The Ultimate Ectomorph Workout Plan with PDF

I have a hard time gaining muscle, no matter how hard I train. I’m naturally built like a string bean.

Sound like you?

If it does–like me–you fall into a category of people called ectomorphs.

Ectomorphs are one of 3 body types–or somatotypes–described first by William Sheldon back in the ‘40s.

The ectomorphic somatotype isn’t ordinarily associated with jacked-ness. But ectomorphs can build muscle, and we have a workout plan specifically to help you do just that.

If you are an ectomorph, read on or jump to the workout plan now!

Alternatively, you can download the free PDF version of the program using the link below:

The Ectomorph Workout Plan In a Nutshell

Program styleResistance training + cardio
Workout duration1-2 hours
Scheduling3 or 6 days a week
GoalBuild muscle and burn fat
LevelBeginners to advanced
Target GenderMale and Female

What is an Ectomorph?

Ectomorphs also fall in a category of people called “hardgainers”.

They are characterized by being naturally slender and willowy, they have narrow shoulders, hips, and often, long limbs. They’re the basketball players and distance runners.

Gaining muscle–and fat–is possible if the conditions are right. Ectomorphs have to eat and train right just like everyone else. We just need to deal with the propensities of being more naturally slim.

Are You an Ectomorph?

3 metabolic type

The graphic should give you a pretty good idea of your basic, default body type. (Overeating can make everyone look like an endomorph, by the way.)

Somatotypes (ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph) provide a general framework for categorizing basic physiques. Many people won’t fit neatly into one or the other. There are combinations.

I’m a mash-up of ectomorph and endomorph.

Naturally skinny folks with fast metabolisms are considered ectomorphs.

Anyone over 50 years of age – while not necessarily all ectomorphs – should all be considered hardgainers due to the natural loss of muscle mass. So for you guys and gals who are “more seasoned”, this would be an excellent plan to follow.


What To Expect from this Workout Plan

Hardgaining ectomorphs can expect to work out 6 days a week. You’ll be working out hard with a focus on recovery in between sets and workouts.

Our goal is to coax the muscles along. To quote 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney (who wasn’t talking about ectomorphs BTW), “stimulate, don’t annihilate”.

Stimulate, don’t annihilate.

8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney

You should pay close attention to the basics: 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, biasing the higher end of that range.

Eat nutritious unprocessed foods with balance between protein, carbohydrates, and fats. If you have to err, err on the side of protein and starchy carbs like potatoes and rice.

Workout Plan Structure

Ectomorphs can make noticeable gains when following this plan. It’s structured as an A-B Push-Pull-Legs which takes a natural 3-day split and turns it into a 6-day plan.

The routine follows a Push-Pull-Legs A-B format.

The A-B split provides for additional days and exercise variety. Variety isn’t important by itself. It does expose you to several different exercises that accomplish fundamentally the same objectives. This helps prevent overtraining while getting the nuanced benefits of similar exercises.

Some exercises are better for muscle development. But there’s nuance. “Best” exercises may not work for everyone. Good example: I can’t do Bulgarian Split Squats due to an artificial hip that subluxes when I get in that position.

Another good example might be doing Smith Machine presses on Push Day A, where Dumbbell Bench Press is done on Push Day B. You could do both on the same day, but splitting them into A and B allows for higher intensity on each.

I selected exercises that are known muscle-builders. Due to the medium frames and proportional limbs of ectomorphs, traditional weightlifting exercises will work well.

You will need a fully-equipped gym with machines and cables to do this routine. It’s not an at-home or outdoor program, nor one that can be done adequately in a free-weight only environment.

This is the format:

Push-Pull-Legs Format

Push AChest, Anterior shoulders, Triceps. Compound exercise focus
Pull ABack (Lats focus), and Biceps
Legs AQuads, Hams, Lower legs, Glutes. Compound exercise focus
Push BChest, Anterior shoulders, Triceps. Isolation exercise focus
Pull BBack (Trapezius focus), and Biceps
Legs BQuads, Hams, Lower legs, Glutes. Isolation exercise focus

Scheduling your A and B Days

PPL A-B works great for a 6-day per week schedule but can be easily adapted to a 3-day per week split where the A and B workouts are spread out over two weeks.

Here’s how you might schedule one week 6-Day PPL program with an A-B split:

1SundayPush A
2MondayPull A
3TuesdayLegs A
5ThursdayPush B
6FridayPull B
7SaturdayLegs B

What about Rest Day? You’ve got lots of flexibility on where you put the rest day. Traditionally, you’d put it on Day 4 after Leg Day A. There’s no unbreakable rule that you can’t take a rest on Day 7. Or Day 3.

Cardio is Optional

Cardio training is important from an overall fitness perspective. However, it will not help an ectomorph build a physique.

In a 6 day per week regimen, ectomorphs will want all their energies going toward their goal of building and sculpting muscle.

Nothing says ectomorphs shouldn’t do some cardio. If you can’t breathe, you can’t lift. However, if you do elect to do cardio, opt for LISS which combines benefits of sustained activity and recovery-biased low intensity.

The Ectomorph Workout Plan

Day 1: Push Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
High Incline Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
Close Grip Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
Cable Crossover or Decline Cable Press
(Bilateral or Single Side, kneeling)
Front Raises15-2010-128-108-10
Cable Triceps Extensions
(Attachment of Choice)

Day 2: Pull Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Dumbbell Hammer Curls or Palms-up Curls15-2010-128-108-10
Lat Pulldowns15-2010-128-108-10
Seated Low Row15-2010-128-108-10
Kelso Shrugs15-2010-1210-1210-12
Chest Supported Incline DB Flyes15-2010-128-108-10

Day 3: Leg Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Heel Elevated Squats15-2010-128-108-10
Bulgarian Split Squats (Rear foot elevated)15-2010-128-108-10
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Single-Leg B-Stance RDLs
Hip Extensions
45° Hyperextensions
Seated Leg Curls15-2010-1510-128-10
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-2015-20

Day 4: REST

Day 5: Push Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
DB Pullovers15-2010-128-108-10
Low-High Cable Flyes
(Single or Two-arm)
High-Low Cable Flyes
Lateral Raises15-2010-128-108-10
Cable Triceps Extensions15-2010-128-108-10

Day 6: Pull Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Biceps Curls15-2010-128-108-10
Machine Pull-downs
Pull-ups with bodyweight
Motorcycle Rows10-1210-1210-1210-12
Barbell Plate Raises
Dumbbell “I” Raises
Reverse Flyes15-2010-128-108-10

Day 7: Leg Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Leg Extensions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Abductions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Adductions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Extensions
45° Hyperextensions
Seated Leg Curls15-2010-1510-128-10
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-2015-20
Tibialis Anterior Raises202020
(Treadmill or Exercise Bike)
45 min

Program Guidelines

Application is half of a routine. Exercises alone mean little if not put in the context of the entire workout and lifestyle.

Some things just work all the time. Observe all the resistance training basic rules of thumb for the ectomorph program as for any other resistance training routine.

These include progressive overload, judicious attention to Reps In Reserve (RIR), rep cadence, rest and recovery.

1. Always Observe Progressive Overload

Man doing push pull legs workout routine progressive overload

As with all resistance training routines, progressive overload always applies. Always.

Select a weight you can perform for the specified number of repetitions. Perform the set until the last couple of reps are easy. Then, increase the weight so that the lower end of the rep range is all that’s achievable, until you master it and move up in reps. Then repeat the cycle.

Record your sets, reps, and weights in a composition notebook. Yep, paper is better. Leave your phone or tablet in your locker; this is a gym, not a coffee shop.

It always works.

Concentrate on executing every rep with perfect form. Don’t count your reps; make your reps count.

To discipline myself, I will not count less-than-excellent reps toward a set, meaning that if my form is off, a set of 8 could actually end up being a set of 12. For me, it’s a worthwhile thing to do to make sure I’m paying giving each rep the attention it deserves.

2. Apply Reps in Reserve (RIR)

The clinical literature in the field of exercise science now strongly suggests that the sets taken to absolute mechanical failure are what grow muscle best.

We have a conundrum. Ectomorphs need to not overtrain, yet they struggle to gain muscle.


Best application for this program is 1 or 2 RIR for the first set or two, then complete mechanical failure for the last set of each exercise. All with excellent form of course.

Set your weights so that the last rep of every set really is the last one you can do with good form.

3. Focus on Rep Cadence

Use a methodical, rhythmic, pumping motion without momentum of any kind.

Opt for supported exercises whenever you can. We are not concerning ourselves with developing “stabilizer” muscles here. Using a bench or machine with chest or back support will serve you ectomorphs better as you aim to maximally build muscle.

For a terrific visual of the rep cadence you need, watch the 1976 documentary, “Pumping Iron” which chronicles Arnold’s quest for his 7th Olympia title…which he achieved of course.

4. Get Necessary Sleep and Rest Between Sets


Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep nightly. You recover during sleep; that’s when your hard work will pay off.

Practice good sleep hygiene to help get to sleep and stay asleep. Cool, very dark room, no electronics at least 1 hour before bed, stop drinking liquids 2 hours before bed.

Rest Between Sets

Man resting between sets

Rest a minute or so between warm-up sets and longer between hard sets. Your last sets for each exercise require 2 to 3 minutes rest between to allow you to go all-out, as mentioned earlier.

Always use your rest period to visualize your next set in your head. Avoid taking your smartphone onto the gym floor. It will only distract you. No cell phones.

Focus on executing every set perfectly and intensely. I always tell myself that I’m missing something…some little element in my form or intensity that could be better.

The hardgaining ectomorph needs to train as much with their brains as they do with their bodies.

5. Monitor Your Progress

Use the mirror and clothes fit as your primary gauge of progress, which will be slow. Stay at it.

Avoid the scale except for long intervals, such as every 30 or even 60 days. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you weigh yourself every day. How you look and your muscles’ shape is our goal post for this program.

Download our Ectomorph Workout Plan PDF below:

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Mike Julom, ACE CPT

Mike is an ACE Certified PT and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He is an avid lover of all sports. Basketball, tennis, athletics, volleyball, soccer, squash, golf, table tennis, even darts, you name it! He's a very active CrossFit athlete and has been WOD'ing for over 7 years. With such an intense fitness regime, Mike has learned to take care of his body physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. Mike founded ThisIsWhyImFit as a way to share his vast knowledge of exercises, diets, and general fitness advice.

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