Training 7 Days a Week

And here is part of an article on ectomorph (tall and skinny) training that I’m working on:

''Adding muscle to a coat rack
The curse of the ectomorph… can it be reversed?
By Christian Thibaudeau

It used to be just a few decades ago that men simply accepted who they were: tall and skinny? Short and fat? It didn’t matter, well even if it did you never talked about it because that was not the manly thing to do. Insatisfaction with one’s appearance and the subsequent efforts to correct the situation were seen as feminine traits and as such were looked down upon by the ‘real men’ of the time.

However over the past ten or even twenty years something happened: body image began to be seen as a source of pride and all of a sudden trying to improve the way you looked didn’t seem so unmanly anymore. This situation hit a peak over the past 5 years: it now seems that every guy you talk to is either on a diet to starve off the fat or hitting the gym in hope of adding muscle.

Face it; we live in a world where looks are not only important, but can drastically affect how you are perceived and treated. Having a good looking body improves your chances to hit it with the vixen at the bar that everybody wants to hook up with, it helps you get respect from your pears and might even increase your likelihood of scoring that big job you are looking for. All of that because a nice muscular physique gives you an aura of power and drastically boost your self-confidence.

It is thus pretty obvious that improving your body is something that a lot of peoples feel really strongly about. In the past I’ve talked a lot about transforming yourself from a fat boy to a muscle machine. This one was something I could relate to, having travelled that road myself in the past.

But for long I ignored the other side of the coin: the skinny guy who can’t make an ounce of muscle stick to his frame, what is he to do? To him, pilling on muscle is just as important as is shedding the fat away to his big boned friend.

Sadly, while losing fat is a pretty straight forward thing, adding muscle is a much harder thing to accomplish This is especially true to our friend the skinny ectomorph. You see, an ectomorph (skinny guy with long limbs who has trouble gaining either fat or muscle) is not physiologically built to handle strength work.

Genetically these peoples are ‘designed’ more for low-intensity long-duration work as well as tasks requiring precise motor control. On the other hand, mesomorphs (naturally muscular individuals) and endomorphs (fat but solid individuals) are built to handle hard physical labor.

Why is this important? Because it explains why ectomorphs have such a hard time adding muscle to their frame. Since their body is not built to handle hard physical work, this type of training (weight lifting) represents a much greater stress to them as it does for other body types.

So for the same amount of strength work, the ectomorph will undergo a much greater stress response than the other guys. A greater stress response equals a higher level of catabolic hormones being release (mainly cortisol) this leads to a physical state not really conductive to muscle growth.

Then we also need to mention that the ectomorphic frame is not built to support a large musculature (narrower scapular and pelvic belts and thinner bones). For that reason the ectomorphic body really doesn’t ‘want’ to add more muscle to its structure, it’s kinda like trying to pile on concrete walls over a papier-maché foundation!

So from both of these points we can say that:

  1. Ectomorphs do not tolerate weight lifting well and produce a greater stress response for the same
    amount of strength work.

  2. Ectomorphs need to give their body a damn good reason to add muscle mass since their frame is not designed to hold on a lot of muscle bulk.

First common ectomorphic mistake

Most ectos end up doing the same mistake; the one I call their capital sin: they end up doing way too much volume.

This is probably for two reasons:

  1. One reasoning is that since ectos are built for endurance, they should train for endurance in the gym. This means perfoming lots of sets, lots of reps and taking short rest intervals. This is idiotic thinking at best. While it is true that ectos are built for endurance and not for lifting work, there is a big difference between low-intensity endurance work (i.e. Cardio) and lifting endurance.

Weight lifting, even when performed with relatively light weights for lots of reps is still a type of work that is not suited to the ecto. Yes, high-volume/low-weight training represent a step down in intensity compared to the heavier lifting protocols, but it’s still light years ahead to real endurance work when it comes to the intensity of muscular work.

So by performing a high volume of training, even if it’s with relatively light weights, the ecto basically doing more of a type of activity that his body is not designed to handle. As a result this will lead to an even greater stress response and thus less possibility for muscle growth.

  1. The emotional issue. When they start training, ectos invariably end up gaining muscle at a much slower pace that everybody else, and that is very frustrating. The natural response, the one we’ve been bred to have, is to do more work! If you are getting bad grades it’s because you are not studying enough so you should spend more time in your books.

If you are not getting that big promotion it’s because you are not working hard enough so you should do some overtime. If your golf swing is not improving it’s because you are not practicing enough, so you should spend more time in the driving range, etc.

We all have this same reasoning when it comes to training: if I am not progressing it’s because I’m not training enough. So you bump your sets to 16, 20, 25, 30… sets per muscle group. With no more results. I’ll tell you right off the bat: if you are not getting results it is probably that you are not training hard enough (provided that your nutrition and rest are adequate). However it is false to equate hard training with doing a lot of training… especially when it comes to ectos.

I’ll say it once and for all so that we’re clear on this:

‘‘Ectos do not tolerate strength training well; for them increasing training volume is the fastest route to nowhere.’’

Second ectomorphic training mistake

The wide majority of ectos who are not gaining muscle are not training hard enough. Sadly, nobody ever question whether they are training hard enough or not; we all like to think of ourselves as gym warriors. Well the truth of the matter is that less than 10% of the population trans hard enough to stimulate optimal growth.

One problem is that a lot of peoples equate training hard with doing a lot of volume (lots of exercises, lots of sets, etc.). This is absolutely erroneous! Training hard means pushing every sets with all that you’ve got, not leaving anything in the tank. And yes, that means training to failure… at the very least.

A second factor involved in the ‘training hard’ concept is the intensity of the muscle contraction. When a muscle has to contract maximally then the work is harder. So a sets performed with 85% is ‘harder’ than a set performed with 60% (all other factors being equal). But it’s not just a matter of lifting to the limit (to failure and even beyond) or of lifting heavy. It’s a combo of both.

However the harder you work on each set, the less sets you can actually do (because each set becomes a huge burden on the muscularm, neuromuscular and adrenal systems). This is why I say that all ectos who are not gaining, are not training hard enough.

After all they are all performing a ton of sets, there is no way that the ‘hard factor’ can be elevated with this type of training, at least not with ectos who have a low tolerance of strength work.

How should ectos train?

Let’s get back to the two truth about ectos mentionned earlier. The second one states that ectos’ bodies are not built to carry a lot of muscle bulk so for that reason the body needs a darn good reason to add additional muscle tissue. In other words, for ectos to add muscle to their frame they need a very powerful growth stimulus. The growth stimulus is a function of several factors:

Volume: the more physical work you perform, the more important the stimulus is. I’ve mentionned in the past that the more you can train without exceeding your body’s capacity to handle physical work, the more you’ll progress.

However, as we just saw, ectos have a very low tolerance to strength work. So for them, increasing the severity of the training stimulus via more volume is out of the question. In fact, if anything, ectos will always need to reduce training volume to the bare minimum necessarity to stimulate growth.

Ecto variable: perform a total of 4-6 work sets for most muscle groups, with the ‘possible’ exeception of going up to 8 sets for back since it’s a more complex ‘group’. Avoid the temptation to increasing training volume, however tempting it may be at first. Focus on working harder during those sets, not on doing more sets.

Frequency: another way of putting the body through a more important growth stimulus/adaptive need is to increase the frequency of training. Basically, if you train a given muscle group twice per week or even three times per week you are forcing your body to adapt to a greater extent.

However, just like with volume, ectos will not respond well to an increase in total training frequency. Their body not being built to tolerate strength work, the release of stress hormone will be significant with every session. Ectos need their 3-4 days of rest per week to grow, may it simply be to restore hormonal balance and facilitate the onset of an anabolic state instead of a catabolic one.

Ecto variable: train at the most 3-4 days a week, which means taking at least 3 days off per week on non-consecutive days. Each individual session should last no longer than 60 minutes, preferably closer to 45. Each muscle group is to be trained once every 6-7 days.

Load/intensity: one can also increase the importance of the growth stimulus by lifting heavier weights. And that is something ectos should do, within reason. As it was mentionned oh, about a zillion times, an ecto body is not built for strength work.

They have a smaller bone structure, thinner bones, narrower pelvic and scapular belts, smaller joints an generally longer limbs. They are at the exact opposite of being built for strength.

For lifting maximal weights, in the 90-100% range is not ideal for them and once again represent a significant stress on their body. However, light load lifting might not be a powerful enough stimulus to force their body to grow. So they need to lift relatively heavy (75-85% range), without making maximal liftng the cornerstone of their program.

Ecto variable: it is important to challenge the body by always trying to increase the amount of weight lifted, but because of their structure, ectos should not go into the maximal weights zone of 90%+. However going lower than 75-80% will not be a strong stimulus enough to maximise their growth.

‘Hardness’: I do not know another word to express this factor. I am talking here about the perceived difficulty of a set. Basically the closer you go to your physical limit on a set, the higher is the ‘hardness’ factor. Ectos should focus mainly on this factor to increase the growth stimulus.

If they are training hard enough and have a high pain treshold, they can put the muscle through a growth stimulus powerful enough to force their ecto body to add on muscle without having to do more than 3-6 sets per muscle group. Here are a few usable techniques:

Rest/pause: once you reach failure you pause for 10-12 seconds and then resume the set, trying to get 2-4 more reps with the same weight, again to muscle failure.

Drop 50%: once you reach failure you lower the weight by 50% (of the current weight) and continue to perform reps to failure.

Static hold: once you reach failure you hold three 3-5 seconds pauses during the range of motion of the exercise. A second version is to hold the midrange or full contraction point for as long as possible.

Slow negatives: upon reaching failure your partner helps you get the weight at the end on the concentric (lifting) motion and you lower it as slowly as you can. Perform reps until you can’t lower the weight under control.

Partials: these are not included in the table, but can be used in ‘beyond failure steps with the same weight’. Basically when you reach failure with a weight you continue to perform reps in the strong half of the movement.

Ecto variable: this is the key to success for ectos. They should strive to make the few sets they are doing as hard as humanly possible. If he wants to progress optimally the ecto must because the hardest working guy in his gym, he must become an animal!

So an ecto should stick to 3-8 total sets per muscle group (1-2 sets of 2-4 exercises) and gradually work his way up the ‘hardness’ ladder. Obviously, the higher up you go on the ladder, the less total sets you should perform.

Also note that I include ‘8’ among the sets only because of back which is a more complex muscle structure and might require more exercises. But for all other muscles groups, 3-6 sets should be done.

Ectos need plenty of rest to grow. As such they should include at least three non-consecutive ‘off’ days per week. Four is even better for the hardest gainers among the ectos. Each muscle should be trained once a week directly, although some indirect work a second time is acceptable. For example:

Monday: Chest & Biceps
Tuesday: Lower body
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Back & traps/rear delts
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Shoulders & triceps
Sunday: OFF


Monday: Chest & Biceps
Tuesday: Quads & Calves
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Shoulders & triceps
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Back/traps & Hamstrings
Sunday: OFF

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