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How Do I Know if I am a True Hardgainer?

By Darren Nuzzo on Jul 10, 2024 9:00:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time

I used to think I was a hardgainer. In retrospect, I was just a 16-year-old kid with the metabolism of a hummingbird whose diet was 90% PB&Js. This is the story for a lot of weightlifters. They struggle to put on size and instead of searching for a solution, they slap on a label: hardgainer.

So, how do you know if you are just making excuses or if you actually do fall into the category of hardgainer? Here’s a structured approach to determine if you're genetically disadvantaged or if there are other factors at play for your lack of growth.

If you don’t check all these boxes, it’s still too early to call yourself a hardgainer. If you do all these things and still don’t grow, well, then I think you’ve earned the title.

  1. Do You Train Close to Failure with Good Form?

Training intensity matters. To stimulate muscle growth, you need to push your muscles close to their limits. This means lifting weights that challenge you. How do you know if you’re lifting hard enough? By the end of the set, your reps should be a lot slower than your first few. As the muscle fatigues and we get closer to failure, bar speed drops off drastically. So, if your first rep moves as quickly as your last, you’re not challenging yourself hard enough.

  1. Do You Eat in a Surplus?

Muscle growth requires fuel. Eating in a caloric surplus ensures your body has the energy and nutrients needed to build and repair muscle tissue. Are you walking around with a six-pack? If so, you’re likely not eating enough to put on muscle. Track your calories and make sure you are adding weight to the scale every two weeks.

  1. Do You Meet Your Protein Requirements?

Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. Do you eat at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight? If not, your body simply won’t have what it needs to grow. Focus on whole foods and high-quality protein like eggs, meat, and fish.

  1. Are You Recovering?

Muscles grow during periods of rest, not just during workouts. Adequate recovery includes getting enough sleep, managing stress levels, and allowing time for your muscles to heal between workouts. Without proper recovery, your muscles won’t have the chance to repair and grow effectively.

  1. How’s Your Sleep?

Sleep is crucial for overall health and muscle growth. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to optimize recovery and hormone production. This is when your body repairs muscle tissue and consolidates memories of motor skills learned during workouts.

  1. Do You Manage Stress Well?

High stress levels can increase cortisol levels, which may interfere with muscle growth and recovery. Working out with heavy weights is stressful enough for the body, so if you add on top of that a stressful lifestyle, you need to find a way to mitigate its damage. Find ways to manage stress through relaxation techniques, hobbies, or mindfulness practices.

  1. Are You Progressively Overloading?

You can’t just lift the same weights for the same reps over and over again. Muscles need to be consistently challenged to grow stronger. Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the weight, reps, or intensity of your workouts over time. This continual challenge ensures your muscles continue to adapt and grow.

  1. Are You Hitting Your Minimum Volume Requirements?

Volume is sometimes measured as the total amount of sets performed in a workout session. There is no set number of how much is enough, but as a general rule, you should train a muscle for a minimum of ten sets per week to stimulate growth.

Commit to Consistency

The key to determining if you're truly a hardgainer lies in consistency. It’s not enough to check these boxes once or twice; commit to these principles for at least six months consistently. Only then can you accurately assess whether you genetically struggle to respond to weightlifting, or if there are adjustments you can make to see better results.


Before attributing your lack of progress to being a hardgainer, take a critical look at your training, nutrition, recovery practices, and overall lifestyle habits. Focus on these fundamentals, stay patient, and the results will follow.

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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