People will often place themselves (or others) into a very specific classification of body type, the most well known of which are ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs.
Ectomorphs are your more typical “skinny guy” body types, these are people that are tall, skinny, have a narrow bone structure, small joints, and difficulty gaining weight and/or muscle mass.
As a result of these characteristics, there are certain sports or exercises that ectomorphs are better and worse suited to than others. Something most ectomorphs will often wonder is whether or not they can train for strongman with their body type.
Can an ectomorph become a strongman? Technically, an ectomorph can become a strongman and compete and there are some well known strongmen who have had an ectomorphic body type. In general though, ectomorphs are not well suited to strongman type training and many do not have the characteristics needed to compete at a high level.
To be a strongman and compete with these heavyweight lifters, you need to have certain characteristics that will allow you to move some heavyweights. Strongmen are amongst some of the most impressive athletes on the planet and in this article, I’ll cover whether or not an ectomorph can become a strongman.
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Can an Ectomorph Become a Strongman
Firstly, before covering whether or not an ectomorph can become a strongman it’s important to make something clear, while a strongman might be a professional endeavor, anyone can train like a strongman and even enter amateur competitions.
I’m not going to say anyone can be great at strongman because that’s simply not true, I’m 6’2 and will therefore never become a world champion jockey! What I can say though, is that anyone can train like a strongman and gain the benefits (increased strength, explosive power, and muscle growth) from doing so.
With that said, certain sports also require certain physical characteristics and while an ectomorph can become a strongman and many have gone on to do so, these tend to be the exceptions rather than the norm.
Ectomorphs, in general, do not have a body type or characteristics that are well suited to become a top class strongman. This can be for a number of reasons including:
- Power – Ectomorphs tend to have a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers whereas strongman type events require explosive power that is primarily utilized from having a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers.
- Frame – Strongmen have large frames with dense bone structures and an ability to hold a lot of weight and muscle mass. Ectomorphs on the other hand have a smaller frame (particularly around the joints) and struggle to gain and then hold overall weight and muscle mass.
- Recovery – This ties in with the above point but mesomorphs and especially endomorphs have tougher/larger/denser joints, ligaments, and tendons which allows them to handle heavier weights. Ectomorphs typically have the opposite and are therefore less resilient to injury when it comes to training with heavy weights as the joints will take a beating!
- Leverage – Most ectomorphs will be tall with long limbs which means leverage can also be an issue. This leverage is great for deadlifting and carries (yoke and farmers walk) but for pressing (log press, axel press, and circus dumbbell), squatting, and flipping/pulling (tire flip, keg toss, and truck pulls) this leverage is a serious disadvantage.
As you can see from the above, none of these factors prevent an ectomorph from becoming a strongman but they do act as significant stumbling blocks that most people will not be able to easily or successfully overcome.
The best example of an ectomorph reaching the top in WSM is Hafthor Bjornsson. Hafthor demonstrated many traditional ectomorphs characteristics but went on to win the 2018 WSM and set the deadlift world record in 2020 at 501kg (1,105lb).
What you need to consider though is the fact that Hafthor did so with a bodyweight fluctuating between 180-206kg (397-452lb). This is something that 99.9% of ectomorphs will not be able to achieve and it’s reserved for the 0.1% who have the genetic potential to achieve sporting greatness.
This then leads us on to the first requirement that is needed for an ectomorph to become a strongman and that is the ability to gain and hold a significant amount of weight and muscle mass.
Can You Get Big as an Ectomorph
The guys at the top in strongman are BIG. Regardless of height, bone structure, and anything else I’ve mentioned earlier, the one thing these strongmen have in common is that they weigh a lot.
While training your nervous system can lead to significant strength gains (just look at the lower weight classes in Olympic weightlifting), to compete in strongman you need to max out your genetic potential in terms of muscle mass and also hold on to a higher level of body fat as well.
Strongmen eat big to get big, former 4 x WSM Brian Shaw was known to consume a daily calorie intake of 12,000kcals to fuel his training sessions and maintain the bodyweight he needed to compete.
Competitive strongman and powerlifter Harrison Fleetwood mentions that
“While there are different weight classes available to compete, anyone looking to challenge the open class will need to weigh a minimum of 145kg (320lb)”
Studies have shown that body weight is directly proportional to an individual’s level of strength. There is a point of diminishing returns and simply weighing more doesn’t keep adding plates to your lift but a minimum requirement for a strongman is that weighing more is an advantage in most cases.
Ectomorphs certainly have the potential to get “big” and Hafthor is the best example of this but it’s not easy and the genetic potential for overall muscle mass will be lower.
Smaller, thinner bones can only hold so much muscle mass naturally with a ratio of 5:1 (muscle to bone) so from a natural lifter’s perspective, an ectomorph will always be limited by their potential for size more than other body types.
Should Ectomorphs Lift Heavy
The next factor we want to consider when questioning whether an ectomorph can become a strongman is whether or not ectomorphs should (or can) lift heavy. Ectomorphs are naturally weaker than the larger body types of endomorphs and mesomorphs.
This is open to much debate and I’d rarely make a definitive claim like that because there are always exceptions. As a result of an ectomorph’s frame, muscle fiber compositions, and general characteristics though, untrained ectomorphs will almost always be weaker than other body types.
Untrained, is the key phrase here as you can always improve on your base physical abilities in terms of speed, strength, power, etc… with some basic and focused training. Just because an ectomorph is initially weaker, sufficient training, rest, and nutrition and soon reverse this.
In order to elicit strength and muscle gains in ectomorphs, it’s not only recommended that you get under the bar and lift some heavy weights, it’s pretty much an essential requirement!
I mentioned earlier that ectomorphs have a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers in relation to fast twitch muscle fibers. An average person will tend to have a 50/50 split but ectomorphs can be seen as having splits as high as 60/40 slow twitch to fast twitch.
This is one of the primary reasons why ectomorphs excel in long distance running and other endurance based sports when the slow twitch muscle fibers are more resistant to fatigue. To excel in strongman though, you need to have a higher proportion of the type II fast twitch fiber which is responsible for explosive power and strength.
Fortunately, research shows that it’s possible to increase your fast twitch fiber makeup through heavy resistance training and explosive movements like sprinting. For beginners looking to increase their strength and work their way up to some heavy weights, I’d recommend starting on a popular strength training plan.
These can include:
- Starting Strength 3×5
- Stronglifts 5×5
- Jim Wendler 5/3/1
- Madcow 5×5
You can also train specifically for strongman which leads us onto the next point in whether an ectomorph can become a strongman.
How to Train Based on Your Body Type
It’s highly unlikely that any ectomorph reading this will have the genetic potential or athletic ability required to become a strongman. By strongman though, I mean that in the professional sense of competing with the world’s greatest strongmen.
Just because you are unlikely to become a high level strongman, that does not mean you can’t train for strongman and in fact, strongman based training can be one of the best training methods that an ectomorph can utilize.
Ectomorphs need a combination of heavy resistance training combined with volume based, hypertrophy training. Unless you train at a strongman specific gym, specialized strongman programs can be difficult to implement, especially in commercial gyms.
Therefore, I’d first recommend building your strength up to a high standard with some basic strength training programs like those lifted above. These programs are based around powerlifting movements which have a great carryover to strongman once you get to an intermediate/advanced level of strength in the basic compound movements.
From there, you can then of course start to look into more specialized and dedicated strongman programs. This is also an option from the start but it would depend on whether or not you have access to a “strongman” equipped gym.
How to Enter Strongman Competitions
In terms of competition, the progression to the top has never been easier (from a pathway viewpoint). You simply start by uploading videos of your lifts directly to https://officialstrongman.com/ for an online qualifier in order to be invited to an official strongman competition regionally.
From there, you have access to multiple competitions including Britain, USA, and European strongest man before moving onto the world’s strongest man. As mentioned though, that is reserved for the elite, strongman competitions and training is however still open to all in terms of local competitions and specialist gyms.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of ectomorphs do not have the genetic potential or favorable characteristics needed to become a strongman. There will always be some exceptions to this and Hafthor Bjornnson is arguably the best example of an ectomorph defying their disadvantageous characteristics.
Even if you don’t have the genetic potential to reach the top, there is nothing stopping an ectomorph training for strongman and entering competitions based on their weight class. For most, strongman training can be one of the most effective for building strength and increasing overall muscle mass.
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