Bodybuilding is easy. Every time you step inside a gym you can practically feel your muscles swelling, even before you touch a weight. Each calorie you consume seems to instinctively find
its way to your muscles, as if knowing you were born to build muscle. You can train heavy or train light, eat clean or pig out - no matter, the only price you'll pay for your lack of
consistency is Alpine biceps and tree trunk legs.
If the above description has you nodding your head and thinking to yourself, "How do they know me so well?" then read no further. This article definitely isn't for you.
If, however, you're shaking your head in frustration, wondering why some guys have all the luck, then read on, dear hardgainer. Apply the following Hardgainer Plan in combination with a
little dedication, and you too can become an anabolic powerhouse, ready to convert blood, sweat and protein into muscle, just like those other guys.
SIGNS TO BEWARE
Before we start digging deep into what you'll need to do to coax your stubborn body into building muscle, we're going to address the things you shouldn't be doing. The fact is that most
hardgainers do hit upon the basic elements of a successful training, diet and supplementation strategy during the course of their workout week. However, the catch is that many guys only
screw themselves with behavior more suited to the lucky guys who seem to gain muscle just by looking at a weight. Among the important training and diet considerations you, the dedicated
hardgainer, should definitely not be doing include:
1 Overtaxing Your Muscles.
This factor is a biggie for the simple reason that most everyone aspiring to get big has overtaxed their muscles at one point or another, and often chronically.
When muscles don't respond, the natural inclination is to train harder and longer, as if it can increase exponentially from one workout to the next.
Muscle recuperation is the single most important aspect of a bodybuilder's growth. Without proper rest, a muscle can't continue to take further stresses and can't elicit further growth.
If recuperation isn't adequate, muscles continue breaking down with each successive workout, which leads to fatigue, possible injury and even atrophy - the exact opposite of what you're
trying to achieve.
Calves and abs can handle daily stress, but training other bodyparts more than twice per week (preferably just once) is a big no-no for the hardgainer. Remember, rest equals growth.
2 Skimping on Calories.
If you want to be big, you've got to eat big ... period. As a hardgainer your body is continually burning calories at a quicker rate than your easy-gaining friends.
As a result, you have to feed your body more than it can burn if your goal is to construct more mass.
We're sure you've heard this eating strategy before, but it's worth repeating: The three square meals per day plan might work if your name is Beaver Cleaver, and your only concern is growing
taller. If you're looking to fill out your shirt sleeves however, you're going to have to plan on grabbing twice that number, spread out over 2-hour intervals. The idea here is to keep a
steady stream of nutrients flowing through your system that are ready to go to work in the anabolic process.
Keep in mind that a meal isn't only something to be eaten with a knife and fork. Shakes are a great way to increase your caloric and protein intake, especially post-workout.
As mentioned earlier, rest equals growth, quite literally. Contrary to popular belief, training doesn't actually build muscle. Lifting weights is purely a catabolic process,
meaning that it tears down muscle. However, in the hours and days following an intense workout, your body goes about the business of repairing the microscopic tears you've created in your
muscle fibers. Protein, along with certain vitamins such as vitamin C and minerals like zinc, helps rebuild these damaged fibers making them stronger. And what is the result? Not coincidentally,
it's bigger muscles.
When you're sleeping, you're clearly not expending energy on activities (like you are when you're walking, talking or chewing gum). Thus you have more to devote to building muscle. Likewise,
growth hormone is released in the body during deep sleep and testosterone levels peak in the morning after a good night's rest. All the more reason to make sure you get in at least your eight
hours per night.
4 Straining Your Brain.
You'll likely read a number of complex routines touted by top-notch bodybuilders every time you pick up a bodybuilding magazine. While these programs work for many,
they may not for you. The truth is that no professional bodybuilder is a hardgainer. With all the hurdles one has to face to make the pro ranks, an inability to add muscle is easily the
While a select few seem to be able to spend a couple of hours in the gym per day performing a myriad of exercises from a variety of angles, the reality is that you can't. You'll surely
overtrain and moreover, waste valuable eating and resting time. Have you ever heard of the KISS principle? Well, as a hardgainer your goal should definitely be: Keep It Simple, Student of
bodybuilding (you should know that we'd never refer to our readers as stupid)!
SIGNS TO OBSERVE
Now that you know what not to do, you're ready to learn what you need to keep in mind as you reconstruct your hardgainer frame with unprecedented muscle growth.
1 Up the Weights.
We're not telling you to set your sights on personal best lifts every time you hit the gym, but you should focus on strengthening the connective tissues and the muscles.
Doing so is best achieved with heavier weights and...
2 Go Moderate.
Studies have shown that sets performed in the 6-10-rep range are ideal for eliciting muscle growth while maximizing strength. It's important however, that you don't always train
with the same relative intensity. Instead, cycle periods when you're using heavy weights for low reps with periods of moderate weights for moderate reps. If you always do the same weights for
the same reps, you're bound to get the same results.
3 Big and Basic.
Focus on free-weight lifts that hit several muscle groups at once, such as squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, shoulder presses and bench or incline presses. These are also
commonly called multi joint moves because more than one pair of joints is involved, hence recruiting a greater degree of muscle mass.
More muscle groups are called into play, so you're able to lift heavier weights. The bottom line is that you'll get more bang for your buck by doing multi joint exercises rather than isolating
individual muscle groups with moves like leg extensions, pec-deck flys and lateral raises.
4 Build Up Protein.
By now you surely know of the importance of protein in building muscle. Make sure to consume at least 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day - this easy
formula will ensure ample supplies of muscle-charging amino acids getting in your system. Try to consume protein from a variety of sources: Plant and animal, whole foods, and supplements to
ensure that you're getting all the essential amino acids.
5 Forgo the Cardio.
If you're a typical hardgainer, you'll likely find that gaining muscle is hard, while burning fat is comparatively easy. Cardio is a surefire way to inhibit muscle growth
as it channels valuable nutrients away from muscles to be used as fuel. Limit or cut out cardio completely during your mass phase. Pick-up games of basketball, all-night dance-a-thons and even
hot, wild sex can burn valuable calories, thus diminishing your muscle-building efforts. You're excused only on the last one ...
6 Aim to Fail.
Going to muscle failure, and beyond, is an advanced training technique that elicits maximum growth from a set and is a respectable goal for a hard-training bodybuilder. Too much
will burn you out, but when performed for 1 or 2 sets (typically, the last for each exercise) per bodypart, reaching failure should be just enough to tap into deep fibers that miss the stress of
a regular set. If you take all sets past muscle failure, be it with forced reps, drop sets or another intensity-boosting technique, you risk overtraining and you'll hinder maximal muscle growth,
as research has shown.
7 Rest Your Bones ... and your muscles.
Adequate rest, preferably in the form of deep sleep, is a key factor to rebuilding muscle tissue that's been broken down via hard exercise. If you find
that you're constantly tired and in a state of sleep deprivation, then missing a workout or two can be a good thing - especially if you get to bed early. More rest will help you feel more
energetic and ready to go the next day.
Changing things up in your workout, like the order of exercises and the number of sets and reps you perform, rest intervals, and substituting new moves keeps your muscles from
adapting to a particular workout so they continue growing. Hardgainers should change their workouts more frequently than their easy-gaining counterparts - preferably every month.
9 Cut to the Chase.
As a hardgainer you should spend as little time in the gym as possible, but get the most effective work done. An hour is all it should take to complete your workout - you
simply can't keep your intensity level up much longer than that. Doing so taps into valuable caloric reserves that could otherwise be used for building muscle. Keep total sets per bodypart to
12 or fewer. Plan on making each one of those sets a good one rather than trying to do more sets at moderate intensity.
10 Don't Skip Your Supplements.
Supplements like whey, glutamine, creatine and arginine can help support your body as it grows, boosting the nutrients responsible for muscle growth and promoting high
levels of anabolic hormones. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are likewise important, as is a good multivitamin/mineral for a variety of reasons. They eliminate free radicals (which can slow muscle
growth) and bolster overall health.
Now Eat Again! Don't be shy I when it comes to downing a good meal. In a body that's apparently satisfied with the status quo, you need to kick-start growth by eating a surplus of
The other two macronutrients (aside from protein) are carbohydrates and fat, and you want to indulge in both, assuming they're the right kinds. You should eat plenty of complex carbs (whole
grains, rice, pasta) as well fruits, and a judicious amount of healthy (mono and polyunsaturated) fats, which can be found in nuts, avocados, flax seed oil, olive oil and fish.
In addition to lubricating your joints, fats are important in testosterone production and will help increase your total daily calories, reduce your risk for certain types of cancer and improve
LDL cholesterol levels.
12 Stay Motivated.
If you've been a hardgainer for any length of time, you know it's an uphill battle. Don't let doubt rule the day, even when gains aren't coming as quickly as you'd like. Neither
Rome nor Jay Cutler was built in a day. Odds are you aren't going to buck the trend. Give every workout your all and look forward to the next, whether it brings an inch or a micrometer, bodybuilding
is a 24/7 activity because of the importance of food and rest. Don't expect that a good workout alone is all it takes.
FAILING FOR GOOD
Bodybuilders typically train to muscle failure to thoroughly exhaust a target muscle. What is muscle failure? Muscle failure is the point during an exercise at which the muscles have fully
fatigued and can no longer complete another repetition of that movement using strict form.
While bodybuilders commonly take every set to muscle failure, research suggests that the strategy is counter productive. Australian researchers documented that when veteran lifters did one of four
total sets to failure on the bench press for eight weeks, they had double the strength gains over lifters who didn't take any of their four sets to failure. However, those same researchers found
that taking more than a single set to failure didn't offer any added strength gains. On the contrary, they reported that the strength gains from the group who took multiple sets to failure were
less impressive than the strength gains in the group who did just one set to failure. "The reason may be that performing only one set to failure allows for enough stimuli to be delivered to the
muscle fibers without the risk of overtraining, which can happen when training with too many sets to failure," says Jim Stoppani, PhD, and author of the Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength (Human
Of course, if you're training alone, there are a number of exercises that you shouldn't take to failure, including squats, bench presses and over-head barbell presses because of the inherent danger
of getting stuck under the bar. Either use a spotter or choose movements where it's easy to return the weight to a safe location - typically dumbbell and machine movements.