Ectomorphs have the most disadvantageous body type when it comes to building strength and muscle. Small joints, long limbs and a narrow frame are not the ideal characteristics on their own, therefore combining them on an ectomorphs frame just makes for an uphill battle once you get in the weights room.
Strength is a relative term, doing 50 consecutive pull-ups is a feat of strength just like dedlifting 600lbs is and if you can do both then you are probably stronger than most people! There are always exceptions however, in an untrained individual, ectomorphs tend to be weaker.
Are ectomorphs weak? Ectomorphs might not necessarily be weak themselves, however when compared with a mesomorph and endomorph, an untrained ectomorph will be weaker. Ectomorphs do have a genetic capability to build strength, especially since they tend to be tall and therefore have a large capacity to build muscle.
As mentioned most might start out weak however the capacity is there to build strength rapidly and put on some serious muscle mass in the process, it will just be a matter of proper exercise programming and nutrition.
The most important thing to understand is that getting strong as an ectomorph will involve doing more of the exercises that you don’t want to do and less of the exercises that you will want to.
As a true ectomorph, performing countless sets of bicep curls will do very little to add muscle to your frame and build strength. An ectomorphs exercise selection should revolve heavily around getting stronger in multi joint, compound movements.
Your focus should be on some of the following lifts as an absolute staple:
- Squats (front and back squats)
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Barbell rows
- Weighted lunges
- Weighted carries
The above are exercises that focus on movements and multiple muscle groups rather than specific exercises and singular muscles. The primary muscle being worked in a bench press is the chest however it will also work the secondary muscles of the triceps and shoulders. Adding 80lbs to your bench press will inadvertently do more for triceps strength and size than doing extensions with a 20lb dumbbell.
Accessory movements can definitely have a place in your routine, they should however be included with a very specific goal in mind. A barbell hip thrust for example can be done to strengthen the glutes which will in turn assist you with squats and deadlifts as you’ve targeted an area of the posterior chain that contributes to getting stronger in these lifts.
Most of these movements are taxing not only on the muscles worked but also on the central nervous system, going hard on everyone of these exercises will see you burn out in no time. It’s important to structure your routine so that you are focusing on 2 – 3 of these key lifts every workout and then adding some accessory work afterwards.
If you are deadlifting as your 5th exercise of the workout for example you are not going to be able to lift anywhere near you potential for this lift and will be lucky to work up to 80% of your 1 rep max.
Spread these compound movements over multiple training sessions, the best way to do this will be to select a workout split that will accommodate this, an upper body/lower body split would be a good option. You’d train upper body one day followed be lower body the next day (a rest day can then be included on the 3rd day).
You could also opt for a push/pull/legs split which will likely be a good option for including the majority of these lifts into your weekly routine.
Once you have your exercise selection in place the key to getting stronger as an ectomorph (and in general) is progressive overload. You need to increase the weights you lift overtime in order to build muscle and strength, this is because the body likes to be comfortable and will therefore only adapt to the exact demands that are placed on it.
Progressive overload is a simple concept that means to continually force your body to adapt to a new stimulus, in simple terms if you squat 225lbs for 10 reps then the next session you are going to add weight to the bar and look to squat 235lbs for 10 reps.
This is not a linear process in that you just keep adding weight to the bar forever and get infinitely stronger, there will be numerous sticking points and at some point you will start to see diminishing returns on your progress.
As a beginner you will be amazed at how quickly and significantly the jumps in weight can be, it’s not uncommon to add 50lbs – 100lbs to your lifts within the first 3 months of training. Just because and ectomorph is weak when they start training (again this is a generalization and doesn’t apply to all) doesn’t mean that there isn’t the capacity to quickly build strength.
A simple progressive model to follow in order to build strength initially would be to aim for 3 sets of 8 reps at a given weight (3 sets of 5 reps would be better to build pure strength but the 8 – 12 rep range is hypertrophic and therefore beneficial for building a muscular frame and not just pure strength). Once you are able to complete these with excellent form then you add 5lbs to this weight next time, for squats and deadlifts it’s best to add 10lbs.
What you don’t want to do however is get excited by the progress and make to large a jump in increments, the reason I suggest 5lbs is so that you can milk progress from the smallest increases.
Once you get to a certain point it becomes increasingly difficult to add weight to the bar, therefore going up in smaller increments will give time for not only muscles, but also your ligaments and tendons to strengthen as well.
Eat In A Calorie Surplus
The final factor when looking to get stronger as an ectomorph is to make sure you are eating enough to not only fuel your training but to make sure you are recovering adequately. The easiest way to guarantee this is to make sure you are eating in a calorie surplus.
If you don’t consume enough calories daily to recover from weight training then you are going to struggle with putting on size and getting stronger in the gym. The further into a calorie surplus you go (>1000kcal over your maintenance calorie amount) the stronger you are going to feel and actually be as you will have an abundance of calories that can be used for energy expenditure.
As an ectomorph it’s likely that your starting point is a relatively low body weight, most likely 170lbs or less, if this is the case then an easy way to build strength through your diet is to start gaining weight. There is a direct correlation between weight and strength which is why for weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman and even boxing there are weight classes.
The difference in strength between a heavyweight and lightweight is non comparable, the heavier you get the greater the capacity for strength increases. This isn’t to say you should eat anything you want with the sole aim of gaining weight as this will just lead to excessive fat gain. You want the majority of your calories to come from nutrient dense foods with good macronutrient values, a good starting macro split to aim for is the following:
- Protein = 1g per pound body weight
- Fats = 0.45g per pound body weight
- Carbohydrates = make up from remaining calories.
To illustrate this, someone who needs to eat 3,000kcal per day to gain weight and weight 170lbs would have the following macro split:
- Protein = 170g
- Fat = 76.5g
- Carbohydrates = 408g
Even though as an ectomorph you have a genetic disadvantage starting out when it comes to strength it’s very easy to build this over time by following tested principles that make the most of our current understanding of human anatomy.
To gain strength you first need to pick a body part split that will allow you to work the major compound lifts multiple times a week (push, pull. legs for example). Next you will want to focus on these lifts and get progressively stronger in them over the weeks and months by adding small increments to the bar every single time that you hit the gym.
Finally you need to have a surplus of calories to fuel these workouts, recover from the increasing poundage’s that you will be lifting on a weekly basis and to fuel weight gain as you won’t be able to keep getting stronger if you stay at the same weight!
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Also check out:
A guide to getting big as an ectomorph
T-Nation – https://www.t-nation.com/training/grow-ectomorph-grow