body type

Train for Your Body Type: Ectomorphs -- Part 2 of 4

Ectomorph:  Train for your Body Type

Ectomorph: Lean and long, with difficulty building muscle

Ectomorphs are good at processing carbohydrates into energy and your fast metabolism means that you burn off fat easily. The downside is that you struggle to bulk up because your fast-twitch fibres are underdeveloped. To gain muscle, you need to keep cardio sessions to a minimum and focus on workouts using compound exercises to maximise growth hormone release. You’ll also need to take on additional calories including plenty of starchy carbs and whey protein.

Are You an Ectomorph?

You’ve got the build of a marathon runner – lean, but short on muscle. It can be hard to pack on size despite hours in the gym.

What Ectomorphs May Be Doing Wrong

Three days of strength training should be coupled with two days of low-intensity cardio.  Effective abs exercises include the captain’s chair, the bicycle crunch and abs crunches while sat on an exercise ball. First, ditch the treadmill. “Ectomorphs often gravitate to long, slow distance work, but it’s the worst thing they can do [to build muscle],” says trainer Will Purdue.

And it may be tempting to pack your routine with classic bodybuilder moves such as the biceps curl, but that’s another mistake, says Purdue. “I often see ectomorphs focusing on isolation moves, whereas big, compound movements such as the squat will involve more muscles and give you the hormonal boost that helps build muscle. I still use isolation moves, but they’re supplementary to the main workout moves – 80% of moves should be working big muscle groups.”

What Ectomorphs Should Be Doing

And there’s no need to live in the gym to put on muscle – quite the contrary, in fact. “If you’re working out four, five days a week you’ll be speeding up your metabolism too much,” says trainer Hughes. “I tend to limit my ectomorphs to three workouts a week, keeping the actual training time after a warm-up to 45 minutes or less.”

What to Eat

In terms of nutrition, a diet that is high in calories, carbs, protein and fat will aid you in your quest for muscle gain. This should not be mistaken for eating precisely what you like. Rather, it just means you should eat more of what is healthy. Good news: you don’t have to steer clear of carbs such as oats, wholemeal bread and potatoes. Fats found in nuts, seeds and avocado will also bring about the right results. “Ectomorphs should respond well to carbs, which will spike blood sugar and help to drive protein to their muscles,” says trainer Mark Hughes.  Stick to the complex kind, such as sweet potatoes and brown rice.

Money Moves

The deadlift is your best friend: people with long arms should find it relatively easy, and it uses the entire body so it’ll pack on mass. Although squats and benching will do wonders for your physique, taller ectomorphs might find them difficult. “Your longer levers might give you trouble getting below parallel in the squat,” says Purdue. “That’s when I recommend the leg press.”

The Ectomorph Cheat Sheet

  • DO
  • Train with compound moves
  • Get enough protein
  • Don't only use isolation moves -- 80% of weight training should be big muscle groups
  • DON'T
  • Overemphasize isolation moves
  • Do too much cardio 
  • Skip out on weight training 

Train for Your Body Type: Part 1 of 4

Train for Your Body Type

While a healthy approach to diet and exercise can dramatically change the way you look and feel, genetics still plays a large part in our body shape and what exercise and foods are best for us to see results.  American psychologist William Sheldon popularized three broad categories of body in the 1940s and those are still what we use today.  These are:

  1. Ectomorph:  Lean and long, with difficulty building muscle

  2. Endomorph:  Big, high body fat, often pear-shaped, with a high tendency to store body fat

  3. Mesomorph:  Muscular and well-built, with a high metabolism and responsive muscle cells

But what do these three terms mean in reality? In short, ectomorphs stay lean despite hours in the gym, endomorphs struggle to not pack on the pounds, and mesomorphs pack on muscle with ease.  Learning which body shape you were born with, and understanding what that means for your training and diet plans, will help you train smarter to maximize your potential and get closer to building the body that you’ve always wanted.

Falling Between Categories

Although there are three clear body types, it’s important to be aware that these aren’t set in stone.  The three body types exist but probably never in their pure form.  We all have some aspects of endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy,” says Professor Lars McNaughton from Edge Hill University.

Whatever your characteristics, you should know that regardless of your body type, anyone can get lean or put on considerable muscle mass – and, equally, gain weight if they’re not careful.  It might be harder for a skinny guy to pack on pounds of muscle, but if Justin Bieber can do it it’s not impossible!

In VarCity’s next posts you’ll find more information on how to identify your own body type – or mixture of types – and learn how to tailor your fitness tactics to it:  what you should be doing in the gym and the kitchen, where you might be going wrong, what to eat and what moves make the biggest difference.  And at the very least, you’ll gain a better understanding of why your body is the shape it is and know how to get the best out of your genetic make-up.

The Importance Of Sleep

Whatever your body type, to get the most out of your training you need to focus on your nutrition and recovery – with the key to the latter being getting enough sleep.

Most of us tend to associate testosterone and growth hormone with pure muscle growth. However, they are equally important in aiding fat loss and recovery from exercise.  Sleep has a massive say on your body’s production of said hormones.

A University of Chicago study found that if your levels of sleep fall below eight hours a night over the course of a week, testosterone can be lowered by 10% or more.  Your body’s levels of testosterone and growth hormone are also regulated by the amount of sleep you gain within a daily cycle known as a “circadian rhythm”.  You should aim to synchronize your circadian rhythm with daylight and night-time.

Your sleep can be negatively affected by unusual or additional light at night.  A great step you can take to alleviate any light interaction with sleep is to switch off lights and electronic devices at least one hour before you go to sleep.

To learn more about the importance of sleep click here.