by: Kelly Baggett
Summarizing The Problems
To review part I of this series, the problems experienced by the skinny-fact ecto are those of endocrine status, stress intolerance, volume tolerance, body structure, and genetics in general. We have this big circle. A naturally hyperactive person naturally geared towards overproducing stress hormones. A person naturally geared towards over-reaching and overtraining. A person that has a hard enough time recovering from life itself. A person that doesn’t have a lot of good anabolic signaling going on (aka – testosterone etc.) So how do you deal with all that?
Addressing The Problems
The first thing you should do is determine that you’re just not making excuses. In many instances people like me dig so far into minutia that a person starts to overanalyze things to the point that they develop “paralysis by analysis”. Many people simply don’t eat enough. Or they eat too much junk, don't get enough activity, and don't have the metabolisms to handle the excess energy they're consuming. Even a genetically gifted person can look like crap under the right circumstances.
A Few Other Things To Consider
Now, having said that, I’d like to mention a few additional things. First of all, although the physical characteristics might be pretty much the same, not everyone is gonna have the EXACT same underlying physiology I described in the previous installment. For example, a lot of people are skinny and might have a hard time with bodybuilding, yet there’s not always a big time stress sensitivity and not always a super fast metabolism. Lots of people don’t necessarily have a high metabolic rate yet are still “skinny”, don’t build muscle easily at all, and have a propensity to gain fat. No stress problems or fast metabolism. The issue there is probably lower sympathetic nervous system activity, lack of total muscle fiber, and carbohydrate intolerance, or in other words, a slower metabolism and a propensity to easily convert excess energy into fat.
Additionally, there is one other problem many people experience that I failed to mention. Stress also interferes with digestion and appetite. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response from stress), is responsible for the increased large intestinal contractions during stress, which at worst can cause all sorts of problems like irritable bowel syndrome, or at the very least, can royally mess with your appetite and make you feel like shitting your pants with amazing regularity.
During a stressful situation the body also diverts attention away from maintaining the gut lining and thus, organisms like helicobacter pylori that all of us carry (which cause ulcers), are allowed to proliferate and become problematic. The same is probably true of the proliferation of bad bacteria and fungus like candida.
The result is, in addition to the other problems, a lot of easily stressed individuals end up experiencing various digestive and elimination problems, fatigue, and a host of other "hard to put your finger on" symptoms. Now, I’m not gonna go into a hardcore alternative medicine rant here or anything but I will say this: The most important thing a person can do for that problem is to reduce psychological stress levels. If you suffer from digestive problems and feel queasy after meals, ginger can be a useful addition to your diet, as can a teaspoon of glutamine with your meals. Various pro-biotic and anti-fungal formulations and diets can also be of benefit.
Many naturally skinny people often say that as they get bigger and eat more their genetics get better and better. I believe that not only is this good advice for other ectos but is very true in general. What happens as someone with an extremely sensitive metabolism gets bigger and bigger and eats more and more?? That extreme sensitivity that contributed to him being an ectomorph in the first place tends to become more normal. Many people simply don’t eat enough. If you need any help this series of articles oughta serve as some motivation:
Providing a person is training and eating well and still having problems, the main problem is one of partitioning. Partitioning refers to what happens when excess calories are consumed. Are they directed into muscle or fat stores? The worse your partitioning, the more fat you gain when you gain weight. The better your partitioning, the more muscle you gain. This is largely impacted by training and diet, yet with those things being a given, how well you "partition" is primarily determined by genetics.
Building muscle is rarely the problem providing someone is willing to eat enough. Anyone willing to eat and train themselves up to 350 lbs scale weight will build a lot of muscle in the process. The problem is not necessarily building the muscle, it’s all the fat that comes along with it. In a perfect world you'd be able to easily get the excess nutrients to your muscles without risk of any spilling over into fat.
Now, if you have round the clock elevated stress hormone levels your body will shut off uptake of nutrients into the muscles to make more fuel available for the brain. If you have elevated stress hormone levels and a chronic nutrient excess guess where those excess nutrients are gonna go? Straight to your fat cells. Is there anything you can do to correct this problem? Certainly.
First thing you can do is improve your diet. If you're the type that gains more fat then muscle that means you might be better off with more protein and less carbs. Get that protein on up around 2 grams per pound of bodyweight and pay more attention to your carbohydrate intake. Some people do well with about 100 grams of carbohydrates spread throughout the day along with an additional post-workout feeding consisting of 50-100 grams.
Taking The Next Nutritional Step
How can you improve partitioning beyond that? You can do that by making use of a storage tank for excess nutrients known as glycogen. It accounts for 1200-2000 calories of immediate storage in the average man and you simply learn to use it to your advantage. In other words, use cyclical or zig-zag diets. You take a couple of days and briefly deplete your glycogen storage tank and burn some fat (eat lower calories and do cardio, HIT, light weightlifting etc). Then you take several days and slam your muscles with excess nutrients and direct the excess into muscle rather then fat. Then you keep repeating that process over and over. The 2 phases complement each other. The low calories increase sensitivity to he high calories. Most people can get good results with a weekly or bi-weekly cyclical plan. A 7- day cycle might consist of 5 days high calories with calories at 20 pounds per bodyweight followed by 2 days of low calories at 10-12 calories per pound of bodyweight. A 14-day cycle might consist of 10 days high calories and 4 days low. For more info on that approach stay on the lookout for my bodybuilding manual: The No Bull-Crap Muscle Gain Plan - How To Gain Slabs Of Muscle Without Turning Into a Tub of Lard In The Process. That's a pretty cheap solution for skinny fat if you're willing to work hard.
(What’s possible? Joel Marion actually started off at a “soft” 16% bodyfat before dieting down to the 7% shown in the first pic – He then used a zig approach of 2 weeks high calories 1 week low to gain 30+ pounds of pure muscle in 12 weeks before taking the 2nd pic)
Is There Anything Else One Can Do On The Nutritional End?
Another thing you can do is a bit more creative and increase the density of your diet so that you are able to send an anabolic signal at a caloric intake level that does not stimulate fat gain. To do that you consume cellular hydrating and swelling supplements such as those in leptigen. The more hydrated your muscle cells are, the greater the anabolic signal is from a given amount of work and a given amount of food intake. That's one big reason why it's hard to gain muscle on low carbohydrate diets. Full glycogen stores mean swollen muscle cells. Other cell volumizers include supplements like Creatine, ip6, taurine, and salt.
If you have problems with stress, other supplements that may be effective to help reduce cortisol include 7-keto DHEA (particularly transdermal), and phosphatidyl serine at 150-300 mg per day. Magnesium can also relax the sympathetic nervous system and help with sleep. I recommend 300 mg per day of a highly absorbable form such as aspartate. Incorporate some of those supplements with a good nutrition scheme and you have a pretty good plan.
Training and Recovery
When it comes to training and recovery, regardless of how you look at it, fundamentally you have to match up your training load to coincide with your ability to recover from all of your combined stressors.
It's always better to under-train than over-train. Progress will be slower by under-training but progress is progress. If you over-train you will make zero progress. The amount of stress you tolerate is very individual. Some people can only tolerate 2 lifting sessions per week while others can tolerate 6 or 7. You need to find the right amount for you. For most ectomorphs I recommend 3 lifting sessions per week with at least one day off after every session and with 2 consecutive days off at some point during the week, such as weekends. Having a day off after every session allows the hyperactive CNS to recuperate. That one recommendation has saved the life of many a hardgainer.
Most likely you’re not gonna be able to train full bore all the time. Six weeks is about the length of time that ANYONE can make consistent strength gains when training full bore. Learn when to take rest days and off weeks. I normally recommend people take 1 or 2 “easy” weeks after every 4-6 weeks of hard training. During an easy week I might recommend you split your body in half, do 1 workout per half consisting of just 2 easy sets of 10-15 reps per muscle.
Learn to identify over-reaching symptoms and when they start to appear don’t be afraid to pull back and cut volume and frequency. Most importantly, listen to your body. What’s the easiest way to identify over-reaching? Pay attention to your motivation. I tell people to rank themselves on a scale of 1-10 for energy, motivation, and sleep every day and write it in their training log. It’s not perfect but if you can't give yourself at least a 7 in all 3 categories it’s pretty wise to take the day off.
When choosing exercises, don’t be a wimp and take the easy way out, but keep in mind it’s ok to do some isolation movements if you have problems getting stress to the working muscles. Flyes, laterals, and hack squats can be effective movements if you have ultra long limbs.
As for setting up your split my general rule is this: If you train 2 days in a row during the week you should probably have 2 days in a row where you don't train.
So you might be able to get away with a split like this if you have the weekends off:
With that type of set-up you get kind've a concentrated loading effect. You’ll be worn out and feeling a bit over-reached by Friday, yet should get a good rebound effect in energy going into Monday because of the 2 consecutive days off.
Having said that, for many I would generally feel more comfortable prescribing something like this:
With that in mind, here’s what a 3-day split might look like:
Dumbell Bench – 3-4 x 8-10
Row- 4-5 x 8-10
Flye – 2 x 10-12
Side cable lateral – 2 x 10-12
Bicep – 2 x 10-12
Tricep- 2 x 10-12
Squat – 4-5 x 8
Leg Curl 4-5 x 5-8
Split squat 2-3 x 12-15
½ rack pull + shrug 2 x 12-15
Calf – whatever
Incline press- 3-4 x 8-10
Chin- 3-4 x 8-10
Incline side lateral – 3-5 x 8-12 with 20 second rests (rest-pause)
Row – 2-3 x 12-15
Bicep – 4-5 x 6-8
Tricep – 4-5 x 6-8
Another option is to just split your body in half and alternate between 2 workouts every other day with the weekends off. A lot of people can get great results with a split like this:
Or you can combine upper and lower body. The workouts might look like this:
Lats (rows and pulldowns)
Calves (some type of calf raise)
Quadricep (some type of squat)
Hamstrings (some type of leg curl)
Erectors and Traps (Deadlift, Rack Pull)
Chest (Bench variation)
Shoulders (front and side lateral variation)
Triceps (extension or close grip press)
To fully maximize strength gains, ideally on your tension driven compound movements (typically the first exercise in a workout for a given bodypart), the reps should decrease over the course of a mesocycle. An example of how you might jack with the reps on compound movements is this:
Week 1 and 2 – Sets of 8-10 (ex: 3 x 8-10)
Week 3 and 4 – Sets of 6-8 (ex: 4 x 6-8)
Week 5 and 6 – Sets of 4-6 (ex: 5 x 5)
Week 7 and 8 – Reduce training to just twice a week and take it easy, recuperate, reduce training frequency and volume.
Week 9 – Start over with week 1.
If you really have crappy recovery abilities you could just split your body in half like mentioned above and only train twice a week.
Hopefully that gives you some ideas. Put that stuff to use and soon you might find your genetics getting better and better.
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