Ectomorph Workout & Diet Guide And The Skinny-Fat Hardgainer Solution

I love when people write articles about being a hardgainer and/or ectomorph. They start off by mentioning how terrible their genetics are and how borderline impossible it is for them to build muscle or gain weight.

This of course is done to make you see that they are (or were) just like you. Why? So you’re more likely to trust what they’re about to say about this subject (and buy whatever it is they’re usually trying to sell along with it).

I mean, a true hardgainer/ectomorph would be skeptical taking advice from someone who was born with amazing genetics, right? That’s fine. I totally get that.

But it’s when the writer gets into the specifics of where they started out that I tend to smile. For example, I’ve seen articles like this begin with claims of the person (a man) being a pathetic 150lbs when he first started working out.

Wow… you really had it rough with those genetics. Poor guy.

Here’s the thing though. I started out at nearly 120lbs (at 5’11) my first day inside of a gym. I had to put on 30 F-ing pounds before I’d even qualify as having the “bad genetics” this person had.

So why am I telling you this? Simple. So you understand that the following article is coming to you from a legitimate text book definition of what we’d all consider an ectomorph, hardgainer and genetic loser to be. Just like you are.

Or, at least… just like you think you are. There’s a big difference. Let me tell you all about it…

What Is An Ectomorph? What Is A Hardgainer?

Well, if you asked most people about these terms, they’d probably tell you that they’re the same thing and have an identical meaning. Usually something along the lines of the following…

Ectomorph/Hardgainer:

These words are most commonly used to describe a man or woman who is naturally (or better yet, genetically prone to being) skinny and has a harder time building muscle or just gaining weight in general than most people.

They have a “fast metabolism” compared to the average person and appear to be unable to gain weight no matter how much they eat. They often tend to be picky eaters with small appetites (although you do occasionally see the opposite too).

They have a small bone structure. Narrow shoulders, flat chest, narrow waist and hips, super small and skinny wrists, super small and skinny ankles. Sometimes, but not always, they’re a bit on the lanky side with longer than average limbs and longer than average muscle belly length.

They’ve probably been skinny/thin their entire lives.

That’s how most people would define this body type. And yeah, I’d agree with all of it. Except, there’s a bit more to it than that…

Ectomorph vs Hardgainer: Is There A Difference?

Alright, sure… an ectomorph is a naturally skinny person with a thinner overall frame and faster metabolism who has a harder time gaining weight/muscle than everyone else. And yes, I would say that all of this describes the hardgainer as well.

They are very similar, and there’s tons of overlap between them in that most hardgainers ARE ectomorphs, and many ectomorphs ARE hardgainers. But, if you ask me, there is one very subtle difference here:

An ectomorph is someone who genetically has a harder time building muscle.

A hardgainer is someone who genetically sucks at it.

To put it another way, I’d define a hardgainer as an ectomorph with worse genetics.

Ectomorph + Fat = The Hardgainer

The best example I can give you of what I mean revolves around the word “skinny” which we keep throwing around here. How so? Because some ectomorphs aren’t just naturally skinny. They’re naturally lean. And therein lies a key difference.

I mean, a male ectomorph could be 15% body fat and look super skinny. Another male ectomorph could be 9% body fat and still look super skinny. Hell, in clothes, they’d probably look identical.

But take those clothes off and you’ll see the difference. One is skinny and lean, and one is just plain skinny. Or, more accurately with this body type… skinny-fat.

And that’s what I think a true hardgainer is. There are skinny ectomorphs that are naturally lean and defined (the good version), and there are skinny ectomorphs that are naturally skinny-fat (the bad version). Now granted, both versions suck if your goal is building muscle (and this article is aimed at helping both).

But, that second version — the bad one — that one sucks a little extra. Those are what I call hardgainers.

They’re essentially ectomorphs that aren’t naturally lean. They have all the negative aspects of this body type (super thin frame, fast metabolism, etc.) without the one positive aspect (leanness).

They’re the ones who, while in a caloric surplus, tend to put on more fat and less muscle than most people do with all else being equal. And in a deficit, they tend to lose more muscle and less fat. Basically, a hardgainer’s calorie partitioning is much worse than everyone else’s, including the “good” version of the ectomorph.

With me so far? Awesome. Now it’s time to send half of you packing.

The “Fake” Hardgainer

Here’s the funny thing about all of this. After learning what a hardgainer is, everyone thinks they are one.

I bet most of the people reading this were probably nodding along while thinking “Yes, this is totally me… building muscle is extra hard for me and happens very slowly. I gain too much fat in a surplus, I lose too much muscle in a deficit… thus leaving me skinny-fat. I’m clearly a hardgainer.”

Wanna know why I think that’s funny? Because out of the TONS of people who might THINK they are hardgainers, I’d guess that maybe (at most) 25% of them actually are. Probably less.

Why is this? I think there are two primary reasons.

  1. Unrealistic expectations.
    As I’ve covered before, the rate of muscle growth is painfully slow. Yet most people expect to build 20lbs of muscle in 6 weeks like all of the bodybuilding magazines, supplement companies, fitness products and muscle building programs have been promising for decades. Our perception of reality is clouded by a combination of deceptive sales tactics (blatant lies and bullshit claims) and the amazing unrealistic results of steroid users. So when a person isn’t gaining muscle at the “lightning fast” rate they’ve been promised or somehow came to believe was possible, they assume the problem is their crappy hardgainer/ectomorph genetics. Nope. It’s that their expectations are way too high.
  2. You eat and train like a moron.
    This is the most common reason of all. Take someone who has approached their goal of building muscle in a way that is less than optimal. Hell, take someone who has approached their goal of building muscle in a way that isn’t even remotely intelligent or effective. Guess what? I just described the majority of the population. Now guess what happens after a few weeks/months/years of training and eating that way? They all come to the incorrect conclusion that building muscle is harder for them than it is for everyone else, and they are… [cue the dramatic trumpets]… a hardgainer!

Sorry, but no.

They are just normal people who attempted to build muscle by doing things that don’t work very well for building muscle.

So the problem isn’t your supposed ectomorph body type or hardgainer genetics. The problem is that you don’t eat enough to support growth and your workout routine is horseshit. Or maybe that you weren’t consistent. Or maybe that you didn’t give it enough time. Or maybe one of the other 100 reasons people fail at improving their bodies.

Like I said, this describes most of the population. It’s why most of the people trying to build muscle don’t get great results. It’s not that the majority of the population are hardgainers… it’s that the majority of the population are dumbasses. (Don’t worry, as a proud long-time former dumbass, I’m allowed to say stuff like that.)

In fact, I think a better name for this group would be “dumbgainer” rather than “hardgainer.” It’s not legitimately harder for you to make gains than everyone else, you’re just going about making those gains in a way that is dumber than you ideally should be… and it just seems harder. It’s not.

So if you’re currently skinny or skinny-fat, and you’ve been trying to change it but your results have been poor, chances are it’s NOT your genetics. Chances are it’s because you’re just doing a bad job at building muscle and/or losing fat. True story.

The Real Hardgainer: Does It Even Exist?

Because this “fake” version is so damn common, it leads some people to claim that there is no such thing as a hardgainer (or even an ectomorph)… there’s just people who eat and train incorrectly for their goal.

To which I say… bullshit.

The true hardgainer definitely DOES exist in that there are people who, when doing everything right, are just genetically below average at gaining muscle. With all else being equal, they’re just physiologically worse at it than most people are. How so?

  • Maybe their rate of muscle growth is below realistic averages in terms of the speed they are capable of building it and/or the quantity that gets built.
  • Maybe their genetic potential for total muscle gained in their lifetime is below realistic averages.
  • Maybe some aspect (or every aspect) of their hormonal profile (testosterone especially, cortisol, insulin, thyroid, etc.) is less ideal than realistic averages.
  • Maybe their muscle fiber composition, tendon insertion points and muscle belly lengths are less suited for muscle growth than that of the average person.
  • Maybe their overall bone structure, joints and tendons put them at a significant disadvantage for gaining muscle or even just lifting heavy things on a regular basis for the purpose of gaining muscle.
  • Maybe their p-ratio is below realistic averages. Maybe with all else being equal, they do gain more fat in a surplus and lose more muscle in a deficit than the average person does.
  • Maybe their recovery rate and/or work capacity is below average.
  • Maybe they are more injury prone than others.
  • Maybe all of the above and then some.

But whatever is it, there are most definitely men and women out there who, with all else being equal, are genetically less-good at muscle growth than the average person is.

You know, just like how there are a few lucky bastards who are above average in all of these categories (the “genetic elite”). And then there’s the majority of the population who is neither above nor below average… they’ll fall somewhere in the middle (aka average).

And some will just use drugs/steroids and make all of this stuff irrelevant.

But the point is, while most of the people who assume they’re hardgainers will fall into the “fake” hardgainer category described above (aka the dumbgainer), there is indeed a decent number of us who can legitimately be considered real life hardgainers.

If you’re one of them, welcome to the club. Please allow me to take your coat and remind you that as long as your diet and workout routine are designed intelligently and executed correctly, you CAN still build muscle (and get lean) despite your less-than-stellar genetics.

Let me show you how…

The Best Hardgainer/Ectomorph Workout Routine

Alright, so you realized long ago that you had an “ectomorph” body type and assumed you’re a hardgainer… an assumption which may have been confirmed as you read through the beginning of this article.

The next step is figuring out how you need to train to get the most out of your below average genetics and build muscle as well as you can. So, what kind of workout routine is best for people like us?

How You’ve Been Told To Train

If you have ever researched this kind of thing before, I can almost guarantee the majority of what you’ve heard is something along the lines of the following. This is supposedly how an ectomorph/hardgainer should approach weight training for muscle growth…

  • Very low volume (very few exercises, very few sets… this body type supposedly overtrains very easily).
  • Very low frequency (typically training each muscle group once per week, any more would supposedly be overtaining for this body type).
  • Low rep ranges only (rarely if ever going above 5-8 reps).
  • Very high intensity (go heavy all the time).
  • Go to failure often, maybe even all of the time.
  • Focus ONLY on a few big free weight compound exercises (squat, bench, deadlift, etc.). Nothing else.
  • Squats, squats and more squats. (And milk.)
  • No isolation exercises or machines… ever.
  • Very short workouts (get out of the gym in 30-45 minutes!! Even a second longer will supposedly be overtraining for this body type).
  • HIT (high intensity training) is a training approach that is often suggested.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. It’s exactly what I saw when I went researching the same type of workout years ago, and exactly what I’d find if I went looking again today.

And guess what happened when I tried training this way? Guess what happened when I put all of that advice into action? I got nowhere. (See #3 here for additional details).

Turns out that the type of workout routine that’s supposedly ideal for ectomorphs/hardgainers actually isn’t. It flat out sucks, just like how this type of training tends to suck for the rest of the population, too. I don’t recommend it at all.

How You Actually SHOULD Train

Now here’s what I actually recommend. This is what I’ve personally found to work best for those of us with the ectomorph body type and/or hardgainer genetics… including myself:

1. Progressive Overload = Still The Key

Regardless of your genetics and body type, and above all of the other workout factors I’m going to be mentioning here, the true key to building muscle for EVERYONE is progressive overload. Your #1 training focus is to make sure you’re getting stronger on each exercise over time.

Don’t lose sight of that. It’s more important than everything else.

2. Increase The Frequency

As I’ve written tons about before, pretty much all research and real world experience confirms that typical low frequency training (hitting each body part once per week) is the least effective training frequency for virtually EVERYONE with any goal, especially building muscle.

This is why I recommend beginners train everything about 3 times per week (ideally using a full body split), and intermediate and advanced trainees hit everything about twice per week (ideally using an upper/lower split, a smarter version of push/pull/legs or some similar workout schedule).

With hardgainers/ectomorphs, I find this recommendation to be EXTRA important. In my experience (and I wasted years training at a shitty once-per-week frequency), we lose muscular, neural and even technical adaptations surprisingly fast. It’s yet another of our crappy genetic traits.

Case in point, when some people take a full week off from training, they can often come back right where they left off and feel fine, sometimes even better and stronger. When I take a week off, I come back mentally and physically fresher for sure (the main benefit of taking that week off), but I require a good few weeks before I’m fully back to where I left off in terms of strength, performance and just feeling comfortable.

To a lesser extent, I think this is exactly why we are so extra bad at low frequency training. We lose way too much progress way too quickly during those full 7 days between training that body part again. So we make some progress and signal new adaptations, but lose some/all of it before that next workout comes along a week later.

Again, I find this to be true for most people… just to a much higher degree with our body type.

3. Avoid High Frequency Training/Full Body Workouts

I know, I just said to avoid low frequency training because we suck at it… and we do. But at the same time, I find that our body type also sucks at higher frequency training which in this case will be defined as training each body part 3 times per week (or more).

Beginners are an exception here. But if you’re past the beginner stage, I’d recommend training each body part more often than once per week, but less often than 3 times. So… about twice. I think this is BY FAR our sweet spot for progression AND I think it’s safer on our skinny/injury prone frame (joints and tendons especially).

I’d also recommend avoiding full body training (which is the most common high frequency split) for the same reasons plus the fact that I just think we don’t do best with full body workouts. When done right, full body workouts are usually a bunch of big compound exercises (sometimes with lots of supersets — another thing I think we suck at — to allow you to fit what you need without the workout taking forever).

But in my experience, our below average work capacity just isn’t ideally suited for training the entire body in a single workout. It’s not that we can’t tolerate something like 4 big compound exercises and maybe 2 smaller isolation exercises in a single workout. If we did an upper body workout fitting that description, we’d do just fine.

But the fact that the exercises being done are training the whole body makes it quite a bit more fatiguing and taxing overall on the CNS. Not exactly something an ectomorph or hardgainer does well with. Again, beginners are the exception.

Additional details here: Is A Full Body Workout Routine Best For You? Probably Not.

4. Rest Longer Between Sets (Sometimes) 

In what will become a running theme here as you go through this list, our CNS (central nervous system) recovery and work capacity are both below average. All part of what makes our shitty genetics so damn shitty.

And this fact means we respond to certain aspects of training a bit differently than others and should tweak these things accordingly. One such area is rest periods. If I’m doing a big compound exercise like the bench press, squat or deadlift (for example) in a lower rep range (say 5-8) and therefore heavier, and I try to rest less than 3 minutes (2:30, 2:00, 1:30, etc.), my performance absolutely sucks and the drop-off from one set to the next is substantial.

In a scenario like this (big exercise done heavy in a lowish rep range), I ALWAYS take a full 3 minutes on most exercises. Not a second less, and sometimes slightly more (like 3:30). Doing so leads to a huge improvement in my strength, performance, form, ability to progress, and just my overall comfort level on subsequent sets.

Now I’m definitely not suggesting that you take 3 minutes or more between everything. I’m suggesting you do it during your couple of biggest/heaviest lower rep primary lifts of the day, where progressive tension is the main focus.

For your secondary exercises (the stuff in the 8-10, or 10-12, or even 12-15 rep range, where progressive tension is still a big focus, but metabolic fatigue and muscular damage is now a focus as well), I think slightly shorter rest periods (1-2 minutes) are still ideal.

BUT, you may still want to experiment with exactly how long you take. A 30 or 60 second difference doesn’t seem like much, but for us ectomorphs/hardgainers, that tiny time difference can have a surprisingly big impact on our performance. So, experiment. I know exactly which exercises I do best with more or less rest during. You should too.

5. Increase The Volume

I’ve found that the typical super low volume approach that is supposed to be ideal for our body type most definitely is NOT. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not suggesting a typical high volume bodybuilding approach or anything close to that either. We’re extra horrible at that too, just like most of the population is (like most things, we’re just much worse at it than they are).

I’m suggesting a point somewhere in the middle… a moderate optimal amount of volume that is neither too high nor too low. Something like 30-60 total reps for each big muscle group per workout, and around half that for smaller muscle groups (with again, about two workouts per week).

6. Widen The Rep Ranges, Vary The Intensity

In all honesty, I do believe that the 5-8 rep range is probably the most important and beneficial rep range for ANYONE trying to build muscle, including us ectomorphs and hardgainers. And if you were forced to only use one rep range, that would probably be the one I’d recommend.

But luckily, you’re NOT forced to only use one rep range. And in that case, I’d recommend using the 5-8 rep range for your big primary exercises (squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.), but definitely go up into the 8-15 rep range on the accessory stuff.

There’s two main reasons for this. First, our CNS, tendons and joints aren’t built for nothing but heavy low rep work (no one is, really… our body type/genetics are just a lot worse). Second, while progressive tension is the biggest muscle growth signaler (and the 5-8 rep range is ideal for that), some degree of muscular fatigue and damage helps to signal growth too. Going into these higher rep ranges (8-10, 10-12, even 12-15) is ideal for that.

7. Avoid Going To Failure

Our CNS recovery is below average, and going to failure is an absolute CNS killer. This is why there are few aspects of weight training as bad for us as going to failure all the time, or just ending up going to failure more often than we should (which, if you ask me, would ideally be just slightly more frequently than never).

Granted, going to failure all the time sucks for most people, which is why I don’t recommend it. It just tends to suck a whole lot more for people with our genetics.

Case in point… when I’ve occasionally gone to failure on a set or two of my first heavy exercise of the day (especially in consecutive sets), I’ve found that it can sometimes completely blow me out for the entire rest of the workout. My performance on EVERYTHING after that is reduced. I’m more tired. Mentally and physically drained. Just a little out of it overall.

For this reason, I’d highly suggest stopping your sets about 1 rep before hitting failure 98% of the time.

Of that remaining 2%, save 1% of it for the occasional isolation exercise that happens to hit failure (much less problematic to reach failure on higher rep tricep push-downs than on lower rep barbell bench pressing… still not something you should purposely set out to do though), and the other 1% for the occasional time where you feel pretty sure that you’ll get that next rep but end up failing on it anyway (which is something that is bound to happen from time to time since progression is the #1 goal, but still not something you want to happen often and definitely not something should be purposely aiming to make happen).

8. Choose The Right Set/Rep Scheme And Progression Method

I suck at doing traditional straight sets, and I find many other ectomorphs/hardgainers do too. Meaning, if I’m supposed to be doing something like 3×8 with 200lbs on some exercise, I will take forever (if ever) to get 8 reps in all 3 sets with that weight. More likely, I’ll just keep on getting 8, 7, 6 over and over again, finding it extremely difficult (bordering on impossible) to add those 1-2 reps to those later sets.

I just naturally tend to lose 1 rep in each subsequent set with the same weight. Always have (which is why 5×5 with the same weight sucks for me too). Why is this? My theory is that, among other things, it’s a genetic work capacity thing. I’m just not capable of maintaining reps from set to set with the same weight (unless that weight is lighter than I want it to be).

And hey, wouldn’t ya know… hardgainers/ectomorphs typically have a below average work capacity (at least when it comes to strength training… we’re usually quite good at endurance). And pyramid sets? Where you start with the lightest weight and end with your heaviest weight while decreasing reps (e.g. 180lbsx10, 190lbsx8, 200lbsx6)… that’s even worse.

Instead, I’ve found 3 other set/rep schemes to be ideal for me:

  1. Do straight sets, but with a rep range instead one specific rep amount. So warm up to my heaviest set, and then get one less rep per set with the same weight (so 3×6-8 instead of 3×8… thus allowing the 200lbsx8, 200lbsx7, 200lbsx6 I’m naturally prone to getting to be the acceptable progression goal).
  2. Reverse pyramid. Warm up to my heaviest set, then reduce the weight in subsequent sets while increasing the reps (e.g. 200lbsx6, 190lbsx7, 180lbsx8).
  3. Modified reverse pyramid. Warm up to my heaviest set, then reduce the weight each set while maintaining the reps (e.g. 200lbsx8, 190×8, 180lbsx8).

Additional info here: Pyramid Sets vs Reverse Pyramid Training vs Straight Sets

9. Focus Mostly On Big Compound Exercises

Exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups, rows, various single leg movements, etc. should most definitely make up the majority of your workout and get the majority of your focus. That’s something I’d recommend to everyone.

10. Certain Machines And Isolation Exercises Are Perfectly Fine, Too

You read and understood #9, right? Good. Having said that, it’s perfectly fine (and often beneficial) to include certain machines and isolation exercises in a smaller secondary role in your workout.

For example, biceps and triceps isolation work is not the devil. When programmed correctly (i.e. tiny amount of it after the more important stuff), it will only help your arms grow… not hurt (seriously).

And stuff like leg presses, lat pull-downs, lateral raises, leg curls, chest flyes, various Hammer Strength machines, cable-based exercises and even the dreaded leg extension? They’re all fine and CAN serve a beneficial role in your workout routine. In fact, in some cases, you may find you’re not built well for certain supposed “required” exercises, but you’re built perfectly for others you’re often told to avoid for some stupid reason.

In my case for example, I avoid the incline barbell bench press (bothers my shoulders) in favor of the incline Hammer Strength machine (feels absolutely perfect for me). Another example below…

11. Squats, Squats And More Squats… Or Maybe Not

Look, if you want to build big legs, the back squat is a fantastic way to do it. This is why I include it in virtually every program I design by default. The thing is, for certain people, the squat isn’t always an ideal exercise.

What kind of people am I referring to? Taller people and/or those with longer legs (a common trait among many (but not all) ectomorphs), and those who are posterior chain dominant (hams/glutes take over during quad exercises).

Now I’m definitely NOT saying that anyone should automatically avoid squats completely. I’m just saying that some people (many of which are ectomorphs) have a body type that isn’t built well for squatting and they’ll end up struggling with it more so than most people will, and getting less out of it than most people will.

In these cases, they might be better off experimenting with focusing less on squats, and more on leg presses, deadlifts, and various single leg exercises (split squats, lunges, single-leg leg press, etc.). Or, just skipping squats altogether in favor of these kinds of exercises.

Oh, and by the way, if you’ve heard that squatting is a requirement for ectomorphs because it releases tons of growth hormones that will make your entire body grow like crazy… that’s bullshit. I mean, there’s truth to “it releases growth hormones” part, it’s just that this training induced hormone spike isn’t enough to actually matter in any meaningful way.

12. Avoid High Exercise Frequency (Maybe)

This one is something I’ve observed with myself, so I can’t say for sure if it’s the same for you (although I’d suspect it could be). And that is, I find I can train muscle groups twice per week with no problem.

BUT, doing the same specific exercises twice per week… something about that just isn’t right for me.

So I can squat on Monday and leg press on Thursday, but squatting both days sucks. I can do heavy weighted pull-ups one day and higher rep lat pull downs on another. But heavy pull-ups twice a week sucks. I can overhead press one day, and do lateral raises on another. But overhead pressing on both days? My body just doesn’t seem to like it for some reason, at least not as well as these other exercise selection scenarios.

Just something to think about and experiment with.

13. Deload

Again, deloading is something I recommend to everyone regardless of body type or genetics. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, people like us tend to “hit the wall” and “burn out” a bit easier than others with better genetics. I also find we hit that wall a bit harder than others, and stall out/backslide faster than most once reaching that point.

Our muscles might not have any problem at all, but it’s mainly our CNS that can’t really take as much hard/heavy training as others can, or at least not for as long as others might be able to take it. Our injury prone joints/tendons certainly can’t either.

For this reason, when we hit that wall, we really need to pay close attention and back off a bit. As mentioned earlier, I think we suck at taking actual time off (e.g. a full week off). Instead, we need to deload, and in my experience we (myself included) do much better by deloading intensity rather than volume. Full details here: How To Deload

14. Avoid Common Injury-Causing Exercises

Technically, every exercise is potentially an injury-causing exercise depending on your form and overall workout routine. And of course, individualization plays a huge role here as some people can do certain exercises forever and be just fine, while others will have problems.

In that same vein, I find that there are exercises that just tend to pose an increased risk to the thin bone structure, joints and tendons of an ectomorph.

First up on that list for me is the straight barbell curl. Now I did straight barbell curls on and off for years without any problem. It always felt a little weird on my wrists/forearms to curl a straight bar (sign #1 that maybe I shouldn’t be doing it), but it wasn’t until years later that it finally caught up with me and became a legit cause of injury. Stick with the EZ curl bar or dumbbells instead.

Heavy chin-ups (underhand grip) were almost an identical issue for me. It always felt a little uncomfortable on my wrists/forearms when gripping the chin-up bar (or lat pull-down bar) with an underhand grip (here we go again), and after doing it long enough/eventually getting heavy enough, they became a problem. Stick with pull-ups (overhand grip), neutral grip (palms facing each others) or rings.

Then we have skull crushers. Even when done with an EZ curl bar instead of a straight bar, they’re a known elbow killer. Either find a safer way of doing them (details here: skull crushers) or avoid them in favor of other less problematic triceps exercises (for example, cable press downs… with a rope or v-bar, not a straight bar).

And I’d be crazy if I didn’t mention dips… likely the killer of more shoulders than any other exercise in existence. Again, some people can do them without problems, but MANY can’t.

The biggest point here is that if ANY exercise (free weight, body weight, machine, barbell, dumbbell, cable, etc.) of ANY kind doesn’t feel completely “right” for your body now or at any point in the future (and again, I find the ectomorph body is more prone to having injury issues than other body types with all else being equal), you need to adjust or avoid that exercise. (For example: 6 Good Exercises I Will Never Do Again)

Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter, there’s not a single exercise you MUST do (yes, even squats). There are plenty of equally effective replacements that WILL be more ideal for your body. Do only those. Because, if you think building muscle is hard now, wait till you try to do it with an injury preventing you from doing what needs to be done.

15. Workouts Longer Than 30-45 Minutes Won’t Kill You

We’ve all been told that we should get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, ideally within 30-45 minutes. This is supposedly a good guideline for most, but for ectomorphs and hardgainers, it’s supposedly an absolute requirement!

Why? It seems to be a combination of the fact that A) we can supposedly only tolerate super low amounts of volume, and B) at 46 minutes exactly, the cortisol fairy will supposedly show up, drink your testosterone, make your muscles fall off instantly, and add 1 pound of fat to your body for every additional minute you’re still inside the gym.

Or some crazy shit like that? I honestly can’t even keep track anymore. But whatever the claimed reason is, it’s nothing you actually need to care about.

As long as your workouts are intelligently designed and not filled with more than you need to be doing (e.g. stereotypical bodybulding workouts… which are horrible), it’s no problem whatsoever for your workouts to exceed this mythical time frame.

In fact, it’s normal for something like a perfectly designed “upper body day” (as part of an upper/lower routine) to take 60-90 minutes depending on the specifics. Don’t worry. You’ll be just fine. What matters is that your overall workout program is designed optimally… not that each workout lasts a specific (and meaningless) amount of time.

16. Warm Up Just Right

I’m not just referring to the general warm-up for the workout itself (like mobility stuff, prehab work, foam rolling, etc., which is also definitely important), I’m referring to your warm-up sets for each exercise.

Again, the body of the ectomorph and/or hardgainer is a little different than everyone else’s when it comes to building muscle and really just the act of lifting heavy things. One such example I’ve noticed is that if I don’t warm up for an exercise just right, my first set feels heavy as hell. In a “wow, I sooo wasn’t expecting this” kind of way.

And not even just heavy. Like unstable and awkward and weak and sloppy. Where my second set usually feels a lot better, stronger and smoother than the first. What… you’ve experienced what I’m describing before too? It’s not your imagination.

Like most of this stuff, this is something that is true for everyone… but again… just to a more significant degree for us. I’ve previously outlined how to do your warm-up sets before, so definitely check that out. But, here’s one specific tip I’ve found to be hugely beneficial for me.

And that is… the heavy single. My final warm-up set is just 1 rep with 90-95% of my working weight. No matter how thoroughly I’ve already warmed up, this last set primes my nervous system for my working sets better than anything else. For me, on certain exercises, it’s key.

17. Avoid HIT

Nothing else to say really. High intensity training (not to be confused with HIIT, high intensity interval training… although you may want to avoid that too, see below) is just an inferior approach to training (1 set to failure? no thanks) for damn near everyone… us especially. Yet it’s one of the more common forms of weight training recommended to ectomorphs/hardgainers. Avoid it.

18. Avoid The Unnecessary/Stupid Stuff

Off the top of my head…

  • Dropsets. Supersets. Forced reps. Eccentric only. Random nonsense before/after/between sets (burpees, push-ups, kettlebell stuff, finishers, etc.). And on and on and on. Um, no. No to all of it. This kind of fancy unnecessary stuff is nothing but counterproductive to the needs of an ectomorph. Avoid it.
  • Making sure the right muscle groups are doing the work during various exercises (e.g. making sure your back is working during back exercises and not just your biceps) is definitely important. But, training specifically/solely to get tons of pump in your muscles and be sore as hell the next day? That couldn’t be dumber. Avoid it.
  • Changing your workout often? Shocking your muscles? Muscle confusion? Um, no again. Avoid it. You need consistency to make progress, and changing things all the time makes that impossible. As I’ve said before, your muscles don’t need to be shocked. They need to be consistently challenged. Change things only when needed.
  • Doesn’t “feel like” you’re doing enough in your workouts? It “feels like” you need to be doing more? Nope. Trust me… you’re doing enough.
  • Wondering if you’d build muscle better and faster if you used the popular bodybuilder routines you often see? You most definitely will NOT.
  • Worried about your upper and lower chest? Stop it.
  • Ladies… scared of becoming too big and bulky like a guy? Don’t worry… you won’t. Only want to lift light weights for high reps so you just get “toned?” Coincidentally, that won’t happen either.

These are just a few common examples of the many unnecessary and just plain stupid things that we often end up doing/thinking about doing which just prevents us from doing the things we truly NEED to be doing. Avoid it. Avoid all of it.

19. Cardio: Limit It Or Avoid It Completely

And speaking of counterproductive to the needs of an ectomorph, we have cardio.

As I’ll cover in detail in a minute, a caloric surplus is the primary dietary requirement of muscle growth, and as you already know, our “fast metabolism” (more on that later as well) makes being in this required surplus extra hard. It may seem impossible, but it’s not. It’s harder for sure, but it’s still very doable.

However, do you know what makes it even harder? Burning tons of additional calories through cardio.

For this reason, if you have trouble eating enough to support growth (like most ectomorphs usually do) and want to put yourself in the best possible position for successfully meeting your calorie intake needs, I’d highly suggest keeping your non-weight training activity limited to nothing but small amounts of light and easy cardio.

In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that most ectomorphs will do best if they just avoid all forms of cardio completely. I know I do.

For me personally, when muscle growth is my goal, I do absolutely nothing but weight training. Additional activity just makes things harder/worse for me. Trust me, I’ve tried. I do best when my rest days literally are rest days. No cardio, no “conditioning,” no anything. With the possible exception of stuff like foam rolling, I’m just resting, recovering and eating.

Recommended Workout Routines

If you’re looking for a routine that already incorporates most of what you just read into a complete program designed for muscle growth, I’d highly recommend checking out The Muscle Building Workout Routine. That routine is basically an improved version of the first routine I used that actually worked well for me. Extremely well.

Unless of course you’re a beginner, in which case I’d recommend starting out with The Beginner Weight Training Routine instead.

And if you’re looking for more than that, my compilation of The Best Workout Routines might be worth checking out, too.

The Best Hardgainer/Ectomorph Diet

As much as people screw up their workout, and as hugely important as it is to implement all of the above components, I would say the biggest problem (by FAR) that ectomorphs and hardgainers face has nothing at all to do with our workout.

It’s our diet. More specifically, it’s our calorie intake. We just don’t eat enough.

The BIG Secret

As you may or may not know, the primary dietary requirement of building muscle (or just gaining weight) is a caloric surplus.

This basically means that we have to eat more calories than our bodies burn so that a small surplus exists. (Additional details here: Calories in vs Calories out)

So for example, if you maintain your current body weight consuming 2000 calories per day (this would be your “maintenance level”), you’d gain weight if you consumed 2500 calories per day instead. In this example, those extra 500 calories would be your surplus. It’s additional calories beyond what your body required to maintain its current state.

And assuming you’re training correctly (as outlined in the first half of this article) and doing everything else right, most of the “weight” you gain will ideally be in the form of muscle… not body fat.

But the big super secret magical point here is that above all else diet related, a caloric surplus is the key. If you’re not eating enough to support growth, you won’t build any muscle, and you won’t gain any weight.

Please read that again. Now go ahead and read it again. Then take a second and read it one more time so it really sinks in. This is something that needs to be beaten into brain of every ectomorph/hardgainer walking the earth.

The Annoying Complaints

Why is it so important for you to understand this, you ask? Because due to our shitty genetics, it’s significantly harder for us to eat enough calories to be in that required surplus than it is for most people.

And this is why it seems like you can eat and eat and eat and never gain any weight. Or why the most common ectomorph complaints are “I’m eating TONS of food but I still can’t gain any weight” or  “I swear I’m eating A LOT, but I just can’t gain weight no matter what I do!”

Trust me, I understand these complaints better than anyone else ever could. I’ve been there. I’ve said those exact words many times.

But, it’s NOT actually true. It just seems that way to you because your definition of “eating a lot” or “eating tons of food” is a lot lower than it actually needs to be for your body.

Why? Because of that darn “fast metabolism” characteristic you’ve always heard about.

Our “Fast Metabolism” PROS and CONS

Fat people almost universally think we’re lucky. “You can eat whatever you want and not gain weight! I wish I was an ectomorph like you!”

And in that regard, they’re kinda right. I mean, if your primary goal was to just avoid becoming obese, then our “skinny” genetics are actually fantastic. And if you’re one of the “good” naturally lean types of ectomorphs, and your primary goal is to get/stay lean, then again… you’re genetics actually are quite good. And if you ever did somehow gain TOO MUCH weight (quite rare, but certainly possible) and your goal was to simply lose weight (a goal most of the population has) then again, we did kinda hit the genetic jackpot for that sort of thing.

So yeah, as crazy as it might sound, when you look at it like this… our “fast metabolism” makes our genetics surprisingly good for certain things.

Unfortunately, they are mostly things we couldn’t give a shit about.

We want to build muscle. We want to gain weight. We want to get bigger and stronger. We want to NOT be skinny. And for these types of goals, our fast metabolism is our worst enemy.

So what exactly makes our metabolic rate so “fast?” Why is it harder for us to gain weight than others? Why are our calorie requirements above average?

What Makes Our Metabolism So Fast & Our Calorie Needs So High?

There’s a handful of factors that play a role here. These are the ones that are probably the most significant:

  • Hormones. It starts with what is likely to be a variety of hormonal factors (thyroid, insulin, leptin, ghrelin, etc.).
  • Digestion. From there, I have a strong feeling digestive issues play some role as well for many of us in that, if you’re not properly digesting some/many of the foods you eat, then you’re not properly absorbing the calories/nutrients they contain. (For example, in my case personally, I’ve found that I don’t digest dairy or oats well at all, and have issues with wheat too.)
  • Appetite. I guess this technically isn’t something that makes our metabolism fast, but rather something that makes it seem even faster. And that of course is the fact that many ectomorphs and hardgainers grew up being picky eaters (I certainly was), and often don’t have the largest appetites in the world. I figure this at least partially ties in with the hormonal factors mentioned before, specifically with leptin and ghrelin… the hunger regulating hormones.
  • Activity & Lifestyle. Then we have activity levels. Lots of times (but not always), skinny people tend to lead a more active lifestyle than fat people (or is it that fat people are just less active than skinny people?), and started that way as kids. For example, I grew up playing every sport imaginable from the youngest possible age (5?) all the way through my teens. I had a handful of fatter friends who I hung out with during these years, and just from observing them, it was pretty clear that me and the other skinny kids moved around a whole lot more (and just sat still a whole lot less) than the fatter kids. Is that part of what caused some of us to be skinny and some to be fat? Maybe. Or, was the fact that some were skinny and some were fat what affected how active we were? It’s a chicken/egg scenario I guess. Either way, it plays a role.
  • NEAT. I actually think this one may be too important for a small bullet point. So…

NEAT: Possibly The Biggest Factor Of All

NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogensis) is defined as the calories burned as a result of all of the little things you do over the course of the day BESIDES obvious stuff like exercise.

I’m talking about things like standing, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, walking to the bathroom, etc.. All of that. Plus, all of your spontaneous daily activity too. You know, like moving around in your chair, tapping your foot, adjusting/maintaining posture and position, fidgeting… basically just extra movement that you didn’t consciously make yourself do. (By the way, you can’t make yourself increase spontaneous activity, because then it’s no longer spontaneous. That would just be normal activity no different than if you made yourself get on a treadmill.)

The most interesting thing about NEAT is that, for many people, it increases with overfeeding. So when you consume more calories, NEAT upregulates and your body naturally burns more calories without you even realizing it. So the more calories you consume, the more calories your body burns thanks to NEAT.

Now here’s where it gets REALLY interesting. The variance between the amount of calories burned via NEAT from one person to the next is sometimes pretty damn crazy.

For example, studies have shown that some people don’t upregulate NEAT at all. So when they eat more, they don’t burn any additional calories. But for others, eating more calories causes their bodies to burn HUNDREDS of additional calories. Others fall somewhere in the middle.

So let’s put that into a completely hypothetical example.

Let’s say 3 people have a maintenance level of 2000 calories per day. Starting tomorrow, they will each eat 500 MORE calories each day (so 2500 total). Here’s what can potentially happen:

  1. Person A may burn no additional calories whatsoever. In their case, they have a 500 calorie surplus (eating 2500 calories).
  2. Person B may burn 100 additional calories via NEAT. In their case, they end up with only a 400 calorie surplus (as if they’re only eating 2400 calories).
  3. Person C may burn 300 additional calories via NEAT. In their case, they end up with only a 200 calorie surplus (as if they’re only eating 2200 calories).

So in this made up example, we have 3 people with the same calorie needs creating an identical surplus and eating the same total amount. But, their results will be quite different based on how their body responds to these extra calories.

In this example, you can see why Person C will have a much harder time gaining weight than Person A would (in fact, person A is likely genetically prone to being fat just like Person C is likely genetically prone to being skinny). Person C’s body is just super efficient at burning calories (due to NEAT) to the point where it canceled out more than half of the extra calories that were consumed.

Of course, this was just a hypothetical example. Just how legit is this type of variance in NEAT in the real world? Allow me to quote Lyle McDonald…

Changes in SPA/NEAT can vary hugely and explain most of the discrepancies in expected vs. actual weight gain.  In the earliest study, when overfed nearly 1000 calories/day weight/fat gain varied almost 10 fold but this was explained by massive variance in NEAT; some people increased their spontaneous movement by 700 cal/day (making the true surplus 300 cal/day) while one poor person (a woman) had her NEAT go down a little bit (she gained the most fat).  This is mostly genetic, unfortunately.

Behold the power of NEAT.

And if I had to guess, I’d say the NEAT of the ectomorph/hardgainer is through the roof. It may very well be the biggest contributing factor to our infamous “fast metabolism” and why it seems like we can’t gain weight no matter how much we eat.

We can of course, it’s just that the amount we’ll have to eat will be a lot higher.

How You’ve Been Told You Should Eat

So now you know why it’s so hard for us to eat enough calories to gain weight and build muscle. The question now is, how in the hell do we do it, and how many calories should we eat?

If you’ve ever researched this type of thing before, I can almost guarantee that the most common recommendation you’ve seen is that you need to just start eating a shitload of food. You know, “eat whatever isn’t nailed down,” “eat as much as you possibly can,” “you gotta eat big to get big,” and on and on and on.

Now sure, I get it. People like us DO legitimately need to eat a lot of food to be in that required surplus, especially compared to how much we’re used to eating. So, in theory, I understand the point of this sort of advice.

But it’s when you get into the specifics that things start to get… scary.

Scary Calorie Intakes And Rates Of Weight Gain

For example, it’s commonly recommended that skinny ectomorphs trying to gain weight should automatically start eating 1000 additional calories per day. Or some very large and specific calorie intake is suggested (e.g. 5000 calories per day) and you’re told that every ectomorph should eat that much starting tomorrow.

Or you’re told to aim for gaining 1-2 pounds per week and eat accordingly to make that happen. Hell, I’ve even seen supposed “experts” recommend GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) for the purpose of trying to gain 25lbs in 25 days.

Excuse me for a second…. hahhahahahahaha!

Alright, I’m back.

Here’s the thing about this sort of advice… it’s absolutely horrible.

I know that the dream of the ectomorph and/or hardgainer is to build muscle and gain weight as quickly as possible, and this advice appeals to that. The problem is, it’s complete and utter horseshit. Allow me to quote myself from a previous article (How To Bulk And Cut)…

But here’s the thing… there’s a limit to the amount of muscle a person can build and the rate at which they can build it (more here: How Fast Can You Build Muscle?).

What this means is that there is also a limit to the amount of calories the human body can actually put towards the process of muscle growth. Consuming more calories than that amount doesn’t lead to more muscle growth or faster muscle growth. It just leads to you getting fat as hell.

See, once you have supplied your body with the extra calories it needs to build muscle, any additional calories you consume beyond that point will just be stored as fat. And with this style of bulking (where little to no attention is put on monitoring calories, and the attempted rate of weight gain is often hilariously high), this is something that always ends up happening

and…

Super skinny or not, eating MORE calories above what is needed for optimal muscle growth will STILL lead to excessive amounts of fat being gained just the same. Sure, it may seem like less of a problem if a really skinny person gains that extra fat rather than someone who isn’t as skinny to start.

But who gives a shit? No one wants to unnecessarily gain extra fat, period. Even the super skinny.

As someone who once fit that description (it may have even been an understatement), I know I sure as hell didn’t. But, all of the advice I was hearing at the time made it seem like someone as skinny as I was needed to ignore everything and just eat a ton. Eat big, get big, right?

Why should someone who is barely 125lbs and the width of a broomstick waste time closely monitoring their calorie intake or try to gain weight at a slower more moderate pace? Someone with my body type should be gaining 20lbs in the next 10 weeks!!! Right?

This seemed to make sense in my silly noob head, so that’s exactly what I did. And do you know what happened? I built some muscle, but I also got fat as hell in the process.

and last but not least…

That’s why whenever I see people recommend the “eating whatever isn’t nailed down” approach, or to not bother closely counting calories, or suggesting you aim for 2 pounds gained per week (or more), or doing GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) for the purpose of gaining something as insane as 25lbs in 25 days… I do a combination of laugh and cringe.

Seriously… as someone who started off as skinny as anyone ever will, I can tell you firsthand that it’s all just flat out wrong. Even for the super skinny. You’ll certainly gain a ton of weight really fast by following this type of bulking advice. There’s no doubt about that at all, and if all you care about is just gaining weight, then I guess it’s alright.

But if you actually give a crap about what that weight is, then it’s not alright at all. Why? Because the majority of that weight will always be fat, not muscle.

Got it? Good.

But We’re Skinny… It’s OK To Gain A Little Fat!

A little fat? Sure. And let me tell you straight up… if you’re going to try to build muscle/gain weight while remaining super lean and not gaining ANY fat whatsoever, you’ll probably never build an ounce of muscle or gain a pound of weight. You’ll just spin your wheels and get nowhere.

Without steroids or amazing genetics, some small degree of fat gains WILL come with the muscle gains. It’s just not gonna happen any other way. But the key however is to try to keep those fat gains as low as possible.

But that’s not what the “experts” tell us. Nah, they’ll say things like “Don’t worry about gaining a bunch of fat now… with your skinny ectomorph genetics, you’ll be able to easily lose that fat later on! Just focus on eating a ton and gaining weight fast!”

Um, no. Sure, people like us will probably have a much easier time losing that fat than others might. But, it’s still just terrible advice. Here’s why:

  • Who wants that unnecessary job? Who wants to waste any amount of time losing a bunch of fat that you didn’t need to gain in the first place and didn’t help you build muscle any faster? I sure as hell don’t.
  • Who wants to look fat, bloated and disgusting during the long period of time between when you first start gaining this fat and finally finish losing it? Isn’t the goal here to, you know, look good? Who wants to even temporarily look like crap for no beneficial reason? Not me.
  • Besides the potential for loose skin and stretch marks (gain enough weight/fat fast enough, and that CAN happen to us just like everyone else), gaining too much excess fat now will improve how good your body is at storing fat in the future (thus screwing with your p-ratio during future attempts at building muscle/bulking).
  • And for the hardgainer, gaining excess fat is the ultimate recipe for us becoming exactly what our genetics want us to be… skinny-fat. It’s one of the absolute worst things we can do.

Just Eat Clean!

To supposedly counter any excess body fat gains, it’s commonly suggested that ectomorphs just need to eat clean. You know, avoid “dirty foods” and “bad carbs” and eat nothing but TONS of safe, healthy, “clean” foods (grilled chicken, oatmeal, vegetables, etc.). As long as you do that (and do it with 6 smalls meals every 3 hours!!!), you’ll gain only lean muscle mass.

Sorry, give me a minute… ahahahahahahhhhhhaahahahhahaha!

Alright, I’m back. First and foremost, that’s pure bullshit. Clean or dirty, healthy or unhealthy, good or bad… that has no direct impact on body composition with all else (total calorie and macronutrient intake, training, etc.) being equal. More here: Clean Eatings vs IIFYM

Second, this is just going to make the already hard dietary life of an ectomorph even harder. Your calorie needs are super high. Your metabolism is super fast. You’re (usually) a picky eater with a small appetite. Your hardest job is going to be eating enough. But hey, guess what… let’s make it even harder by limiting your food choices to only “clean foods” like grilled chicken, oatmeal and vegetables AKA highly filling foods that contain very few calories.

Genius idea guys. Seriously. Be sure to let me know how that goes. Idiots.

How You Actually SHOULD Eat

Now here’s what I actually recommend. This is what I’ve personally found to work best for those of us with the ectomorph body type and/or hardgainer genetics… including myself:

1. Calorie Intake

Since the rate of muscle growth of the ectomorph is already BELOW AVERAGE, and the skinny-fat hardgainer is already genetically prone to gaining more fat/less muscle while in a surplus, this means our calorie intake needs to be more controlled and optimized than most people’s, and our rate of weight gain needs to be slower.

Yeah, the complete opposite of the horseshit advice we’re usually given.

With that in mind, my recommendation is to consume a surplus of about 200-250 calories per day. (Women should cut that recommendation in half.) Which means…

  1. Step 1 is to estimate what your current daily calorie maintenance level is. The full details of doing that are here: Calorie Requirements Calculator
  2. Step 2 is to then add this small surplus of calories on top of it. The full details of doing that are here: How Many Calories To Build Muscle
  3. Step 3 is to monitor what your weight is doing over the next couple of weeks. If it’s increasing at the ideal rate it should be (I’ll explain that in a second), then you’re good. Keep eating that amount. BUT, if your weight is NOT increasing at that ideal rate (or just not increasing at all), add an additional 250 calories and monitor what happens then. And, if your weight happens to be increasing too quickly, remove 250 calories and monitor what happens. Your goal is to end up gaining weight at the ideal rate explained below. If you are, good. If you’re not, adjust until you are.

Optionally for all ectomorphs but especially for the true hardgainer, I’d also suggest using some type of calorie/nutrient cycling approach (more calories and carbs on training days, less on rest days… but the same total weekly net surplus still remains present).

I find that, with all else being equal, calorie cycling provides a small calorie partitioning benefit for everyone (more muscle/less fat being gained). But for a skinny-fat hardgainer genetically prone to having a below average partitioning ratio from the start? We need all the help we can get, and this is one very effective way of helping.

If you want more details and specifics for exactly how this should be done, hang in there. This article has already crossed the lines of sanity in terms of length and the amount of stuff being covered, so this is definitely not the place to go into a whole thing on calorie and nutrient cycling. But stay tuned, it’s on my to-do list. (Update: Superior Muscle Growth now contains a 50 page chapter entirely about calorie cycling. It covers everything.)

(IMPORTANT NOTE #1: The most important thing is that you’re eating as much as you need to eat to be in a surplus. That’s rule #1. I say this because calorie cycling, while beneficial, is a bit more complicated than a straight forward surplus each day, and may require a bit more effort to sustain. So, if there is any chance this approach would make things too hard/annoying for you and possibly cause you to fail to meet rule #1 (eating enough total calories to be in a surplus), then skip it. Rule #1 is infinitely more important here. But if you’re confident that you won’t have any problems eating this way, I’d highly recommend calorie cycling, especially for hardgainers.)

(IMPORTANT NOTE #2: Something else to keep in mind ONLY in the case of the skinny-fat hardgainer. Just how fat are you right now? I ask because, if you’re above a certain level of body fat, you’d be better off losing some of that fat first and getting a bit leaner before going into a surplus. For most ectomorphs, this is a total non-issue and this note should be ignored completely. BUT, for many of the people starting out in a “skinny-fat” state, the “fat” part of that equation is sometimes just too high to justify going into a surplus and gaining weight. Doing so will actually have a negative effect on your already below average p-ratio, thus making you even more likely to gain fat instead of muscle in a surplus. In these cases, your results will be much better if you lose some of that fat first so you can start out a little leaner. Additional details here: Should I Build Muscle Or Lose Fat First? and here: How Can I Build Muscle & Lose Fat At The Same Time?)

2. Rate Of Weight Gain

You remember before when I mentioned that it’s typically recommended for ectomorphs to aim to gain 1-2 pounds per week (or even more)?

Well, guess what? I want you to aim to gain 1-2 pounds… per month. So somewhere between 0.25-0.5lb per week is the goal. (Women should shoot for about 0.25lb per week, or about 1lb per month.)

That might not sound like much (although if you really think about it guys, is being 12-24lbs bigger at this time next year really that bad?) and it’s probably not as fast as you’d wish it could be (because that just can’t happen without you gaining a ton of unnecessary fat), but it is what I’ve found will work best.

You’ll build muscle as fast as you’re genetically capable, and you’ll keep fat gains to a bare minimum. It’s the ideal scenario.

Also keep in mind that when you reach a point where you stop gaining weight for 2-3 consecutive weeks, you’ll need to add an additional 200-250 calories (and again for women, half that). Don’t forget.

And just in case it needs to be mentioned as well, if you reach a point where you’re gaining weight faster than you should be for 2-3 consecutive weeks, reduce your calorie intake slightly.

And finally, for tracking your weight, I’d suggest weighing yourself daily (first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and then taking the weekly average.

3. Food Choices

All of the usual choices remain. You know… protein sources like chicken breast, turkey, fish, lean cuts of meat, eggs, milk and protein powder. And of course, various fruits and vegetables.

This stuff contains some calories, so it will help make a dent in reaching your calorie intake goal each day. However, that dent won’t be all that big. The main purpose of this stuff is to ensure you hit your daily protein requirements (which, after total calories, is the next most important part of a muscle building diet) and get plenty of fiber and micronutrients as well.

But from there, the majority of your daily calorie intake will come from high carb foods that ideally taste good and are easy to eat large amounts of. So for example, rice (white, brown, whatever the hell you like best), potatoes (white, sweet, whatever), pasta, oatmeal, beans, bread and various grains. High fat calorie dense sources like various nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.) and oils (like olive oil) are going to be important and helpful, too.

The key here is going to be picking foods you enjoy, and then eating a lot of them. (Here’s an example from my own diet.)

Also keep in mind what I mentioned earlier about digestibility, something that I think is an underrated characteristic of our high calorie needs. Be sure to pick foods you don’t have issues digesting and/or foods that just make you feel like crap (common symptoms include gas, bloating, nasal congestion, diarrhea, etc.).

For example, in my case specifically, I completely avoid milk and all milk/dairy products due to the first 3 symptoms mentioned above (GOMAD would be soooo extra horrible for me). I also avoid oats (see symptom #4… fun times). And after experimenting a bit over the last few years, I find many wheat products bother me a little too (similar to dairy, just to a lesser degree).

Instead, in my case specifically, I’ve found white rice and white potatoes to be PERFECT for me from a digestion standpoint (they’re usually well digested by everyone, white rice especially). They, along with various fruits and vegetables, comprise the majority of my daily carb intake. Chicken, turkey, eggs, tuna fish and whey protein powder are my preferred protein sources. And fat comes primarily from almonds and other nuts, olive oil (it can be mixed with balsamic vinegar and thrown on damn near everything), and egg yolks.

Keep in mind however that this is just an example of what I’ve found to be ideal for me. These are the foods I like best, don’t have issues digesting, don’t make me feel like crap, and that I’ll happily eat in large amounts on a regular basis to meet my above average calorie and macronutrient requirements.

You need to find whatever foods fit that description for you and do the same.

Additional details here: How To Choose The Best Foods For Your Diet

4. Diet Organization

The exact amount, frequency, timing and size of your meals still doesn’t matter, even for ectomorphs. You can eat 5-8 frequent small meals, 2-4 infrequent large meals or anything in between. As long as your total calorie and macronutrient intake is what it needs to be each day, it doesn’t matter at all. (Additional details here: How Many Meals A Day?)

HOWEVER, if there is one group of people that a moderate-higher meal frequency MAY be more ideal for, it’s people like us. Due to our higher than normal calorie needs, it can get kinda tough trying to eat the amount we need to eat in just 2 or 3 meals per day.

Those will often end up being some CRAZY huge meals, especially for someone with a below-average appetite to begin with.

So whereas something like IF (intermittent fasting) can certainly be a useful approach for some, it might not be as ideal for higher calorie intakes like ours as it is for those with lower-moderate calorie intakes.

I personally find I do best with 4-6 meals per day (currently 4 on rest days, 5 on workout days) because my calorie intake is just too high to eat any less frequently and not explode during each meal. And trying to eat even more frequently than that is just pure lifestyle torture (I actually spent some time years ago eating 7-8 times per day… it sucked). 4-6 seems to be my sweet spot.

But of course, this is nothing more than a suggestion based on a personal preference. I’d recommend experimenting with different meal sizes/frequencies/combinations until you find what best suits your preferences/life and allows you to most easily and consistently eat the amount you need to eat.

I should also note that, for me, the key to getting myself to eat as much as I needed to eat early on (back when it seemed impossible… it definitely gets easier over time… you’ll see) was coming up with some kind of overall meal plan, schedule and frequency, and being pretty strict with it.

Now sure, I’m ALL about “flexible dieting.” If you know me, you know it’s what I recommend. However, for the skinny ectomorph who will basically be forcing themselves to eat more food than they have any interest or desire to actually eat, I found that a more strict, scheduled, structured (aka inflexible) approach may be beneficial… at least until you’ve become more accustomed to consistently eating how you now need to eat.

Just a suggestion to keep in mind. And I’ll also mention that, over time, my appetite has improved a ton as has my ability (and desire) to eat large amounts of food. Yours will too. Just give it time.

5. Protein, Fat And Carbs… And Everything Else (Supplements Too)

And now for the stuff you most likely already knew…

  • Get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (so if you weigh 150lbs, consume a minimum of 150 grams of protein per day). Full details here: How Much Protein Per Day?
  • Get about 25% of your total calorie intake from fat. Full details here: How Much Fat Per Day?
  • Everything else will be carbs. So after your protein and fat intake have been factored into your total calorie intake, whatever calories still need to be filled in to reach that total… they will all come from carbs. Full details (and a step-by-step example) here: How Many Carbs Per Day?
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Surround your workouts with a decent amount of protein and carbs. I find there may be some calorie partitioning benefits to putting a large amount of your total calorie intake around your workouts. Full details here: The PRE & POST Workout Meal
  • No supplements are required whatsoever, but there are a couple that can be of use. They’re the exact same handful of basic, proven ones I recommend to everyone. Whey protein, fish oil (which may provide calorie partitioning benefits… hardgainers take note), creatine (be sure to read my amazing guide to taking creatine), maybe a multivitamin, maybe some other individual vitamins/minerals you may be lacking (vitamin D and calcium in my case). No special “mass gainer” bullshit. You just need more food. (If you have any questions about the effectiveness of other supplements, I’d highly recommend checking out The Supplement-Goals Reference Guide.)

Two Other Tips

These have nothing directly to do with your diet or workout, so they didn’t really belong anywhere else. So, I’ll put them here. And they are:

  1. Avoid stress, and relax.
  2. Sleep as much as you can.

Yes, good tips for everyone regardless of genetics. But, as with virtually everything else, the ectomorph (and extra especially the skinny-fat hardgainer) just handles stress and an insufficient amount of sleep worse than most people do. Or, it hits us harder and negatively affects us more.

And if there’s one thing you should realize by now it’s that we already have more than enough working against us to let other non-genetic factors come in and make things even worse. So, make sure you don’t let that happen.

The End (Almost)

Well, that certainly turned into something bigger than I originally thought it was gonna be.

But, as someone who is in your same skinny shoes with your same shitty genetics, I’ve just spent too much time trying to figure it all out to be short and brief about it.

I know exactly what it’s like. I know the problems. I know how you think. I know what you’re going through. I know how hard it is and will be. I know what you need to hear. I know what you need to do. I know what you need to avoid doing.

And I know that the majority of the diet and training information out there directed at people with our body type and genetics is absolute garbage. It often comes across as if it’s written by people who don’t have the slightest F-ing clue what it’s like to actually BE an ectomorph or skinny-fat hardgainer, or the slightest F-ing clue about what actually works best and worst for us.

Or, maybe they’ve just used enough drugs/steroids for it to not even matter anymore.

Whatever it is, I wanted to put together a comprehensive guide to the REAL diet and training needs of the ectomorph/hardgainer. My advice? Read it, understand it, and most importantly… put it all into action.

I promise you, it… WILL… work. And not just work, but work better for you than anything else you’ve already tried, and everything else you might have ended up trying in the future.

And when that’s happening, when things ARE working well and you ARE seeing significantly positive results and progress IS going awesomely… do me a favor. Come back here and tell me about it. I love all success stories, but success stories from people like us with genetics like ours… I love those even more.

NEW: The Ultimate Ectomorph/Hardgainer Program

Since writing this article last year, I’ve gotten tons of feedback from literally thousands of people.

Some thanked me for writing it. Some had additional questions to ask me. And some wanted to tell me how well their progress has gone since putting this advice into action. Awesome!

But, the one thing I kept hearing the most is that you want one entire muscle building program designed from top-to-bottom specifically for people with our shitty ectomorph/hardgainer genetics.

That means a program designed to maximize our ability to gain lean muscle mass as quickly and effectively as we can… but WITHOUT gaining excess body fat along the way.

Well, I am extremely happy to tell you that after months of working my ass off, I’ve finally done it.

It’s something I call: Superior Muscle Growth

And in all honesty, I recommend this more than anything else I’ve ever created. Seriously. It’s the ultimate program for getting above-average results from our below-average genetics. As someone with those very same genetics, this is EXACTLY what I’ve found to work to best. I promise you, you’re going to love it. Feel free to check it out: Superior Muscle Growth

Want to build muscle as fast and effectively as possible? It's time: Superior Muscle Growth

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237 Comments

  1. StrikeHero says

    I don’t need further confirmation that I am an ectomorph LOL.
    But about dropsets and supersets? Why is it stupid or useless? Please give me a clear explanation as to why I should avoid these. Thanks!!

  2. Talic! says

    Hey! And thanks for an awesome article (or rather a booklet). :-)

    Just started with the 3 day full body split routine for beginners and just wondering: where are dips? I read about your shoulder problems&dips, but if I want to incorporate them in my training, can you tell me how?

    Thanks a lot and take care, pal!

  3. Anthony says

    Hey man, great site! I’ve been a hardgainer my whole life and a lot of what you covered is SPOT ON! I did notice in the beginner workout routine you suggested, the rep range is 8-10. Is there any reason for this in particular? I started doing the Stronglifts 5X5 program that I found here http://smartsixpacks.com/beginner-strength-training-programs and it suggested using lower reps and more weight. Which one is better for building size and strength for a beginner?

    Also, what do you think about GOMAD (gallon of milk a day)? Sorry about the super long rant lol.

    • says

      Look at the FAQ at the bottom of the beginner routine. I explain why I use that rep range.

      As for GOMAD… I think it’s one of the dumbest fucking things anyone could possibly do.

  4. Zeus says

    Hi! Thank you for this article!
    I am an ectomorph and this year i gained a lot of muscle but a bit of fat too.
    Your workout routine and your diet are exactly the same i made to gain muscle (few reps, few sets, long rest, …). And it works!!!

    But now i want to cut. Should i make cardio (HIIT) or not? If I cut on the calories intake, I will lose weight. But I still believe that cardio can help me to reach lower body fat level (i want to get 6-7% bodyfat)! Is it possible to reach this bodyfat level without cardio?
    And how change my workout routine while cutting (if i am an ectomorph)?

    Thank you very much.
    I hope you can help me because I find not much answer for my questions and I saw that you write correct things.

  5. Justin Fisher says

    You mentioned “something like 30-60 total reps for each big muscle group per workout, and around half that for smaller muscle groups” is ideal yet your workout lists 3 sets of 6-8 reps for the compound lifts, thats 24 total reps. So should I add another set or…?

    • says

      You’re misunderstanding this recommendation. It’s 30-60 reps per big muscle… not per exercise. So sure, that’s 24 total reps for that one exercise. But then there’s a second exercise for that same muscle group that’s an additional 3 sets of 8-10 reps, thus putting you right within the range of 30-60 total reps.

      • FY says

        Hi, love your website and I’m keen to try the beginner weight training routine.

        Two questions:

        1) You recommend 60-120 reps per big muscle per week. With your beginner routine, chest is worked only during Workout A, for 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 3 times in 2 weeks. This gives 36-45 reps per week, and there doesn’t seem to be another chest exercise in the routine. Is the intent to have fewer than 60 reps because it’s a beginner routine?

        2) There seems to be 2-3 times as many back exercises as there are chest exercises, i.e. rows + pull-ups + some deadlifts for back, only bench press for chest. What’s the rationale for that?

        • says

          1. Beginner training is an exception to a lot of rules.

          2. The back is involved in more movement planes (vertical and horizontal pulling), while chest is only involved in one (horizontal pushing… shoulder press is the vertical push). Plus, the back is a much larger and more complex body part than the chest.

    • says

      I recommend a basic whey protein powder for meeting your protein requirements (if needed), but don’t really recommend any mass gainers. They are typically just protein powder mixed with sugar. There are better options for getting your calories in.

  6. austan says

    what do you think about using the stronglifts 5×5 program as a base program (add or modify as needed)

    • says

      It’s a decent beginner strength focused program. Nothing special about it really. If you’re looking for something like it, I prefer the other programs it’s very obviously based on.

  7. Alexander Alexiev says

    A question:
    I, like you, seem to have some problem with wheat, oats and dairy. You say that it’s easy to get the carbs from other sources, such as rice and potatoes. But is it only me that finds wheat – cereal and pasta, for example – TIMES easier to get a lot of than rice or potatoes? For example I can eat 2 1000-calorie pizzas at a sitting, but eating a cup of rice (=180 gr raw rice = 142 carbs) at a sitting is almost bloody impossible? And then if i’m bulking up and calculated i need almost 600g of carbs, i’m supposed to do it 3 times a day (and this is assuming that the remaining 150 carbs are from something unehalthy). For months and months I have found the biggest difficulty in eating to get enough carbs when i’m intolerant to big food groups – how do you cope with it? Even when cutting and eating half that amount – it’s still so much. And then people say eat healthy veg and other stuff.. it fills me up and gives me almost no carbs in return, it’s such a pain to froce myself to eat that as well.

    And another question on carb cycling – i know there’s an article coming, but just quickly – on rest days, how much would you reduce carbs?

    p.s. i’ve read many and many websites all based at the same fitness goals, but yours has remained my favourite for what is two years now. Great work!

    • says

      That’s why the idea of bulking on nothing but chicken, vegetables and oatmeal is just impossible for people with higher calorie intakes. For most, white potatoes and white rice make it MUCH easier. If you happen to be someone who those foods still aren’t enough for, then it becomes a matter of figuring out what other foods you can include in your diet to make it easier. So if something like pasta fits that description for you, go for it.

      As for the other question, it’s more complicated of an answer than you think because there are a lot of different ways it can be done. Wait for the article. Or actually… wait for the book. It’s coming. ;)

  8. Sam Spencer says

    Hi,

    Firstly i would like to say that your post/book was a great read and very informative.
    I started applying the longer rest periods inbetween sets as you advised (as before less than 2 mins for heavy compounds) and found im hitting an extra rep on nearly all exercises when taking a full 3 mins or bit longer.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  9. Stelios Kalo says

    Hello there, to be honest i didn’t read the entire article since i am know some stuff myself, but some other are really helpful. Here is my question, i used to play football but now it’s off season for us. I am definitely an ectomorph and i can’t seem to find a proper workout to follow. Is it possible for you to give me a precise program? Like exercise, reps, weight & intensity?

    Thanks in advance.

  10. Bob Ray says

    Just from a nutrition point of view, not lifting, for weight gain and loss for ectomorphs:

    If I understand correctly, we eat the same amount extra in a surplus as others, have the same considerations as you’ve gone over in your other nutrition guides which I’ve read, it’s just our ideal rate of weight gain is most likely less?

    A bit about my situation: I’m only 145 pounds, been an athlete my whole life, but in the past year at college have definitely gained some extra fat on my stomach but still have the thin frame. I’m looking to loose 5-7 pounds following your weight loss guide before adding muscle and the weight loss guide/rate of weight loss still applies equally well to ectomorphs, correct?

    Thanks a lot man, really appreciate it.

    • says

      The main difference for true “ectomorphs” is calorie needs. A normal person may need X calories per day to gain weight, and we might need a shitload more than X.

      But regardless, the guidelines for fat loss are pretty much the same.

  11. Ivana says

    Hi thanks for this article. I believe I am an ectomorph. Have spent so much money on pt session and gotten no where (money down the drain). Have decided to do my workouts at home using barbells and dumb bells, oh and a door frame pull-up bar. Do you think following your workout routine at home (yes I have your book) will help in building muscles, without having to go to the gym? I might do gym once a week.

  12. VJ says

    1. How does one gain muscle without gaining much fat? For reference I am 6ft, have a weight of 61.8 kg, and waist of 32-33 inches. I had a completely LEAN body with NO fat at all on it. Now aftet 11 days of weight training my body is starting to show results but a little fat has come up on my belly and abs. What to do?

      • Rocky says

        Thanks for the article, I’d already looked up all of this and decided to land on 5×5 stronglifts which is progressive training. So happy I picked the right diet/intake with the right exercises and guessed right on not running (half a mile burns WAY too many calories for me).

        About the fat/skinny type. I’m not fat/skinny, in fact I naturally have strong legs and a strong back and I’m wanting to make gains. You said in the article that gaining a lot of weight from fat and burning it off later is a bad idea?

        Can I not just eat whatever I want? My calorie intake is 3000 calories per day (eating every two hours except when sleeping) and 180g of protein per day.

        I do eat some junk food but I’m not a fan of sweets. Mostly I drink sweet black tea instead of water, and eat home-cooked food. I also like tomatoes with lemon pepper on the side.

        I’m not really sure what to ask..but hoping that I don’t end up too fat.

  13. Andrew says

    Hey man! Thank you so much for the article! Its really informative and I learned so much. I have one issue though. You mention that you don’t like weight gainers very much because of how much sugar they have in them. You also mention that the clean vs dirty bulking is somewhat irrelevant so I was just wondering why you don’t like gainers if they help you get to where you need to be? Especially for us skinny guys. I feel like its worked great for me.

    For example: I’m 6 foot 3 and used to weigh 155 lbs. (i was super skinny) but after using a weight gainer(optimum nutrition’s Serious Mass) plus creatine for 3 months i gained a good 20 pounds. Ill gladly admit it wasn’t all muscle but it wasn’t all fat either. I believe i had a good balance between the both because i have a little gut but my chest, shoulders, arms, legs, glutes all got really nice and noticeably bigger in the process.

    The last and main reason I find weight gainers helpful is because of TIME. For us college kids who work and go to school and just don’t have the TIME to cook for ourselves, I feel its just an easy and quick way to get your macros in. Plus, I feel like its way better than rushing to a fast food place and grabbing a burger because you’re short on time.

    Not disagreeing with ya mate, just wanna poke at ya brain. Haha. Thanks!

    • says

      It’s a convenient source of calories, that’s about it. You could just as easily eat a Snickers bar or some ice cream or whatever else and get the exact same effect.

  14. Hector Beltran says

    Hey man!!! Thanks for the article. I am doing a research for a friend that is an absolute ectomorph and is the first time I read about this kind of body type. I am a mesomorph myself and is kinda funny to realize how thinks that I hate in the gym (like superseries, HIIT, cardio and full body workouts) are something you have to avoid and I have to do It a lot!!…. Also worst part for me is being in calorie deficit and cutting on carbs and is my nightmare!!! But at the same time I realize that has to be very frustrating also not ever feeling like eating and have to force yourself to do It every time. Anyway…..thank you for the article again, has been a pleasure to read It and is going to be my friends Bible!!!

  15. Luis says

    Now that I have read the article and read about your intermediate/advanced workout routines, I assume that for an ectomorph I should be doing the intermediate 4 day split?

    The article was funny too because you recommend against cardio and I have been doing insanity, which has been nothing but cardio. lol

    • says

      If you are in fact an intermediate, that routine is definitely what I’d recommend. Although, the 3 day version of that split is just as good and for some maybe even better.

  16. Jason says

    For the calorie surplus, is that after factoring in the additional calories for the weight training? What I mean is if someone is sedentary, and takes up the weight training routine that you have, they would require additional calories, perhaps 200 a day (assuming this person is not fat). Would the 200-250 surplus be added onto this?

  17. Paul says

    Thanks for the great article – its probably the best online advice I’ve seen and very similar to what my nutritionist put me on.

    In February this year I was 60Kg (132lbs) at 5’7″, but 19.5% BF… skinnyfat :( Over 3 months I cut down to 12.5%, and a couple months ago started the bulk cycle. Man its hard work lol. It makes the cutting cycle seem so easy by comparison… or maybe that’s the benefit of having a super skinny blood-line lol.

    Gaining any weight at all is a mission… I have made very slow gains (like 1Kg over 2 months), but still figuring out how to fit in the some more clean protein & carb to avoid plateau… maybe some ground lentils or some shit with meals lol.

    RE trainging, some interesting insights – I haven’t ever tried a full body workout in a single session… sounds physically and mentally killer but might try it oneday for a shock lol. I do a two week high & low volume split… but don’t really think routine speicifics matter much, as long as muscles get the heavy progressive overload.

    • says

      Glad you liked it dude!

      And yup, most people like you (and me) do find fat loss to be almost a joke in how easy it is, but gaining weight/muscle to be hard as hell.

  18. Michael says

    Very good article. And yeah you’re right, I’ve heard all of those things before… Finally someone called BS. on them. I was wondering, how long does it take before you actually start seeing results? I am 176 cm (around 5 ft 9) and currently weigh about 59.2 kg (I started regularly going to the gym about 4 weeks ago). So far I have only gained 1.5 pounds in 4 weeks. Needless to say, this type of weight gain does not show. How much do you reckon I have to gain before I start actually seeing the results?

    I am using this plan by the way: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/the-muscle-building-workout-routine/

    I’ve also got another question about this plan. I only do upper body exercises, A and B, alternating with 2 full days test between each one (so say I do A on monday, I wait til thursday to do B). Is this alright?

    • says

      Read this one. Ideally you should be gaining about 1-2lbs per month, so you seem to be right where you should be.

      As for the second question, do you mean you’re skipping both lower body days completely? If so (and for someone looking to build as much muscle as possible, not training half of your body isn’t really the best way to do that), then just keeping the 2 upper days where they are (e.g. Monday and Thursday) is fine.

  19. Andrew says

    Hi Jay,

    You mentioned in the article that one of your preferred sources of protein is tuna fish. I was wondering what brand of tuna fish you personally buy and recommend? Being on a right budget, it’s hard for me to find fish that’s not as expensive and am hoping that there’s a brand out there that’s the least expensive. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

      • Andrew says

        Thanks for your reply. How often do you eat the tuna? I only ask because I want to know your view on the mercury levels found in canned tuna. It would really help to know how often you eat it and if it has caused any issues for you so far. Thanks again this really is helping a lot!

        • says

          For like a year in the early 2000’s, I think I ate 2 cans per day (likely a bit excessive if you’re concerned about mercury… though I had no issues). For most of the years since then, I probably averaged 3-4 cans per week. A bit less these days.

  20. Mathieu says

    Hi, I read the whole article and I found it very useful. I really recognized myself as a true ectomorphe. I would have some questions.

    1) Does the beginner and intermediate/advance workout really respect all the particularities you mentioned for an ectomorphe? Because you are saying that an ectomorphe should not train like everybody else, but you recommend a typical workout that we see everywhere on the internet.

    2) In the intermediate workout, isn’t 18 sets to much for an ectomorphe especially with 6 sets of isolation exercise?

    3) Isn’t the workout too long if I include a little warm up and warm up sets?

    4) I read in some articles that ectomorphe should do lower rep sets, but you put 8-10 or 10-12 reps for many of the exercises, it’s not to much?

    Thank you!

    • says

      1. If it didn’t, why would I recommend it?
      2. If it was too much, why would I recommend it?
      3. If this were the case, why would I recommend it?
      4. See #1, #2 and #3.

  21. Daryl says

    Hi i read the whole article but i was wondering whether there is a way to gain muscles even with cardio. Because it is definitely not possible for me to stop cardio activities being a soccer player. So i was wondering whether there is actually a way to carry on with cardio activities but also gain muscles

  22. DC says

    Jay,
    Loved the ariticle. I was just getting ready to adjust my workout….again. I was considering hitting the same body parts twice a week and adding some isolation for my arms and you confirmed it. I just finished doing the 5×5 for months. This should take me to the next level. Your humor kept me reading, and I have a very short attention span. Lol! DC.

  23. Spencer says

    Quote from this article:
    “But it’s when the writer gets into the specifics of where they started out that I tend to smile. For example, I’ve seen articles like this begin with claims of the person (a man) being a pathetic 150lbs when he first started working out.

    Wow… you really had it rough with those genetics. Poor guy.”

    Quote from the About Me section:
    “So at a pathetic 5’11 125lbs, I “created” my very first workout routine.”

    This tends to make ME smile.

  24. Cris Wolf says

    Hey Jay,I got two points…
    1- Regarding point 6 on ” How you actually SHOULD train ” you say to stay on the rep ranges of 5-8 on the big compound movements and 8-15 on the isolation movements..so if I’m following your Beginner’s Version 2 workout routine instead of doing 8-10 reps, I should do 5-8 now,right? Also about this of “widen the rep ranges”,should I incorporate for example the rep ranges 8-10 some weeks and then go back to the 5-8? Or stay mostly on the 5-8 rep range?
    2- When are you releasing your new book? Because i’m really looking forward to it ; ) .
    And as always keep up the amazing job!

    • says

      1. Beginners would be an exception to that one. Pick one rep range and stick with it.
      2. ASAP! It’s currently in the proofreading phase. Coincidentally, there’s one section in this book that answers your first question in detail.

  25. Cris Wolf says

    Haha so I’ll stick in the rep range 5-8, thanks. Good to know that, really! *I also have some concerns. It’s about static stretching and dynamic stretching; which is better and which should be done,and if before or after the workout. Also,if stretching everyday some minutes is beneficial for your body overall, especially if you’re building muscle. Just some concerns I would want you to clear out haha. And…keep it up!

  26. jcm says

    A lot of the article resonated with my regime over the last two months. Despite always thinking I couldn’t gain weight, I have gone from about 150lb to 160lb on 4k calories a day. Problem is, as pointed out above, some of it is unflattering fat, not muscle ( though i have more than I’ve ever had before).

    My question is, instead of cutting back on calories -can I just do cardio? I stopped running to try and gain weight, but I’d prefer to start running again and not reduce calories if I could.

    • says

      To lose that fat, you need a deficit. If you’d rather burn those calories through cardio rather than eat less of them, feel free.

      Though also keep in mind that excessive amounts of cardio can have a negative impact on performance and muscle retention in a deficit.

  27. panneiei says

    Hi , i’m 16 with skinny fat.
    and i was wondering whether i should do cardio or not. If i should how often and what kind of
    cardio should i do?.
    Because in the article said that you should avoid it or limit it, but i think its for ectormorph but its didnt show about skinny-fat.

    Sorry if i misunderstood or miss something. I tried to read it but my English isnt good haha. Thank you!

  28. RAlv says

    Hello Jay, incredible guide, ive been looking for something remotely close to this for a long time, great work on this!

    I just need your help on some problems i have with the diet plans,

    Im wondering if you can link me anything where i can get the info of the ammount of protein, carb, and fat in the foods, that way i can start working on building my diet plan, and getting the right percentages of each for my daily calories intake.

    Thanks for your time.

  29. Proge says

    “Stick with pull-ups (overhand grip), neutral grip (palms facing each others) or rings.”

    My shoulders can’t take overhand grip pull-ups at all. Maybe it’s the internal rotation of the shoulders or something which kills the rotator cuff. In any case, I would not recommend overhand grip, especially not for weighted pull-ups. I do shoulder wide underhand chins exclusively and my shoulders are fine(injured my left shoulder years ago in a training session in which I did too heavy seated dumbbell shoulder presses(after that should-be-banned exercise called dips). On the other hand, if you wrists and elbows can’t take heavy underhand grip, it’s better to try neutral grip or drop heavy chins altogether.

    “I can do heavy weighted pull-ups one day and higher rep lat pull downs on another. But heavy pull-ups twice a week sucks.”

    I’ve noticed that too. I progressed for a while, but gradually the progress slowed down and eventually ground to a halt. Changing exercise for the second training is a good idea. Another one COULD be to use slightly lower training frequency, like once every 5 days(on two sessions/week it’s once every 3-4 days).

    • says

      Regarding the last point, I once spent a little time only doing pull-ups once per week (no lat pull-downs or anything in the other upper body workout). I found I still progressed okay.

  30. Adam says

    Great articles – I’ve been reading it all up this morning. I’m your typical ecto – 6 feet tall, long slender limbs. I’m 33, and in 10 years of lifting weights have basically very little to show for it. My body seems to be content at about 162.5-165 lbs and 12-13% body fat. Every time I bulk, I get up towards 180 with a lot of very organized surplus calories and heavy lifting only to watch those 15 pounds be made up of about 80% fat (over 4-5 months). When I cut, I typically lose everything I’ve gained (and sometimes more) and end up right back at 162.5-165 pounds and 12-13% fat. It’s hilariously frustrating and unproductive.

    About 3 months ago, I drastically changed my diet – I went to a primal approach (paleo + dairy). I dropped a lot of body fat (and some muscle unfortunately) right off the bat and have maintained at 155 lbs ever since. I look leaner/more toned but smaller all around. I’m at probably 8-9% body fat now but notice with this diet I sleep better, am less anxious/stressed out, have better digestion/regularity, and fewer headaches.

    I’m trying to determine the best way to SLOWLY put on some muscle and bulk on a paleo approach this fall using your workout you suggest above for ectos. If my carbohydrates are only coming via veggies/fruits how would you redo my macros to be a realistic number? My current intake is under 100g of carbs a day from those sources, 1.25-1.5g per pound in protein and the rest in animal fats.

    Have you done an article on the paleo ecto? Any advice?

    • says

      That first paragraph was basically my life exactly for a couple of years in the mid 2000’s. I know exactly what you’re talking about. In fact, I’m finishing up a book that is designed to be the solution to this very scenario. Stay tuned.

      As for your question, I am not a paleo fan. I’m all for avoiding the foods you have issues with (I personally completely avoid dairy and minimize wheat), but unnecessarily restricting foods/food groups/nutrients you have no legit reason to restrict besides “my diet says I should” is just silly to me. And it’s not just paleo, it’s every similar type of diet approach. I also don’t think you’re going to do well with strength, performance or muscle growth with less than 100g of carbs per day.

      • Adam says

        I respect your opinion – I started a paleo-like diet because of some digestive issues my wife had where specific carbohydrates were causing digestive issues for her. (Google SCD diet). Now that I’m on it though, I feel so much better in terms of energy/sleep/mood that I don’t know if I want to go back to a traditional approach. When do you expect your ebook to be out about my initial paragraph? Secondly, how would you suggest someone in my shoes eat to make up for the lack of dense carbohydrates?

        • says

          I’m hoping the book will be out by the end of September or early October the latest.

          And I’m totally for eating in whatever manner makes you feel good. I do the exact same thing. But with paleo, you’re not restricting JUST the specific foods that are problematic for you, you’re also restricting other foods that may very well be just fine for you but are on the “not good” list so you’re stuck avoiding them anyway.

          The first example that comes to mind is white rice. It’s probably the most easily digested and well tolerated carb source on the planet (and I eat it daily for this reason, plus it tastes good). And it would help solve your problem.

  31. Help says

    Hi , I wanna ask
    1.what does #2 and #3 roughly mean and trying to explain?
    Also,if i can only manage to workout twice a week,does it mean I have to add more rep, set on each exercise in this link ( http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/the-beginner-weight-training-workout-routine/) to replace the third day i miss?
    2.what does calorie/nutrient cycling approach mean?
    Apologize for these silly question because I cant actually understand very well in English and also I’m a beginner.Any help would be much appreciated :) . And btw, this article is the best for me so far comparing to those in bodybuiding.com,musclepro..etc because this article is written based on ectomorph which I am.Thanks for sharing this, have a good day sir :).

    • says

      1. Not really sure how to explain it better than it’s already explained in the article. And if you can only train twice per week, you’d have to go with something designed to be a 2 day full body program.

      2. I have a new book coming out soon (hopefully within the next month or so) that will have a 50 page chapter answering this exact question. Stay tuned!

  32. David says

    First of all, nice article! Thanks for that

    I’m a lean type ectomorph. I’m 5,7 and 125 pounds with 6.4% of body fat and I haven’t entered a gym in the past 5-6 years (obviously). I started working out about 4 weeks ago (2 or 3 times per week).

    I struggle a lot to gain weight, and sometimes when I gain 4-7 pounds and all it take are 3 days of skipping meals to loose all my progress. Do you know if it is normal to loose weight that fast just by eating bad for 3 days?

    Also, due to work and college I can’t go to the gym more than 2 times per week (sometimes I go 3 but is not the average). With just 2 days per week would you still recommend the upper/lower split? or would you suggest having 2 different full body workouts?

    Regards,

    David

    • says

      The only thing you’re losing/gaining within a span of time like 3 days is water weight, glycogen and poop. You’re not losing/gaining muscle.

      And if you can only train twice per week, 2 full body workouts would be the best option.

  33. dark_angel says

    What about brown sugar and white refined sugar ?
    My mother always puts only brown sugar to cookies because she believes that is more healthy and has no additives …. plus she saw that brown sugar has an expiration date …. compared to white sugar that has “unlimited ” written on the expiration label . I’ve noticed that too .

    What do you think about this ? Are there any studies ?
    I find it very wierd that white sugar has no expiration date, just like alcohool , lol .

      • dark_angel says

        I see …. one more thing : I have a problem since I was little and I can’t figure out the cause so far .

        Whatever I eat , around 70 % of the time I get gassy with a bad smell a lot. I’m also an ectomorf, if that helps.
        I red online about it and some expert that studied “farts ” for over 10 years and published over 250 studies says that the most common cause of being gassy a lot is :
        1.) eating too fast and swallowing air
        2.) eating a lot of carbs .

        I found out that I am gassy if I eat protein or fat too … the only that changed a little bit was when I tried eating slowly … but still it only works from time to time, not always .

        Do you have any other ideea what it could be ?
        I only get gassy with very bad smelling, no bloating , no stomach pain , no lack of energy or something else.

        • says

          If I eat a lot of dairy (which are foods I don’t digest well), I’d have similar problems. Chances are there is something in your diet that’s causing this issue for you. It will take some trial and error to figure out what it is, though.

          • dark_angel says

            I see … so you are saying that eating too fast or too slow doesn’t matter and doesn’t change anything with all else being equal .

            • says

              That could play a role as well, especially in terms of how well the food is being chewed. If you’re eating really fast and the food is being swallowed in bigger pieces, it will be a little harder for the body to break down. If you’re eating slower and chewing each piece of food as thoroughly as possible, it will be a little easier for the body to break down.

              But I’d still say that the type of food itself is the primary factor.

  34. Dean says

    Of the multitude of books, magazines, articles I have read, that is without doubt the best advice I could have read. Excellent principles, simple, logical. You’ve inspired me and I will be applying all of the advice from now on!
    Thankyou very much

  35. deymo says

    About 4 months ago i started reading your guide. Let me tell you something. It works. Im so happy you dont even realize how happy i’m. I mean i have always went to the gym with my friend big bulky people and they destroyed me on the gym but it never worked one time, i never get no even close to my goals. I’m a hardgainer thats for sure. But i just read you guide once and stop going to the gym with my friend just by myself. I chose the 3 day beginner split. I rest longer like from 2-3m….and little by little it started to work from 1 weight of 45 in 3 month i got 2 weight of 45 on each side in bench press. It was just ridiculous how good your guide works. I’m really thankful to you right now. Just to let you know.

    I followed your workout guide but about eating i didnt worry to much and still worked. It just awesome. It is like you say that our CNS is horrible we need to rest longer. It was a new different world to me.

    You are awesome buddy. Thank you so much.

    Just a question: I would like to start to do some basic cardio like 6-7mph 20m, between 120-140 heart rate, just to open more the vein that shoot blood to our body that way i will get more oxygen in my muscles. What do you think? just 2 day every week. I have read and it would mean nothing to my gain on the muscles. but i dont know.

    • says

      Awesome to hear it man! Definitely keep the updates coming.

      As for cardio during muscle growth, stay tuned. I have a new book coming in the next couple of weeks that will have an entire chapter about this.

  36. Darrin says

    Awesome article btw. Skimmed through all the comments and didn’t see anyone say anything about us older ecto dudes, being late 40’s. Do all the scenarios and guidelines still apply? Can’t wait for the book as well. Can we get notified when available? :) Been training for over 12 months now & feel like I’m spinning my wheels!

    • says

      Yup, it all still applies. If anything, it applies even extra because the things that suck for people like us suck even more the older we get.

      As for the book, just enter your email address in the top right corner of this page (or the bottom right) and you’ll be subscribed for updates (which I send like 1-3 times per month at most), including the very first second the book is available.

  37. says

    This program has done wonders for me! Everything you said is true about being a hard gainer. It sucks when you always feel like the smallest one in the gym, although I am usually the most ripped one too. I have gained 10 lbs since moved from a traditional Chest/Tris, Back/Bis, etc workout routine to this one and I have never been happier. The only thing that sucks is having 3 rest days :( Thank you very much I just followed you on twitter.

  38. Dan says

    That took some time to read, fuck me! However, I really liked it. Got a bit tired at some points, because I suck at reading fast, but I guess I need to take the time to understand everything.

    I’m the skinny-fat hardgainer type, the worst obviously. Tried many different things, so your article made me laugh quite a bit, nothing really works for me now. Gained a couple of pounds the first six months of weight training, been stuck since then for roughly three years already. Guess my issue here is stress and lack of sleep, among other things of course, but those two fuck me up quite a bit.

    Regarding training, I usually used the reverse pyramid because I also think it’s smarter to start with your heaviest weight when you’re fresh, but nowadays I don’t like the idea of changing the weight during my sets. Maybe I should try the modified straight set approach?

    I suppose I’ll give a try and come back in a couple of months, new subscriber right here. And thanks for the info :)

  39. khamakkabrekker says

    Great article! Yeah buddy! Btw I want to try your the muscle building workout routine (4 day version) but why you dont include shrugs? Just asking.

  40. Scott Parsons says

    Thank you for writing an article that really speaks to me and my body type. I’m going to follow your advice. Just one question, in “The Muscle Building Workout Routine,” it doesn’t have an exercise explicitly for traps. Would you recommend I add one if it’s important to me, or would that sabotage the rest of the plan?

  41. Claudia says

    So here’s my problem. I am an ectomorph and an ice hockey goalie. I need to gain muscle for hockey but have been completely unsuccessful. This is probably due to the fact that hockey is an aerobic exercise (yes even goaltending… we don’t just stand there) and I obviously can’t quit hockey to get stronger for hockey. The weightlifting regime that my team does is fairly similar to the regimes you described except we have to do about a billion back/front squats and, being a very lanky ectomorph, I am quite terrible at them. We are also required to run sprints three times a week which goes against your advice of not doing cardio (especially if I’m also on the ice 3-5 times a week in the off season and 6 times a week in season).

    To be fair I also do triathlons but i don’t train for them during hockey pre-season/season (September to March). So obviously that had an affect on my muscle gaining but I would like to gain some muscle before the start of the season in November.

    Should I try to eat more of will that not work because of all the cardio I have to do? Do you have any advice?

    • says

      Yup, you will need to eat more. Basically, you need to out-eat your cardio. Not exactly an easy task based on the amount of it you’re doing, but it is the only way you’ll be capable of building muscle.

  42. Anders says

    I’m the unlucky REAL REAL skinny fat hardgainer. 30 years old, 175cm x 60kg (5’8″ x 130pounds for U.S friends), no muscles at all and some fat around belly, chest, back and gluteus (Around 12-13% bf measured and it is very noticeable because my skinny frame. thin wrist, thin neck, narrow shoulders etc). I’ve tried for years in many different ways and I’m almost at the same point where I started. I went from 58 to 64kg in 1 year but it was mostly fat, strength was little increased (like from 42 to 52kg silly bench press ah ah ah) then I lost all. I tried split, fullbody, calistenic, intense-infrequent but nothing works. If i train more than 2-3 times a week for 1 hour I feel always tired and weak, heavy long lasting doms for nothing, I suffer heavy catabolism, I can feel it in my body. If I eat surplus I gain fat very easily and when I cut I tend to lose all muscles and not fat, it’s a nightmare. I really don’t know what to do. I found very difficuilt to adjust calories because a little more than normal and I tend to gain fat in no time, but a little less and I can’t even sustain the training (feel like i lose strength over time). Seems like I’m at a dead end. Maybe for one with my crappy genetics the only hope may be steroids and that kind of shit. I don’t pretend to be ronnie coleman….just have a normal male body.

  43. John P says

    I’ve been following this workout routine and it’s the only one that really understands how my body type is, and you’ve done a great job! The problem is the eating. I understand you’re supposed to eat healthy and diet with certain types of foods but the problem is I’m on a college campus and most of the time all there is to eat is either Chick Fil A or cafeteria food, both not the healthiest options. Is there a way to still be successful with this plan with this kind of food? I’m 6’0 and 135lbs.

    Thanks man you’re awesome!

    • says

      The most important thing is that your total calorie and nutrient intake for the day is what it needs to be. If 10-20% of those totals happen to come from “junkier” sources, while the other 80-90% come from higher quality sources, you’ll still be just fine.

  44. Khung Pow says

    Hi,thanks for great article .
    Im a typical ectomorph and I have belly fat around my stomach but i can barely see my abs, so is there any way to get rid off this belly fat ? is cardio is one of the choice ? but im worrying that much cardio exercise will cause me to lose muscle ? Thanks again for this article, great one!

      • Khung Pow says

        Thanks and one more question Jay. I stuck at bench press weight only 35kg for already 2months and i am stuggling to bench 40kg.For your information, i workout my chest only (no arm,shoulder,tricep,leg…etc) because chest is my favorite and i workout my chest with bench press flat/inclined only. Is this the reason why I can’t pass my BP 35kg threshold? (no fullbody workout )
        I just started to hit the gym for 5/6months ago and I workout my chest 3day a week with BP.
        Also, i don’t consume whey protein(financial problems :( )
        Any tips on my problems are very appreciate! Thank you.

  45. bolor says

    So what kind of workout routine we should follow? as i understand we cannt do that Chest-triceps, back-biceps, legs shoulders of three day routine? so how can we manage our days?

  46. Scott Parsons says

    After diligently following the “Shortcut-to-Size” plan and eating everything in sight for 9 weeks, I hadn’t gained a pound and only added .25″ to my chest. I was exhausted and everything hurt all the time. I had to try something new. I found your plan here and it really spoke to me. I’m 5′-10″, 139 lbs, intermediate-level. Ectomorph all the way (as in, only 20 lbs to gain before reaching “pathetically skinny” status). I’ve just completed my third week of this plan and already put on 3 lbs (finally!). I was initially concerned that the lifting records that I had set before starting this plan would go down the tubes, but the reverse is true. I do less sets AND set new records every single week (motivation!). My joints aren’t killing me anymore. I’m stronger. I think I may have finally found the right plan for my body type! Thank you!

    • says

      Fuck yes dude! I like every single word of that. Glad to hear everything has gone well! Keep the updates coming.

      Also keep an eye on the rate of weight gain. 3lbs in the FIRST 3 weeks of going into a surplus is pretty normal, because there is always more weight gain at first. But once things stabilize, aim for closer to 1-2lbs gained per month.

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