Is it possible for ectomorphs; i.e. “skinny” guys, to add meaningful muscle mass to their slight frames within a reasonable time and keep it?
Absolutely! With upwards of 90% of North Americans having at least some ectomorphic characteristics, gyms should be falling over themselves presenting thin folks with ambitious, yet realistic muscle-building systems. Instead, most people quit in frustration when weeks or months of hard work appear to have been for naught.
So, what gives? Chances are that fundamental muscle-building principles are not being followed. Below, we list and describe five (5) critical elements that ectomorphs cannot ignore:
1. Don’t Fear Bulking Up.
When performing resistance training exercises like lateral dumbbell raises, you cause microtearing in your muscle tissue and fibers. During the recovery or off-training phase, the tissue is repaired and muscles start to grow, resulting in a bulkier look. This is normal, especially as you increase your workout load.
2. Maintain Good Form.
Proper form is critical, regardless of your exercise because it keeps focus on the targeted body part while preventing injury. For example, consider the classic bicep curl. Good form here involves slow, deliberate and constant arm movement to produce flexing muscle motion. More importantly, you protect the rest of your body (i.e. back. hips) by not swinging the dumbbells back and forth to create more tension in the biceps. At the gym, if you are not sure about form, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
3. Raise the Intensity Level When Exercises get too comfortable.
Intensity, whether measured by load (e.g. percentage of your 1 Rep Maximum (1RM)) or by difficulty is a great indicator of your progress. When you are “intense”, you are in constant motion at a high (but safe) heart rate without compromising form.
You maintain perfect rhythm between series to approach legitimate exhaustion. Intense workouts lead to exhaustion, with the payoff being better muscle growth during recovery time (see below).
It is time to change at least one training parameter (e.g. sets, repetitions, weight, rest time, rep cadence, etc.) per exercise when you stop feeling meaningful strain during execution.
4. Don’t Overtrain – Give Yourself Enough Recovery Time.
At first, I could never understand why some of the most dedicated gym rats with the most intense workouts never got bigger muscles. Then I got wise – it was a result of overtraining!
After 45-60 minutes of serious, full body resistance training, your muscles are going to feel sore the next day. Allow yourself between 24 to 48 hours of rest between workouts – your body needs this time to build muscle.
Addicted to the local gym? Use off-days for light cardiovascular work and/or abdominal exercises. If you are using split workouts to grow, stay faithful to your schedule, e.g. if Mondays are your ‘Shoulders and Arms’ day, use Tuesdays to focus on something else (e.g. Legs, Back, Chest).
5. Eat Properly!
While certified fitness trainers and nutritionists may quibble about the details, they do agree that diet plays a critical role in muscle-building body transformation. Arguably, a bigger role than the physical workouts themselves!
These are some of the important steps ectomorphs must follow to achieve a more muscle-bound physique:
- Eat Five to Six Meals Daily.
- Make Breakfast, your pre-Workout Meal, and your post-Workout Meal count!
- Eat Different types of food across every Food Group.
- Eat your Veggies!
- Eat enough Calories in every meal, with the right Proportion of Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat.
- Plan your meals, especially if you are frequently on the road.
- Concentrate on Eating Whole Foods, but use Liquid Meals in a Pinch.
Skinny guys should not be intimidated or frustrated with their current physique, because consistent training and proper eating habits do deliver muscular results.