When it comes to building quality muscle mass, there are some of us who can simply breathe and our muscles seem to grow and then there are those of us who just about collapse on the gym floor after a workout and can’t seem to put on an ounce of muscle. What gives? I get it – IT’S FRUSTRATING! And more than likely if you aren’t seeing any GAINZ it could be because you’re an ectomorph or more commonly referred to as hardgainers.
While I’m not going to tell you that as hardgainers you’re “lucky” because that would be very subjective as there are people who would love to have a fast metabolism and never seem to put on weight. However, the fact of the matter is, the way your body is programmed likes to keep you lean (not a bad problem to have and can actually be quite advantageous).
Now, you might be annoyed that I’m saying hardgainers are in a good position being that they can stay lean fairly easily, but hear me out on this one. Here is why it is my opinion that being part of the hardgainers crew is to your advantage.
- Hardgainers tend to have small joints which makes any type of muscle mass gains look much more pronounced.
- When “bulking” you will have a better chance of staying lean versus putting on a bunch of body fat (dirty gains).
- Even if you DO gain some body fat during a bulk, once you bring your calories back down from a surplus your metabolism should quickly help you drop the excess weight you may have gained (sometimes even without the need for cardio).
- If you like food, you’re in luck as you get to eat more while still maintaining your leanness.
- The alternative to your current position would be walking around obese 24/7/365 and putting yourself at a higher risk for illness and diseases, so being part of the hardgainers crew doesn’t sound so bad all of a sudden, right?
With all that being said, below are the 10 steps hardgainers need to follow to build quality muscle.
- Eat MORE
The tough thing for most hardgainers is the realization that they aren’t eating enough. That’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re seemingly eating everything in sight and not seeing any gains. The bigger question should be WHAT are you eating? Sure, you could eat Wendy’s every meal and probably not see any physical changes but that isn’t helping you put on size.
What you need to do is each week increase your calories by 250 daily until you see a change week over week. Fill your daily nutrition with quality carbohydrates as well as good quality protein sources. It may be helpful for you to track your nutrition with something like MyFitnessPal to ensure you are hitting your daily calories and macros. It’s hard to quantify that you’re “eating more” when you really don’t have a clue how many calories you’re consuming on a daily basis.
- Focus on Progressive Overload
Change or remain the same. It doesn’t get any simpler than that for hardgainers. If you always do the same thing but are expecting a different outcome, you’re going to be disappointed with your results and progress. Focus on continually overloading the muscles. This can be done in a few different ways.
- Move more weight
- Increase the number of reps per set
- Increase the number of sets per workout
If you are pushing 185 pounds on the bench this week, you want to change it up the next week. Maybe push for 190? Maybe instead of eight reps you push for 10? Or if you are doing three sets on flat bench, maybe add a fourth? The key is to constantly be challenging your muscles in ways it has not been used to.
- More is NOT Better… You Need Rest
Too common people have a more is better approach to things. If you’re one of the hardgainers out there reading this, adding more workouts per week isn’t going to move the needle. Your body needs rest so that it can properly rebuild torn down muscle fibers. If you hit the muscle again before it has recovered, you’re going to be taking steps backward and never fully recovering from workouts.
Hit each muscle group hard and then let it rest. And speaking of rest, you need to sleep in order to grow. Strive for a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.
- Move HEAVY Weight
Do I really need to go into detail on this one? It should come as no surprise that you want to consistently be moving heavy weights. If you’re using a light weight and sandbagging your workouts, you’re not going to see any progress. This also piggybacks off of #2 where I mentioned you need to constantly be progressing. If you work your way up to 225 on the bench, move forward, not backward.
Constantly be pushing the boundaries by adding more weight (that you can lift with proper form). Keep the rep range between 8-12. Once you can easily move a weight for 10-12 reps, it’s time to increase to a heavier weight and start all over again with the new weight pushing for eight reps.
- Do Compound Movements
#4 catapults us into #5 which is compound movements. While isolation movements are great on body parts such as arms, your focus for all large muscle groups (chest, legs, and back) should be on compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups to get the best bang out of your time and effort as hardgainers. Exercises like the bench, squat, deadlifts, and military press need to be prioritized in workouts where you are hitting those large muscle groups.
The key, however, is to make sure you are using good form as well as an appropriate weight. Not following those two basic lifting rules can cause injuries that will further stall your progress.
- Mind-Muscle Connection is IMPORTANT
I can’t stress this enough… if you aren’t feeling the muscle group working that you’re hitting during a specific workout, something is wrong. For instance, if you’re doing heavy biceps curls but you feel it more in your back and shoulders, either the weight is too heavy, your form is off, and/or you’re not concentrating on feeling the muscle contract and elongate.
A solid mind-muscle connection is not only essential for hardgainers but all lifters in general. Without this connection, you’re not truly and effectively targeting the muscle group you’re training. You may need to lower the weight so you can move through a full range of motion where you FEEL the muscle contracting during the concentric portion of the movement (where the muscle is shortening).
- Eat Enough Protein
Without protein, it’s extremely difficult for hardgainers (or anyone really) to gain lean muscle mass. Protein needs to be a priority. Strive for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For instance, a 160-pound individual should be taking in 160g of protein per day. As your weight increases, so will your protein needs. Bulk up to 170 pounds? Now, you’ll need 170g of protein.
Try to fit in as many grams of protein from whole food sources as possible. Things like chicken, turkey, eggs, pork, fish, and meat. If you are having trouble taking in enough protein to hit your requirements, consider supplementing with a protein shake or even a protein bar to help you hit your macro needs.
- Track Your Progress
This section could cover a wide gamut of topics from food, workouts, measurements, weight, and body fat to name a few. And I’m actually leaving this wide open for you hardgainers to start implementing. If you have no tracking in place or measurements to work off of, how do you know you’re moving in the right direction?
You need to be tracking all of the things I mentioned so you can make any necessary changes when need be. If your weight has stalled and you stopped gaining, how would you know that if you didn’t weigh yourself? Or if your weight is going up and you’re all happy, how do you know you’re not simply adding all fat mass? You don’t if you aren’t checking it. For that reason, it’s important to write everything down, put things in your phone to document progress, or use specific apps like MyFitnessPal.
- Be Consistent
It’s very easy for hardgainers to get frustrated and throw in the towel because their progress can be a slow journey. Additionally, hardgainers need to figure out what works best for their body and it’s constantly a modify and measurement act where they need to tweak things to see how their body adjusts. One thing always remains the same though, and that’s all hardgainers need to be consistent with both their training as well as their nutrition.
Both nutrition and training go hand-in-hand. If nutrition falls apart, your muscle gains and recovery stalls. If your training falls apart, you won’t be breaking down the muscle fibers to provide yourself the ability to have them grow back bigger and stronger. Over the long-term, hardgainers will see progress (albeit slow) when they are consistent with those two factors.
- Supplement Smarter
As much as supplement companies would love to sell you everything under the sun, you need to figure out what provides you the best bang for your buck. Obviously, there are some staples you should consider first and foremost.
For instance, some supplements you should look to add to your regimen that can help increase muscle mass are products like creatine, protein, natural testosterone boosters (best used for those over the age of 30 when natural test levels start to decline), and amino acids.
Some of you may be looking to purchase a mass gainer. Would I recommend adding a mass gainer to your regimen? The answer is, no. I would prefer you take a protein powder and add your own carbohydrates and fat to it such as fruit, oats, greens, natural peanut butter, seeds, etc. The macros, in the end, are much cleaner and better for you than many of the mass gainers out there that are full of sugar to drive the total calorie count up.