Ectomorph Muscle Building: Nutrition And Training Basics For Muscle Growth

Tired of people telling you to "eat more." In this article James Chan provides specific nutrition and training advice to help skinny guys get on the road to muscle gains.

Bodybuilding is always a process of building muscle and then refining that muscle. You build muscular bulk by focusing on a handful of compound exercises and then you refine your muscle by attacking it from different angles. It's like sculpting: you can't shape or mold what you don't have. You have to add on the “clay” or muscle and then take away some of that clay to shape and refine the muscle.

If you’re an ectomorph, then you have a longer road ahead of you. You have to build muscle first.  You may be tempted to train like others and include 4-5 different exercises for each body part. For an ectomorph, however, you have to build muscle before you refine it. You must alternate phases of bulking and cutting.

Building muscular bulk requires 3 things:

  1. A lot of food
  2. Heavy weight
  3. Concentrating on a select handful of compound exercises

Eat A Lot Of Food!

Bodybuilding 101, right? Yet time and time again, this is the #1 limiting factor among ectomorph trainees. Eat a lot and eat often. Eat a lot of calories and eat a lot of protein. If you are not eating 5-6 meals spaced evenly throughout the day, then you really are not doing enough to gain weight. Strive to eat the 3 square meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and 2-3 snacks in between.

Here are some common dietary mistakes many skinny men make when trying to build muscle mass:

Not Eating Enough Protein

This is such a basic thing, but most skinny guys fail to get enough protein in their diet to build muscle. Eat a wide variety of meats, poultry, eggs and fish. Supplement with protein powders. Every meal should have a big chunk of protein occupying at least a third of your plate.

Ripped body

Eating Too Clean

Weight training is very demanding on the body, so you need to eat more calories. For you skinny guys with high metabolisms, you can eat quite a bit of junk food to get those extra calories. Skinny guys have bodies that are better at "nutrient partitioning." In other words, nutrients go where they're supposed to go (building muscle) instead of being deposited as fat. So for young skinny guys, you can bulk up by eating pizza, burgers and burritos.

Not Eating Breakfast

It is the most important meal of day. If your idea of breakfast is a coffee and pastry or a bowl of oatmeal with some OJ, then you're not going to gain body weight. Like I said before, every meal should have a big chunk of protein occupying at least a third of your plate. For breakfast, I like a large omelet with coffee and toast.

Skipping Meals

Going hungry for long periods of time puts your body in a catabolic state. In other words, your body cannibalizes its own muscle in order to feed vital organs. It's OK to feel a little hunger so you know it's time to eat. But don't skip meals. You should be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with one or two snacks in between.

Stressing Out Too Much

This is not a dietary mistake but a mental mistake. The skinny guy always frets about how he's doing everything to try to gain weight and eating a lot but he’s not getting any bigger. He reads everything about exercise and diet and overanalyzes everything. He suffers from analysis paralysis and fails to execute the 2 simple rules to getting big: eat big, lift big.

I get a lot of emails from frustrated skinny people who sound frantic. They can’t seem to make decisions and are constantly emailing me asking what program to do next.

And therein lies the problem. Stressing out over everything does not set up a good hormonal response to gain weight. A lot of skinny guys are Nervous Nellies. They can't sit still. They're constantly tapping their fingers or feet. They overreact to everything. They can't seem to calm down. You tell them to take a deep breath, and they hyperventilate.

Stressing out over everything releases cortisol in your body, and cortisol hampers muscle growth as well as deposit fat in your midsection. So if you're a Nervous Nelly or Frantic Frank, then lay off the stimulants. No Red Bulls or Monster drinks. No coffee or soft drinks.

If you need something to wake you up in the morning, then drink some green tea, since it has a moderate dose of caffeine but also has threanine. Threanine promotes alertness and focus, but also keeps you calm and relaxed.

EctomorphBuilding Muscle Bulk Through Strength Training

Diet is only half the story of course. Eating a lot will only make you fat if you don't train heavy and train correctly. Strength training stimulates your appetite so that you can eat all of the extra protein and calories. Strength training sensitizes your body's ability to partition nutrients. So when you ingest protein and carbs, they're being deposited into muscle and not as fat.

But not every strength training program facilitates nutrient partitioning and builds muscle. The primary training factor in muscle building is HIGH MUSCULAR TENSION. In other words, we choose exercises and weights that put tension on certain muscles to build them. Muscle fibers placed under mechanical tension grow bigger by thickening up, absorbing amino acids and storing carbohydrates in the form of glycogen.

All exercises work muscle, but not all exercises BUILD muscle. Some exercises are better than others at creating high muscular tension. A key to creating high muscular tension is to perform heavy compound and multiple compound movements.

Compound movements and multiple compound movements build mass over the entire musculature. Compound movements are exercises where several muscle groups move two or more joints through a single line of motion. Examples of compound movements include squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and dips.

Multiple compound movements are exercises where several muscle groups move two or more joints through multiple lines of motion. In other words, a multiple compound movement is 2 or more compound movements strung together.

Multiple compound movements are typically Olympic lifts and their variations, such as the clean and jerk and the clean and press. The barbell clean and press is a multiple compound movement, because it can be broken into 2 movements: the power clean and the overhead press.

Compound and multiple compound movements stress more muscle than isolation movements. More muscles working together to push or pull a weight can lift more weight than a muscle working in isolation. The more muscle that is worked, the more weight that is lifted, the more testosterone produced by your body. More testosterone: more muscle.

The exercises which produce the biggest testosterone response are what I call the “anabolic blowtorches.” These exercises provoke a huge dump of testosterone in your system and stimulate total body hypertrophy:

  1. Full barbell back squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Clean and press

By focusing on just these 3 exercises, an ectomorph can build a tremendous amount of muscle on a high calorie, high protein diet. The problem is that these 3 exercises stress many of the same muscle groups. Both squats and deadlifts work the thighs and glutes, so doing them both in the same workout would be overkill.

For you to gain size, you need to have minimal training redundancy. In other words, perform one exercise for each muscle group. Any more might be OK for someone trying to burn fat, but it would be overtraining for an ectomorph trying to build muscle mass.

So if you want to perform the 3 anabolic blowtorches, then how do you incorporate these exercises into your workout without overtraining? An ideal training tactic that minimizes training redundancy is a technique called “building-on.”

The Building-On Technique

“Building-on" was a term coined by Charles Staley, and it refers to the sequencing of exercises so that each exercise can serve as a warm-up for the next exercise in the sequence. This sequencing strategy is used both in Olympic-style lifting and in the push-pull split routines of bodybuilding.

In Olympic-style weightlifting, for example, you start with the competitive lift followed by the assistance lifts. So you may do the clean and jerk first in the workout, and then break it down to its components: deadlifts, high pull, push press.

  1. Clean and jerk: 3 sets of 3 reps
  2. Deadlifts: 3 sets of 3-5 reps
  3. High pull: 3 sets of 5-7 reps
  4. Push press: 3 sets of 5-7 reps

Training redundancy is used efficiently with the building-on technique, since it allows you to perform a high volume workout with low volume for each exercise. Every muscle group is stimulated with a significant number of sets, since the exercises overlap.

The other advantage to the building-on technique is that each workout starts with a high velocity multiple compound exercise. This high speed exercise potentiates the nervous system for the heavier slow strength compound exercises that follow. In other words, the Olympic-style lift (clean and jerk) wakes up your nervous system so that you lift more on the maximal strength exercises (squats, deadlifts).

The following is bulking program which utilizes the building-on technique. You will build a significant amount of strength and muscle mass on this program as long as you eat a high calorie, high protein diet.

Monday
Monday Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Clean and Press  3 3
Deadlift 3 3-5
Hang Clean 3 3-5
Military Press 3 10-12
Wednesday
Wednesday Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Pull Ups 3 AMAP
Dips 3 AMAP
Friday
Friday Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Clean and Jerk 3 3
Squat 3 6-8
Power Clean 3 3-5
Push Press 3 5-7

Notes:

AMAP equals as many as possible.

Rest is about 3 minutes between sets for all exercises.