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Hardgainer Life – Why Can’t I Gain Muscle?

By Darren Nuzzo on Jul 8, 2024 9:00:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time

So, you found a 12 lb. kettlebell at Goodwill for six bucks and have been flinging it around your garage for the past two weeks, but still haven’t gained any muscle. Don’t worry. It’s not time to sound the alarm quite yet. There’s still a great chance that you respond quite well to weight training. It’s just that you haven’t met the criteria for muscle growth.

Before you can call yourself a hardgainer, ask yourself if you've checked all the boxes required to build muscle: do you train close to failure, eat in a surplus, meet your protein requirements, prioritize recovery, sleep well, manage your stress, progressively overload your lifts with proper technique, and accumulate the minimum effective volume required to grow?

If you can honestly say that you’ve been doing all of those things for a meaningful amount of time and are still not putting on size, you’re probably a hardgainer. First, let me offer my deepest apologies. It's not an easy diagnosis to accept.

Okay – so, why are hardgainers even a thing? And what can we do about it?

Non-Responders and Hyper-Responders

People respond to weightlifting in different ways. Some are hyper-responders who see rapid gains with minimal effort, while others are non-responders who struggle to make progress even with rigorous training and nutrition. Studies have shown that genetic factors play a significant role in how our bodies respond to exercise. Non-responders may find it particularly challenging to build muscle, but this doesn't mean it's impossible—it just requires more precision and dedication.

Slow-Twitch vs. Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

Another reason you might struggle to gain muscle is the type of muscle fibers you have. There are two main types: slow-twitch (Type I) and fast-twitch (Type II) fibers. Slow-twitch fibers are more endurance-oriented and less prone to hypertrophy (muscle growth), whereas fast-twitch fibers are more powerful and capable of growing larger. If you have a higher proportion of slow-twitch fibers, building muscle mass can be more challenging. However, you can still achieve significant gains with the right approach and persistence.

Other Genetic Factors

Beyond muscle fiber type and response to exercise, other genetic factors influence muscle growth. These factors are less easily measured and understood, but can impact everything from hormone levels to muscle protein synthesis. While you can't change your genetics, you can optimize your training and nutrition to maximize your potential.

A Methodical Approach

Being a hardgainer doesn't mean you're doomed to be small forever. It just means you have to be more methodical. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Track Your Lifts: Keep a detailed log of your workouts. Track the weights, sets, and reps for each exercise. This helps ensure you're progressively overloading your muscles and not just spinning your wheels.

  2. Track Your Macros: Be precise with your nutrition. Calculate your caloric needs and macronutrient ratios, and stick to them. Note: you probably need a bigger surplus than others who can grow at maintenance or a slight surplus.

  3. Follow a Strategy: Intuition alone won't cut it. You need a well-structured plan that guarantees success. Consider working with a coach or purchasing a proven program designed for hardgainers.

  4. Be Patient: Progress might be slower, but it will come. Stay consistent and trust the process. Small gains add up over time.

  5. Stay Honest: Regularly assess your strategy and execution. Are you truly doing everything right?

Something They Don’t Tell You

While hardgainers are definitely real, the extent of their struggles is exaggerated. In research and surveys, hardgainers were significantly less likely to continue training and dieting for long periods of time due to a lack of early progress. On the other hand, hyper-responders see better long-term results not just because of their genetics but because they are more likely to continue training. So, the evidence of hardgainers not putting on size is largely due to the fact they stop training, not that they actually can’t grow.


Most importantly, understand that you aren't broken. You don’t need to find a magical fix. The mechanics of muscle building aren't different for you; it's just more challenging. With dedication, patience, and a strategic approach, you will see growth. Stay honest with yourself, assess your methods, and keep pushing forward.

Hardgainer Guide | Mind Pump

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Darren Nuzzo

Darren Nuzzo is a writer and performer from Huntington Beach, California. When he’s not authoring works of literary fiction or bombing at open mics, he returns to his roots of health and wellness, teaming up with Mind Pump to bring a new voice to the fitness industry.

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