Within your gym, I'll be there are plenty of different body types, clashing personalities, and heated discussions on supplement preferences.
In every gym there's always a few guys who don’t train legs, a few who are obsessed with supplements, one or two couple that have been blessed with incredible genetics, a couple that are stocky, and the one guy that can’t seem to put on size.
Within your gym, you might be that one long, lanky lifter who has the most difficult time putting on some muscle.
This was the case with Kyle.
He was tall and skinny, enjoyed partying, and lifted Monday to Friday. He did the same workouts as them as bigger, stronger friends, but didn’t see the same results. After months of frustration, he searched for supplements to help, but to no avail.
Kyle knew something was wrong, but struggled to find practical solutions to his disadvantageous genetics.
If any of Kyle's struggles sound familiar, chances are you’re a hardgainer struggling to put on muscle effectively.
I'll bet you stay in good shape, t-shirts are loose on you, and you've been skinny your entire life. Girls like you because of your height, but you lack confidence to approach them because of your lack of muscularity.
On the other hand, all of your stocky bros are jealous that your metabolism is faster than a rocket. You can eat pizza and ice cream without getting fat. It seems great until you realize your body struggles to throw on some real meat. You’ve officially diagnosed yourself with the hardgainer’s dilemma.
Your ability to prevent fat gain has also made it difficult for you to gain some muscle as well. Eating whole pizzas without fat gain might be cool, but staying skinny won’t get you any girls. You want to actually look like you lift. It’s time for the definitive hardgainer’s solution, the exact guide I used to help transform my lanky client Kyle. You will throw on some serious size, get strong, and turn some heads with your new physique.
Step 1: We need to assess your program
While nutrition is extremely important for building muscle, the first step of your solution is to assess your training. Without training, all the calories you eat will just be burned off by your rocket-ship metabolism.
For the ectomorphic body type typically possessed by a hardgainer, I’ve found that most training splits will work if done correctly. The key is to have fairly high frequency, so a 4-6 day training split would be ideal. Some common training splits that I’ve found to work well with my hardgaining clients are body part split, upper/lower, push/pull, or even full body.
For a hardgainer, the programming issue is not usually in the training split, but rather the stimulation.
Muscle is built from three factors:
- Mechanical tension: Heavy stimulation through a full range of motion creates a hypertrophic response
- Metabolic stress: The skin tearing pump feeling that causes muscles to be filled with blood, lactate, and other metabolites which signals growth.
- Muscle damage: Micro tears that causes growth once repaired. Think long eccentrics that cause your legs to feel dead the following day.
While every bro on this planet should utilize all three factors, a hardgainer must utilize all three to the fullest because his body type is putting him at a disadvantage. It's important to target each one specifically in your training especially mechanical tension and metabolic stress because they are typically trained in different rep ranges.
If you’re someone that chases the pump with no success, try adding in more heavy compound movements trained with a full range of motion to utilize the full effects of mechanical tension.
If you’re someone that only lifts heavy thinking heavier is better, try adding in more drop sets, partial reps, and rest-pause methods to take advantage of metabolic stress.
If you’re someone that already does both with no success, try adding in slower eccentrics to cause more muscle damage. Just be prepared for a little more soreness especially in the quads.
Get enough of each type of muscle stimulation throughout the week, and you give your body no reason to grow.
To work through the different types of muscle stimulation:
- Switching between intensive and extensive days where your first training day is an intensive day with low reps and the next is extensive with higher reps.
- Start your workout with lower rep range and end it with a higher rep range.
Try both ways and stick to one that works better. I’m a genuine fan of both.
Step 2: Adapt exercises to account for your height
If you’re a hardgainer, chances are you’re a fairly tall individual with a different anatomical makeup than most bros. So, why do the same exercises? Especially when deadlifts always seem to anger your lower back. Choosing the correct exercise for your body will help you tap into new levels of muscle stimulation.
The bench press, back squat, and conventional deadlift are great exercises, but have been overused to the point that they have become training norms. They are not at all necessary unless you’re competing in powerlifting. The truth is there are many alternatives to them that are just as good if not better when you starting taking different body structures into account. If you get good results with the big 3, then stick to them, but here are some alternatives that are more user friendly for taller creatures.
Instead of back squatting, try a box squat, box front squat, landmine squat, or barbell reverse lunge.
Instead of bench pressing, try a floor press or incline press
Instead of conventional deadlifting, try a landmine deadlift, sumo block pull, trap bar deadlift, or double pause RDL.
Step 3: Nutrition
This has been said a million times, but it bears repeating: your nutrition is crucial.
For you, my hardgaining friend, if you're not growing, chances are you’re not eating enough. When hardgainers tell me they eat a lot and they just can’t build muscle, often times what they actually mean is they possess the ability to eat a lot in one sitting, but don’t actually eat a lot throughout the entire day consistently.
Let's keep this simple:
- Eat 16-18 x your bodyweight in calories per day
- Eat .8g-1.2g x your bodyweight in protein per day
- Eat 2g x your bodyweight in carbs per day
- Eat the remaining calories in fats
- Your food should mostly consist of animals, dairy, rice, potatoes, pasta, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and shakes.
- You can also eat some pizza, burgers, and burritos to help hit calories and satisfy cravings, but don’t get too crazy with these.
Step 4: Recovery
I get that for most, recovery is going to be on the back of your mind. It's not sexy, it's not fun, and chances are you’re here looking for training and nutrition help.
Well, now that you desire to put on some real muscle, you need to take your recovery much more serious. You can only build as much muscle as you recover from. Which means that sleep is crucial. If you feel as if you've been doing everything right, but your clothes just aren't getting any tighter, start by giving your sleep a long, hard look.
Here's an example of sleep ritual that I, and my clients, have used to much success:
- Setting a bedtime in which you will sleep at ensuring you get 7-8 hours of sleep.
- 2 hours before your set bedtime, make sure you aren't hungry. If you are some carbs and protein would be a good choice to have here.
- 1 hour before bed, drink some water to hydrate yourself and turn off all electronics. Avoiding the light from devices will help the proper sleep hormones to knock you out when it’s time to call it a day.
- Sleep in a cave-like environment. This means pitch black room and temperature is about 65-75 degrees.
The next aspect of recovery is to be mindful of your stress levels.
You can improve your stress management skills by:
- Reflecting at the end of the day and writing down your tasks in a journal, so you don’t dwell on them when you sleep.
- Be mindful of muscle tightness and make time to stretch and foam roll tight areas.
- Each month reflect on your overall mood for the month. Spot toxic relationships and spend less time in any area of life that troubles you. Also spend more time with people that lift your mood up.
Recovery is vital to building muscle and initiating growth.
It will also help with your training sessions. Better recovery means better muscle fiber recruitment, higher performance, and better pumps.
Get after that sleep, and manage your stress.
Step 5: Patience
Look, building muscle is a slow process for anybody. For a hardgainer, it’ll be even slower. Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Social media models and genetically blessed people have caused many to believe that you can make muscle like magic overnight. Muscle just doesn’t appear overnight. It takes hard effort and even relentless patience.
There are plenty of hardgainers out there struggling to put on size. Its entirely possible, you just need to be patient, keep showing up each day, and carry on putting in the work.
Step 6: If you don’t see any results, adjust
If you have been doing steps 1-5 consistently for 3-5 weeks without any increase in the scale or change in the mirror, then it's time to make some changes.
If you were absolutely focused and consistent, yet have not seen any results try making one of these changes.
- Add 200 calories to your daily intake coming from mostly carbs
- Add another shake to each day. Try one with protein, fruit, milk/juice, peanut butter, and spinach.
- Add a pause at the bottom of each rep for 2 exercises each training day.
- Make each rep 2-4 seconds slower to really feel the correct muscles.
After making a change. Test everything consistently for another 3-5 weeks and repeat step 6 again if you’re still not seeing results.
Now, Go Grow Some Muscle!
This is it: you now have The Definitive Muscle Building Solution For Hardgainer’s, your answer to all your overcoming stubborn muscles.
To recap; get stronger across all rep ranges, change your exercises if you’re a taller lifter, eat like a dinosaur, sleep like a baby, and practice patience.
You have more than enough tools to kick your stubborn muscles into gear.
Now, get out there and grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Calvin is an online coach, personal trainer, lover of food, and wise beyond his years (so he says). When he's not transforming people's bodies, he's busy making YouTube videos ,and writing about how you make some sweet, sweet gains can. He creates lots of fresh content and has plenty of free resources, check them out here.