Ectomorph Diet & Workout Plan

Everybody’s body can be classified in one of three ways: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. These terms are used to describe your basic physical characteristics and tie in with how your body will adapt to exercise.

Very few people are purely one body type, but actually a combination of all three. If you have slender arms and legs but have a propensity for gaining fat around your middle, you are an ectomorph/endomorph. If, however, you have big muscular arms but, despite lots of squats, skinny legs, you could well be a mesomorph/ectomorph.

Ectomorphs are naturally slender. Narrow hips and shoulders, small joints and not overly muscular, ectomorphs are often called hardgainers because of their inherent difficulty adding muscle to their slim frames. Long levers compound this problem and make some exercises unusually challenging.

Ectomorphs are usually better suited to endurance sports than endomorphs and mesomorphs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t gain muscle given the right training program and diet.

Cardio for Ectomorphs

Ectomorphs main workout focus is strength training. However, ectomorphs who also want to lose fat should include moderate to high-intensity cardio to lose weight (e.g. running). To combine fat loss and strength training, increase the resistance or incline on the cardio machines in the gym, or look for hills if running outdoors.

Ectomorphs only seeking to gain weight should keep cardio to a healthy minimum (moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes) during this time.

Strength Training for Ectomorphs

Male ectomorph doing strength workout with barbell

Narrow shoulders and hips, long arms and a shallow chest means that compared to the other body types, most ectomorphs are not as ideally suited for exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts and overhead presses. Their long levers mean that, even if an ectomorph weighed the same as an endomorph or mesomorph, they would probably not be as strong. Still, these compound exercises are very effective for a typical ectomorph.

For an ectomorph to gain muscle, they should train specifically to gain strength the classic compound lifts of squats, deadlifts bench press, rows, pullups and overhead presses. These exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time so they are an efficient use of training time and energy and also promote a cascade of anabolic hormones to be produced which are essential for muscle growth.

While these exercises may be hard to master initially because of long limbs and disadvantageous levers, with some simple modifications such as a wider foot placement in squats, wider hand placement in bench presses and a sumo stance for deadlifts, these exercises can be made relatively comfortable and very productive.

Exercises using a barbell and dumbbells are great because they allow you to use full range of motion. The more muscles you work, the more muscle growth you get.

Focus mainly on major compound exercises such as the bench press, deadlifts, squats, lunges and bent over barbell rows. This forms the foundation of your strength training. Then add a few isolation exercises (e.g. biceps curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises), which target individual muscles, to round out your workout routine .

Ectomorph Workout Plan

Ectomorphs need to stimulate their muscles “deeply” in order to increase your muscle mass. Whereas a mesomorph could almost accidentally gain mass, an ectomorph has to start their workout with a well laid out plan.

Sets & reps: Aim for 3 – 5 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions for each major muscle group. Take longer rests between sets (2 minutes or more). This allows you to lift intensively again for the next set. For isolation exercises aim for 10 to 20 reps and slightly shorter rests between sets.

Volume: Ectomorphs are prone to overtraining. That is to say, it’s all too easy to do too much exercise and end up negating much of the benefit of the workouts by expending too much energy and going overdrawn at the “recovery bank”. This means that workouts should be limited to 1 hour or less.

Type of exercise: About 80% of your workout time should be dedicated to the aforementioned compound core lifts and the remaining 20% spent on a small handful of isolation exercises are required. When it comes to exercise selection; bigger is better for ectomorphs.

How often: 3 workouts a week.

Example Ectomorph Training Plan

Consider doing a split routine where you work some parts of the body one day and then others the next. You can also try body-sculpting classes. Once you are happy with your muscle size simply train to maintain it.

  • Monday – chest, shoulders and triceps
  • Wednesday – back, biceps, abs
  • Friday – legs and calves


  • Monday – chest and biceps
  • Wednesday – Legs and shoulders
  • Friday – back and triceps


  • Monday – chest and back
  • Wednesday – legs and calves
  • Friday – shoulders and arms

Because of the reduced frequency of training and the purposely short but intense workouts, this leaves ectomorphs with plenty of time to recover from the workouts and grow, grow, grow!

How Often Should Ectomorphs Work Out?

Female ectomorph doing exercises

Strength training. Ectomorphs should limit their strength workouts to 3 per week, as they will benefit greatly from short but intense workouts that are performed relatively infrequently. While a robust mesomorph may be able to train six days a week with not so much as a hint of a problem, ectomorphs would quickly burn out on such a program.

Moreover, the extra exercise will burn the calories you need for that same muscle to grow. This results in your energy-deprived body consuming its own fat and muscle. Muscle is broken down during workouts and repairs and grows during recovery. Therefore, do not work a muscle group two times per week.

Performing workouts using heavy weight is intense and taxing on your body. Ectomorphs need to make sure they are fully rested and recovered between sessions. Therefore, be careful not to overwork your muscles in a bid to gain mass fast. This will not help your effort to grow muscle. Continually tearing muscle during workouts does not allow it to heal.

Cardiovascular exercise. For general health the American Heart Association and other health organizations recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.123 Ectomorph seeking to gain weight should still do the minimum amount of cardio for health.

Diet for Ectomorphs

For an ectomorph to gain appreciable amounts of muscle, they are going to have to eat enough calories, but also eat well. As gaining body fat is not much of an issue, many ectomorphs get away with eating a generally poor diet. Unfortunately, this kind of empty-calorie approach to nutrition is not ideal for gaining muscle. 

Ectomorph who want to gain muscle don’t just need to consume more calories, but the right kind of calories. Basically, less sugar, more complex carbohydrates! Every meal needs to be substantial, nutrient rich, balanced and designed with muscle gain in mind. 

All that eating can get pretty tiring so liquid meals can be very beneficial for ectomorphs. You can buy pre-prepared “weight gainers” that contain lots of calories, protein and carbohydrate, but it’s easy enough to make your own for a fraction of the cost. Simply blend together the following and drink!

Weight gainer shake recipe:

  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1 scoop powder
  • 1 medium banana 
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter 
  • Vanilla extract to taste
  • Pinch of cinnamon 

Calories: 465
Protein: 35 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams
Fats: 18 grams 

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  1. I’m Suzy I’m 5ft8 and I’m skinny but I battle with belly fat like I don’t have a slim or toned belly and I’ve been trying ab workouts for a 3 weeks and it’s not working matter of fact my belly was much slimmer before workouts can you help pls

    • Hi Suzylee,

      Unfortunately you can’t burn fat from a specific part of your body with targeted exercises. This is called spot reduction and doesn’t work. Ab exercises don’t burn belly fat, but do help to strengthen the ab muscles. To lose belly fat you need to implement a combination of diet and exercise. Check out this guide on how to lose belly fat. You’ll also find articles on belly fat here, such as the best diet, exercises, calculators, and more. Hope this helps! 🙂

  2. Hi, im an ectomorph, i have read so many articles on what i should be eating and how i should be exercising but im sooo confued about it all! Any help on nutrition and exercises would be great!

  3. I really enjoy this website! Its so helpful. Is there a such thing as an overweight ectomorph? Because my body is small framed and all of the characteristics of an ectomorph body type fit me, except the fact that I am very overweight. I weigh 228lbs and am 5’5”, but am shaped like a ruler. Before I gained this weight I was very lanky. No matter what website I go to, there is nothing about overweight ectomorphs. am I just weird?

  4. I am turning 65 on the 13th of June.The last three year my butt,legs and arms fat and muscle went missing.I miss my butt the most what can I do to get some of that back?

  5. Hi!

    Reading your articles has helped me identify that I fall in between an Ectomorph and a Mesomorph and am unsure what I should focus on. I am 5’8 (long torso and long legs) and my weight seems to stay right at 135 no matter what I do. I am small boned but built athletically (broad shoulders and naturally defined muscles). I want to slim down and eliminate body fat.; I get toned quickly and am afraid that I will bulk up and look like Gabrielle Reece instead of Miranda Kerr. What types of exercises are best for my body?

  6. Thanks!! What would be most effective….doing all the leg exercises every day or alternate? I actually hate cardio and would much rather do weights so force myself to get in 30 min of cardio at least 4/week. These are great leg exercises and I look forward to doing them all more regularly!! Will eating more protein help maintain or build muscle?

    Thanks again….you’ve been really helpful!

    • Hi Tammy,
      It’s great that you like doing weights! Don’t do the exercises every day. You need to allow the muscle time to recover, repair and grow. You can go for a whole body resistance plan that you complete about 3 times a week (on nonconsecutive days), or you can go really intense and target just one body part in each workout session (e.g. monday arms, tuesday legs, wednesday abs, thursday back). Do your resistance training first and then do about 20 minutes of cardio to finish and you should be fine. In terms of eating more protein, that depends on whether you’re getting enough in your diet. If you’re eating protein with every meal, you should be fine. But, if you want to supplement, try drinking a protein shake (with some carbs e.g. milk/ banana) after your workout to help maximize muscle growth. Hope this helps!

  7. Thanks for your informative website. I am a 56 year old woman, 5’10” at an lifetime high of 140 lbs. I’m generally an ectomorph but am now what you refer to as skinny fat. Peope would call me slender but need to firm up things up! I try and get in at least 5 days/week of some sort of exercise, mixing Core SPX (50 min 2/wk) w/ stationary bike, walking and elliptical (30 min). What would your diet/workout recommendations be for toning up….I’ve found it’s so much more difficult as I age!!
    Thanks so much!!

    • Hi Tammy,
      Thanks! Metabolism slows down as we get older, so it does get harder to resist weight gain. It’s great that you’re exercising 5 days a week. To help improve you body composition make sure that you are doing your cardio against some kind of resistance. In other words, when you’re on the elliptical ramp up the resistance and go slower. You should really feel your leg muscles working. From your workouts I can see that you really enjoy cardio/ endurance exercise. That’s because that’s what ectomorphs are really good at. A combination of long limbs and little muscle means ectomorphs lack strength, which means strength training is key. Add muscle by doing compound exercises such as lunges and squats as explained above. Go here to read about skinny fat and here for some leg exercises.


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