What are the benefits of being an ectomorph? Whilst it’s true that ectomorphs have a hard time building muscle, once the mass is built it’s easier to maintain a lean physique afterwards. Having a narrow bone structure and lower body fat percentage also means it’s easier to build the coveted v-taper look.
There are a lot of negative aspects associated with being an ectomorph which include difficulty building muscle and gaining weight, small joints and bones which make it difficult to get stronger after a certain point and perhaps the most frustrating is the long limbs!
Not only is having long limbs a disadvantage for a number of key exercises due to poor mechanics and reps taking longer due to the greater distance travelled but you also need to gain a lot more muscle then someone of average height and bone structure just to fill out your clothes and have the gains actually look visible.
This all seems very daunting and demotivating but if you want to get into weightlifting as an ectomorph and build a decent physique there are also benefits that you should be aware of as an ectomorph.
What Is an Ectomorph
There is a lot of debate over somatotypes, these are body types grouped into particular categories which are ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs. You can check out more about body types at Nerd Fitness
If you are reading this then chances are you fall under the category of an ectomorph and consider yourself to be a hardgainer. Whilst I don’t necessarily believe in somatotypes myself as everyone clearly has a different genetic makeup I do think it’s useful to group people based on similar characteristics.
True ectomorphs definitely share certain characteristics when it comes to their physique however many use it as an excuse for a lack of progress in the gym. General characteristics of an ectomorph include:
- Tall (usually 6ft+) with long limbs and small joints
- A greater proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres (meaning they tend excel more in cardiovascular pursuits over strength training)
- Have a fast metabolism and find it difficult to gain weight
- Low body fat levels (usually as a result of the fast metabolism)
- Difficulty gaining muscle muscle (small joints and bone structures are not built to support this)
As you can see these for the most part are unfavourable characteristics when it comes to building muscle and ultimately a physique. If you can associate with the majority of these and see them in yourself then don’t be put off as these apparent negatives can be turned into benefits.
There Is More Room for Eventual Growth
Whilst I’m under no disillusion about how difficult it is for an ectomorph to build muscle it also needs to be acknowledged that most ectomorphs actually have more potential for muscle growth than the average person because ectomorphs in general are taller.
A true ectomorph is tall with long limbs, any gains made will be less noticeable in the short term but overtime muscle built onto a 6ft frame will have more room for growth than someone of average height and build.
A longer muscle group will have more room from growth than a shorter one and a good example to demonstrate this is by checking your own bicep muscle. Lift your arm straight out in front of you (palm facing upwards) and then curl your arm until your forearm is at a 90 degree angle.
Next place your fingers in the gap between your bicep muscle and forearm, the more fingers you can fit into this gap the shorter the muscle insertion point and ultimately the less potential for growth. If however you can’t fit any fingers in this gap and your bicep touches your forearm then this is a full length muscle belly and has the most potential for growth.
Muscle insertion points have nothing to do with being an ectomorph and are different for each individual however, it does demonstrate that a muscle with more length has more potential for growth and the same is true of a taller ectomorph. Even with a higher insertion point you’ll still have an adequately sized muscle group just by proportion of your height and structure.
It’s Easier to Maintain a Lean Physique as an Ectomorph
The number one curse of the ectomorph is the difficulty in gaining muscle mass and size in general. An ectomorph just doesn’t have the frame to naturally support significant muscle mass and the fundamental to changing this is to consume a lot of calories and push some heavy weight over time.
I’m a big advocate of small increases in calories over time to really get the most out your progress by milking the results at every level. By that I mean if you are making progress on 2,000kcals and lifting a consistent weight on your key compound lifts then there is no need to change this, just continue until you plateau or progress slows right down.
At this stage then you can start to up the calories and weights to the next level and start to milk the results all over again. This in my opinion is the longevity approach to progress and is a good long term strategy to adopt.
Having said that, an ectomorph is in a good position that you can hammer the calories, consume a large quantity to facilitate short term progress and not feel significant downside in terms of excess fat gain.
An ectomorph can push the calories whilst maintaining a relatively lean physique, most people dislike bulking because they gain fat/water weight in the process but being able to consume more calories whilst staying relatively lean is something you should 100% be taking advantage of.
In the long term if you abuse this and consume surplus calories for an extended period then your metabolism will slow down as you dampen insulin receptors and other hormonal regulators within the body.
To get that initial head start on physique development, especially as an ectomorph, then you should look to push the calories hard and reap the benefits of doing so whilst staying relatively lean.
An Ectomorph Can Consume More Calories Without Excess Fat Gain
This ties in with the previous point about maintaining a lean physique however the ability to consume more calories without a proportionate gain in excess body fat is an entirely different benefit.
Calories are of course needed to fuel your workouts and facilitate muscle growth, however most people need months of trial and error to strike a balance between optimal muscle gain and minimal fat gain.
The formula to base this off, especially during a bulk is to consume your maintenance calorie requirements (you can find these here) and add 300 surplus calories to this number. A small caloric surplus of 300kcal is recommended to minimise fat gain however the fast metabolism of an ectomorph may mean you can consume more calories to accelerate progress.
Building muscle is not a linear process, this means that what you did to gain your first 10lbs of muscle will not work to add another 10lbs of muscle as the body adapts and the law diminishing returns start to set in.
The ability to consume more calories however is ideal for fueling heavy workouts, contributes to lifting more weight overtime and means calories are more readily available to stay in an anabolic/muscle building state.
These factors of course apply to anyone, there is nothing to prevent anyone from bulking and making use of more calories however the benefit is of course putting on minimal fat in the process. This is useful for both aesthetic reasons as well as performance related reasons (the lower the body fat of an individual the more optimally macronutrients are utilised).
Common Ecotomorph FAQ’s
Are Ectomorphs Weak?
Ectomorphs do have a mechanical disadvantage when it comes to weight training, small joints/bones and long limbs (increasing the range of motion of an exercise) are both traits that do not compliment strength training well.
The ability to strengthen muscle fibres through weight training however is something that is achievable by all and ectomorphs are no exception. You do however need to be aware of your limitations and rather than trying to follow a generic routine you need to customise workouts and exercises to your specific characteristics.
Bench press and back squats will not be your strong point as you’ll have a mechanical disadvantage in these lifts, a floor press or front squat however are much more suitable exercises that you can get very strong in and build the same muscle groups.
It’s all about being realistic in exercise selection and getting the most out of exercises that you are well suited to. For an in depth guide to getting stronger as an ectomorph check out my guide here
How Often Should an Ectomorph Train
Whilst an ectomorph typically has a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres which are more resistant to fatigue this does not mean you should be constantly training for failure. Fast twitch muscle fibres have a greater capacity for growth and these are the fibres trained most frequently in the 8 – 12 rep hypertrophy range.
Therefore you are still fatiguing these fibres just like anyone else taking a similar approach to training. I know it can be harder to build muscle as an ectomorph however rest, recovery and a calorie surplus are the real keys to growth, not beating yourself up in the gym and burning out.
The focus of each session should be stimulation, not annihilation and frequency wins out over volume. For big muscle groups keep the sets per workout at between 6 – 10 and from smaller groups anywhere from 2 – 5 sets. This is only a few exercises per muscle group however it means you’ll be free to train them again after 48 hours which is usually when protein synthesis (muscle building period) wears off.
Therefore I recommend training 5 – 6 days per week which is very frequent however you need to keep the volume low – moderate. Don’t let your ego take over, as long as you stimulate the muscle and then rest and recover adequately then you will grow.
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