The Ectomorph Strategy Guide
Before I even get into this, I know I’m going to get some heat from the “body types are bullshit” crowd so let’s head that off right now. Body type stuff may very well be a pseudoscience, but you can’t honestly tell me that a genetically skinny mofo (like myself, an ectomorph prototype if there was one) with tiny wrists, narrow shoulders, and fast metabolism should approach training in the exact same manner as someone gifted with better muscle building genetics. I have friends who have terrible diets and routines but by the gift of genetics are big and have no problem retaining muscle mass and strength, even during frequent lazy month long breaks. And then there is me, and other friends I have, who are naturally skinny with shitty genetics that find it tough to gain and maintain muscle mass during even a week long break. So regardless of whether you think “ectomorph” is a valid term, a lot of what it is used to describe is real.
Now, with all that having been said, here is what an ectomorph is not: Destiny. Being an ectomorph is not a crutch or an excuse not to stay dedicated. Being an ectomorph is a hurdle. It means you will have to put more thought, dedication, and effort into your training than someone more gifted. Thems the breaks. Personally, I enjoy the struggle, and if you’re like me you absolutely hate being skinny and use it to fuel every lift.
So, let’s take a look at some things ectomorphs need to take into consideration in order to get the most out of their training efforts, field tested by yours truly-
- Eat! This is the most important factor in determining whether you will remain skinny or start to put on muscle. It’s also one of the main reasons people get flak for blaming their “ectomorphness” on their lack of gains- they usually aren’t eating enough. With our faster metabolisms, our body is nom-nomming all the time on resources we need going to our muscles instead. The solution, then, is to exceed maintenance calories (in a clean way, of course) by a great deal, more than is recommended for others. Everyone needs to exceed maintenance to grow muscle, but ectomorphs really need to step it up (one of the main reasons my winter bulk up was so successful is because I did this, by a lot). Sit down and write out your typical meals and break down the calories- chances are, if you’re having lots of trouble putting muscle on, you’re not getting enough calories. Shoot for 3,000+ in a day- strong emphasis on the “+”- you’re not going to get fat, don’t worry. Ectos need more carbs and can handle more carbs, especially on training days, so keep that on mind. Regarding protein, in my experience do not listen to the 1 g/kg crowd; 1 g/lb should be a bare minimum. Try going for 1.5 g/lb or even 2. I always got 1.5-2 g/lb during the bulk up, and as I’m slowly melting off the fat it’s looking like I could be walking away from the bulk up with 8-10 lbs of lean muscle gain (not shitting you, updates to come in the future). For skinny/scrawny dudes, the bulk up diet needs to become a way of life for you for many months to come.
- Heavy Compound Lifts. Compound lifts are a good idea for everyone, but for ectos they go from being a good idea to a necessity. Take it from someone who, in bye-gone times, used to do way to much isolation exercises without a whole lot to show for it. When I switched to low rep high weight big lifts, things turned around fast. More genetically gifted dudes can get away with a lot of iso work, but for ectos it’s a lot more beneficial to make compound lifts the main show. With that being said…
- You will need isos for arm size. As much as compound lifts must be the mainstay of ecto programs, if you want your arms to get decent sized you need iso lifts for triceps and biceps. Those of you strong ectomorphs can probably relate- high weights at deadlifts, bench, etc, seem to only build a bigger torso. Throwing in curls after back work or skull crushers after chest work is a good idea. Conventional “ectomorph wisdom” holds that you should, however, only do one, possibly two, iso lifts per workout because any more is counter productive but as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on that.
- Rest Time and Intensity. Due to the nature of ectomorph metabolism and how good it is at using up energy, rest times should be slightly extended to allow for better recovery for the next set (our bodies deplete stores at a greater rate). Workouts, however, should not exceed an hour, for this exact reason.
- Cardio. Should be kept at a minimum and if you must, ideally you should it should be sprints. Traditional cardio is straight muscle sabotage for ectomorphs thanks, once again, to our metabolism. Besides, we’re already good at long distance running who needs practice.
- Rest Days. Should involve a lot of chilling and (healthy) eating, good sleep, and only light activity. Once again, there is that whole “needs more rest than other body types” thing. For strength training for ectos, it is recommended by some to rest muscle groups for up to 72 hours before working them again, no joke. From my experience, I had the best strength gains with the RPT 8 day split, which utilizes this principle. At a minimum, though, I would recommend at least two days between groups, such as a Monday-Thursday for chest and triceps.