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Ectomorph Workout Plan - Stop Being Skinny

Updated on May 25, 2014

An Introduction to Being an Ectomorph and Dieting

If you're skinny and an ectomorph then it's natural that you'll want to get bigger. This is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, it can be very difficult. It can also be fun and fulfilling. You just need to know what to do and what not to do. I'll lay out some of the basics of weight training as a beginner and what you should do and look out for. This is just a general guideline, but a lot of people don't know these things.

The first thing you need to know is that you'll need to eat a lot of food. And by a lot I mean at least 4,000 calories a day, although preferably more--ectomorphs need a ton of fuel. You also need to keep careful track of how many calories you consume on a daily basis - I don't mean "estimating" because a lot of people overestimate how much they eat. If you are going to estimate, then make sure you make the number lower than it really is. Otherwise, I suggest you weigh out your food and calculate the calories from the caloric density* of the food. This is the biggest problem that plagues the ectomorph - they don't eat enough food!

Eating a lot is important, but you also need to make sure your diet is in the correct proportions. I recommend that 30% of your calories come from protein, while 25% come from fat and 45% from carbs. This'll ensure that you get plenty of energy and enough protein to rebuild your muscles.  Also, it's worth noting that ectomorphs require more carbohydrates than a lot of other body types, so eating more than I mentioned is not necessarily a bad thing.

People looking to lose fat and gain weight should eat fewer calories than they burn. I recommend eating about 500 calories less than your basal metabolic rate.* For people trying to just gain weight, I suggest the opposite. Those trying to lose weight should also consider eating more protein and less fat.

*Your basal metabolic rate is essentially your resting metabolism. It's how many calories you eat daily from being hungry when sedentary (and maintaining weight). If you stay the same weight over a period of a couple weeks or months, then you're consuming just enough food to satisfy your BMR.  Many ectomorphs will have a high BMR for their weight, but this isn't always the case.

* You can calculate this by dividing the number of calories by the number of grams or ounces in the serving size.  This'll give you how many calories you get for each, respectively.  Then you take the weight of the serving you have and multiply it by that number.

Pre & Post Workout Info For Ectomorphs

One thing that a lot of ectomorphs / skinny guys don't realize is that they have to "prep" their body first. I don't mean warming up, although I'll get to that later. When you're first starting out, your muscles won't be coordinated enough to lift heavy weights. Essentially, you won't know how to use all of them together to get the maximum work per lift. The best way to get your body to work that way is to do 1-2 weeks of strength training with low reps and perfect form before you start using higher reps to gain mass. This'll give you a significant strength boost and will also allow you to gain strength faster, since your nerves will be conditioned for it. I usually break up every eight weeks of bodybuilding with two weeks of strength training, just so I don't fall behind.

And now on the subject of warming up.

It is incredibly important that you stretch before and after working out. I always do 5 minutes of light cardio and then another 10 minutes of dynamic (active) stretching before working out. Static stretching, which is where you hold a stretch for several seconds will actually decrease your strength, so it is not recommend at the beginning of a work out. Dynamic stretching can consist of arm circles and progressively higher kicks or similar. After the work out, you should do another 15 minutes of static stretching. This'll help you recover faster and will also stretch the fibers in your muscles, which'll allow them to expand more easily (and will therefore give you larger muscles).

Ectomorphs are slightly more likely to be injured when training

As an ectomorph, you will most likely have weaker connective tissue, so you'll be more likely to suffer from sprains and other injuries.  As you gain weight, the risk of injury will increase because your frame is naturally smaller and not made to support so much weight.  Because of this, I recommend that all ectomorphs be extra cautious when working out.  Proper form is important and the best way to avoid injury.

Supplements for Ectomorphs

Supplements should only be taken as their name implies: as a supplement. I see too many people thinking that they're going to get huge from whey protein or creatine. This just isn't so. There is no miracle drug or supplement in the body building world, except the one you already know about, but that's both illegal and dangerous. Ectomorphs should focus more on eating a lot of food than supplements, which should only be used to help achieve the former. Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand--having one or the other will not help you significantly.

So what are some good supplements that ectomorphs should try out?

I suggest taking a little bit of whey protein, especially after a work out. This'll allow you to replenish your muscles faster (since it's ground up and is absorbed faster). I use the IDS brand, Belgian Chocolate. It's actually pretty delicious and great for ectos. The recipe I use for my shake is:

2 scoops whey (Belgian Chocolate)
1 liter of milk
1 banana
6 tablespoons of peanut butter
and 8 ice cubes

This tastes good and the potassium from the banana will help you avoid cramping if you take some of the shake before the workout. It'll also speed up recovery.

Another good supplement you should take is a multivitamin. There's not much to say here other than that you'll be surprised how much better you'll feel with a multivitamin and how much it can actually help your gains. I was able to increase my weight gain rate by about 50% with the introduction of a multivitamin, since I (like many ectomorphs,) wasn't getting enough nutrients.

Information on other popular supplements:

Creatine is a supplement that aids energy production in the body by allowing more ATP to be created.  It can be found primarily in red meats or through supplementation.  Compared to protein powder, creatine is relatively inexpensive.  In addition to this, people often report mass gains from creatine, although most evidence (read, not all) suggest that this is due to increased water retention.

Prohormones are precursors to actual hormones and are often used as a legal way to increase hormone production in the body.  The downside of this is that because they raise hormone levels, you run the risk of failing athletic blood tests for steroids.  Additionally, prohormones can cause mood swings or other side effects, similar to (not generally not as bad) the hormones they create.

Human Growth Hormone is a solid supplement that can give you great gains and increase energy levels.  I've never taken HGH myself, but I've heard that it can make it difficult to sleep due to the increased energy.  While HGH is generally thought of as safe, there hasn't been much research on it.  In addition to this, it is often illegal to use in sports (although difficult to catch) and can cause increased head size.

Compound Lifts - An Ectomorph's Best Friend

Isolation exercises don't typically work well for beginners or ectomorphs. This is because you're still trying to build a foundation for your muscles. You're going to need strong stabilizers and you also need to even yourself out. When beginning, I recommend that you do at least 24 weeks with heavy compound lifts. You should try to go up in weight with each subsequent workout, although this isn't always possible.

Three best lifts for an ectomorph workout

The three main compound lifts are the squat, deadlift, and bench press. All three are incredibly important and must be incorporated into your workout. I know some gyms do not allow deadlifts, but you'll still be able to do the exercise with dumbbells.

Compound exercises mean that you shouldn't be using machines and should limit yourself to free weights. A smith machine is not a freeweight, which means it doesn't work your stabilizer muscles. Not only that, but it'll make you move in odd angles, especially when squatting, and can damage your knees. The bar is also much lighter and balanced, so you can do significantly more weight on the smith machine, but won't need to even out your muscles. This'll keep one side dominant.

The Importance of Sleep for Ectomorphs

Lack of sleep has been linked to higher morbidity and a higher occurrence of some chronic diseases, including diabetes. That said, excessive or erratic sleep have also been linked to chronic disease and high morbidity. You should get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, nothing more or less. You can take a nap or two during the day, but you need to keep yourself awake by eating massive amounts of food.

But why is sleep important to bodybuilding?

Well, the answer to that is pretty simple. Your muscles gain mass by repairing themselves after you work out. Every time you lift, your muscle gets a bunch of microtears in the fibers. Your body repairs these and builds on top of them to make your muscles stronger and bigger; however, it only does this effectively when you're sleeping. If you don't sleep often, then you won't have time to repair your muscles.

Many ectomorphs don't sleep enough

Sleep is a problem that many ectomorphs face, and actually might be one of the contributing factors to their skinniness. Whether due to their high metabolisms or lack of nutrition, ectomorphs sometimes have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. Since sleeping is just as important as working out, it's absolutely necessary that you get it under control. I suggest taking Melatonin if you want to increase the benefit or frequency of sleep.


R: Rest. This is so that you don't put additional strain on the injury and make it worse. This also goes back to the idea that your body heals itself more effectively when resting.

I: Ice reduces pain and swelling. An excessive inflammatory response can cause additional damage to the tissue, so ice is important; however, do not leave it on for too long because you could kill the skin.

C: Compression also reduces swelling. This is a very important step. The best way to do this is with a bandage.

E: Elevation further reduces swelling by allowing the fluids to flow out of the injured area. It is recommend that you elevate the injured limb to an area above your center of mass.

Safety & Injuries

You want to make sure that you don't injure yourself while working out. Stretching and warming up definitely decreases the risk of getting hurt, but those aren't the only steps you can take.

If you're going to try an exercise that you are unfamiliar with, you should ask someone in the gym for help or advice. Certain lifts can hurt you if you do them wrong. The squat is a great example of this; if you lean forward too much and then snap back while pushing up, you could throw out your back. I'm not going to explain proper form in this hub, but I may do that at another time.

I highly recommend that you get a lifting belt. This will always be beneficial, no matter how much weight you are lifting. It'll protect your lower back, which is the most common site for lifting injuries.

If you are injured

If you do happen to injure yourself while lifting, you need to immediately stop and assess the damage. Is the pain severe, can you move the limb? Does it feel like you tore or broke something? If it appears to be a minor injury, then it probably is. Either way, you should stop lifting for that body part (and completely if it's anything but a minor injury).

If you think you have a minor injury, but the pain persists for many days, then you should see a doctor. It could be worse than you think. For severe injuries with instant swelling and pain, you should go to the doctor immediately. Make sure you have someone else drive you; there is always the chance that you could go into shock.

For any minor injury, follow RICE, which is detailed on the side.

You can usually go back to lifting within 48 hours or after the pain subsides. Some people like to lift while there is still some injury because they think the blood flow will help recovery. I don't wholly agree with this and do not recommend it, especially not for fresh injuries. I have seen this work for chronic injuries, but that's not the topic of discussion.

Remember, ectomorphs are more prone to injury

As I said before, ectomorphs have a smaller frame that makes them more prone to injury when working with heavy weights.  Due to the general frailty of their connective tissue, correct form is important in order to avoid an accident that could wipe out all workout / bodybuilding progress.

This Takes Time & Dedication - Don't Give Up, Ectomorphs!

I've only detailed some of the aspects of bodybuilding. There is a lot more that you can learn, but you'll need to experiment with yourself or find good resources for learning how to put on muscle. Just remember that this is not a fast process. It can take over a year to get the body you really want. Your gains will also become slower over time, but don't let this dissuade you. You'll feel better and more confident with each day at the gym. It really is worth it.

Remember, that some of the best bodybuilders of all time were ectomorphs -- Frank Zane is a great example of this. It's possible to go from skinny to huge with a proper workout regime, diet, and a lot of dedication. Being an ectomorph isn't all that bad.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i am skinny and i started weightlifting 2 months ago,and now when i run the area betewen my calf and feet hurts,any suggestion ?

    • sammythrone profile image


      7 years ago from North America/South America/Europe/Asia

      Hi Dalyinx

      Awesome article.

      For the recipe:

      2 scoops whey (Belgian Chocolate)

      1 liter of milk

      1 banana

      6 tablespoons of peanut butter

      and 8 ice cubes

      ..does it make it doubly effectively to use organic milk and banana?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great article, thanks. And thanks also for the link to Jason Ferruggia's site, that was a new one for me. I'm an ectomorph and describe myself as a hard gainer, but I've made good progress with a 5x5 routine, and eating LOTS! Milk is great for gaining, and the only other thing I occassionally add is whey protein. But the secret is to lift heavy, eat well, and don't do too much cardio (in brief!).

    • Dalyinx profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York

      You're right. I really didn't give the best analysis of creatine; I guess I just ran through that section. It's been a while, so I can't really recall what the purpose was.

      That said, I've updated the supplement section to more accurately reflect my opinions and scientific / anecdotal evidence.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Generally pretty good article, however info on creatine isn't very well researched.

      I recommend looking at these pages and making up your own mind; it doesn't just 'bloat' your body with water. That's too simplistic an answer;

    • TheMuscleBuilder profile image


      8 years ago


      Nice tips, there is some really good information in your hub.

    • yyn1221 profile image


      8 years ago from China

      Though I am not a professional bodybuilder or weightlifter on my own but I am going to gym for the last 8 years and I know the importance of rep ranges in working out at gyms. Yes, I also agree that the best rep range is required to have a good body. Rep ranges are as important as diet in the field of exercise.

    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 

      8 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      Another fantastic hub. The inclusion of the three most important compound lifts is perfect!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub! Well organized with quality info.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Awesome article man!! I didn't even realize there was a name for my body type; thought it was just skinny. I really enjoyed the information here and find it very helpful. I can definitely relate to how hard it is to gain weight. I finally hit 180 lbs and I'm 6'1" and 24. I feel like I can't eat enough, but food is so pricey now-a-days too. Do you think the whey protein is very effective? I try to get all my vitamins through veggies, fruits, rice, beans and seeds, but I feel like I also need a lot of meat for weight. Thanks again for the info!


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