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. These characteristics are unmodifiable which simply means you are stuck with the hand the gods have dealt you!
Very few people are a pure body type and actually are 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.
Ectomorphs main workout focus is strength training. 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 for 30 minutes) during this time.
Strength Training for Ectomorphs
Narrow shoulders and hips, long arms and a shallow chest means that most ectomorphs are not ideally suited for exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts and overhead presses. Their long levers mean that, even if they weighed the same as an endo or meso, they’d probably not be as strong.
Does that mean that ectos shouldn’t to these exercises? Absolutely not. While those long levels may mean that most ectos will never match the poundage lifted by their more naturally gifted brethren, these compound exercises will still be very effective for a typical hardgainer. In fact, because these exercises are hard, they will be more beneficial!
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 barbell and dumbbell are great, as they allow you to use full range of motion. The more muscles you work, the more muscle growth you get.
Cut down on isolation exercises, which only target individual muscles. This tactic won’t achieve the kind of full body muscle stimulation you require. Instead, go for major compound exercises such as the bench press, deadlifts, squats, lunges and bent over barbell rows.
Ectomorph Workout Strategy
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. You need to work intensely with heavy weights and low repetitions.
In terms of sets and reps, the typical guidelines for building muscle are from six to 12 reps per set but most ectomorphs would benefit from focusing on the lower end of the scale and using 4 – 8 reps the majority of the time.
Sets & reps: You probably will benefit the most if you train with heavy weights. Therefore, build up muscle with 2 – 4 sets of 4 to 8 repetitions using a moderate-to-heavy weight for each major muscle group. Take longer rests between sets (2-3 min). This allows you to lift intensively again for the next set.
With regards to 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”.
How: This means that workouts should be limited to 1 hour or less and 80% of that 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 Should Ectomorphs Work Out?
Ectomorphs will benefit greatly from short but intense workouts that are performed relatively infrequently. Where 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.
How often: Ectos should limit their training to 4 and preferably 3 workouts a week. Ectomorphs will find it hard enough to gain muscle without trying to contend with overtraining too.
Rest. Performing workouts using heavy weight is intense and taxing on your body. You need to make sure you are resting and recovering fully 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.
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.
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!
Other than their strength training and the minimum amount of cardio for health, ectomorphs looking to gain weight should try and be as lazy as possible so that as much energy as possible is available for muscle growth. Basically, if an ectomorph is not gaining muscle they are either doing too much out of the gym activity, not eating enough or, more likely, a bit of both.
Unlike the genetically blessed mesomorph, ectomorphs have to work very hard to gain an appreciable amount of muscle. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen – it just takes longer and requires a more diligent approach.