April 2010 – the month that two skinny ectomorphs decided they were fed up with being skinny ectomorphs. Did we know what an “ectomorph” was? Hell no, we just knew we were really damn skinny and really damn fed up with it.
So we made a pact: 30 days of whatever it took to build muscle (steroids not included).* Skinny genes be damned, we were growing out of our skinny jeans.
And we did. That first month went so well that we decided to expand our muscle-building pact to four months, and by the end of those four months the Bony Boys were a thing of the past. Furthermore the success we had inspired us to create the entire Bony to Beastly program.
*Well okay so we were freshly graduated from university, living on our own, and entirely unemployed … so the financial costs had to, err, be pretty low. We were also in the midst of starting up our design business and our schedules were pretty full. But we were very determined.
First, a little backstory. With a lot of these internet transformations guys will intentionally lose weight so they can rebuild it quickly. Or they’ll try to look itty bitty (or fat) using a bunch of tricks to make the after shot more impressive.
That before shot of me up there (I’m on the right) —that was the fittest I had ever been in my entire life. I was actually pretty proud of having gotten that big, so I was trying my damnedest to look as muscular and badass as possible.
See, I actually felt like I knew a lot about putting on muscle already. If you compare that statement with the photo, you might think that I’m a glass half full kind of guy (or crazy). That’s true, but you’ve also got to take into consideration that two years before that photo was taken I was 20 pounds lighter.
I was 6’2 and 130 pounds through high school, In university my weight held steady at 125-130, and in my last two years I got smart and managed to put on 20 pounds (mostly during one summer). At that point, after finally finally having gained some weight for the first time in my life, I was actually feeling pretty great about weighing in at 150 hard-earned pounds:
My twenty pound gain got me elected as the leader of the “Bony Boys” – what I’m going to affectionately call our little ectomorph muscle-building duo.
The first task was figuring out a plan. At first it was a little discouraging, because absolutely everything mainstream is targeted at people looking to lose fat, not build muscle. Hell, it took a long time to figure out what we even were: ectomorphs, because of our small bone structure and long lanky limbs, and hardgainers, because of our muscle-resistant muscle fibres (slow twitch muscle fibres) and thyroid dominant hormone production. Once we figured that out we started to make some progress—it turns out there are a lot of bodybuilders out there who reach out to ectomorphs and hardgainers, so we were in luck.
Or so we thought.
We devoured every single bit of ectomorph muscle-building information tidbit we could find, from blog to book to eBook. We may not have had an appetite for food, but skinny desk-bound computer junkies that we were, we certainly had an appetite for information.
A couple weeks later, homemade ectomorph workout and nutrition plan in hand, we started bodybuilding our little hearts out. We treated it as an experiment. Partly because we were nerds and wanted to photograph and track everything. Partly because we were too ashamed to tell our friends and family that we were trying to build muscle. We figured “we’re doing an experiment” wasn’t quite as embarrassing.
As we progressed we got a lot of attention on Youtube and Fitness Forums—some good, some bad. A couple months in, even personal trainers at the gym were starting to notice these quickly growing little skinny guys running around pumping iron.
We may not have had the best form or have been doing the best exercises, but damn we were dedicated. No matter how busy we were we always found a way to get our meals in, however makeshift they had to be. We always got our workouts in too, no matter how busy or sick we were. One week the gym shut down for renovations so we made a makeshift half-functional gym in our design office. We used that as an opportunity to set up a tripod and take weightlifting selfies:
Our hard work paid off. We learned a lot then, and we’ve learned a lot since.
It turns out that the mainstream approach to bodybuilding is one of the silliest ways to build muscle as an ectomorph or a hardgainer. Combine both those traits, as it often happens, and you’ve got a bodybuilding nightmare.
Some guys don’t need a smart plan. In every weightlifting study you’ll see “hyper-responders”. These are the guys doing the ineffective workouts and still building all kinds of muscle. Everyone else in their study group will gain nothing, but they’ll have pretty stellar gains regardless. (Oh those lucky bastards.) These are probably the jacked guys you see in the gym doing totally moronic stuff and having no idea they’re doing moronic stuff because somehow it’s working.
But then you’ve got naturally skinny guys like us. We can’t just pop on over to the gym, do what we fancy and expect to make any kind of progress at all. We’re the guys that bro-science doesn’t work on. The guys who actually need to be clever about this stuff. If we aren’t … we risk making no progress.
There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that nutrition is rarely a factor in studies looking into weightlifting, and weightlifting is rarely a factor in studies looking into muscle-building nutrition. It’s rare to find a study where both aspects are optimized, so naturally some people aren’t the best at the area not being studied.
There are also many genetic components, as you’ve probably realized. For example, normal ranges of testosterone production in a man are between 170 and 780. That means that one normal guy can have 4.6x the testosterone of another normal guy. Judging by our bodies, diets and exercise habits … Jared and probably fell on the low end at the time – bad news for bodybuilding. (The good news is that you can change that to a certain extent with weightlifting, nutrition and good sleep habits.)
There’s a third type of factor too. Most bodybuilding programs are popularized by professional bodybuilders. Many of these bodybuilders are not only genetically gifted at putting on muscle, they’re also pharmaceutically gifted at putting on muscle! Not only are they the people who can get away with paying attention to the rules a little less, they aren’t even playing by the same rules in the first place.
Here’s an example – weightlifting frequency.
In a 2000 study by McLester, they took experienced male weightlifters and put them on a workout plan made up of three workouts per week. Both groups used the same lifts, same total amount of sets, and same total amount of reps. The only difference was that one group had their lifts organized into full body workouts, whereas the other group did a classic triple split routine. After twelve weeks of lifting the full body group increased their muscle mass by 8%. The triple split group increased their muscle mass by 1%. (study)
Note: The study was using experienced weightlifters, but the same seems to be true in beginners. (study)
Note: More is not better. Targeting a muscle group more than three times per week reduces gains as well. (study, study)
Interestingly enough, those bodybuilding triple splits only became popular in the 1960’s, when steroids came into vogue. This new era of muscle-builders didn’t need to pay any attention to stimulating increasing testosterone production or muscle protein synthesis because they already had the magic combination: a genetic predisposition for building muscle + steroids. This kept their bodies perpetually primed for muscle growth whether or not their training was optimal or not.
So they divided their workouts into splits: chest day, back day, arm day, legs+abs day, etc. This allowed them to absolutely annihilate a muscle group each session, which was cool, because they had enhanced abilities to recover from that intense weightlifting onslaught. They benefited from infrequently hitting muscle groups extremely hard.
Does that approach work for them? Absolutely. Does it work for us skinny guys? A little bit, but not nearly as well. The one study looking into it directly found a pretty big difference, after all. Increasing your muscle size by 8% in twelve weeks is pretty impressive. Increasing it by 1% is still progress … but it likely wouldn’t be noticeable progress. That can be discouraging.
Before steroids even the genetically gifted strongmen and athletes were all doing full body workouts around three times per week. Full body workouts just worked better. This was relatively common knowledge. Instead of training a muscle group once per week, resulting in a couple days of elevated muscle protein synthesis and then a few days of nothing much happening … you’re keeping all your muscles primed for growth all week long.
But see, I had already gained 20 pounds doing a triple split bodybuilding routine and I didn’t know any of this yet …
I did get half of it right though. By this point I had nutrition down to a T. After dozens of articles, books, lectures and seminars on performance nutrition, sports nutrition, bodybuilding nutrition, etc, I had a pretty good grasp of it. All of a sudden we were maximally stimulating muscle protein synthesis at regular intervals over the course of the day, optimizing our macronutrients and micronutrients, experimenting with carb and calorie cycling, scheming up recipes that allowed us to eat more, and, err, being ten times more anal about all of that than we needed to be.
(If you want to see us following a very rigid and complicated half-silly plan you can check out the video we made while doing it.)
By having our nutrition so perfectly dialled in we were able to produce a bunch of really positive effects for our health, appetite, physique, energy levels and strength. While our workouts might not have been perfect for building muscle, our diet sure as hell was. We ate our little hearts out and our efforts in the kitchen showed. Tiny little ectomorphs that we were, the Bony Boys were building muscle—and fast.
Hell, we were even building muscle faster than we’d ever seen anyone else build muscle. All of a sudden it seemed like our genetics were pretty damn fantastic for building muscle.
People were starting to take us seriously. We were getting compliments from other people at the gym, from friends, family. We also got emails from people who had found us on YouTube. (You can see our 90 day progress video here.)
We eventually got put into touch with Marco, who I’d gone to high school with. I was a little surprised at first, since the Marco I remembered had a pretty comparable body to mine and Jared’s – tall, lanky, and runway-model skinny.
Turns out ectoMarco had become a monster. Since high school he’d put on 63 pounds of muscle and was weighing in at 205 pounds:
While Jared and I had been studying design, building websites and writing music, Marco had been studying health sciences, working as a personal trainer, travelling around the continent to attend cutting edge seminars, interning at top athletic performance facilities, and eventually training pro athletes. This guy knew muscle. Better yet, he understood health, hormones, performance, strength, posture, alignment and how all of that fit together.
He’s a pretty humble guy. He congratulated us on our results and slowly started to hint that we were being goofballs when it came to training. We were slow to take his advice, since Marco isn’t the type of guy to list off his credentials. He said one thing to us in that first conversation that stuck, though. I was telling him that we were drinking high-carb workout drinks mixed with protein while working out. He said we might want to try doubling our dosage and switching from “sugary” to pure sugar. We took his advice. Next time we took to the gym we were armed with 100g dextrose + 50g whey protein.
It worked. We found that we seemed to recover faster and it became a little easier to eat enough to gain weight.
We started taking more and more of Marco’s advice and all of it was producing equally impressive improvements to our results. We were still doing a mishmash of training routines, but more and more of our lifts were big compound lifts, more postural and strength work was being worked in, and we were ditching a lot of our mainstream bro-science bodybuilding habits for evidence-based bodybuilding, strength training and athletic conditioning stuff.
That worked too. The better your training plan the better you’ll prime your muscles for growth, the more insulin sensitive your muscles will be, and the more surplus nutrients you’ll funnel to muscle gain instead of fat. Our training plan was a lot better. Our muscle-to-fat gain ratio was noticeably improving.
Marco’s approach to training is pretty wholesome too. He’s all about using lifting to improve mobility, posture, strength and performance. We were gradually standing straighter and feeling better, and my strength was going up by leaps and bounds.
Soon after, we finished our 4 month experiment. The results:
At that point we started getting more emails from people who had seen our blog posts, and many of our friends were starting to ask for advice. We spent a year casually answering emails, and we also continued to do research. Instead of reading blogs and magazines I was reading studies. Instead of studying bodybuilding nutrition I was studying human metabolism. I was getting serious about this.
We were happy with our results and not really looking to gain more weight, but Jared wanted to up his chest strength, and I was loving feeling healthy and strong. We wound up building Marco a blog, and to return the favour Marco offered to help us out with our ectomorph strength and muscle endeavours. We started doing a training plan created by Marco and we were pretty blown away. Jared’s stubborn chest muscles finally exploded in size, and with my following along doing those same workouts I was finally able to bench 225 pounds! (That was 50 pounds heavier than my lifetime goal.)
Marco’s training plans seemed blasphemous at the time. I was actually really worried about overtraining. When you’ve been sold on triple splits and bodybuilding lifts it’s tough getting out of that bodybuilding mentality. I mean he had us doing chin-ups two workouts in a row! I thought he was crazy.
My back really liked it though. The workouts were more enjoyable, our strength was going up a hell of a lot quicker, and we felt healthier than ever. It was great knowing that the workouts we were doing in the gym was giving us strength we could use in the real world, too. We were hooked.
As far as nutrition went we figured out a lot of the stuff we were doing was great, but a lot of the stuff we were doing was also excessive. There’s no need to eat every 3 hours, there’s no need to eat a perfectly “clean” bodybuilder’s diet, and there’s no need to eat 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight. A lot of those bodybuilding myths were exactly that – myths. They don’t improve your results, they just make living a healthy lifestyle a whole hell of a lot harder.
The emails kept coming in, and people were really enjoying our blog posts. We kept getting requests to assemble all of our information into a program. We asked Marco if he was game to help us, since we knew he was a crucial part of making this program the best one out there. He was in, and the Bony to Beastly team was formed!
At first we planned to make a simple eBook. Some fundamentals, a training plan, a nutrition plan and that would be that. After training with Marco in person we realized that wouldn’t be enough. Not only were Jared and I doing most exercises improperly for our lanky ectomorph frames, we were just plain doing them improperly for anyone’s body type.
We had spent months researching this stuff … and still hadn’t figured it out. Our bench presses weren’t properly working our chests, our chin-ups weren’t properly working our backs, our shoulder exercises were damaging our shoulder joints, and our deadlifts were, well, not too hot.
We decided we needed to film videos teaching every exercise in the program. No problem, Jared’s a tech nerd video master.
The next thing we realized was that most programs out there really don’t do a good job of giving you a flexible meal plan. Most of the people emailing us were struggling to stick to ridiculous meal plans and finding it nearly impossible to fit into their work or university schedules, and understandably so. Where were all the meals you could cook in bulk and reheat, prepare quickly and wolf down, carry around on the go, whip up in a blender, prepare for dates, etc.
We also realized that we needed calorie boosting strategies, since lots of skinny guys simply don’t have a big appetite. That was one of the things Jared and I struggled with the most, since all the other information out there is for guys who can effortlessly eat tons of food. The program expanded once more.
We decided to make a recipe book packed full of the best muscle-building recipes out there. Recipes that were healthy, tasty, easy to make, easy to fit in our stomachs, and optimized for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
At this point we got to work. Marco started crunching numbers, rigorously testing out training plans with some of his skinny personal training clients, and he took another course at the Postural Restoration Institute.
The eBook, recipe book, and training program slowly began to take shape … and Jared and I became guinea pigs again.
A couple months later with a lot of the writing done and the training program filmed, it was to the point were we could start testing it. We welcomed a few ectomorphs who had been following our blog into beta testing. I started eating a muscle-building diet again, too.
Jeff, a rad dad, gained 10 pounds in the first five weeks, radically transformed his posture, increased his upper body size and strength, and disappeared his skinny-gut. (His wife wrote in to thank us too, which made our month.)
Obe, a soccer loving pilot, checked in every week reporting a four pound gain. We told him to slow down, assuming he was getting fat. To our utter surprise, he gained an astonishing twenty pounds in five weeks … and still had abs. Hell, his abs were even bigger in the after shot.
Albert, a young doctor working eighty hour workweeks, managed to gain 23 pounds, proving that no matter how busy your schedule is you can cleverly find a way to make it work. (He had to delay a couple gym sessions though, which explains why it took him 6.5 weeks to complete a five week training phase.)
Greg, a guitar playing college student, gained twenty pounds in ten weeks and told us it was really helping with his rock climbing. (His topless bathroom selfies, guitar playing prowess, and emo swoop also earned him the nickname “Myspace Greg”.)
Over the course of testing the program I myself gained another 20 pounds, bringing my gains up to a total of 55 pounds of muscle. I’m far leaner than I ever was as a skinny guy too. My face looks way better, I look and feel way healthier, I fit into clothes better, and my strength has more than quadrupled on almost all my big lifts. When I first started I could bench around 70 pounds—once. Now I’m benching 255×3.
It’s funny looking back at the videos we filmed while creating the program a couple months ago, because I’m already so so much bigger. The shirt I’m wearing in the Program video doesn’t fit my arms or shoulders anymore!
This new approach to training is way better than what Jared and I were initially doing, both in terms of results … and perhaps more importantly, also in terms of longterm health, strength, posture, mobility and performance. Since then we’ve learned a lot about nutrition, too. This program is lightyears ahead of our experiment and outperforming it in every way. We’re pretty excited.
One of the things our testers attribute their success to is the Bony to Beastly community. We’ve got a members forum hidden away behind this blog post where Marco, Jared and I, along with all the other Bony to Beastly members, are scheming away at how to constantly improve everything.
That signalled to us that we needed to expand the program once more. The Bony to Beastly program now also includes a membership to that community, and coaching from Marco and I throughout the entire process.
And after months and months of writing and planning, and months and months of testing it’s finally, finally finished!
We couldn’t be happier with how everything is going, and the community that we’re building is pretty sweet. We’ve got a great bunch of people all with a similar passion and all working towards the same goal. It’s also a no-excuses and a leave no man behind environment. If there’s a challenge it gets figured out, if there’s a question it gets answered. Every single member who’s putting in the effort is getting results. Cheerfully, too. I’ve never seen such a jolly and supportive group of ectomorphs before.
If you’re a skinny guy looking to transform your physique, increase your strength and improve your health sign up for the newsletter (top right) and we’ll send you the first chapter of the program so you can see what it’s all about. If you like it, join the program. We’d love to welcome you to the team 🙂