“I’m so glad I’m an ectomorph!” – said nobody ever.
Being an ectomorph, you learn to accept your wicked fast metabolism and impossibly skinny physique by your teen years. But just because it’s difficult to gain muscle and achieve an aesthetic physique as an ecto, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
If you want to take pride in your ectomorph roots, build lean mass, but stop before you get too “bulky,” here’s your complete guide to being both skinny & ripped:
What Does It Mean To Be Skinny & Ripped?
Skinny is appearing thin. Ripped is having sub-10% body fat with crisp, defined lines between muscles and increasing vascularity (the veins the ladies love).
Put it all together, and you wind up skinny and ripped — relatively slim with low body fat and just enough muscle mass to look slightly jacked while staying true to your skinny roots.
Is it easier for skinny guys to get ripped? Not necessarily.
But if you have a solid plan like we’re about to show you, you can go from hard-gainer to easy-gainer without too much hassle.
Step 1 – Eat a Caloric Surplus
Now, you might think that sorting out your workout to get ripped would be step one. Well, it’s not.
First, we need to talk about your diet.
Everyone and their mother has a “cutting-edge strategy” to help hard-gainers build muscle without gaining too much body fat. Most are ultra-vague or flat-out unrealistic, like multiplying your weight by 16–20 to calculate your daily calories or adding 1,000 calories to your TDEE.
So how’s this for a semi-controversial opinion: slower progress is better (at least for ectos).
Because half your goal is keeping true to your skinniness, exceeding your TDEE by about 500 calories per day will help you pack on a modest one pound per week through lean-bulking.
Why Lean Bulking?
Many ectomorphs fall into the trap of dirty-bulking — though we understand why. If you have the traditionally low skinny-guy appetite, it’s natural to pound back 500-calorie shakes, family-sized meals, and junk to exceed your calorie goals.
But to be lean and ripped, not bulky, clean eating is the real answer. Research from 2019 connects lean-bulking to more efficient mass gains without crossing the line into the dreaded skinny-fat territory (which Vitruvian Physique has a pretty good “fix” for).
After a four-week intervention, here’s how each group’s body composition changed:
(Hey, we’re not sure about you, but we’d much rather gain less muscle mass each month than pack on an extra four pounds of fat we’ll eventually have to shed anyway.)
How to Gain Weight
The age-old ectomorph question is: how do you overcome your always-in-the-dumps appetite? Here are three nutritional tips for building lean mass while limiting fat gains:
Focus on higher-calorie, nutrient-dense foods.
Swap out low-calorie snacks like popcorn for almonds or crackers for granola. While you’re at it, avoid the sauce (alcohol), processed foods, and foods high in sugar or fat.
Eat more often.
Smaller, more frequent meals won’t silence a rowdy appetite (2016 research). But unless you’re already a closeted binge-eater, it’s much less of a task to eat six 500-calorie meals per day than three 1,000-calorie ones (as an example).
Adopt the correct macronutrient ratio.
According to Doug Lawrenson’s workout plan below, the best split for ectomorphs is 25–30% protein, 50% carbohydrates, and 20–25% fats.
Step 2 – Add Fitness Supplements to Your Regimen
Since building muscle typically requires a caloric surplus, weight-gainers sound like the obvious solution for ectomorphs wrestling a weak appetite. Really, why stuff yourself with a second steak and potatoes dinner when you can simply drink those 800 calories?
Remember: the overarching goal here is to build moderate mass while keeping your body fat reasonably low. We’d recommend these supplements for hard-gainers hoping to stay skinny-ish:
After resistance training, your body relies on protein to repair muscle-tearing to recover bigger and stronger than ever. Whey protein supplements are an excellent way to reach your 25–30% protein and refuel after training. (Hint: choose a powder with 20–40g of protein per scoop.)
Swolverine Whey Protein Isolate
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Creatine is another size-based supplement known to increase athletic performance, increase strength, and spur hypertrophy. Nope, it won’t ever replace a protein-rich diet or a solid weightlifting routine.
But studies reveal it can help build 3.75 pounds of mass and 3.38 liters of water content (creatine pulls water into the muscle cells, making them appear larger, too) in just four weeks.
Swolverine Kre-Alkalyn: Creatine Phospate
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Greens supplements both look and sound semi-disgusting. But if you’re revolving your diet around high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, that could also deprive you of the important micronutrients found in low-calorie ingredients like fruits and vegetables.
These powders can fill that gap for nutrients like vitamin K, C, and A.
Step 3 – Join a Gym or Stock Up on Equipment
OK, noooow the nerves are setting in. We told you that we’d help you stay skinny and get ripped, but now we’re suggesting you focus on equipment that’ll add bulk.
If you have the muscle tone of a newborn giraffe, there’s no “magic” body fat percentage that’ll reveal those non-existent muscles). Not to mention, even with newbie gains, it’ll take literal years before someone mistakes you for Jeff Cavaliere (and you can stop well before then).
For the ectomorph program in step four, you’ll need a(n)
- Weight plates
- Adjustable dumbbell set
- Adjustable bench
- Squat rack
- Standard gym machines
- Pull-up bar
- Dip station
(Note: You’ll also need access to standard gym machines like the leg press and cable station. But you can easily replace those exercises with more home-gym-friendly moves if you plan to build your own home gym.)
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Version 2
Each dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52.5 pounds. Rapidly switch from one exercise to the next. You don't need multiple dumbbells cluttering up your home gym.
Step 4 – Follow an Aesthetic Workout for Ectomorphs
Are you ready to build a lean, mean physique that’s not bulky, not scrawny, but still impressive?
We ripped (ahem, literally) this routine from another post of ours. Here’s a four-day split designed specifically for guys like you — Doug’s Mass Building Routine for Ectomorphs:
Chest & Triceps Day [Monday]
- Barbell Bench Press – 4 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 4 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Dumbbell Fly – 3 x 10 [2 minutes rest]
- Close Grip Bench Press – 4 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- French Press – 2 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Tricep Dip – 2 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Ab work of choice*
Back & Biceps Day [Tuesday]
- Bent-Over Dumbbell Row – 4 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Wide-Grip Pull-Up – 4 sets to failure [2 minutes rest]
- Cable Reverse Grip Row – 4 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Standing Barbell Curl – 4 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Alternate Seated Dumbbell Curl – 2 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Concentration Curl – 2 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
Quadriceps & Hamstrings Day [Thursday]
- Squat – 4 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- 45 Degree Leg Press – 3 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Hack Squat – 3 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Stiff Leg Deadlift – 3 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Leg Curl – 3 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Ab work of choice*
* Yep, it’s another vague suggestion to train your core. If you’re not down for another Athlean-X session, try one of the three ab workouts in Brad Borland’s 8 Pack Abs Workout.
Shoulders & Calves Day [Friday]
- Seated Dumbbell Press – 3 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
- Seated Barbell Press – 3 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3 x 10-12 [2 minutes rest]
- Barbell Shrug – 4 x 8-10 [2 minutes rest]
- Standing Calf Raise – 3 x 12-15 [2 minutes rest]
- Seated Calf Raise – 3 x 6-8 [2 minutes rest]
Step 5 – Burn Extra Fat With HIIT [If You Need To]
True ectomorphs, the last thing you need is to burn extra calories through cardio. But, even on a clean & lean bulk, gaining some extra body fat is inevitable. If your six-pack suddenly begins hibernating or your leg definition begins disappearing, you may need to target fat loss.
Twice-a-week HIIT training can help maximize your fat burn without completely undoing your weight training and strategic dieting (or spending hours in the gym on the treadmill).
Avoid the skinny-fat label with a cycling HIIT session that looks like this:
- 5-minute slow warm-up
- 20 seconds at high-intensity
- 40 seconds at low-intensity
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 for 10–15 rounds
- 5-minute cool-down
You can also lengthen the “work” periods and inch closer toward a 1:1 pattern as you build up your endurance. For example, 30/30, then 45/45, then 60/60.
(Note: HIIT isn’t some miracle cure to fat-burning. It can burn calories more efficiently than standard cardio, but two 15-minute sessions per week won’t equal five days of running. The fat loss progress here will be slow and steady and will depend highly on a solid diet.)
Step 6 – Track Your Progress & Know Your Goals
How long does it take to get ripped? Well, it depends.
The hard truth is that it can take a long time to see results if you’re naturally skinny.
Weight plateaus are almost inevitable (unless you’re a month or two shy of being skinny & ripped already). Invest in an accurate bathroom scale and skinfold calipers to track your steady weight gain and body fat percentage.
Once you’re satisfied with your physique or hit your body fat or weight goals, you can transition over to a maintenance routine.
Progressive overload is also another easily forgotten piece of the puzzle. When you reach your rep goals while weightlifting or are no longer fatigued during HIIT workouts, make the exercise even more challenging (i.e., a heavier weight or longer work sessions).
How to Be Both Skinny & Ripped Conclusion
Being both skinny & ripped comes naturally for some, while it could take other guys months or years to achieve. Either way, it follows a simple process:
- Eat a Caloric Surplus
- Add Fitness Supplements to Your Regimen
- Join a Gym or Stock Up on Equipment
- Follow an Aesthetic Workout for Ectomorphs
- Burn Extra Fat With HIIT [If You Need To]
- Track Your Progress & Know Your Goals
Don’t be afraid to customize this plan to match your goals, either. If you know your muscles respond best to a certain rep range or you’re currently skinny-fat, adapt it to your needs.