Why the skinny struggle is real

(Updated January 2018) Being skinny can be rough. We grow up around people who gain weight by accident, and then when we turn to the fitness industry, we find ourselves slotted into a footnote: “Oh yeah, and if you’re naturally skinny, you’ve got a fast metabolism and whatnot so, you know, just eat more.”

I know that advice would work fine for most guys, but the fact that we aren’t most guys is precisely why we’re being given that advice in the first place, and also why that advice fails. Hard. For most guys, eating lots of food and gaining weight is second nature. If you tell the average guy to “just eat more,” he’d be able to. No problem. Hell, he’d probably even like it (until he got fat).

What they don’t realize is that telling us to eat more is as useless as us telling them, “Just eat less—duh.” That’s not going to solve any problems. In fact, if you go around telling people that, you’re probably going to get in a fight. (And if you’re going to go around getting in fights, it might help to build some muscle first. Luckily, that’s what this article is about.)

It’s no surprise that during our first weight gain attempts, most of us lose weight. That clues us into the fact that we’re different, and we assume that we’re doomed to be skinny forever.

But that doesn’t make sense either. The best athletes, the most famous sex icons—most are ectomorphs. I mean, look at Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Cristiano Ronaldo, Connor McGregor and Michael Jordan. These guys are hardly suffering for being ectomorphs. They’ve found a way to get around their skinny genetics and live the biggest lives ever.

So what’s going on here? Why is it so damn difficult for us to gain weight? What’s going on with our small stomachs, meagre appetites, raging metabolisms, long limbs and stubborn muscles? Is building muscle even possible? And if so, how?

Well, for the skinny guys who are still worried that gaining weight is impossible for them, this one’s for you.

Men aren’t supposed to gain weight easily

Up until recently, being overweight was actually pretty rare. To quote the researcher Alan Aragon, “The human body wasn’t designed to overeat. Just a quick glance at the consequences of long-term overeating can tell us that the body doesn’t cope with it too well. That’s probably why there are several mechanisms in place to signal hunger and satiety so that energy balance can be met most of the time.”

Said more normally: if you’re a healthy person, your body will make it very hard for you to overeat.

Huh? Has this researcher never stepped outside of his research lab? Most people are overweight. Obviously that’s false… right?

It seems false now, but for most of human history, obesity wasn’t really a thing. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 1960, only 13% of Americans over the age of twenty were obese. Then foods started becoming cheaper, higher in calories, and tastier.

So people started eating more. The modern man started eating 400 more calories than his father did (study). That’s enough of a calorie surplus to gain almost a pound each week. By 2008, 34% of Americans were obese.

How do we know for sure that this is because junk food is messing with appetite regulation? We can’t say for sure, but there’s a lot of supporting evidence for it, making it the leading hypothesis. For example, there’s a 1992 study where people were given an unlimited amount of vending machine foods to eat. The study participants accidentally gained a couple pounds in a single week.

So it’s not that people are eating too many carbs (as researchers like Gary Taubes thought), or that they’re eating too much fat (as Dean Ornish thought), but because of the delicious combination of processed carbs and fats found in junk food. These foods are low protein, low fibre, high carb, high fat, salty and sweet. A perfect storm for accidental weight gain.

Overeating is hard, but junk food makes it far easier. So much easier that a third of people are obese, almost everyone else is overweight, and only 3% of people are trying to gain weight. 3%. That’s an unbelievable minority. Such a tiny group of people that the fitness and health industries will often just ignore us entirely, focusing on the far bigger issue of far bigger people.

This is where a lot of us make a huge mistake. I made it myself. We read mainstream fitness information as if we’re the target audience. We forget that it’s almost always weight loss information. Even if it’s “muscle-building” information, it’s usually written for guys who are naturally beefy—guys who are trying to chisel out their muscles from under their fat, not trying to build new muscle mass.

And this is also where a mystery starts to develop.

Why are we so totally immune to the so-called obesity epidemic?

Why it’s so difficult for ectomorphs to gain weight

Wide Shoulders, Mesomorphs, Ectomorphs, and Endomorphs

So, first of all, a person who is naturally skinny is called an “ectomorph.” It’s an old term with a strange history, invented by the psychologist William Sheldon in the 1940’s. As a psychologist, he was wrong about almost everything. It’s hard to find a psychologist more discredited than Sheldon. But he did discover that some guys are naturally skinny, and he finally gave us a  name. He also called us fidgety and fragile, which I’m not too keen on—and he’s clearly never seen Fight Club—but, well, at least we have a name now.

And that name has stuck! 70 years later, and it’s still the best way to describe our body type.

An ectomorph is a person with some combination of:

  • A modest appetite
  • A small stomach
  • A fast metabolism
  • Long, lanky limbs
  • Thin bones
  • Narrow shoulders

Most of us will have a couple of those traits, some of us will have all of those traits.

Why are some of us shaped this way? Well, according to the Smithsonian, it was an evolutionary adaptation to help us survive running around in hotter climates. They believe that it’s no coincidence that Inuit people tend to be short, stocky endomorphs who retain body heat extremely efficiently, whereas Ethiopians tend to be built like marathon runners, finding it very difficult to gain weight. Now, the difference between people tends to be bigger than the difference between peoples, so you get people with ectomorph genetics sprinkled into every population on earth.

Whether or not that hypothesis is correct, the basis for their hypothesis is rooted in indisputable science: having longer, thinner bodies gives us greater surface area relative to our volume, which means that we’re very good at radiating our heat outwards.

As a naturally skinny guy living up in Canada, this blew my mind. I’m living in a cold climate with a body type designed to radiate heat outwards, not keep it in. It’s no wonder that I burn through so many calories.

But there’s more to it than that. Having longer limbs means it takes more energy to move, and having a narrower torso means that there’s less room for our stomach, and having thinner bones means that we naturally support less muscle mass, and having narrower shoulders makes it way harder to activate certain muscles when lifting (such as our chests).

All of these issues compound, and can make it seem like it’s almost impossible to gain weight.

So being shaped like an ectomorph makes it far harder to gain weight, but if we find a way to eat enough calories, we’ll gain weight then, right?

The hardgainer dilemma

This is where things get pretty strange. Experts used to argue that, yes, ectomorphs will gain weight just like everyone else so long as we get into a calorie surplus. Research started coming out showing that we’re just really bad at estimating how many calories we’re eating. We think we’re eating a lot, but because of our naturally smaller stomachs, smaller appetites, and higher calorie needs, it just isn’t enough calories (study, study, study). This is what you’ll hear a lot of the “just eat more” people saying.

… But even when we do succeed at eating enough, we still resist weight gain. Our body has another layer of obesity resistance. On top of everything else, when we get into a calorie surplus, we start burning calories through subconscious activity—radiating more body heat, fidgeting, and standing with less efficient posture (study).

This is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). It basically means that our bodies would rather burn off energy as heat or movement than store it as body fat. A study looking into metabolisms found that most people burned 3% more calories sitting in a chair than they did lying motionless on their backs. Add in some fidgeting, though, and they burned 54% more calories. When standing, the average person burns 13% more calories than when lying on their backs, but the hardgainers burned 94% more calories (study).

While just casually standing next to a friend, you can have almost double his metabolism just because you’re standing like a hardgainer.

Now, some of our heightened metabolism is just wasted energy. For example, accidentally sitting and standing with poor posture not only reduces our athleticism and attractiveness, but also makes it harder to stay focused while working and harder to stay comfortable while standing. As naturally skinny guys, our favourite stance is usually this one:

If we strengthen the postural muscles that hold us in a more neutral position, we can sit, stand and move around much more easily—and look better while doing it. With proper posture, our head can rest comfortably on our spine, which has cushioning between each joint, instead of being held out in front of us, tiring out our necks and upper backs. Improving our posture can also improve our spinal health, reduce back pain, and prevent injury.

However, in most other ways, our naturally adaptive “hardgainer” metabolism is amazing. It’s a natural defence mechanism against obesity, not against muscle mass. While it can seem like burning all these extra calories is a disadvantage, this is actually one of our best genetic advantages.

If we force our body to prioritize muscle growth through exercise, extra calories will first be invested into muscle mass. Then, once our rate of muscle growth is capped, we’ll start burning off the extra calories through heat and movement, keeping us from storing those extra calories as fat.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say an endomorph follows a good muscle-building program and eats a 1,000-calorie surplus every day. That’s enough to gain about 2 pounds in a week. So he’ll gain, say, a pound of muscle and a pound of fat.

Now let’s say an ectomorph follows a good muscle-building program eats a 1,000-calorie surplus every day. That’s still enough for him to theoretically gain 2 pounds, but what’s more likely to happen is that he’ll gain a pound of muscle, and then the extra pound will be burned off. He builds just as much muscle, but he avoids the fat gain.

This allows ectomorphs—especially naturally lean “hardgainer” ectomorphs—to bulk far more aggressively. This is a great genetic advantage.

The problem is that most of us ectomorphs don’t exercise in a way that causes our body to prioritize muscle growth. This causes most of our surplus calories to simply be burned off. And what isn’t burned off will often just be stored as fat. This can be incredibly frustrating, but all that’s happening is that we’re staying the same instead of getting fat. It’s not preventing us from building muscle.

So let’s move on to exercise.

Exercising to Build Muscle

Bony to Beastly Ectomorph Transformation—Not Skinny-Fat, just "Soft" Skinny

There are a lot of different ways to exercise, and it can be hard to figure out what they’re all for. Is swimming a good way to build a fit physique? Will martial arts make us ripped? Are bodyweight exercises good for building functional muscle? What about CrossFit?

There’s also bodybuilding, which is designed specifically to stimulate muscle growth… but what if we aren’t even trying to look like bodybuilders? What if we’re trying to build an athletic physique? Can’t we do athletic things instead?

That’s what I thought. I wasn’t trying to become a bodybuilder. I just didn’t want to be so skinny anymore. I would have loved to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, for example. So I thought that I could use other types of exercise to build the physique I wanted.

That set me up for years of frustration.

I did everything I could to build muscle while avoiding lifting weights at all costs. After all, many of my friends had great physiques just from being generally athletic people. Some of them weren’t even athletic, and didn’t seem to do anythingthey just seemed naturally strong. So first I tried swimming, then I tried bodyweight exercises, then I tried martial arts… and only then did I realize, okay, obviously this stuff isn’t working. What’s working for other people isn’t working for me, so it must be my genetics.

Looking back, that was foolish of me. The people I knew didn’t need to lift weights because they already had enough muscle. It’s not that they were building all that much muscle from bodyweight exercises, it’s just that they were losing some fat and gaining better muscle definition.

I wasn’t failing at building muscle because I had poor muscle-building genetics, I was failing at building muscle because I had been avoiding the type of exercise designed to build muscle. When I first started following a good muscle-building program (including learning how to eat enough) and gained 10 pounds of muscle in my first month, I felt pretty foolish. But then after a few years of running Bony to Beastly, I learned that so many ectomorphs shy away from lifting weights. This is a mistake that most of us make.

Frankly, it’s understandable. Going into any new social setting is intimidating, but going into a gym can be an especially intimidating place for a natural skinny guy, or a guy who can’t lift a lot, or a guy who isn’t familiar with the basic lifts. We are often all three of these things.

Unless you’ve got truly incredible self confidence, going to the gym can be a true test of your character.

For someone who just wants to build muscle, not test their self-esteem, that sucks.

But if we spend our time jogging around trying to get fitter, we’re running with our strengths (pun intended) instead of strengthening our weaknesses (is that a pun?). If we want to become strong, athletic, attractive guys, we need to strengthen our weaknesses.

Trying to build a muscular physique with other types of exercise is like using a unicycle to do your grocery shopping instead of a car. It’s possible yes, and if you go on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll see some people doing it, but it’s needlessly difficult. And if it’s already harder for our body type to build muscle, we don’t need those extra layers of difficulty.

We’re the type of people who can get fit and lean even while being careless, not the type of people who can build muscle while being careless. We can build muscle incredibly well, but only if we do it properly.

We’re already good at avoiding obesity and improving our cardiovascular health. That’s half the battle won. But we don’t have dense bones, or strong muscles, and we aren’t shaped by a powerful V-tapered physique.

So just like a naturally strongish chubby guy will probably suck at cardio and feel embarrassed on a treadmill but need to do it anyway to improve his cardiovascular health, us skinny guys need to lift weights in order to make the most of ourselves.

Even that can be confusing, though. The fitness industry makes it seem so, so convoluted. As if there’s all this conflicting information. And until we have a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of muscle growth, it’s really difficult to understand what’s going on. Who’s telling the truth? What does the science actually say? And does the scientific research even agree with itself?

What type of lifting is best for building muscle?

So let’s say you’ve gotten to the point where you realize that you need to lift weights in order to build muscle. That narrows things down, but there are still a lot of mysteries ahead of you. There’s strength training, bodybuilding, split routines, full body routines, this theory, that theory. What’s the best for building muscle?

Let’s break it down.

There used to be two main types of weightlifting: strength training and bodybuilding.

Powerlifters and Olympic lifters would do strength training. It’s hard on your joints, and it prioritizes lower body growth, but it’s an amazing way for guys to build strong bodies and compete with one another.

Bodybuilders, fitness models, actors, and everyone else who was mainly interested in looking better gravitated towards bodybuilding instead. It’s a fairly safe way of lifting, and it’s actually pretty good for your health, but it started getting a stigma for being the vainer way to lift weights.

Recently a third type of lifting has sprung up. Some people call it high intensity power training (HIPT), others call it high intensity functional training (HIFT). Most people just call it CrossFit. It’s great for improving general fitness, but it’s designed primarily for competition and community, not building muscle. Like using a unicycle to do your grocery shopping, CrossFit adds a level of complexity that can make things more interesting for people who are looking for a challenge. But if you want to build muscle quickly or efficiently, skip it.

Unfortunately, CrossFit is just one example. The same is true for a lot of sporty fitness things: martial arts, callisthenics, p90x, Insanity, etc. They help us burn calories (not a good thing for us) and they help us develop better coordination, fitness and stabilizer muscles, but they’re ineffective ways to gain weight and build muscle. They’re so ineffective for building muscle that we might soon start thinking that our genetics suck.

This is another example of mainstream fitness stuff misleading us because we’re not the majority. As we start researching how to build muscle, we tend to find types of lifting designed for improving fitness (CrossFit, Insanity, P90X, etc) or improving powerlifting strength (Starting Strength, Stronglifts, etc). The fitness stuff won’t help us build muscle, and the strength stuff will have us learning complicated movements that direct most of our muscle growth towards our lower bodies, which doesn’t give us great results in the mirror, and leaves us feeling discouraged.

Some guys get lucky, and they start down the bodybuilding road, but that road is fraught with peril as well. So many of the popular bodybuilding routines trickle down from famous professional bodybuilders who have been lifting weights for decades (often on steroids) and have totally different needs from a guy who hasn’t already gained 50 pounds of muscle. Even after gaining 55 pounds of muscle, those routines are still the wrong approach for me.

Moreover, most bodybuilders have no trouble eating enough to gain weight. They love bulking diets. So most of their diet routines are full of fat loss information. (Some of them aren’t. It really depends. But that’s what can make it so confusing.)

The good news is that there’s actually quite of lot of research being conducted into muscle growth these days. Muscle is so important for athletes, and it’s so important for our general health, that the science is becoming very thorough. That wasn’t the case in the 80’s, when bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger were having to figure stuff out through trial and error.

This means that we can take the most effective parts of each style of training and ditch the stuff that’s been proven ineffective or irrelevant for our goals.

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld’s research has proven that full-body routines stimulate more muscle growth than split routines, so that’s a good place to start. Muscles grow best when stimulated 2–3 times per week, so we can schedule 2–3 full-body workouts per week.

His research has also proven that strength training is great for stimulating muscle growth via mechanical tension, so we can start our full-body routine with a little strength training. We can prioritize the biggest compound lifts that will stimulate the most muscles at once, such as the bench press, squat, deadlift, chin-up, row and overhead press.

That same research also shows that bodybuilding is superior for stimulating muscle growth via metabolic stress, so we can add that in too. Also, Dr. James Krieger’s meta-analyses have shown that muscle grows more quickly with more volume (more sets/reps). Other research shows that bodybuilding is the most ideal for boosting volume because it stimulates a maximal amount of muscle growth with a minimal amount of time, energy and overall stress on your body.

And we know that some muscles are more attractive than others (full article here), so we can prioritize shoulder, chest and arm growth while just making sure that our legs are strong and functional. This gets most of our growth happening in the places with the most visual impact, but we still build powerful, athletic, and healthy bodies.

But this brings us to another problem…

Going to the gym can be rough for us skinny guys

Ectomorphs are built incredibly well for many sports. We have light bodies and long legs, making us great at running (see every marathon runner ever). We have long arms and aerodynamic torsos, making us great at swimming (see Michael Phelps). We have a light body weight and a long reach, making us great at fighting (see Connor McGregor) and basketball (see Lebron James). We excel at sports where being proportionally long and light are an asset, not a disadvantage.

Unfortunately, weightlifting is not one of those sports. Well, except for the deadlift, which is arguably the most badass of all lifts. The deadlift favours our long reach and light bodyweight, and a routine designed for ectomorphs will capitalize on that.

But aside from the deadlift, weightlifting is a sport that stubby people excel at. Their shorter limbs mean that they have proportionally larger muscles, shorter lever lengths, and shorter ranges of motion. This means that a little muscle will go a long way, both in terms of lifting performance and how big their muscles look.

Moreover, since our spines are long, thin and not held in place by thick strong musculature yet, even the deadlift can be difficult to learn. Even though we don’t excel at it right away, though, this makes the deadlift an extremely important lift for us. It builds up the musculature surrounding our spine that will fix and strengthen our posture.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t build muscle by lifting weights, or even that we can’t become amazing weightlifters, but it does mean that we can’t just jump into a strength training routine and expect to excel at it. We need to be more methodological about this. We need to take into account that our body type isn’t the average body type, and that we have different weaknesses and advantages. 

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

So the skinny struggle is real. What should we do?

We’ve got a lot of obstacles in our way. Not because our body type is bad, but because it’s rare. We have just as many natural advantages as disadvantages, it’s just that following mainstream fitness advice is like shooting yourself in the stomach. It can often make it harder to gain weight because there are all these fat loss tricks buried into the advice.

“Eat clean.” Uhhh, you mean reduce our calorie intake by removing the highest calorie foods from our diets? Well, that’s a bad idea.

“Try intermittent fasting.” Huh, and skip breakfast, meaning we need to eat an even bigger lunch and dinner? No thanks.

This is why the skinny struggle is real.

This is why most of us will go through a period of assuming being an ectomorph sucks. We might wish we had a different body type. We forget that our body type is probably the best one of all. Most of the sex icons in Hollywood are ectomorphs, and most of the athletes who are famous for having badass bodies are ectomorphs too (Cristiano Ronaldo and Connor McGregor, to name two of them).

We just need to learn how to combine a good ectomorph diet with a good ectomorph lifting program. Once we can do that, we can build muscle. And not in a slow and patient way either. We’re far enough away from our genetic muscular potential that we can usually build muscle more quickly than the other body types.

Here’s my progress over the course of a couple years:

famous-ectomorph-transformation-shane-duquette-bony-to-beastly-home-gym

You can do the same. In fact, you can do better. I made a lot of mistakes, and it took me a long time to figure out how to do this properly. I waisted 5 years trying and failing, doing everything I could to gain weight by not gaining a single pound. In fact, I lost 5 pounds.

We want to save you from that fate. So here’s an article we wrote about how to eat more as an ectomorph. Here’s an article about how to lift as an ectomorph. I think those articles are a good place to start if you’re interested in learning a little more about this stuff.

If you’re sick and tired of being skinny and you want to start building muscle now, today, that’s what the Bony to Beastly Program is for. We cover all the fundamentals of nutrition and appetite manipulation, and we have Gain-Easy recipe book full of delicious, cheap and convenient bulking meals. On the lifting side, we have a fully optimized bulking program designed with pure muscle growth in mind, and we have a video course that will teach you all of the lifts in the program, starting with simpler variations and bringing you to an advanced level of the course of a few months. We’ll also coach you through the whole program in the Beastly community, making sure that you overcome any obstacle you run into. And we guarantee your results with a full refund policy. 20 pounds in 3 months or every penny back.

So the skinny struggle is real, but you can do this. And when you finally start succeeding, I think you’ll realize how much of a blessing being an ectomorph can be 🙂

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How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before

76 Comments

  1. JB on November 4, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    I totally get the name you use for the website, but I wish it were different. At 51, I’d guess I’m a bit older than most of your readers, and though age, a bit of insight and marriage to a beautiful woman have somewhat alleviated the insecurities of youth, I still have lingering frustrations about my natural body type, and am frankly embarrassed at the thought that someone might look over my shoulder and see the large B2B headline on my phone as I’m reading an article. I don’t follow the B2B Facebook page or articles on Facebook because I’d be embarrassed to have my FB friends see it appear on my newsfeed. As you can tell from this post, I don’t even like writing our the actual B2B name! Anyway, thanks for the articles — after decades of hearing nonsense like “just eat more!” and “I wish I had *your* problem” (yeah, right…) — even from doctors — it’s good to read something from people that ‘get it’ and can help me address our specific issues. And if you’d ever consider changing your site name (maybe B2B with a subtitle in much smaller, discreet font?), I’d love it. And you’d probably get a ton more FB followers…. 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Hey JB,

      Really glad you’ve been enjoying the site! And I’m really happy to hear that your beautiful wife has helped you overcome your insecurities. We’re in our late twenties, yeah. However, if you’re feeling motivated, you’re at a great age to get into this stuff too, since lifting can dramatically increase muscle mass while greatly improving bone density. Weightlifting is the fountain of youth, as they say, because it builds and preserves mobility and strength as we age.

      I’m sorry you don’t like our name, and I definitely get where you’re coming from. Perhaps in trying to tie our name to our unique body type and goals we’ve made it so that guys who are insecure about their current situation feel insecure browsing our website, since it highlights that. Hehe, and yeah, we’re younger guys using a more colloquial name. Perhaps a more academic header would make one feel more respectable when browsing the site in public.

      I’ve had moments where I’ve doubted it as well. Interestingly though, we also just just got a Facebook message from a guy saying we should make t-shirts with our brand name on them because he likes our name so much!

      We’re very open to feedback though—we do this for you guys, after all—and we appreciate your going out of your way to write us. We can look into our name to see how people feel about it 🙂

      Thanks again, JB. I really hope you’re able to accomplish your goals. Always feel free to write us with any questions, or if there’s ever anything we can do to help.

      • Daniel on November 4, 2015 at 6:42 pm

        T-shirts! I would buy a couple for sure. I would wear them in the gym 😀

      • Julius J Johnson on November 24, 2015 at 9:15 am

        Perhaps making the phone site name banner read B2B or Bo 2 Be would cure this small ailment. Its a good observation though. Many people could be turned off by this intention of motivation. Regardless of this I am definantly an ectomorph who has been struggling along with this community. I am 28 and look like a 21 y/o in face and body. I am going to join and I know I will have sucess.

        In the meantime to the Bony 2 Beastly editors I am more than interested in joining your force to enhance your already meaningful measage so that readers can feel more comfortable than you already make them feel. I felt like I was hearing from a long time friend than just reading another article. But I would love to help with things like proofreading and article consolidation.

        Either way, im about to get to work. See you in 5 months!

        • Shane Duquette on November 24, 2015 at 1:05 pm

          We took the feedback from this comment thread to heart and we sent out a survey to our members asking for some feedback on our branding (among other things). I’ve read through the first 100 responses so far and it seems like most people really like the Bony to Beastly name—almost everyone identifies with it strongly. However… around half aren’t that confident saying it / showing it off publicly. I think there’s probably a way to do right by everyone. We’ve already got some ideas.

          So glad to hear you’re planning to join us, Julius! We’ve got a few things in the works that could use some proofing, but these opportunities we always offer to current members first. Not just out of loyalty, but also because they know what we do a little better and have a really strong base knowledge of muscle-building nutrition and training. When you sign up give us a shout. Depending on exactly when you sign up the timing might work out well 🙂

    • Damien on November 4, 2015 at 11:54 pm

      I dunno, I honestly think that owning the journey of weight gain starts with admitting that you don’t like the way you look/feel and want to change it. As guys I know we are not supposed to admit we have these self conscious thoughts about our bodies but we sure as hell do.
      I think it stems from being called scrawny or bony all the time that tends to give an aversion to the name, but honestly, if you own that stigma as opposed to being embarrassed by it, it will make you feel 100% more confident.

      Now where is my T-Shirt? 😛

    • JB on November 9, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for your responses. 🙂

  2. Korey on November 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Very interesting article. I’ve been doing somewhat of a high-calorie “clean-bulk”. In other words I have been eating alot of everything, with the majority of my calories coming for protein and carbs and reaching around 4500 calories and lifting days. However, I’ve noticed a decent layer of fat that has developed over my abdominal region and also just a bit around my “love-handle” zone. I eat almost no junk food whats so ever, HOWEVER, in order to get that many calories I eat alot of nuts, seeds and cheeses and add alot of whole milk to my weight gaining shakes. Could this be a reason for the layer of fat ?

    • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Glad you dug it, Korey.

      There are a lot of factors to consider here, such as how long you’ve been training, how skinny you currently are, how lean you started, how good your training program is, etc.

      However my guess would be:
      1. Calories are too high, aka you’re gaining weight too fast. Let’s say you can currently gain half a pound of muscle per week tops, but you’re gaining a full pound per week because of your large calorie surplus. That extra half pound will be fat.
      2. Your diet is too high in fat. If you overshoot your calorie goals on a diet that’s 75%+ carbs and protein, most extra calories will be burned off as body heat, through fidgeting, etc. It won’t result in fat gain. (Although everyone is different.) This gives you a bit of caloric flexibility if you’re bulking aggressively. If your calorie intake is high and so is your fat intake though, and it sounds like it might be, you won’t want to bulk as aggressively.

      You could trim those fat calories back, lowering your overall calorie intake and your fat intake simultaneously. Then carefully control how much weight you gain each week, adjusting your intake as needed. 4500 is pretty high—at 185 pounds I was bulking at 4000—so I think it’s just a calorie thing, and then the higher fat diet not being very forgiving. Mind you, you’re also surely building maximum amounts of muscle 🙂

      I hope this helps, and keep it up!

      And if you ever want even more help, a fully optimized plan, and coaching throughout the whole process, I think you’d love the Bony to Beastly Program 🙂

      • Korey on November 5, 2015 at 10:53 am

        Shane, thanks for the response. I’ll give a little background on my self.
        I am 6’5, 26 years old, 200lbs, Around 14% BF. About two years ago I was about 160 lbs but more like 5% BF haha. So my aggressive bulking has obviously resulted in some fat gain. (Getting married probably can be blamed partly, I never had more than a few pounds of fat on my whole body until I got married…)
        200lbs sounds like a lot to some but I still feel very small =[
        I also didn’t realize I was supposed to shoot for half a pound rather than a full one each week… that could help I suppose.

  3. JR on November 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    How might a pre-diabetic ectomorph be able to build the muscle mass that could increase his insulin sensitivity?

    • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Building muscle increases insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells. This is great for your health (and physique) because it helps direct more calories towards your muscles, less towards fat storage. Becoming lean can also help with insulin sensitivity, and if you’re not currently within a healthy body fat range then that might be a good first step.

      I say might because the truth is that while we know a lot about building muscle, both from research and from personal experience, that we aren’t medical doctors. We aren’t qualified to answer this question, and it would be irresponsible of us to really say much beyond recommending that you talk about this with your doctor. We help lots of healthy guys build muscle, and also guys with all kinds of conditions and whatnot, but never without the support of their doctors.

      Now, if your doctor tells you to start eating and lifting for lean muscle growth, and they very well might, then we can help you work within the parameters that they provide. We’ve even had a few type-1 diabetics in the community successfully build muscle 🙂

  4. Manuel on November 4, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Shane, love every single post u make! I am a skinny guy but working pretty well on that. i won 16 pounds from april to now (159 pounds).

    I would love for you to post something about what you eat before and after working out.

    Pd: after workout i take 5g creatine

    Thanks for the post bro!

    • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      That’s amazing, man! Great work.

      That’s not a bad idea for a post at all. In the meantime though, nutrition while training is incredibly fascinating. So many cool studies showing great gains from a carbs and/or protein shake sipped on while training. Check this article out 🙂

      I hope that helps in the meantime!

  5. Daniel on November 4, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Great article as usual! I have to say I guess I have become a gym rat 😀 I told my girl exactly “Just lift heavy and eat more …” but saved that confused look on her face “… but I will train with you and guide you.” And she put on some weight real soon 🙂

    I like this part:
    “Genetics may load the gun, but lifestyle decisions pull the trigger.”

  6. Diego on November 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Shane, great article, as usual, and yes, the struggle is still real.
    One of the things that i still have doubts about is the frequency of training. I know that you guys deffend the 3 days a week aproach, avoiding cardio, but i’ve recently read Joe Manganiello’s book, who also struggled with weight gain for years, and he not only deffends a 6 day high intensity workout but also recommend some cardio. And he’s not the only one.
    Yes, we ectomorphs burn more calories, so it seems logical to go for a 3 day routine, but i’ve tried some 3 day routine for a long time, and based on my experience i think it only works for a while, mostly for begginers. At some point you’ll get stuck and have to evolve to a 4, 5, and/or 6 day routine to improve your phisique. What’s your opinion about it?

    • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 8:30 pm

      Hey Diego,

      Very cool questions! Worth answering in some detail, I think.

      Workouts per week. The majority of studies looking into this have shown that three workouts per week can indeed yield maximum muscular gains. That’s actually why we chose to train this way! As guys eager to build muscle, eager to help other guys build muscle, all of our decisions have been based on what provides the most rapid growth possible. However that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to lift for optimal muscle gains. It’s just a way to lift for optimal gains.

      As for growing out of three workouts per week, the research shows that hitting a muscle group 2-3 times per week remains optimal all across the beginner/intermediate/advanced spectrum. I managed to gain 55 pounds with just three workouts per week. I could surely gain more, but 55 pounds happened to be enough for me to reach my physique goals (at least for now).

      Training frequency. Someone could go to the gym 6 days per week and and only train each muscle group once per week (6-day split), which is a low training frequency per muscle group. We train hit each muscle group three times per week, since each workout is a full body workout. This is actually a rather high training frequency, and it keeps every muscle group stimulated and growing steadily throughout the whole week. More than that isn’t better.

      Cardio. We’re not anti-cardio, it’s just not helpful when it comes to building muscle. Cardio causes a separate type of adaption from lifting, so if you’re making cardio adaptations while trying to build muscle it will slightly slow your results (studies show by 20% tops, nothing major). The key thing to keep in mind here is “adaptation” though. If you’re already fit, no cardio adaptations will be happening if you keep up with your regular cardio routine, so no slowing of gains. If our members are already doing cardio there’s no downside to continuing it. (Most cardio doesn’t burn many calories, so that’s not a huge deal as far as eating enough goes.)

      In addition to this, lifting will tend to improve cardio levels to a certain degree. For example, without ever doing any cardio (just lifting b2B style) I managed to get my cardiovascular fitness levels into the very healthy range as determined by a local university lab (resting heart rate, VO2 max, etc). Now that I’ve accomplished my size/body composition goals though, I’ve started consciously practicing my cardio. I think it’s important to always have new goals, and these days that’s one of mine.

      Overall. There are lots of people who succeed by taking the optimal training volume per week and dividing it up over 6 days, then doing cardio on top of that. Personally, I would rather divide that work up over three workouts. Less time spent travelling to and from the gym. Some guys in our program like training every day, so we just tell them to divide the b2B workouts in half. They do the upper body stuff one day, the lower body stuff the next. They still hit each muscle group three times per week with the same amount of volume, so they still get equally optimal results.

      Does that make sense / help?

      • Diego on November 4, 2015 at 9:32 pm

        Yes, thanks for the detailed reply 🙂
        Just for the record i’m not a big fan of cardio, i don’t do it at all, i was just interested if there are any benefits really worthy to spend the time.
        I’ll keep testing to find what works better for me. I’m feeling i’ll keep a 5 or 6 day split routine. Having to go to the gym every day is a disadvantage, but i kindda like feeling that pump every day.

        • Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm

          No problem, man.

          There are health and fitness benefits to cardio, just not body composition ones. But cardio was never designed for muscle gain or fat loss, so that doesn’t mean it’s any kind of failure. Weightlifting provides some overlapping health and fitness benefits with cardio, and some new ones of it’s own (like improved bone density, posture, strength, mobility and focus). Cardio and weightlifting combined is the ultimate combo for longterm health though 🙂

  7. JT on November 5, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Shane,

    I really appreciate the article. I am 39, and after trying to gain muscle weight for seven months, I have gained no appreciable muscle mass but have gained 10 pounds of belly fat. I think I am truly a hardgainer and am considering quitting. I am 6’1″ and started lifting at about 157. I am now 168. I have followed the advice of your articles. I eat about 3000 calories on nonworkout days and 3300 on workout days, with nothing but healthy, high protein and low fat foods.

    I know your advice may be to purchase your program, but I am just not sure it would do anything that I havent already tried. I have read most of your articles but I dont recall any of them talking about trying to gain muscle with the affects of low testosterone, which I believe I may have (havent actually been tested). Do you have any advice for guys who are not only skinny, but low in the T department?

    Also, I have been reading the book “Scrawny to Brawny” by Michael Mejia. Do you have any opinion on this book?

    • Shane Duquette on November 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      Hey JT,

      We’re totally game to help guys here on the blog for free (within reason). That’s how we got started, and why we decided to make the program in the first place!

      Struggles keeping gains lean. Unfortunately, your particular issue is one of the few questions we can’t answer here. Not because we don’t want to, but because there’s no simple answer. If you weren’t gaining weight, for example, the answer is simple—you aren’t in a calorie surplus, so you need to eat more calories. It’s not an easy solution (since eating more calories is very hard), but at least the path is clear. We can then work on appetite manipulation strategies.

      However when you are gaining weight, the pace is reasonable, and there’s no obvious error (like a very high fat diet)… then there’s also no obvious solution.

      The issue could be that your weightlifting program isn’t very good—that there’s no proper periodization, or progressive overload, or that the intensity isn’t high enough, or the volume isn’t high enough, or that you aren’t progressing the volume properly. In fact, that would be my first guess. That’s probably your issue. Without proper stimulation your muscles won’t be hogging the surplus calories that you’re eating.

      However it could also be that you aren’t sleeping well enough or long enough, that your protein isn’t distributed properly throughout the day, that your calorie surplus is inconsistent, that you’re overly stressed, some medication that you’re on, that you’re bulking while already at too high of a body fat percentage, that you’re incorrectly assessing how much muscle/fat you’re gaining, that you aren’t eating enough fat. Without a detailed look at what you’re doing it’s very hard to pinpoint the issue.

      This is why it’s easy to coach guys in the community. We put them on a protocol, adjust and customize as needed to match their situation and goals, teach them how to track their progress, analyze their progress as they go through the program, and when we run into issues we have a very good idea of their unique situation and where improvements can be made.

      I have that Scrawny to Brawny book! It’s old and outdated now, and the authors (also including John Berardi) no longer support many of the practices in it. However at the time it was top of the line. More recently they had an online bulking program with updated practices, but they haven’t been running it for several years now. It would seem they’re focusing more exclusively on fat loss clients.

      Low testosterone. I would check with your doctor. You may or may not have low testosterone. If you do, the solution may be very simple—more sleep, more vitamin D, etc. We actually have a doctor who specializes in male hormones doing the Bony to Beastly program right now. (You can see his transformation in the sidebar—Doctor B.) He made a post in the community with some detailed instructions for improving testosterone production naturally. It’s one of the most popular posts in the community. More than anything he confirmed that good sleep, good food, a good lifting program, lots of big heavy compound lifts, enough emphasis on recovery—these are the best ways to improve testosterone naturally.

      I hope that helps! And I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the magic answer that you were looking for.

      If you do decide to join the program, we have a full refund policy. No conditions or fine print. More importantly—because I know your time and effort is valuable too—I’m also very confident that we can get your results sorted out 🙂

  8. Daniel on November 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Great article as always Shane. The struggle is real for me (still). I signed up to the program last summer I think (really lean black dude), I gained 8-10lbs. Then I injured my lower back and I couldn’t lift anything at all for months. Yoga and extensive stretching everyday has really helped me. My main problem is consistency! It’s frustrating, I’ve lost my appetite recently too because of stresses of life. but I just have to get up and go again, whilst I’m stressed people have it a lot worse than me. Also your point bout being intimidated in the gym is true, I used to feel like that, but then I look around and see all the different shapes and sizes trying to make a difference to themselves. It always helps if you flash a smile to someone you see on a regular basis too 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on November 17, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your back, Daniel! Nothing gets in the way of building muscle like falling ill or getting an injury, and especially with the back, damn, can those injuries ever be stressful. Really glad that your back is feeling better now.

      You signed up last summer, eh? I’m going to shoot you an email so we can get you back into the community/coaching. 8-10 pounds is awesome, but we promised you a solid 20. I think we can help you figure out some strategies to improve consistency, and we can help you with your appetite too—we’ve all been there.

      That’s good advice about the smile. Walking into the gym and getting some nods and smiles is great, and it’s pretty easy to develop that kind of thing just by being a nice friendly dude.

      Check your email inbox soon!

      • Daniel on November 19, 2015 at 5:46 am

        Thanks Shane! I really want to get back into the community

        • Shane Duquette on November 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm

          Jared sent you an email with your updated member info 🙂

  9. Gabor on December 1, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Hi Shane!

    Do you have any advice on how to strengthen my forearms for deadlifts? I could and i can lift more than what my forearms are capable of, i load the bar and start to pull, but my weak forearms cant hold the bar and it starts to slip… i cant finish phase 1 because my deadlifts suffer because of this. I want to continue phase 1 doing the workouts while also strengthening and growing my forearms bigger. I’m a little experienced lifter, my only problem is my weak forearms. I hold the bar with my fingers after the 3rd set of deadlifts and the next day my fingers hurt because of it.. What can i do to them?

    Thanks for the answer.

    • Daniel on December 1, 2015 at 6:32 am

      If you’re having trouble with maintaining your grip, you should get some straps and that will help you out a lot. Maybe even get some chalk or a good pay of gloves too. As an exercise, deadlifts will strengthen your forearms without question, there are other exercises like farmer carries, push ups and goblet squats in Phase 1 that help with your forearm strength. It’s frustrating (I’ve had the same problem too) but you just have to keep calm and allow your strength to build up over time.

    • Shane Duquette on December 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Daniel’s advice is pretty good. The farmer carries, deadlifts, romanian deadlifts, rows, etc will all strengthen your forearms. Give it a few weeks and your grip won’t hold you back on the deadlift anymore.

      You can also deadlift with a mixed grip (as Marco teaches as an option in the video) which should allow you to lift much heavier weights.

      You can use straps, but then there’s a good chance that your grip strength will be a limiting factor forever. I would increase your grip strength instead by avoiding the straps. You’ll get beastlier forearms and you won’t need to carry lifting accessories around with you all the time.

      Good luck finishing the first phase, man!

  10. Gabor on December 4, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Thanks! And what if i am happy with the size of my legs but unhappy with the size of my chest and shoulders? Is it okay to change a squat exercise on the second or third day to a push exercise to inprove my chest and shoulders or would it be too much work for them?

    • Shane Duquette on December 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      Hey Gabor, I sent you an email after your last post. I’d be happy to help you there (or in the member community) once I get a couple more details from you 🙂

  11. Malek on December 28, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Is there any way to gain weight without using weights? I have a dislocated collarbone which won’t be treated for another half a year so I can’t pick up weighs but I really need to do something about my skinny legs and thighs first which look like sticks and I’m tired of people starring at me because of that! ughh! I’m 19 years old, 6″0 and weight 55KG. Please help.

    • Shane Duquette on December 30, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Sorry to hear about your collarbone, Malek. Ee that sounds like it would hurt!

      You can gain weight by eating in a calorie surplus. The issue is trying to make sure that weight is muscle instead of fat. Following a good lifting routine is the best way to do that, but you can get away with some bodyweight stuff. In your case, bodyweight stuff sounds like a great idea. I’d focus on single leg stuff—split squats, step-ups, bulgarian split squats, etc. Anything under 20-30 reps will encourage good muscle growth so long as you go to failure and do a few sets 🙂

  12. Craig on January 17, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Your website is so helpful, much better than anything else I’ve found, so thank you already for that! Just wanted to ask for what would be a good workout plan with Dumbbells at home, like how often/what exercises/how long/many reps etc. Thank you!

    • Shane Duquette on January 17, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Hey Craig, thanks for the kind words, man!

      Have you seen this article we wrote about training at home with dumbbells?

      Also, the Bony to Beastly Program can be done just fine with just dumbbells as well 🙂

      I hope that helps!

      • Craig on January 18, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Thanks for replying! And no, I missed the article somehow,but again, so helpful!

        Just wondering, at least how heavy should the Dumbbells be? I’m poor atm aha just dished out over £100 on textbooks… Argh. But, as you say, I don’t want to get them too light.

        Sounds like a stupid question, but I’m assuming rest days are important? Just scared of not using all the calories for the right things aha. Just turned 17, and this is the first time I’ve really tried to eat lots… It’s pretty hard!

        Thanks again, Craig

        • Shane Duquette on January 19, 2016 at 2:14 pm

          I’d recommend getting dumbbells that are around 45 kilos each, but anything is better than nothing, and you can certainly make do with less.

          Are rest days important? Your muscle groups do need time between workouts to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger, but you don’t need to train every muscle group every workout. So whether you need rest days depends on how you organize your workouts. If you’re doing a split routine then you could lift every day. Or you could do full body workouts and get equally great gains training just 2–3 times per week. Depends on your preferences and schedule. I would follow a program that already takes all these things into consideration.

          Ahaha yeah, eating a lot is very hard! This article on appetite manipulation might help 🙂

          • Craig on January 20, 2016 at 6:07 pm

            Thank you! This is the best and most detailed info I’ve found for skinny guys, so congrats on that
            Better start lifting then



          • Shane Duquette on January 21, 2016 at 1:30 pm

            Thanks, Craig! Glad we could help. Good luck lifting 🙂



  13. Keiv on January 17, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I’ve noticed that after doing a workout, the part of my body that I work out (arms/chest for example) become filled/swollen [in a good way]. I take the proper post workout shake (protein/carbs/creatine). I was just wondering what this is and how I can keep that size on a more permanent level? I notice it goes away roughly within an hour or two.

    • Shane Duquette on January 18, 2016 at 10:15 am

      You’re talking about reactive hyperaemia or, as bodybuilders affectionately call it, the pump! What’s happening is that when you’re lifting the veins carrying blood out of the muscles contract, limiting the amount of blood that can escape. But your arteries keep pumping tons of blood in to deliver oxygen and nutrients. This causes blood to accumulate in those muscles, leaving them looking bigger for a little while.

      There are other ways of training (like blood flow restriction training) that take this to a whole new level in your arms/legs, and can cause some slightly longer lasting swelling. This would still be temporary though, and it wouldn’t be possible in your chest.

      There are very silly things you could do, like injecting oil into your muscles (if you want to have nightmares google synthol). I wouldn’t recommend this. Hell, I wouldn’t even recommend googling it!

      There are some better techniques too. Eating lots of carbs and calories will leave your muscles full of glycogen. This will cause your muscles to look perpetually fuller, however, it sounds like you’re already doing this. Creatine can pull more fluid into your muscles as well, but you’re already doing this also.

      So really your best bet for getting muscles that are permanently bigger is probably just continuing to build more muscle mass. This works very well… but does require some patience.

  14. Galev on February 5, 2016 at 7:09 am

    Thanks for this article (and the whole website too)!

    It’s so great to finally have this feeling of a connection. To know that some people went through almost the same thing as I. Thanks especially for the paragraphs on Crossfit. I liked doing it, but it was also very discouraging, and now I realize that most of the guys and girls there were either chubby or came from a weight-lifting background or both.

    Though it wasn’t a waste of time entirely. Now my personal trainer compliments me for being able to squat very well. And I gained a kind of mental endurance and determination that helps in the gym too, I got used to exerting myself. It’s a nice change though that when I feel like dying my couch tells me to stop for a while insted of “do it, 10 more!” 🙂
    On that same note, at least in my experience, it is a HUGE advantage if you can find a gym buddy and/or a professional trainer/coach (preferably both). Obviously you guys here aim to cover the trainer part. Anyway, it was also kind of nice that my gym buddy and friend was bulky and pretty strong. Though he was a lot better at lifting, I was better at cardio and agility, so at least I didn’t need to feel like a total loser.

    • Shane Duquette on February 5, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Galev. You’re totally right. CrossFit is far from a waste of time, and the skills (and habits) you develop there can be really helpful when you switch to a way of training that’s better for building muscle. I’ve heard it’s really fun, too. Marco enjoys doing a CrossFit class now and then, and I’ve been meaning to give it a try to see what it’s all about, now that I’m at my target size.

      Ahahaha “when I feel like dying my couch tells me to stop for a while insted of “do it, 10 more!””

      Definitely agree that it’s way better if you aren’t in it alone. Having friends or loved ones, an online community or an in-person community, a personal trainer or online coach—all of these things help a ton. If you can do it on your own though, more power to you. I’ve been there, and the visible success I had on my own is what encouraged my friends to get into it too.

      Keep it up, man! Sounds like you’re doing great 🙂

  15. Rafa on February 17, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Hello. I’m considering buying your program. Let me ask you, in your program there is a 20 week work out routine, right?
    After that what happens? I just keep working out with the last phase for ever, or what?

    • Shane Duquette on February 17, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Hey Rafa, glad to hear you’re considing the program, man!

      After gaining 20–30 pounds some guys take a brea—switching into maintenance mode, focusing on other priorities. Maintaining muscle is far easier than building it—no eating absurd amounts of food, no need for a strict training program. Lifting 3x per week is pretty reasonable, and keeping that routine up would be very healthy… but you could scale that back if you wanted and still maintain your gains just fine. This allows guys to get back the mental energy to fully focus on whatever else they want to master next—cooking, playing the guitar, work, The Division Beta, whatever.

      Other guys gain 20–30 pounds and feel ready for more right away. They want to get leaner, or get bigger biceps, bring up their pecs, gain another 20 pounds, get wicked strong or improve their cardio—other fitness goals. We have stuff for that too, including more advanced general bulking phases 🙂

      For me, I gained 20 pounds over three months, took a break for a year. Gained another 20 pounds over four months, took another break for another year. Then gained my final 20 pounds over five months. Three bulking periods totally a little over a year of dedicated work. That brought me from 130 up to 190, and I eventually settled back down to around 180, which felt a little more natural for me. During those breaks I would casually go to the gym sometimes as often as 3x per week, sometimes as seldom as twice per month. By the end I was liking the gym a lot though, and nowadays if I’m not in the gym at least twice per week I start to miss it. I eat according to my appetite, but I try to eat well.

      Does that answer your question at all?

      I hope you decide to join us! Whatever you decide to do after you gain the 20 pounds we promise, we can help you transition into it while making sure you keep your hard earned gains 🙂

      • Rafa on February 18, 2016 at 10:09 am

        Definitely. Thank you.

  16. Mike185 on February 28, 2016 at 5:58 am

    I just wanted to say that everything you’ve said has resonated with me so much. Especially everything about talking to people that have gained muscle about my problems with gaining muscle. I’ve been struggling for the past 5 years to put on muscle. I’ve done hours upon hours of research and I’ve tried so many different training programs from Rippetoes “Starting Strength” to CrossFit and from trying to eat over 5000 calories a day, taking bulking shakes. I have had some hard fought and brutal success but far less than anyone else who has put as much effort as I have. Yet when I’ve gone to forums, posting my nutrition and training programs looking for help, the best I’ve been offered is “eat more…”. I plan on joining the community to take from the expertise you have all gained as well as to maybe help where I can. The only real success I’ve ever had in putting on muscle was a 2 month journey through boot camp where calisthenics was the only training I got. Eating 3 meals a day I gained 15 pounds of muscle in 2 months so I know it’s possible, though I’ve never been able to replicate that despite all my efforts. I look forward to joining the community! Keep up the good work.

    • Shane Duquette on February 29, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      I see you’ve already signed up, man! Really glad to have you. And really glad that this article resonated with you so well. Sometimes when you’re a beginner you can get results with haphazard muscle stimulation, enough protein and a calorie surplus. I suspect that’s how you got great results doing callisthenics (which isn’t that great for building muscle). Now that you’ve got some muscle on you, you’ll need a more deliberate approach to training. Fortunately, you’ll be doing just that! Time to top your best ever results by gaining 20 pounds this time around 🙂

      See you in the community, Mike!

  17. jj on March 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Hi again!
    Ok, so I’ve been on and around your fantastic website for 5 weeks or so, trying my best to follow your great advises. But my means where I am right now are limited. Food-wise, I have creatine but no protein supplement, I eat home made food, and after about 3 weeks “cutting” and loosing about 1kg (I was a tad skinny-fat) I am now eating as much as I can, with a focus on carbs and protein. Lifting-wise, I’ve also been following your recommendations from the posts, but I rarely can access a gym and I dont have ajustable dumbells at home. So I make do with my 2 heavy weights and a banister (to simulate rows!), following a good routine alternating core, chest, arms and back exercises every second day…
    As a result? Well, I guess I might be on sloooowly re-gaining my kilo , hopefully in muscular mass. I feel stronger and I think I did take on some good volume… but more like in the beginning. Now since 3 weeks I really feel like I’m stuck. I compare pictures and I dont see any difference. Any possible advice??

    • Shane Duquette on March 18, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Really glad you’ve been enjoying the website, JJ!

      If you’re prone to being skinny-fat make sure to bulk at a reasonable pace, gaining a pound per week tops. Would hate to see you regain the fat you worked so hard to trim off.

      Looking at your photos it does look like you’re doing well! Not the craziest transformation yet, but you haven’t been doing this for long either! As for how to improve your lifting and nutrition program, if you’ve already read all of our blog posts and still want more you might really enjoy the Bony to Beastly Program! That also includes coaching, so we could take a look at how you’re progressing and adjust accordingly to make sure you’re doing as well as you could be 🙂

  18. Ezra on March 29, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    So, I am seriously considering purchasing this program, but I’m always nervous that programs such as this will never actually make a difference for me.
    This community looks encouraging and supportive, I am impressed that you take the time to reply so personally to comments, and this may be the first program that I have ever seen that was created by skinny people who actually have experienced the struggle of being a naturally skinny person.
    Nonetheless, at this point in my life, I feel like it is impossible for me to gain muscle mass. I am very athletic. I am 6ft 2in, and I weigh in at an exasperating 115lbs. I am a competitive gymnast and a performing ballet dancer. I run marathons and Spartan races. I am particularly strong for my size and I do weight training regularly; currently I bench press 270lbs. I am always actively training to gain weight. (my current diet includes 1 gallon of milk, 1 dozen eggs, and 8 cups of rice per day + various fruits, vegetables, and meats)
    At this point I am frustrated that I work so hard, that I am literally stronger and a more competent athlete than most of the burly muscle-bound men that I train with, and I still look like a prisoner of war. My friends are always like, “It’s cool that you are so skinny and so strong, you should just accept yourself the way you are.” But I’m not trying to turn myself into a totally different person. I just don’t want to look like the walking dead. My goal weight is 145lbs, which I don’t think should be so impossible. I know that I could be overtraining, and I realize that my athletic lifestyle includes a lot of cardio, but I don’t want to give up dance and running when they are things that I excel at and enjoy. I just don’t know what to do, and I’m worried that this program will just tell me to do a bunch of things that I am already doing.
    (and I apologize for the long, rambling, frustrated post…)

    • Shane Duquette on March 31, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      Hey Ezra, we run into guys with your struggles all of the time. In fact, almost everyone in our community has all of the same issues. That’s our specialty. Helping guys in that situation overcome it. However, the specifics of your situation are more extreme than most.

      I’m 6’2, fully grown, and unable to make it past 130 pounds no matter what I did. It’s rare that someone has me beat, although given how ludicrously strong you are, I suspect you’re just quite a lot leaner than I was. Still, being as thin, strong and active as you are is quite rare. To figure out exactly what’s going on we’d need to coach you one on one for sure (and the program includes that).

      As for being worried that the program won’t work, we have a full refund policy—no conditions or fine print—so your results are fully guaranteed. But it will work. Every week we recommend that you check in, and if you haven’t gained weight on the scale, we make the necessary adjustments for the next week. A couple weeks in you’ll be gaining just fine, and from there on out we’ll help you overcome any obstacles you run up against. 145 is 30 pounds away, so it will take a little time, but we can definitely get you there 🙂

      Does that help at all? I hope you decide to join us!

      • Ezra on March 31, 2016 at 7:50 pm

        You’ve convinced me. You guys have such an encouraging attitude, and the refund policy is a good one. Going to start saving up immediately. Thanks!

  19. Jeremie on April 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Hey Shane,
    Kudos for your soooo awesome site!I mean it’s the next best thing since the creation of sushi.Your tips are soooo helpful.I have been an ecto all my life. Been going to the gym for years and i was mostly following the already-brawny-guys-routines which led me to desperation most of the time coz i wouldn’t gain one pound of muscle instead i was shedding the few small ones that i had.I was desperate to the point that i would get wasted on cheap beer before going to the gym so i would feel stronger to hit the iron and a bit more self confident.Trust me fella,alcohol on an empty stomach and exercise worst combo ever .Then one day i just quit going to the gym.Became a hater, u know calling the brawny guys ‘douche’ and ‘sack of meat’.Then i had to admit to myself that it was just self-hate(coz i couldn’t achieve what those guys were achieving)and jealousy talking( coz it takes a lot of discipline and dedication to become a sack of meat and i didn’t have it).Bodybuilding ain’t for the squeamish!I somehow always knew that u don’t get nothing out of hating on others but i still did it coz some friends were doing it too and sometimes it got the conversation flowing(misery loves company, they say!).Truth is i’m not a hater, never been so i took all that negative energy that i was wasting on hating on the beefy and i invested it in getting beefy.I’m from Canada(Montreal) and canadians are known to be always ‘sorry’and for a while i was always sorry when i started my transformation.I was sorry for eating good food, sorry for training at the gym, sorry for getting brawny.I always felt that i had to apologize to friends who were passing easy judgement(u wanna join doucheville).But you know what?No more.Back in highschool,i was the skinny black kid who was always picked on because he was so scrawny and one time my gym teacher (who always made me play in the girls team)even told me that if i kept on doing his gym classes i would disappear since he felt that i was tooo skinny to be even seen).All my adulthood i could still dress with clothes from the kids department and i was obsessed with my two skinny arms dangling next to my body like a dazy teenager and in the summer time i always felt like hiding away. Now that i was trying to build the body of my dream and was gonna let other people’s judgement get in my way ?No way José, i said to myself!I don’t give a rat’s ass about what others think.At the end of the day, it’s myself that i have to face and live with and no matter what i do people will always have an opinion and i can’t control that.I quit drinking a year ago and started going back to the gym since february.I go 4 times a week(even in our 7 months icing cold winter with snow,hail,ice and whatnot) while still doing my circus routines and my yoga.I have also been working as a life model for some painters and sculptors which gave me a boost of self-confidence.I feel stronger than ever.I now see my body as a cathedral.It’s holy and i have to watch what i put in it. I fuel it with food that heps it thrive.I am 165 pounds now(started from 145 three months ago)and i love the way i look so far even if i still am 15 pounds short from my dream body(i should be there before this summer).I don’t hate on skinny or fatty or brawny coz i have felt the sharp blade of easy judgement and i know too damn well that it doesn’t feel good!Some would say that it’s a constitutional right to hate on others.I agree but i have decided not to exercise that right.Leave it for others.
    Shane, stumbling upon your site recently was like an awakening after years of sleep and man was I was overjoyed.Suddenly the world seemed brighter.Scrawny guys from all walks of life testitfying about their life experience.I think i must have read everything cover to cover.Big up to you Shane!
    And to y’all ectos out there who are skeptical about what Shane is telling you, too bad!You do not have to follow everything the man says coz he’s not posing himself as a guru.He’s just trying to help and you are entitled to take his advice or not and it’s not a miracle recipe for it can work for some and not for others but at least the recipe is out there.
    One more thing to my ecto fellowship out there:Get off your scrawny bum and try something.Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will and if u don’t settle for failure, you won’t fail.It might take some time but each day and each workout will bring you closer to the body that u wanna walk in.U CAN DO IT!And don’t forget to surround yourself with positivity.Negativity gets you nowhere but in a self-destructive path!So if your mama is negative,drop the mama until you have built up enough confidence to be around her then her nenergy(negative energy) won’t shake you!One love!
    Jeremie A.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

      When writing our article on alcohol and muscle I remember reading a few studies where they would have guys drinking alcohol and then going to lift weights. I remember thinking, “who the hell does that?! What’s the point of these studies?!” Ahaha YOU are the guy who does that 😉

      More seriously though, your struggles sound rough. I can relate to a lot of them too. I remember taking martial arts classes to try and become tougher, losing weight, getting paired with the girls because I weighed the same as them. I know how rough that can be, and I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. (Yep, I’m Canadian too!)

      Fortunately, no need to throw a pity party here—you’re already doing great! Thank you so much for the kind words, man, and keep on kicking ass!

      • Jeremie on April 11, 2016 at 4:42 pm

        Hey Shane,I was so carried away by the writing that somehow i forgot that u were from Toronto.I’ll keep up the good spirits and you keep up the good work.Thxs!

  20. Adam on April 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Brilliant article, thanks! I’m 16 and about 125-130 lbs myself. I’d say I’m skinny but toned (mostly down to sports), however I have never been able to really gain weight, nor have I had the stomach to greatly increase my calorie intake, which is what I have been suggested by pretty much everyone.
    I have a few questions:
    1) Will endurance sports I do (like swimming and athletics) hinder my ability to gain weight/gain muscle mass?
    2) What are the best exercises I can do at home without access to weights?
    3) I’ve been doing regular sets of press ups and sit ups every two days to try to tone my abs and arms, is this pointless?

    Thanks!

    • Shane Duquette on April 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Hey Adam, glad you liked it, man!

      1. The sports you’re doing won’t really interfere with your ability to build muscle at all. In fact, they’d probably fit well with lifting to give you a balanced, healthy, active lifestyle.

      2. Without weights the best thing you could probably do to build muscle is walk to the nearest place that sells weights, pick up some heavy adjustable dumbbells and then carry them home.

      3. Push-ups are good for building muscle in your chest, the fronts of your shoulders and in your triceps… but only if you can’t do more than around 20 of them. Once you get strong enough to do more than that, you’d primarily be training endurance—better blood flow, not greater muscle size/strength. You’d want to put weights on your back at that point. Also worth noting that the push-ups wouldn’t be building up your biceps, back, legs, butt, etc. Sit-ups are okay, but you can do a lot more for your abs without weights. Check this article out 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on April 19, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      More seriously about the second question, I think it’s more about shifting your mindset a little bit. Some naturally muscular guys do okay with callisthenics and bodyweight stuff, but us skinny guys really need to approach building muscle seriously if we want success with it. This means going outside of our comfort zone, since building muscle isn’t something we’re naturally goad at right away. Not easy to do, but the rewards are well worth it.

      We tend to need endurance exercise less, muscle-building exercise more. So just like the super jacked guy might not need to lift weights anymore, us skinny guys probably should be lifting weights instead of doing lighter types of exercise if we want to build up a balanced, strong, robust, masculine physique.

  21. Yash Mane on May 17, 2016 at 12:49 am

    Great article! I pretty much made the same dietary mistakes you did, but I’m glad I can fix them now, as a 15 year old.
    I have a question though: I play very competitive soccer, and I was wondering – Will it hinder muscle growth since it is more of a cardio vascular exercise?

    Thanks!

  22. […] 3. Leg lifts burn the most calories. Just kidding. I mean, this is true, but I’m just kidding about this being a benefit for us. #ectomorphstruggles […]

  23. […] We know what it’s like to be a skinny guy, and how hard it is gain weight. The skinny struggle is real. […]

  24. Aditya Malaviya on February 25, 2017 at 9:29 am

    I have a rather curious problem, I have been weightlifting for the last 6 months and in the process have also gained about 8 kgs of muscle. I notice a definite increase in my strength in the gym, but strangely I see no visual difference at all. I look the same now as I did before I gained 8 kgs. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Any inputs will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks.

    • Shane Duquette on February 28, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      Congrats on the 8 kilos, Aditya! Nice work 🙂

      Check out our Newbie Gains article. There’s a section there about why some guys start lifting and gain strength but no size whatsoever. I’d answer you here, but that article is really my best effort to explain that phenomena.

      The one thing that makes your question special is that you actually gained quite a lot of weight. It’s very common for guys to start lifting and not see any results, but that’s normally because they aren’t gaining weight. It’s rare that a guy gains 8 kilos and doesn’t see a difference. I suspect this is because you’re gaining body fat at a rate that’s slightly increasing your body fat percentage, meaning that you never get any new muscle definition. Hard to say without seeing you, but I’d guess you don’t have visible abs, yeah?

  25. zoli on July 4, 2017 at 6:20 am

    test reply

    • Shane Duquette on July 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Test passed.

  26. Zoli from Transylvania on July 4, 2017 at 6:29 am

    Ok. Commenting did not work yesterday so I’ll try again. So I have a really bad lower back problem since 2003, lifted too much and then I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days. Since then if I stand or walk for more than 30 minutes I get this awful pain like a pinched nerve between the vertebrae. Never went to the doctor with this but I think it is quite obvious that it’s a problem I won’t get rid of anytime soon. So the issue is that I’ve been avoiding deadlifts and such exercises that put pressure on that area as a precaution because I don’t want to end up crippling myself. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach deadlifts without making my problem worse? I’m 6.2 height, 140 pounds. Thanks a lot. Cheers to all.

    • Shane Duquette on July 4, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Hey Zoli, it sounds like you’ve got some chronic back pain. The ideal solution there is to seek out an expert, such as a sports medicine doctor or physiotherapist. Back injuries take a while to heal, but even the horrendous ones are almost always able to be fixed with some some smart effort and some patience.

      For an anecdotal example, I struggled with a back injury for around 16 months. I got it outside of the gym, tried to ignore it for a year while I avoided heavy squats and deadlifts, and then finally went in to see a physiotherapist. After seeing the physiotherapist, I was able to fix it within the next 6 months. Part of that rehab was learning how to do deadlifts again, although I started with easy variations and didn’t use much weight. By the end of that period of rehab, though, I set a new personal record: a 405lbs deadlift.

      That isn’t to say that the deadlift is an essential lift. It’s not. But it’s also a very useful lift for addressing issues like yours, as it’s a lift that teaches us how to lift up heavy things in a safe way, and it allows us to strengthen all the muscles that we need to do so. You can do a variety of other lifts if you can’t get the deadlift to work out, so no worries there, but I recommend attacking the issue head on, not shying away from it.

      If you try to wait it out, it might actually become worse! Part of the reason my back wasn’t recovering during that year of trying to avoid it, my physiotherapist explained, was because my body was adapting by learning how to avoid using those muscles. That made those muscles become weaker, and they started to atrophy. But those were essential muscles! So that just made the injury worse, of course, and this worsening issue was gradually reducing my quality of life.

      So my suggestion is to have some hope. There’s probably nothing stopping you from becoming stronger than you’ve ever been before. You aren’t 80. You don’t need to treat this as a problem that will plague you for the rest of your life. I know that fear: I thought I had lost my youth. I remember sitting on the floor playing with my cousin’s young kid and thinking, “Damn, my back feels AWFUL—how am I going to be a strong, active dad 5 years from now? I’m already an old man!”

      Fortunately, I was wrong.

      Seek out an expert, don’t give up hope, try to fix these issues as life inevitably throws them your way—this issue won’t be the last!—and I hope that a year from now you’re writing to tell me that your deadlift is better than ever, and your back feels more solid than it ever has before 🙂

  27. Omar on July 10, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Hey Man,

    Great articles. I really am thankful for being able to find your blog. Gave me a lot of motivation to get going.

    I’ve been at the 3 times a week gym and have followed the advice you have laid out. Proud to say I have gained 2.7lbs and am seeing increase definition and strength. I just wanted to clarify: are the best workouts for gaining muscle 3x10s? I have been experimenting with 5x5s, 10x5s, 3x8s etc to see what works.

    Also I’ve stepped up my nutrition and now am eating alot more protein – sardine omelettes after workouts and peanuts for snacks.

    I’ve also been thinking of stepping it up to 4 times a week.

    Is there any advice you think I need? I’m 20, 6’4, and currently 155.9lbs.

    • Shane Duquette on July 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Congrats on the 2.7lbs, Omar! Sounds like you’re already on the right track 🙂

      Any set done with adequate intensity (within a couple reps of failure) will produce fairly similar muscle growth, regardless of whether you’re doing 3 reps or 20 reps. The challenge is that higher reps result in less strength, and lower reps are more taxing and harder to recover from. Generally, a mix of various rep ranges allow you to get the best of all worlds. You develop maximal strength with the lower rep lifts and you can also have a higher volume routine by adding in lots of higher rep lifts. It’s not quite that simple. For example, you’ll rarely see high-rep deadlifts or low-rep lateral raises. But that’s the general idea.

      A 3-workout-per-week routine is optimal for muscle growth. If you add an extra workout, it will still be optimal. You can pick based on your preference there, but mostly I’d just advise picking a program that has every factor optimized . If you try to fiddle with variables yourself, you’ll probably do more harm than good.

      As for more advice, if you want to be walked through the process—including coaching, workouts, recipes, a diet plan, videos teaching the lifts, and a community of guys going through the same process—then I recommend (our program). If you want some general advice, I’d read up on our articles, starting with the most popular ones 🙂

      Good luck, man!

  28. Jack on February 27, 2018 at 11:19 am

    I was wondering if 16 was an age that’s okay to start this program at. I am decently athletic and have a skinny kid six pack but I want to get bigger. I just wanna know if you think it’s alright for me to use this and if it would work for me. Thank you.

  29. Jim on April 9, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Shane,

    Really like your website and all of the information that you generously provide for free. I’m considering signing up for the program for the community support as I continue my journey toward another 20-30 lbs. Four protein shakes a day for two months has helped me gain my first 10 lbs. … which is a start!

    The blog post by Dr. B on testosterone was very helpful. I’m wondering if you could share your opinion on creatine and/or on Kaatsu training?

    (https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2017/09/22/blood-flow-restriction-training.aspx)

  30. Emma on May 13, 2018 at 4:22 am

    Holy crap! I know this is a site aimed at guys, but i’m an ectomorph female trying to gain muscle mass through weightlifting. I thought the whole hard gainer thing was just me so its amazing to find this site. Now i don’t feel alone, i have brothers!ll

    • Shane Duquette on May 15, 2018 at 11:43 am

      You have sisters, too! Here’s our site for ectomorph females who are trying to gain weight through weightlifting 🙂

      https://bonytobombshell.com/

      • Emma on May 15, 2018 at 12:15 pm

        That’s great Shane, will have a look 🙂

  31. Chase Molenaar on September 7, 2018 at 12:54 am

    I’m actually a short guy mesomorph at 5’7″ (so kinda opposite), but I’m just starting to build my upper body. I frequent this site, despite not being an ectomorph, cause honestly Shane, your content is so damn interesting and informative and this kind of excellence is rare in the fitness world of gymbros and trendy nutritionists. I can’t get enough.

    What I’ve been looking for, though, is how to grow my shoulders. Specifically, I wondered how much wider it is possible to get. At 7 months into training, I have 44 inch shoulders (which I thought were thin compared to my very endomorphic brother). Seeing your transformation is a bit inspiring, and it lets me know that I can eventually make it past 50. If I get there, with my 29 inch waist, I’ll be very happy.

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