The term hardgainer is one that is normally used to describe your stereotypical ectomorph, skinny by general definition lacking muscular size but making up for it in enthusiasm. The truth is many of you reading this wether ecto, endo or even meso have at some point experienced the frustration of not improving at the rate or degree that you feel you should. More often than not this is down to a number reasons, all of which can be classified within what I call the four pillars of destiny. This phrase comes from a Chinese conceptual term referring to the four elements that make up someone’s fate or destiny. The hard gainers desired destiny is of course muscular size, shape and definition all three of which often escape him due to his lack of one or more of the following pillars.
When its all said and done weight loss and weight gain come down to one simple factor…Calories. In the hard gainers case in order to build we must be taking in more calories than we expend. When I recall my own experience in the early days I remember being shocked at the sheer volume of food I was required to eat in order to gain weight/muscle. In fact I actually vividly remember gaining a stone in weight after the first month of eating more than the standard persons diet of 3 meals a day and a snack. Now in order to make sure this gain in weight is quality you of course need to have the right macronutrient split and there is many ways in which to do this. However, regardless of a high fat or high carb approach the end result will still be surplus calories is a must. Therefore, one must establish their TDEE using one of the available formulas (total daily energy expenditure) and then work off a % surplus. Generally I would advise a starting point of 10-15% above the tdee, which in time could then be increased according to changes in body fat%. Never underestimate the importance of fuelling the body, training is important but nutrition and rest are the key factors in growth and repair.
Big complex movements are the exercises that have the greatest potential for increases in weight. What this means is that when trained using the correct set and rep systems one can expect big improvements in overall strength. More weight lifted will recruit those all important fast twitch muscle fibres which in turn have the greatest potential for growth. Focusing too much on isolated exercises or machines can be a huge hindrance to the muscle growth of a hard gainer, simply because the muscle mass of a particular muscle group has not been developed enough to benefit from such specific movements/exercises. Complex movements will also cause greater increase in testosterone levels, which in turn play a role in overall muscle growth. Even the seasoned bodybuilder or strength athlete will agree that big movements should be the main focus of a workout. Isolation and machine movements can be brought in where nescearry but really for the hard gainer in particular they should be a supplement to the workout and not consider the core emphasis.
Low to Medium Repetition Ranges
Rep range is an area debated continually during the pursuit of muscle. I have a belief that the novice lifter and of course the hard gainer should work on his foundation first so that he can create a dense muscle fibre make up. By lifting in the low rep ranges he will recruit the fast twitch and increase their size, giving a solid foundation of strength and muscle density. Medium rep ranges of say 6-12 can be brought in later stages of the workout to aid some sarcoplasmic growth via blood volume pump. However spending hours in the gym pumping out high rep sets when overall muscle mass is low can contribute to too much glycogen depletion which in turn will result in potential muscle breakdown. Both of which for the hard gainer will stall muscle growth and be counter productive for adding size.
Overtraining is something yours truly should probably pay more attention to too. The hard gainer as mentioned in the opening paragraph is normally gung ho on hitting the gym and pumping the iron. Now training intensity and overall heart is essential for the pursuit of muscle. However staying injury free and allowing body time to recover and grow is paramount. Overtraining is a very real problem that most new lifters will experience at some time or other. Indicators for overtraining will of course be a lack of energy but also can be seen in a sudden drop in bodyweight or strength. The problem with overtraining, or in fact reaching a state of overtraiined is that recovery is often longer than one expects and as a result progress will be stalled significantly. Generally an over trained state will mean that a break for at least a week will be needed before the body can then adapt to the stimulus previously presented to it.
In conclusion I will take a quote from the famous Jay Cutler “there is no such thing as overtraining, only under eating” Now although not precisely true, I do appreciate where he is coming from. The point he is trying to stress is that nutrition tends to be overlooked the most and it is the reason this was the first pillar on my list. I very much doubt any true hard gainer lacks the will required of him in the gym, simply by his very nature of being a hard gainer he is normally hungry to grow. Nevertheless, like all things in life we must have everything in place in order to succeed. So, make sure your four pillars are in place and build your destiny the way fate intends.