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Help for an Ectomorph

I was hoping I could get any advice out there for any other ectomorphs with fast metabolisims & small bone structures.
What has helped you the most with putting on muscle mass? Has it been just increasing calorie intake or has other factors made a big difference. Such as switching to a Stuart McRobert routine, taking glutamine or any other anti-catobolic, or creatine.
I want to follow a Charles Poliquin or Ian King routine but everytime I start one I end up overtraining with the same amount of rest and calories as when I’m on an abbreviated routine.
So any little knowledge out there to help my recovery ability will be greatly appreciated.

John, what has helped me over the years has been ensuring that I eat AT LEAST 1g protein/lb bodyweight, eating every 3 hours, training heavy and consistently, and getting adequate rest. If I train parts too frequently, I end up overtraining, so I hit each body part intensely about once every 5 days. This is just what has worked for me after 20 years in the game, but YMMV …


  1. Eat
  2. Eat
  3. Eat

Ok, seriously. Train 3 days per week and no more. Follow a power routine with low sets and reps and super high effort. Eat TONS of good, clean calories. Lots of carbs (complex) protein and essential fats (omega 3 and monos). If you are 150 and an ectomorph, eat 5000 calories per day+.

I know, I know, It’s hard to eat that much. And it’s hard to only train 3 days per week. BUT you must. Remember, you are blessed with a fast metabolism, use it to your advantage!

I started out at 135 lbs and 10% bodyfat when I graduated high school. My max weight was 220 at 8%. Now I tip the scales at 190 at 5%. I used to force feed to put on mass. I would eat 1 lb of pasta, vegetables, and 1 lb of chicken 2 times per day. Then I would make a huge 1 gallon protein drink (water with 8-10 scoops of protein) and carry that around with a bag of bagels with natural peanut butter in between the slices. I would eat these all day. My motto was this :“If I wasnt chewing, I wasnt growing”. And it worked.

Best of luck!

I started to get results when realised my limitations. I could not train as often or as much as other people. I trained only when I was fully recovered usualy each body part once a week sometimes longer. I trained compound movements only with perfect form the weights I started out with were pathetic but I had to swollow my pride and lift only what I could handle not what my mesomorph friends could because being an ectomorph I was prone to injury.
As far as diet was concerned I ate alot of clean food but not to excess I dont beleive because you eat more use more simply because when I ate heaps the food was just going strait through me and I spent most of my day on the toilet.
So train hard only when you are recovered and train no more than 3 days per week using compound exercises as heavy as you can without sacrificing form. Eat alot of good food but not to excess.

I’ll add to that… Keep a log of your training and nutrition. If your goal is to hit 5000 cals a day, get a calorie/macronutrient counter and go to work. Figure out what you’ll have to eat every day to hit that number. If you start gaining fat too fast, you can cut back a little. If you’re still not gaining at least a pound a week, you can up it a little more! Soon you’ll know exactly how many calories you need to eat so that you’re putting on substantial weight without gaining too much fat.

As for training, the log is just as important. It's not only extremely gratifying to see on paper that you're beating your personal bests week after, but it's also necessary if you want to avoid the all too common practice of putting the same freakin weight on the bar week after week. Charles Staley sells a good computer program to track both your training and nutrition. Go to www.myodynamics.com to check it out.

And of course, focus on your good ole fashioned, compound, free weight exercises. The Squat, Deadlift, Chin-Up, Row, Bench, Close Grip Bench, Dip, and Military Press should really be the only exercises you concentrate on for now. Maybe a few preacher/scott curls every now and then. You could afford to train four times a week provided that you keep your volume low, and given that most people cannot handle heavy squat and deadlifting on the same day, I would organize it like this…
(keep your actual training time around 35-40 minutes)

Monday: Military Press, Chin-Ups, Dips

Tuesday: Deadlift

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Bench, Rows, Scott Curls

Friday: Squat

For now all you need to worry about is making sure you change your rep ranges every 4 weeks or so. Start out using heavy weights and low reps, then switch to higher reps, then back down.

I’m also an ectomorph, but unlike most, I’m short. I’m 5’4", 140lbs, 25 years old and about 13% bodyfat. I’ve had my bodyfat below 8% and want to be that lean again.

I’ve noticed that I can put on weight if I eat like crazy, but I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older the weight I put on is FAT! And I don’t want that. Because I have a small frame and I’m short, when I gain weight I look soft. And it makes me look crappy since I have a short torso.

I’ve been following Ian King’s programs, and have made some gains (but have lost a lot of strength).

So what advice do you have for a short ectomorph? I’m thinking that I need to stay lean and focus on heavy weights, low reps and low volume to make my muscles harder and leaner!

Any other advice?

Hey Nate, that’s tough to be so short, because you’re scale weight won’t change as much as a tall fella. But at the same time, you have an advantage in that you have less space to “fill out” before you look big. In other words, even though it may be harder to put more pounds on the scale, you’ll probably look really good at only about 160 lbs as long as your bodyfat is nice and low. One of my former lifting partners was 5’5" weighing in only at about 155, but man that weight carried him a long way. He looked about as proportional as a 6’ guy weighing 210 and ripped.

As far as specific training for short ectomorphs, the same rules apply as for a tall ectomorph. Focus on heavy compound movements, eat enough to gain about one pound a week (and make sure you get a good amount of high quality fats in there), and keep your workouts per week at four or less.

A lot of ectomorphs, myself included, have a lot of trouble in the gym for the first few years of training simply because we have farther to go than somebody blessed with better genetics. In my case, I started lifting consistently at 6’0" and a bodyweight of 147. And now, a few years later, after gaining over 40 lbs of muscle, I still only look like a reasonably sized “athlete.” It’s downright discouraging!

Even though I still don’t look big, are the results less impressive than that lucky son of a bitch who started out at 6’0" weighing 190 who now competes in bodybuilding shows at a weight of 230? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it gives me an advantage. I’ve had to study my ass off, read everything I could find, and talk to some great athletic trainers to be able to design a workout that would work for me! I also think that if I keep training smart, I’ll reach 230 myself some day. And I’ll have the added satisfaction from knowing that I started out with the physique of a little girl and built my body all the way up to competition level. So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t get discouraged. It’s tough to fight your ass off for a couple added pounds of muscle a month then seeing some schmo who barely knows how to spell barbell who outweighs you by 30lbs by virtue of his superior genetics. But you’ll learn a lot more than he will, and the rewards will taste that much sweeter.

I disagree with anyone who says an ectomorph doesnt need to consume an abundance of calories. Gaining mass is simply a matter of energy balance. Extra energy = faster metabolism = anabolism = more muscle mass. Again, if you train hard, eat big, take the appropriate supplements and don’t sit on your butt when not training, you will gain muscle (up to a point of course). But I think very few ever get to this point because they are afraid to eat enough. Just try it. Take a chance. If you get fat, then diet it off.

Thank you everyone for responding. I like the idea of changing rep ranges every 4 weeks. I believe this is the best way to hit all fibers. There has been alot of talk recently about ectomorphs having more slow twitch fibers and therefore should train them for more reps or time under tension.This made alot of sense to me and I was ready to switch to a longer tension reps. Then I read Ian King talking about that the focus should still be on hitting the fast twitch fibers. I enjoy reading your articles and respect your advice Mr. Berardi and I see that you are recommending a power routine with low reps. Are the reasons also to hit fast twitch fibers more, connective tissue, and raise testosterone. When you say low reps do you mean 5x5 or singles and triples. Thanks for the advice.

I typically recommend power-type routines during a “mass building” cycle for ectomorphs due to the lower total energy cost of this activity. Once again, I belabor the energy balance point. I know, it gets more and more annoying but you simply cant overcome the facts of thermodynamics unless you are on some powerful drugs.

In addition, this type of activity will target those type II A and B (fast twitch and fast twitch intermediate) fibers. I dont necessarily buy the fact that ectomorphs have more slow twich fibers in all cases. Slow twitch fibers dont hypertrophy very much either. So even if you do have more, then you need to focus on hypertrophy for the other fibers, the type II’s that actually grow. Focus on the slow twitch will not lead to substantial hypertrophy (or at least probably not the kind you are looking for). But either way, when talking about % of fast twitch vs slow twitch, I dont think in the average guy this difference is that strikingly substantial. If you had a huge disparity in slow twitch fibers, you would probably not be worried about putting on mass as you would have become a runner or endurance athlete and I might be watching you in Sydney on the TV right now.

Oh yeah, and when I talk about power training I am referring to varied workouts under 5 reps. I will recommend periods of higher rep training (8-12) for periods of 4-5 weeks every few months. For example…2-3 months of power training followed by 1 week off. Then 4-5 weeks higher reps. Then 1 week off…Repeat again. For a better example, check out my periodization article coming up soon on the site to see how to best lay out a training “master plan”. Oh and BTW, I recommend at least 6 complete weeks off for ectomorphic guys per year.

Thanks alot Mr. Berardi for all the advice. I have a power routine written by Bill Starr that I am going to get started on. Look foward to your periodization article and I will keep you posted on my developments.

Thanks for the advice guy! I’m still a little relunctant to go all out with the eating. I’ve done that before and even though I did add muscle mass and increase strength, I did put on a good bit of fat.

A friend of mine was commenting on how I’ve dropped a few pounds recently and look better (getting near 10% bf!!).

I’m on the last stage of Ian’s “Super Strength” and “Limping” programs. Unfortunately, I injured my knee. So I won’t be doing any heavy squatting or deadlifting until I get that going. But I’m still on my heavy load, low-rep phase for upper body.

Ok… I’m also an ectomorph. :wink: About eating… I’m giving eating every two hours a try (lots of protein… moderate carbs or else my fat just keeps going way up). I think it works better than trying to maintain a low BF % although at times it’s hard to keep going (all the food and not being ripped). Still, I think it’ll be worth it. About power training: in April I did a power routine exclusively for about 2 months. I noticed that my triceps, shoulders, parts of my back and upper legs suddenly got a lot bigger. Right now I always make sure my first couple of exersizes are done power style but I do factor in some higher reps later on. To me, it seems that the greater potential a muscle has for being strong (like the upper legs, parts of back and triceps) the better they respond to lower reps. While others (like biceps) respond better to higher reps. Then some like chest and lats respond somewhere in between (I do half power, half reps for them). Or maybe it’s just me :wink:

Hello gentlemen, now don’t laugh but I thought you might like to hear from an ectomorphic female.I’m 5’6 and weighed 106 lbs 3 years ago,looked like one of those waif models even after having 2 kids.I now weigh 140lbs,wear a size 5 (thats a “small” guys)BF 11%, max bench 190,squat 245.In a nutshell I stopped doing anything aerobic,workout 4x’s a week so that each week I train a DIFFERENT bodypart twice, and do mostly powerlifting type workouts-no more than 6 to 8 reps,4 sets per part.I use creatine ocassionally if I plateau for too long or start to lose too much weight.I eat frequent small amts, 1gm/lb of protien and moderate carbs, the weight flies off fast if I drop the carbs too low and I pig out every Sat. I now look like an 80’s female body builder-big enough.DON"T OVERTRAIN (90 min max)OR UNDEREAT. And remember most of us girls like the “Boxer” bodies NOT the overly blocky bodybuilder type.