Ectomorphs: How to Gain Muscle

Oct 2, 2020 - 12 min read
Ways to grow muscles for ectomorphs

Do you have a light build, with small joints, and lean muscle mass? Do you have thin limbs, stringy muscles, and thin shoulders with little width? Do you find it hard to gain weight? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, chances are that you are an ectomorph!

The ectomorph is what you call ‘naturally skinny’. They have a relatively more efficient metabolism. Because of this, the ectomorph has a difficult time gaining weight and is therefore often classified as the “hardgainer”.

Classifying as an ectomorph as opposed to a mesomorph or an endomorph isn’t entirely absolute. In fact, It is common to share characteristics of two or all three of the different body types. A person is only classified as an ectomorph if ectomorphy predominates over the other two body types – endomorphy and mesomorphy.

First, a little history of the terms ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph is in order. These ‘somatotypes’ were originally coined by psychologist W.H. Sheldon in the 1940s as a taxonomy that was part of a now discredited theory called ‘constitutional psychology’. But that doesn’t mean he was completely wrong about body types. Some people are naturally skinny, others are more buff from the start. Which leads to the question: What is an ectomorph body type?

Why Bother Knowing Your Body Type?

Not every body type is created equal and there are hundreds of factors that can influence our ability to achieve our fitness goals. At its core, our ability to achieve our fitness goals are largely influenced by 3 main things: our genetics, diet, and exercise plan.

Our genetics are responsible for the development of our body type and unfortunately, we have no say in this matter. Like the cards you are dealt during a poker game, our genetics is something that we cannot control. Some people are dealt aces and others are dealt seven deuce. Regardless of the cards you’ve been dealt, you can still achieve any fitness goal you set your mind to. They key is patience, persistence, and to focus on what you can control. Which brings me to my next point.

The two things you can control are your diet and exercise plan. Think of each component as wild cards, in which you can play either card, in any scenario, to your advantage.

Ectomorphs: tips and tricks you need to know

Our body types will influence how we respond to certain diets and exercises. First, we must understand both our body type classifications and what we want as a desired outcome from our efforts.

With that, we can choose the right foods and exercises, tailor them to our specific goals, and make life in the fitness world that much easier. So, now that we know that you are an ectomorph, what’s next?

  • Keep Eating!

If you are naturally skinny, you need to eat a lot more in order to improve on or develop a healthy body composition. This doesn’t necessarily mean a free pass to the ice cream buffet or having a pizza party every day, you still need to make wise decisions when it comes to your nutrient intake.

  • Get Plenty of Carbs

There are three main macronutrients that make up your calorie intake that are essential for a healthy body composition. These macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

As an ectomorph, you must take advantage of carbs. In fact, over 50% of your calorie intake should come in the form of starchy, unprocessed, and whole grain carbohydrates such as whole-grain pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits such as apple, bananas, strawberries, and pineapples, oats or rice.

Incorporate at least one portion of these in every meal and be as generous as possible. I personally love drinking a sports drink during my workouts as it provides added calories for a much needed energy boost, especially towards the end of a grueling workout. The interesting thing about carbs is that you can easily eat large portions without getting too full, which can work to your advantage if you are trying to gain lean muscle mass.

  • Pack in the Protein

Protein is also crucial for a healthy body composition. It does wonders for recovery and is a catalyst for muscle growth. Without protein, all of your hard work will go to waste, so don’t forget it!

There are tons of ways to add protein into your diet. A great way to stimulate muscle growth is to add a post workout protein shake into your diet. This allows for faster recovery following a workout, adds essential amino acids into broken down muscle fibers, and helps restore glycogen to help keep your body in an anabolic state.

As a general rule of thumb, include a protein source with every meal. Popular protein sources include eggs, chicken, steak, salmon, dairy and protein powders (whey, soy, or casein).

There are tons of philosophies when it comes to protein intake. A general rule of thumb for ectomorphs is to ingest at least 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of  lean body mass . This will not only help you overcome your struggle with building lean muscle, but will also make sure your efforts in the gym do not go to waste.

Most importantly, you will feel amazing! Protein has amazing benefits not only for the body, but for the brain as well. Eating high quality protein that comes from animal sources provides the building blocks to stimulate energy production, wakefulness, motivation, and optimal cognition.

  • Fruits, vegetables, and fats

Eat your fruits and vegetables every day in order to provide your body with the essential vitamins and minerals it needs for good overall health, wellness, and growth. No need to elaborate here, just aim for at least 1-3 servings of fruits and veggies every day.

As for fats, not all fats are created equal. There are good fats and there are bad fats. Good fats contain the essential fatty acids Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. These fats should be eaten with every meal in order to provide the added benefits of proper body functioning and hormone production. Good sources of fat include almonds, peanut butter, avocado, flax seed, and olive oil.

It is all about finding a balance and developing a routine. The rest is easy. Also, have fun and don’t overthink it. A cheat meal here and there isn’t the end of the world. Besides, for ectomorphs a bad meal is still better than a skipped meal.

Which Exercises Are Best For Ectomorphs?

It is important to remember that not everyone you meet has the same fitness goals. Whether it is to gain muscle, lose fat, or maintain your physique, everyone has or should have their own definition of fitness success. That being said, recommending the best exercises for any particular individual will depend largely on their personal goals.

In my experience, ectomorphs, aka hardgainers, typically want one thing… to gain muscle mass ! They are tired of spending countless hours in the gym, working harder and longer than their peers, only to see minimal gains. So what’s the missing link?

First, you are probably not eating enough. If you understand the concept of energy balance, you’ll realize that if you are not gaining weight while working out hard, you are not providing your muscles with the needed energy and nutrients to grow. So the first thing you should do is eat more.

Alright. You’ve started eating steak and eggs, potatoes and whatnot. The next tip I’ll give you is this: Compound exercises.

What are examples of compound exercises?

I will say it again, compound exercises! Compound exercises build the most muscle mass and increase strength the fastest. And yes, this includes lean body mass for those who want to avoid putting on bulky muscle mass.

This is because compound movements hit numerous muscle groups as you perform multi-joint movements through a range of motion. From an effort standpoint, if you are an ectomorph and are neglecting these essential exercises, this is a recipe for maximum input with little output. So what are these compound exercises you speak of?

Glad you asked. There are a wide variety of fun and beneficial compound exercises to choose from. Below, I have narrowed down my top three favorite compound exercises that I incorporate into my routine every week:

1. Flat Bench Press

    • Lie face up on a flat bench, with your back slightly arched, buttocks on the bench, and feet flat on the floor.
      • Grab the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
      • Inhale and lower the bar to chest level, until elbows are parallel to the ground.
      • Maintain control of the bar, and extend the arms back up while exhaling to end the movement.

2. Squat

    • Slide under the barbell and place it on the trapezius, slightly above the posterior deltoid. Grab the bar tightly with the hands, and look straight ahead.
      • Inhale and contract the abdominal muscles to prevent the torso from collapsing forward, arch the back slightly, and remove the bar from the stand.
      • Step back a few inches, place both feet slightly wider than shoulder width and point toes slightly outward.
      • Bend forward from the hips, and continue the movement until the thighs are slightly below parallel to the ground.
      • Straighten the legs and lift the torso to the starting position, then exhale.

3. Deadlift

    • Stand facing the barbell, legs shoulder width apart, abdominals contracted, and back slightly arched.
      • Bend the knees until the thighs are parallel to the ground, and grab the barbell using one overhand grip, and underhand grip.
      • Inhale, lift the barbell by straightening the legs and then contract the back at the top portion of the movement.
      • While keeping your back straight, proceed to lower the barbell releasing at the hips and bending your knees until your thighs are once again parallel to the ground or the weight touches the floor.
      • Exhale at the end of the movement.

Pace Yourself!

An important concept to keep in mind during your training is that if you are an ectomorph, less is more. You don’t need to work out harder or longer than your peers in order to keep up with them.

What your workouts should be is intense and shorter in length. Focus on big muscle groups and limit your workouts to 45-60 minutes max.

Lastly, exercise strategically and always beware of over training. Each compound exercise should be performed to reach muscle failure within the 4-8 rep range. That means, by the time you complete your eighth rep, you are incapable of completing a ninth rep due to muscle failure or fatigue.

That is a good thing! The tension being put on the muscle from the weight is optimal within that rep range. Whereas, if you notice yourself completing your eighth rep with enough strength to pump out a few more reps,  that is a sign that you need to increase the weight. If the tension isn’t intense enough it won’t stimulate any muscle growth. Simple as that!

What About Cardio?

Cardiovascular activity has amazing benefits for heart health among a long list of other benefits. Among these benefits include an increased metabolic rate, which means an easier time maintaining your weight or losing weight as the case may be.

Wait, don’t ectomorphs already have a more efficient metabolism?

My point exactly! Ectomorphs have a relatively more efficient metabolism and are at a disadvantage when it comes to adding size because of that. Therefore, proceed to engage in cardio, but do so sparingly. Stick to the simplest forms such as walking, jogging, or playing your favorite sport. Again, and I cannot stress this enough: you need to stay in a positive energy balance. And cardio will make it harder to do so.

It is always a great idea to perform cardio as a way to increase heart rate and blood circulation throughout the body; however, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, you’d do well to limit your cardio sessions. Limit each cardio session to 20 minute intervals while maintaining a low intensity throughout. This balance will provide all of the essential benefits cardiovascular activities have to offer without compromising muscle growth.

Don’t Forget to Rest!

Making time for sleep is one of the most underrated factors in developing a healthy body composition or gaining muscle. It is easy to become anxious for gains that you try to do everything at once, leaving no time for friends, family, and most important… sleep!

Sleep is vital because during your sleep, muscle recovery is at its most efficient. Without adequate sleep, your body will break muscle down faster than it can repair. When you adopt a diet and exercise plan, consider adopting a resting plan as well. Make time for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night where your body can properly recover from your workouts.

So, What should Ectomorphs do to gain muscle?

For all of you busy ectomorphs who chose to skim this article and jump straight to the good stuff in the conclusion, here is a summary of the most important points all ectomorphs should remember:

  • Understanding your body type first will allow you to set realistic and attainable goals.
  • Food is your best friend. Eat plenty of carbs and protein, and don’t neglect healthy fats. Aim to include at least one source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in every meal.
  • If you’re hitting the weights, focus on compound exercises that hit multiple muscle groups at once. Compound exercises build the most muscle mass and increase strength the fastest.
  • You can include cardio into your exercise plan, but be careful not to overdo it. Limit your cardio sessions to 20 minutes intervals at a low intensity, and only a couple times per week.
  • Remember that the more you exercise, the more you need to eat. Keep yourself in a caloric surplus while training heavy, and you’ll see results.
  • Get your 8 hours of sleep in every night. Your body already breaks itself down at a rapid pace. Sleep is what will help you repair muscle tissue and is crucial for muscle development.

It is important to understand that no matter which body type you have, you can achieve any fitness goal you set your mind to. The negative stigma associated with a certain body type only exists if we create it for ourselves. All body types will have its advantages and its disadvantages; what separates us is our will and our discipline to put forth the proper planning and positive mindset needed to succeed.

If finding new ways to improve your physical fitness is important to you, but you haven’t found the right tools to help you progress, try Virtuagym’s fitness and nutrition apps.

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Melania Armento

Melania is a SEO specialist at Virtuagym, one of the leading innovators in the digital health and fitness industry. With 6+ years experience in marketing, she loves fitness, ranking keywords with high monthly search volume, as well as taking advantages of long summer days and warm weather.