.

      There is indeed an obesity epidemic.

      With struggle, I’m not saying that we should actively seek out struggle for no reason. I’m not talking about doing CrossFit until you puke 8 days a week because you care more about how challenging a workout routine is than how effective it is. I’m not talking about cutting out all sugar, alcohol, coffee and junk food because you want a totally clean diet even though it really doesn’t matter. Rather, I’m saying that if we really want something, and it’s difficult to achieve it, it might still be worth going after. Want to be a doctor but getting into med school will be hard? That’s a good struggle. Want a wife but asking a girl out is hard? Probably worthwhile to do it anyway. Want a family but raising children is hard? Again, a worthwhile struggle.

      And the types of people who accomplish their goals, even if those goals are difficult to achieve, tend to attract great people into their lives, and tend to live the lives they actually want.

  27. Ian Coleman on August 23, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    I’ll have to admit that you sound reasonable. If I can just get back to my original point, extrapolating from my data set of one datum (me), I have found aerobic running pleasant and healthful, and I believe that it is the form of exercise that does me the most benefit. My experience with weightlifting was not only very unpleasant, it was fruitless. When I lifted weights I just got tired, and did not change my overall body shape. Not even a little. This was over the course of a year, when I was nineteen.

    The thing you have to admit about ectomorphs and mesomorphs is that they are two different kinds of people, with different reactions to physical effort. When I was in university, I knew a guy who was on the hockey team. A very strong, heroically well-built guy. (Six foot three and about 190 pounds) One of my little self-inflicted odeals at that time was running up stairs. I lived in a ten-storey student residence, and I would run the stairs from the basement up to the roof. I could do about one-and-half trips and I would be exhausted. The hockey guy would do ten.

    He got mononucleosis. I asked him, how did you know you had mono? and he said that he first suspected that he was sick when he got tired. And then he said, he normally never got tired. That was a revelation to me, as I was tired pretty much all the time, from working out. What I mean is, I had to come to terms with the fact that strong people are working with a completely different set of tools, and there was no way I was ever going to be anything but a failed imitation of a strong man, no matter what I ate or how much I lifted.

    And you can see that phenomenon in the physical histories of many people. Have you ever seen Edward Norton in American History X? Norton bulked up for that movie, but at no time does he look like a true mesomorph like, say, Vin Diesel. He looks like an ectomorph who has bulked up. If Diesel had never worked out he would still have been wonderfully strong when he was twenty, and Norton could never have been that strong, no matter what.
    You pretty much have to concede that mesomorphs have a huge natural advantage in life. It must be wonderful to know that you can handle most jobs without getting tired, or that you can beat up most people, or that people will admire you on sight because of your obvious superiority. But if you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Being an ectomorph is to be not very strong, but it’s nowhere nearly as bad as being an endomorph who must diet or become obese. That’s got to really bite.

    • Shane Duquette on August 27, 2017 at 11:22 am

      I’m not arguing with you at all about the benefits of cardio. Doing modest amount of cardio is great for general health and mood. What I’m trying to say is that you could have gained muscle if you had just figured out how to lift and eat in a way that suited your body type. I too struggled at 19, as did most of our members, but we found a way around it.

      From 17–22 I was 125–130 pounds at 6’2 (BMI of 16.7), and for the life of me I couldn’t get past that 130-pound mark no matter what I tried. And then I figured out how to lift and eat in a way that suited my body type, and I was able to move up to 185 pounds after just a couple years. Modest training always. I’ve never lifted than three days per week, the workouts were never longer than about an hour, and in my last thorough checkup, I discovered that my cardiovascular fitness is good and my bone density is (literally) off the charts—all just from the modest lifting. (Doing supersets is good for cardio, doing heavy deadlifts and farmer carries is great for bone density.)

      While bulking up, it would make tired and sore, yes, especially at first. But then my body adapted to it, growing fitter, better able to resist the stressors of lifting. Now I feel more tired if I DON’T go to the gym at least once per week, and I feel my best if I go 2–3 times per week. Now, instead of draining me, the workouts pump me up. They clear my head, improve my concentration.

      Most importantly, when you gain the weight you want, you can go back to eating a regular amount of food. You still keep the muscle, but there’s no more stress on your digestive system. That frees up a TON of energy.

      Ectomorphs and mesomorphs are different, yeah, sure, but we can bulk up too. If anything, because we’re starting thinner, we seem able to gain more weight more quickly at first (although ultimately we can’t get quite as big). You are correct that after a bulk we’d look less like Vin diesel (who is probably an endomorph), more like Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love, Brad Pitt in Fight Club/Troy, Dave Chapelle, Edward Norton in American History X, Matt Damon, Christian Bale in Batman, Andrew Garfield in Spiderman, etc. These guys all look GREAT, though. Most Hollywood sex icons and even most Hollywood superheroes seem to be ectomorphs.

      I guess the point where I’m disagreeing is that you think we have been dealt a poor hand. I disagree. I think our hand is actually pretty great, we just need to learn how to take advantage of it.

  28. Ian Coleman on August 29, 2017 at 1:40 am

    Okay, I’m going to have to concede that you have more expertise than I do, and that you’re really helping people achieve their goals. You won the argument fairly.

    You stayed polite throughout. I hope you understand how rare it is for people to stay polite in the face of disagreement, especially when the people you disagree with don’t know as much as you do. You convinced me that you are correct because you kept arguing rationally from observed fact.

    As for me, I sure do love to run, and I sure did not love to lift weights. I may be an extreme case; I have gained only fifteen pounds since I was twenty, which is a trivial amount for a man my height. I just don’t have much capacity for growing extra flesh. I actually view this as a gift, because I know so many people my age who are trying to lose weight.

    This will be my last post, but thank you for your thoughts and you (extraordinary) good manners.

    Ian Coleman.

    • Shane Duquette on August 29, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Ian 🙂

      It sounds like you’ve come to love your body and what it can do, and even as you’ve aged, it’s been serving you well as a result. I think there’s a whole lot to be learned from that. Thank you.

      And not trending towards obesity is definitely an advantage that many of us ectomorphs share. Truly something to feel lucky about 🙂

  29. 108thdude on September 25, 2017 at 6:08 am

    I wish I would have read this when I was in the army. I’m almost 25 and only 135lb at 6’1. I was actually 128 when I enlisted in 2011 and I struggled constantly through my military career making tape. I could always pass a PT test with a 275/300 score but I’d almost always fail tape. The “heaviest” I ever got was 145 which is still the bare minimum of the army standard for that hight/age.

    I see now where my flaws were but at the same time still out of my control at the time. My unit in Ft. Bragg focused heavily on running pt, because there was a large number of soldiers with poor run times. So I had no choice but to run an average of 15 miles a week just for pt even though my run time was sub 12:30 when a 13:00 time is the minimum time for a max run score. Then not to mention all the other forms of cardio we performed through out the week. I was just doing way too much cardio and being starved of calories from the militarys meal plan.

    Now that I’m out and free to perform my own work out routines, I’m pumped to make the adjustments I need to actually become bigger and more strong. Funny how it works out that way.

    • Shane Duquette on September 26, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you for the comment, 108thdude. Sounds like a necessary sacrifice you had to make while serving your country, and I wouldn’t fault you for that. As Roosevelt said, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

      Definitely exciting to have more freedom over your exercise routine, though! Let us know how it goes, if there’s anything we can do to help, and good luck!

  30. Marco on July 9, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Hi Shane.
    I’m skinny-fat trying to get rid of my love handles and belly fat.

    I already lift weights three times a week but i have a question about fat loss.
    Apart from the beneficial effects of walking for other reasons (ex. heart…), is burning 300 calories by walking the same as NOT EATING 300 calories?

    I know, the question seems silly, but if fat loss is just a matter of calories, why not sitting on the couch all day and just doing some exercises three days a week?

    Could you explain IF there’s a difference between burning calories by doing cardio (ex. walking) or simply by NOT EATING those calories?

    Is there an advantage, in terms of fat loss, in doing “some” cardio (instead of NOT EATING)?



    • Shane Duquette, BDes on July 12, 2019 at 10:16 am

      Hey Marco, great question.

      Losing fat is ultimately about getting into a calorie deficit: burning more calories than you eat. So, yeah, you can do that by either burning more calories or eating fewer calories. But which is better?

      So, first of all, both approaches will work. And in terms of simply burning fat during a cut, both will produce near-identical results. However, in terms of general health and long-term body composition, the research tends to favour getting leaner by burning more calories. We’d call that having a high energy flux (g-flux), and people with a higher g-flux tend to be leaner and healthier (study).

      Why would a higher g-flux be associated with better health and body composition? There are a couple reasons. First, the more active you are, the better it is for your cardiovascular health. Second, if you’re eating more calories, you’re probably going to be eating more micronutrients and protein. That means that you’ll be less likely to run into vitamin and mineral deficiencies, more likely to be eating enough protein to build a muscular physique.

      So in terms of developing a great longterm lifestyle, it’s better to be more active and eat more food. But for a short-term cut, it shouldn’t have much of an impact on your results. And you can always start exercising more and burning more calories once you finish losing weight and switch to focusing on gaining muscle and strength, which would raise your metabolism a great deal anyway, giving you many of the benefits of having a high energy flux.

      This is all to say that it’s totally up to you 🙂

  31. […] with an emphasis on cardio. Now, don’t get me wrong: cardio won’t kill your muscle gains. But some guys cut by reducing their calorie intake and only doing cardio. That’s a sure way […]

  32. […] can probably get some of these benefits by doing cardio along with your bulking routine, but the best path to good health likely involves some heavy lifting. There are some upper-body […]

  33. […] A combined lifting and cardio approach to exercise often works well (study, study). […]

  34. […] burn calories to keep them lean, light, and cool. Cardio tends to come naturally to […]

  35. […] heart rate up. Those short rest times wreck muscle growth (study), transforming the workout into a cardio workout. Most of the exercises you’ll be doing won’t be good for stimulating muscle growth […]

  36. […] take creatine and then use low-level light therapy (study), stop smoking if you smoke (link, link), work on your cardio and sit less (link, link), and work on becoming healthier (study, study, link). Or, according to […]

  37. […] it’s possible that if you’re more physically active, or if you’re doing cardio while bulking, you’ll be burning more calories and have a higher tolerance for sugar. You could still play […]

  38. The Squat Guide (for Size) – Outlift on September 20, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    […] it’s important to improve your cardio as you bulk up, so even then, goblet squats can still have a role in a good bulking routine, but they’ll […]

  39. The "Big 5" Approach to Bulking – Outlift on September 20, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    […] as a byproduct. This might mean doing squats in moderate rep ranges (6–10, say) to improve cardiovascular fitness along with muscle […]

  40. […] clear, strength training isn’t terrible for gaining muscle size. It’s better than cardio, better than Olympic weightlifting, and it might even be better than calisthenics and […]

  41. […] of whether you’ve stimulated muscle growth.  If your program has more emphasis on endurance, cardio, or strength, the soreness might indicate stimulation of whole separate type of adaptation. In […]

  42. […] then moved into a more accepted pre-workout routine by doing some cardio and static stretching with a goatee. Unfortunately, that approach has since been studied and judged […]

  43. […] a hardgainer, if you engage in a lot of cardio, then you will burn a lot of calories and might end up in a caloric deficit. Remember, that in order to build muscle, you need to maintain a caloric surplus at all times. So […]

  44. […] Also check out:Should ectomorphs do cardioCardio whilst bulking […]

  45. José Ángel on June 11, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Hi, Shane!

    So, let me tell you I started working out following your guide on bodyweight two weeks ago and I already gained more than a pound and a half!

    So, after reading the wonderful article, I understand that going for brisk walks at a slow pace each weekday for 30 minutes – even on my workout days – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – won’t kill my gains since it’s LISS.
    Am I right?
    Please, let me know If I am wrong.

    Thanks, Shane!
    José Ángel

    • Shane Duquette on June 11, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      Hey José Ángel, congrats on your gains, man! That’s awesome 😀

      It’s not that HIIT would kill your gains and LISS wouldn’t. Both can be combined with a good muscle-building program if you do it properly. But you’re correct, yeah. Going on brisk walks while bulking up won’t harm your gains at all. That sounds like a great way to do it 🙂

      Keep it up, man. Good luck!

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