I could list a whole variety of reasons that ectomorphs struggle to put on muscle. Over the course of the next couple weeks, I’ll be going through each of them individually, so that I can get a little more in depth. So be on the lookout for those articles as they come up.
For today, I’d like to focus on two reasons -1. Doing too much cardio
2. Spending too much time reading what to do
Too Much Cardio
For some reason, a lot of the leaner, skinnier individuals who come to me asking for advice, or complaining that they can’t put on size, I always see hopping on the treadmill when they’re at the gym. They might even be on there for 30+ minutes. I think we can all agree cardio is a fat burning process more than anything else right? So, then why would that same individual think they should be doing the one thing everyone in the fitness community agrees is the opposite of their goal?
Part of the problem (I’m guessing), is whether it's through CrossFit, athletes in sports, or they’re just flat out scared to see their abs disappear, there is an underlying rationale for the cardio. Don’t get me wrong, we should all be doing a couple days of cardio for overall heart health, but it shouldn’t be taking up most of our gym time. IF building muscle as quickly as possible is your main goal, then you definitely should NOT be doing more than one to two days of cardio a week. Again, that’s not to say you couldn’t build muscle while having more days, but it isn’t optimal. Even if you have average genetics, and put on weight relatively easily, it’s still a struggle to get an appreciable amount of muscle on. It behooves any weightlifter then, that struggles to put on even 4 pounds, to start focusing on what helps their issue rather than implementing things that exacerbate it.
Running doesn’t add muscle. Weightlifting does. If you are struggling to put on size, lower your cardio to 2 days a week (to keep your cardiovascular system up), and make sure you are resistance training 3-5 times a week. If your goal is muscle size, then your program should reflect that. I totally get you see athletes doing it differently, and they have your goal physique, but they aren’t you! We have no idea what kind of genetics these guys have, and chances are they look that good in spite of what they do. You have to train with someone who more closely has your struggles, and has had to find the proper ways to get to where you want.
Paralysis by Analysis
You’ve read every article from all your top fitness coaches. From Mind Pump, to Mike Matthews, to Layne Norton, you might even know everything there is to know about proper bulking, dieting, and workout programming. You’ve become an absolute wealth of knowledge. Fantastic. Has your body changed yet? Do you look different today, then a year ago, before you started reading enough articles to earn a PhD in biomechanics and nutrition? If not, then we have a problem.
Listen, I get it. I STILL fall into this trap a lot (I mean after all I DO write those articles and know all those fitness coaches names for a reason). I’ve gone down so many rabbit holes, for so many years, that now I'm reading through research papers on weird miniscule details. Like how a decrease in tyrosine and iodine affect thyroid function, and may slow your metabolic rate. That’s ridiculous. All I wanted to know was how to eat to gain size, and what workouts are the best!
Take the best fitness coaches in the game (lets just go with the ones originally listed). What do they all have in common? They have the research, AND in field experience. They don’t rely on any one thing, use the stuff they learn about, and most importantly IMPLEMENT it on themselves or clients for a while, so they can gain results and insight from it. Then, from there they adjust. That is what you should be doing!
Reading or not, if you are a hardgainer, chances are it’s going to take several years to get to the size you are content with. That’s just a fact. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. If we can accept that, then we can realize that while we continue to educate ourselves, we also start implementing what we learn over longer periods of time to see what works on our individual bodies, and what doesn’t. Then from there, we make small adjustments and fine tune over those years till we find what our bodies respond best to for putting on size.
At some point you just gotta get your hands dirty and do the work. There’s no escaping the time and commitment. I see too many clients and friends talk about all the latest studies that show one day a week is better than three days, or that they only have to do a couple of exercises to make gains. Stop trying to find the shortcuts. Even Arnold still had to put in years, and years of fine tuning to get his size (and he had genetics AND steroids). You better get started. I promise it will be worth it.