There is one term that every bodybuilder dreads earning. And that is the title of hard gainer. This is because hard gainers need to work harder than their peers to gain muscle.
A hard gainer is someone who struggles to gain muscle mass, and it isn’t hard to see why this would frustrate any aspiring bodybuilder.
It is frustrating, but it is not the end of your bodybuilding career. If you are a hard gainer, you can fix the problem and build muscle mass. And this guide will help you to achieve that.
Here, we are giving you 14 tips to overcome being a hard gainer and to build up your desired muscle mass.
Don’t focus on genetics
Most people really like going off on the topic of genetics. Some people swear that their genetics are the source of all their problems, and if they had better genetics, all their problems would be solved.
Others completely blow off their genetics and believe that training and some incredibly scientific formula is the answer to all their prayers.
True, your genetics do play a role, but there are a wide variety of reasons as to why you’re a hard gainer, like muscle vs tendon strength, fibre type ratios, et cetera.
It is true that you do have some genetic weaknesses, but you have genetic strengths too. So, focus on your training, and don’t let genetic weaknesses get in your way.
Quality over quantity
As a hard gainer, you need to increase your caloric intake. And no, you are not eating enough now.
It doesn’t help that you eat massive quantities of food but never hit the required number of calories that you need. To add lean muscle mass, you need to consume at least 20 calories per pound of bodyweight.
You need to start adding calorie dense foods like steak, pureed vegetables, dried fruit, whole eggs and raw oatmeal to your diet.
High volumes of egg whites, veggies, cooked oatmeal and fruits may be healthy, but they’re not ideal for the hard gainer. If you continue eating as you do now, then you will have to almost constantly stuff your face for any results.
Get enough sleep
When you sleep, your body recovers, and you build muscle mass. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body will start to break down your muscles when you next work out, since your body will be stressed.
As a bodybuilder, you don’t want that. As a hard gainer, you really don’t want that. You don’t have the same recovery capabilities as your peers, so you are going to especially need your sleep.
Be sure to allow your body to recover properly by getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep every night. This simple step will go a long way in the fight to overcoming being a hard gainer. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will always be a hard gainer.
Drink those calories
Are you struggling to get all those calories into your body? Don’t despair, you can drink some of them.
The advantage of drinking a shake is that it doesn’t fill you up as easily as food does, so by drinking a shake every day, you can get a lot of calories in without having to add another meal.
Keep in mind that this does not include your pre- and post-work out protein shakes.
Mix up a whole bunch of calorie dense foods such as Greek yoghurt and/or cottage cheese, nut butters, ground flaxseed, coconut oil, ground/raw oats, milk powder, frozen fruits, et cetera. If you still struggle after that, then you can just add a weight gainer to your daily shake.
Avoid isolation exercises
As a hard gainer, isolation exercises will not help you to reach your goals. Achieving ten sets of triceps exercises are not about to help you build big arms.
Compound exercises will help you to exercise all your muscles, including your smaller muscles which will help you to build a bigger mass.
By focusing on isolation exercises, you are just working one muscle group, which will not help you to get bigger.
As a hard gainer, less volume is usually better. Set bigger and heavier weight goals, and don’t focus on the fluff. So instead of triceps exercises, you could do shoulder press, bench press, incline press and other similar compound exercises. Focusing on compound exercises will help you get bigger.
Most people will tell you to avoid cardio, and there is wisdom to this advice. But cardio keeps you healthy.
If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, keep your heart healthy. And, as bodybuilder, you work on your muscles- your heart is your most important muscle.
Keep it smart though, and do about 20-30 minutes of low intensity cardio about 2-3 times a week. This should get your heart rate pumping, get it healthier and it will improve your health.
This amount of cardio will also improve nutrient delivery to your muscles, and may even increase your recovery time. Which as a hard gainer, you will be grateful for. While avoiding cardio might be smart advice, doing smart cardio is better advice.
Heavy weights, low reps
This might seem like contrary advice, and some bodybuilders might be unhappy about this advice.
But you’re a hard gainer, and you need to slightly modify the normal rules so that you can one day follow the normal rules. Your focus will need to be on heavy lifting, so keep your reps low. Like 6-10 low.
Since you’re cutting isolation movements, you don’t need to spend 10-15 reps on one isolated muscle group, you’re going to be working all of your muscles.
The best way to do this is not by increasing your reps, it is by increasing your weight. So, take a deep breath. You are going to have to find your motivation, and lift heavy, and lift big.
Since you are lifting heavier, you need to rest for longer. If you rest for about 30 seconds after each set, you aren’t giving yourself enough time to rest.
You need to allow your body to rest before each set, not for you, but for your body. To perform at optimal levels, you need to rest for about 2-3 minutes between each set.
Remember that your mind recovers faster than your body. You might be all set to go, but your body wants to rest.
Take time to rest between each set, and you will begin see a change in your body. It might not seem like it, but enough rest is one of the keys to overcoming the hard gainer title.
Embrace the fats
We have been conditioned to hate fats. Just the name makes us shudder, and we automatically conclude that fats are evil and must be avoided at all costs.
This is not true, and you will need to learn to embrace healthy fats if you ever want to be a successful bodybuilder.
Healthy fats are your new best friend. Why? Because they are loaded with muscle building benefits. And the best part? They are calorie dense!
But before you get too excited, don’t think that you can now skimp on carbohydrate consumption. Both factors are equally important to you. As a hard gainer, you need all the help that you can get. You need to ditch your fear of healthy fats immediately.
Get the right carbs
After a workout, your body is in optimal muscle-building and recovery mode, and you need to take full advantage of that. You need to give your body the nutrients that it needs to build replenish glycogen and boost your recovery.
After working out, choose carbs like maltodextrin, waxy maize, Vitargo or dextrose. This will be the first thing that you need to implement if you skip carbs after your workout.
If you start doing this, you will notice a change in your body. You’ll notice increased strength, fuller muscles and faster recovery.
There may be no miracle cure to being a hard gainer, but by changing a few factors in your normal routine, you can overcome being a hard gainer.
Don’t fear overtraining
It is true that overtraining exists. But usually in the case of an elite athlete. You probably are not overtraining.
While you’re following the workout of an elite bodybuilder, you are probably neglecting your recovery, and are therefore experiencing overtraining-like symptoms. Understand this, you are not that celebrity lifter.
Do not neglect your recovery, or else you will always be a hard gainer. You need to get 8-9 hours of sleep, you will need to find a balanced diet- and stick to it.
You need to reduce stress in your life and you will need to do these things religiously. It might not seem glamorous, but it is the answer to your hard-gaining problems. Don’t look at them, look at you.
Balance your volume
There is a lot of conflicting advice out there. Some recommend high volume, while others recommend low volume. What do you need to do? You need to find a balance.
You have probably read many blogs and articles that urge you to do short, infrequent and heavy loads.
That sounds great on paper, but might not work for you. You need to find your volume sweet spot. What you need to do is log how much you can handle.
Start at a low volume, and you will notice that you get stronger, but you aren’t gaining, that is when you slowly need to increase the volume. Remember that volume is trainable, and as you progress, your volume sweet spot will change.
Stick to the basics
Naturally, you want to head straight for the fancy workouts that all the big-name body builders are doing.
You have got a catalogue of impressive routines and exercises, along with a long list of super-secret programs that promise to make your bigger that Dwayne Johnson.
And that is great. But you need to put down all the catalogues, and ask a trainer to help you come up with a simple routine.
These guys are experienced and know what they’re doing. It will not seem all that exciting, but the basics will get you far.
Once you have conquered your hard-gaining problem, you can try out all those impressive routines. Although, you might find that you prefer those boring old basics.
As a bodybuilder, you have a long road ahead of you. This road will not end in a few months, you are strapped in for the long haul.
That is not a bad thing, it just means that you need to be patient and determined. You need to remember that there are no fad diets or routines that will launch you into the big leagues. You need to buckle down and work hard- especially as a hard gainer.
Don’t despair though, it is a fun journey, and most of all: it is very rewarding. It might seem like you’re stuck in the hard gainer field, but like I said, bodybuilding is a long journey.
In a couple of years, you will have faced and overcome much bigger challenges.
The Long Haul:
Bodybuilding is a one of a kind type of journey. There is no definable finish line and there is no first or second place. Don’t do it to outdo others, because you won’t get far. That type of competition is for the athletes. You need to do this for you.
You need to find your motivation, and stop looking at the elite athletes. Yes, they are impressive, but your journey is your own.
Envy will not drive you far, you need to push yourself with a worthwhile motivation. That is the only way that you will find the determination needed to push through the hard gainer phase. But you will do it, and it will be impressive.