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This guide is for the hardgainer. I am putting myself in the shoes of someone skinny (and I actually know what it is to be skinny…I used to be). Someone who tries to smash MacDonald’s and bad food and never puts on weight… Someone who buys a weight gainer but still does not add weight… Someone lean, skinny… “weak”… Stepping in the gym environment is always intimidating and overwhelming…
If you can recognise yourself in those traits, then, read on. I am going to delve deeper into the main hard-gainer problems. It is true that some people are very skinny and never seem to add on weight whatever they do. But we will see that more than often, if there are no chronic diseases or any conditions/legit reasons not to add weight… the hard-gainer simply is not eating enough. Most of what we hear from hard gainers is “ but I eat enough”. We will see that eating a lot does not equal eating enough. Also, when looking at the way hard-gainers train, there is usually a lack of understanding of what to do to start improving.
In this article, I am going to give tips related to how to feel about being a hard-gainer and how to escape this zone as quickly as possible.
1# Do it for yourself
I know it might sound a bit cliche… but pretty true. Yes, do try to become a great natural bodybuilder and to inspire others to follow your steps, but do not go on this journey just for external reasons. See, being very skinny can be a daunting experience and it is more than understandable to want to build muscle, add size on, so people stop saying you are skinny.
But don’t just do it for others – think about yourself first and how it is going to benefit you. Otherwise this can lead to being obsessed with lifting and never giving yourself credit for those awesome changes you’re making.
2# Don’t be scared to bulk
Let’s talk about one of the most important things when it comes to being a hard gainer. We often hard-gainers say “I eat enough”, but do they?
You don’t have to become Mr Potatoe to succeed, and that’s not what I want you to get into. But at some point, you gotta accept that you won’t always look your best! Looking good is what you usually want when getting into bodybuilding – just know that there will be some phases where you might not always look your best. Like bulking phases!
Bulking on and adding some weight might make you look a bit puffier but if the bulk is done right, you will never look bad. Eating at a calorie surplus also has many advantages which will help you improve! The real times you will know if there is definitely a problem with your metabolism or anything else of the sort, is when you genuinely know you have eaten at a calorie surplus, for a long period of time, and nothing has changed.
Let’s uncover some of these advantages.
1- Eating at a calorie surplus will help you get stronger
If you are a complete hard-gainer, eat at a small calorie surplus. You will start driving some great momentum with eating more and training more. Your body is not used to training, your body is not used to be at a small calorie surplus.
Both of these factors together are like a bomb. Your body “does not understand” what’s going on – changes can be incredible as a hard gainer when you do things right. You will start getting strength on the movements. Strength is an important metric to build muscle when used correctly.
2- You’re full of energy, no limit!
This small calorie surplus will give you some energy, it will help you recover better and faster following these new training sessions. You’re smashing it at the gym! Sure, bulking is not magic – you still have to train hard and smart to get results, but it’s easier to perform well.
Eating at a small calorie surplus will help you recover better and faster. You’re feeding your muscles with the right macro-nutrients in good quantity. Bulking can be flexible and it does not have to be as strict as cutting down. If you understand well how calories work, you can bulk flexibly and enjoy nice meals once in a while with your family and friends!
3- The most important factor, you are escaping the stagnation zone
One of the main problems when it comes to leaving the “hard gainer zone” is to eat enough. As explained previously, bulking or eating at a small calorie surplus gives you extra energy, it gives you more energy to lift, helps you get stronger quicker. It drives a change pretty quickly. Oftentimes, people say they eat enough but when you look at their calorie intake, it is pretty far from the truth!
People like to associate eating enough with eating bad food, dirty food. Surely, bad food usually contains a high calorie intake. So this makes sense to associate dirty food to eating enough. But you can eat as much dirty food as you want – if you’re not going over your maintenance level at a calorie surplus, nothing is going to change!
4- Natural testosterone boost!
Have you ever been on a hard cutting down diet?
On a cut, you lack energy. You feel more “depressed” and don’t want to do anything else than resting. Testosterone is low and you just want to sleep. By eating enough food (good food), stimulating your body at the gym, you will feel great. Many times when I have been on a cut I would feel pretty low. The times I was healthily bulking was one I felt the greatest!
The disadvantage of bulking? Looking fatter?
That is normal, eating at a calorie surplus might make you look slightly fatter. But if you do things well, it’s not like you’re going to blow up and get “too fat”. People store fat differently. Some will add most of their extra-weight in their hips, while others in their face cheeks… Blame your genetics and your parents! 🙂
Again, when I say adding some fat, it does not mean it’s gonna be obvious. It’s just a bit of extra weight which usually is not enough to make you look “too fat”.
3# Time to implement strength training
You might only be training with high reps or might only be doing some sort of pump training. Nothing wrong with high reps and hypertrophy training. But at some point, you want to force progression and get stronger! Volume is great but getting stronger on the movements your practice hypertrophy with is important!
Strength training must be implemented in your training. This means starting doing some 5×5 for example as an introduction to strength training. Start implementing strength with compound movements. As soon as you get stronger with your compounds, your isolation movements will also benefit from this acquired strength.You can then practice hypertrophy training and build some meat!
4# You have got to gym enough!
Well here – this is just reality. If you have been stagnating for a while and not improving at all, you might not train hard enough. Do you just spend 1-2 hours in the gym every week? Sure, you might make some beginner gains, but that won’t be enough! Start reconsidering your routine and smash it more in the gym! I believe training 3 to 4 times a week is a good compromise as a beginner. It is better to start slowly and increase overtime.
5# Don’t be intimidated in the gym
It can get real hard to start gymming in an environment where everyone is stronger than you. You go on the bench-press and realise the empty bar already feels heavy… Guess what, most of the big guys out there were just like you. They like to see someone skinny who is a hard gainer guy starting bodybuilding like they once were. It reminds them of themselves – they really know what it is like.
You might sometimes see the big guys fighting their egos with other big boys in the gym, but they won’t with people getting started. They will most likely help you and you might become friends. Big guys love to mentor, they will love to teach you what they know. If you’re intimidated by them, forget about it, say hi!
If you are a guy, girls might be stronger than you! Yeah that might feel weird. But most of the girls you’ll meet that are stronger than you have been lifting for a while. Some are real gym freaks and spend an incredible amount of time in the gym! Of course they will be stronger than you. And that’s fine. No way any of them will criticise you! Ask for help or pay a compliment!
6# Work on muscles which will make you look bigger straight away
I completely agree with Alexander Leonidas from Alpha Destiny. Great concept of the “naturally enhanced program” – work on muscles which matter the most. If you are very skinny and want to escape this phase, why not focusing on the things which will help you get out of it the fastest way possible? Traps, shoulders, let’s go!
I often talk about specialising and it’s almost in all articles. This is because it is so important. As a beginner, it’s not easy to specialise, because you don’t know what your body looks like yet – you don’t know what type of muscles you have. Are they long, short? You can’t understand your morphology very well yet. It’s hard to know which exercises will benefit you the most.
What you can do though, is avoiding to waste time on too many exercises. As described in the article about specialising – programs beginners make for themselves often have too many similar exercises. Which is just pretty pointless.
You’re just wasting time going from one exercise to another. You shift your focus too often, you’re losing focus. You’re not being very productive. What you can do instead for now is focus on popular exercises which are known to offer a good stretch. Don’t do exercises which are too similar, start doing less but well!
8# Stick to the same routine
Practice makes perfect. While no one is perfect, it is true to say that you become better at what you do the most. Too many people will tell you to change up your routine to see results – the truth is you should not. In most of the cases, once you have found the best exercises for yourself, you should stick to them.
How can you expect to become better at deadlift if every three weeks, you stop it for a month and then re-start. Have you ever been gaming? Playing games like “Call of duty”? Won’t you agree that you become better once you know exactly the map you are playing in?
The first time you play on the map, you are absolutely lost and people who know the map well always get you first. That’s the same here. Get good at an exercise and you will improve. Because you become good quicker at an exercise, you will then build muscle quicker.
9# Hard gainers usually have great potential and good genetics.
That’s just pretty true. People who are overweight might have extra skin once they lose some fat. You’re lucky not to have to go through such process. Once you get your beginner gains you will see lean results straight away because you are naturally lean. Look at all the physiques like Charlie, Jeff Seid, Connor Murphy (no speculation whether natty or not for the last two) – they were very skinny but turned out to have great aesthetic physiques.