The Ectomorph Workout Program: Building Muscle for the 'Skinny Guy'

STACK Expert Justin Groce offers four rules, a strategy and a sample workout to help ectomorphs gain weight and build muscle.

When it's game time, are you usually the last one picked? Are you often referred to as the "skinny guy?" Can you eat massive amounts of food and spend extensive hours on your Xbox without gaining weight? If so, you are probably an ectomorph.

An ectomorph is a person with a classic skinny-guy body frame, usually above average in height, with smaller joints and longer limbs. Ectomorphs often have difficulty gaining weight (they are "hard gainers"). If Michael Phelps didn't work out, he'd look like an ectomorph—lean frame with long limbs.

Take heart. I've got just the thing for you: the Ectomorph Workout. Although I'm not personally an ectomorph, I've helped many ectomorphs build their dream physique.

When it comes to training, ectomorphs often face a difficult time building muscle and strength, which is why they need their own workout. Since winter is quickly approaching, now is a great time to focus on eating more (conveniently, more food will be around) and getting ready for next spring and summer.

Without further ado, here's my "skinny guy" training plan.

Rule 1: Eat! Then Eat More

For almost all trainees, regardless of body type, gains in the first year can occur with virtually no outside adjustments. Regarding strength and building muscle in the novice lifter, during the first 12 weeks or so, most gains in strength are attributed to neurological adapations. In other words, your nervous system learns how to make efficient connections with your muscles. It's like driving a new route—the first time takes long, the next time is faster, and with more practice it becomes second nature.

After that, gains are pretty much attributed to hypertrophy, or "increase in muscle size." This is where eating comes into play.

After the honeymoon period with your nervous system, you need to increase calories to give your muscles the nutrition they need to build. Ectomorphs tend to have higher metabolisms and more difficulty gaining weight, so getting more calories is critical.

But getting in calories is not easy. You will have to go out of your way to consume the number of calories you need to hit your goals. This can be achieved with supplemental shakes and plenty of healthy fats (e.g., nut butters, olive oil, fattier milks, etc.). On the flip side, don't think that the goal of increasing calories permits you to frequent drive-thrus. Fast food has negative health implications.

Check out five unusual foods that build muscle.

Rule 2: Lift Like a Big Boy

Your training should be primarily centered around compound, multi-joint lifts. These include but are not limited to the Bench Press, the Back Squat, the Front Squat, the Deadlift, the Stiff-Leg Deadlift, Pull-Ups, DB Rows and Barbell Overhead Presses. This is not to say that you should avoid isolation exercises altogether, but they shouldn't form the nucleus of your program. Do isolation work only after you perform all of your big boy lifts.

The reason to choose big lifts is that they give you the most bang for your buck. Ask yourself this: "If I had only enough time for three exercises, which ones would I choose?" I dearly hope you would pick the Bench Press, the Squat and the DB Row, or a scheme similar in nature, because these lifts recruit the most muscle tissue and allow for you to move maximal loads.

RELATED: Scrawny to Brawny: How to Build Strength and Muscle When You're Skinny

Rule 3: Perform Total-Body Workouts ONLY

If someone tells you that you've "gotta be on a body building plan," then run! I've seen far too many ectomorphs suffer overuse injuries from following a body building plan. They tend to have way too much volume for ectomorphs.

After you focus on the big lifts followed by isolation (auxiliary) exercises, your next step is to do total-body workouts. Can you do body building-style split routines? Absolutely! However, I would not recommend them until you have at least a full year of quality training under your belt. As a matter of fact, I recommend the one-year rule to all lifters, regardless of body type.

Total-body workouts not only allow you to maximize muscle fiber recruitment, they are also very time efficient. To put it into perspective, whenever you do a Bench Press, you activate your core, chest, triceps and shoulders all in one exercise. Plus, you can move a much heavier load with a Bench Press than you could with any isolation exercise for the same muscles (e.g., Bench Press vs. Tricep Pulldown, Bench Press vs. Shoulder Press, etc.)

Rule 4: Less Is More

This rule is especially true for ectomorphs. If you already have a difficult time gaining weight, you must be careful not to train too much or you'll expend too many calories, negating your weight-gaining efforts. Also, ectomorphs tend to get overuse injuries more often than their heavier counterparts.

Typically, I recommend that ectomorphs lift three times per week. Each workout should have three or four primary multi-joint movements, followed by two to four smaller movements. Sets and rep ranges for primary lifts should be 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps. Sets and rep ranges for isolation (auxiliary) lifts should be 3-4 sets and 8-12 reps, and one of those exercises should be a core exercise. Ectomorphs should rest a day or two between workouts. A M-W-F schedule is ideal for rest and frequency.

RELATED: Compound Exercises That Build Muscle Twice As Fast

Building the Program

A sound strategy for building a workout plan would involve first selecting a primary chest exercise, a primary leg exercise, and a primary back exercise. Review the following list of exercises, organized by category, and select one from each category.

Primary Exercises: Chest

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • DB Chest Press
  • DB Incline Chest Press
  • DB Decline Chest Press

Primary Exercises: Legs

  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Hack Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Primary Exercises: Back

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Sumo Deadlift
  • DB Single Arm Row
  • Pull-Ups
  • Barbell Bent Over Rows

Next, select three or four isolation (auxiliary) exercises that suit your goals. Again, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps are ideal. This isn't a complete list, but the exercises listed will augment your progress.

Auxiliary Exercises

  • Standing Shoulder Press (Barbell or DB)
  • Tricep Rope Pull-Down
  • Barbell Curls
  • Prone Leg Curls
  • Walking Lunges (barbell, bodyweight or DB)
  • Calf Raises (seated or standing)
  • Plank
  • Decline Sit-Ups
  • Ab Wheel
  • Hanging Knee Raises
  • Dips
  • Preacher Curls

Sample Workout

  • Barbell Incline Bench Press - 3x5-8
  • Barbell Back Squats - 3x5-8
  • Weighted Pull-Ups - 3x5-8
  • Plank - 3xfailure
  • DB Seated Shoulder Press - 3x8-12
  • Barbell Curls - 3x8-12
  • Standing Calf Raises - 3x8-12


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: CHEST | BENCH PRESS | WORKOUT PLAN | WORKOUTS | CALORIES | EXERCISE | TRAIN | BENCH | PRESS | BARBELL | LIFTS | GAINING WEIGHT