Hardgainer: training big, eating big

Hardgainers by definition have a tough time trying to put on weight. That includes fat as well as muscle. They are often perceived as being more disadvantaged than others in the gym because they are slow to grow muscle and therefore increase the weight they can lift. But this disadvantage can be turned into a weapon: hardgainers do not have to worry too much about putting on fat. If you are a hardgainer, here is how you can attempt to build muscle.

The only workouts that work

The most effective exercises are those that attempt to stimulate as much muscles as possible and the only exercises that can do so are compound exercises. Let’s face it: no one is going to grow thick slabs of meat on their back with pulldowns or tree trunks in place of matchsticks with lunges. Well, if you’re a hardgainer, you should focus most of your workouts around compound exercises most of the time.

What if you’ve already been doing the bench press, the squat and the barbell curl for months on end without seeing results?

Then it’s time to throw in some spices to the mix. If you haven’t done so already, change your reps, your sets, the order of exercises. Try giant sets, supersets, light sets, heavy sets, 21s, slow reps, fast reps, high, low, half, forced and negative reps. Don’t do all at the same time but always add one of these to your workout. Also try modifying the exercises by changing your grip, your feet stance and orientation, substituting the bench for a Swiss ball, the ground for a Bosu ball, barbells for dumbbells, flat benches for inclines and declines. Try a superset of benchpress and dumbbell press on a Swiss ball, bent-over rows with dumbbells and one-arm row with a cable. But always use the fundamental compound exercises movements. These are what will help you grow.


For the hardgainer: not much of a diet. Sure, eat clean, focus on proteins, carbohydrates etc but don’t worry about eating extra doughnuts, candy, chocolates and sauces. Hardgainers don’t put on weight, remember? In fact, you should try to eat lots of sugars and carbohydrates to provide your muscles with energy instead of cannibalising themselves. That’s the worse thing you can do after all the hard work you’ve done to grow this muscle. So during training, keep eating, or drinking energy shakes. While others are busy counting calories, just ease back into your chair and keep tucking in. This is the advantage of being a hardgainer, remember?


Proper rest is more critical to the hardgainer than for others. Keep your workouts short and intense, 40 minutes at the most. You are not doing a marathon in the gym. You also don’t want your muscles to dig into their supply of energy rather than what you are supplying them with in your bloodstream. Leave yourself plenty of time to rest and recover between workouts and don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to train more because you grow muscles less. For this reason, hardgainers are most at risk of overtraining.

In summary, spend short, intense sessions at the gym and the rest of the time to eat and recover. Make your workouts revolve around the core compound exercises. You don’t need to worry about definitions and separations of muscles as much as others as you should be naturally lean with little propensity to add fat. While others are busy sweating it out at the pec deck machine and lateral raises, you’ll be focussing on growing bigger muscles. That’s the fun part of being a hardgainer!

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