Hardgainers tend to find putting on size is super hard compared to your average client. They seem to have the opposite problems of everyone else. Most of us stare at a piece of food and our weight blows up, but not with hardgainers. All is not lost though. With a few changes to your lifestyle and program, you should find you can pack on much more muscle consistently.
Train for Strength
Most hardgainers tend to focus on the machines, and isolating body parts like biceps and shoulders. While these are great muscles to focus on, you’re missing the big picture. Focusing on staple movements like bench press, row, deadlift, overhead press and squats, allows you to hit way heavier weight and stimulating much more muscle than doing an individual isolation exercise.
Focus on bringing up the numbers on those compound lifts, and you should find size starts packing onto your frame. Once you are hitting those somewhat frequently, only then start adding in arm and shoulder work to get some extra volume to areas you feel might need it.
Eat More Than You Think
This is the piece of advice that everyone else will scoff at you at. I, for example, start gaining weight after eating 2500 calories. That isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. I’ve had hardgainer clients need upwards of 4500-5000 calories just to add a single pound! That is a LOT of calories.
Hardgainers tend to have faster metabolisms, and thus need to eat more calories to grow. This may feel like a second job for you guys, but if putting on muscle is a goal, it is necessary in order to do so. We can’t grow if we aren’t providing the body enough calories to do so. If you find you just don’t have the appetite for that many calories find ways to consume it more easily. Make smoothies filled with your favorite protein powder, oats, peanut butter, and other high calorie foods so you can down them quickly, versus having to chew it all. Make sure you are getting 1g/lb of protein first, and then stick to mostly high quality whole foods. If after that, you find you still aren’t hitting calories, then add the shakes and higher calorie items.
Lower Your Cardio
This may not apply to all of you, but I’ve always found it surprising when my hard gaining clients tell me they still do 3-4 days of cardio before or after their gym session. Your metabolism is ALREADY running super fast. If you are adding in cardio on top of that, you are just creating a much bigger need for even MORE calories. I don’t want to demonize cardio, because it has a ton of cardiovascular benefits and if that is your goal then you shouldn’t completely eliminate it. Having said that, if muscle building is your goal, you may have to temporarily shift habits towards your very specific goal in order to achieve the outcome you desire.
Focus on Mobility
We can’t put on muscle if we are injured, or not working through a full range of motion. As you focus on the compound movements and start to bring up your numbers the increased risk of injury goes up. You also risk shortening your form for the sake of beating last week's numbers. Exercises done through a full range of motion will always stimulate more gains than shortening your range for the sake of higher numbers. Working on owning these ranges of motion under load are what prevent injuries. If we simply jump up in weight without control, we aren’t improving our mobility.
Too Much Volume
It’s far too easy to substitute quality for the sake of getting more sets in. More sets is not better. To give you a better idea of that a novice lifter only needs 8-10 sets per muscle per week, intermediate 10-15, and advanced 15+ sets. So if you are relatively new to lifting, and doing 15+ sets on a given muscle, chances are you doing way too much volume. This puts you at the risk of doing junk sets. A junk set is when you are adding more volume and adding more stress to your recovery without the benefit of the gains from those extra sets.
Instead of adding more sets, try focusing more on quality. Take your 8-10 weekly sets per muscle and spread it over 2-3 workouts. Then choose the best compound exercises to where you can really feel those muscles working and maximize the feel of each set, instead of making up for crappy sets by adding additional. If you find you aren’t able to feel the muscle working within the first 3 sets of an exercise, I would suggest switching out the exercise for a similar movement pattern that may give you a better mind muscle connection.
If you’d like more help packing on size, check out my articles on the Best Nutrition Advice Skinny Guys Can Get, and Why Compound Movements are Essential for Hardgainers.