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Muscle Growth, Hardgainers

How to Determine if You are a Hardgainer

By Sal Di Stefano on Jul 23, 2019 10:05:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time


You find building muscle to be an almost impossible endeavor. You lift weights and take protein shakes, yet you gain muscle and strength at a SNAILS pace. Congratulations, you are a normal person. Building muscle is HARD for anyone. Your body does NOT want to build muscle unless it thinks it will truly benefit from doing so. Muscle is expensive tissue from a calorie perspective. In other words, your body will require more calories and energy every time it builds some new muscle. From an evolutionary standpoint this is a big gamble. The environment and the stimulus has to be perfect for your body to want to build muscle.

That all being said there are some REAL hardgainers out there. I have trained at least a dozen in my 20 years experience as a fitness professional. Hardgainers build muscle at an even slower rate than most people and require a larger calorie surplus than average people to do so. If you think you are a hardgainer try taking the following steps to see if you are a hardgainer or if you are just making excuses.

Track your food intake

9/10 times when someone comes up to me and tells me they simply can’t build muscle I always ask them how many calories they are eating. The conversation goes something like this:

Potential hardgainer: “I think I am a classic hardgainer. My body will not build muscle.”

Me: “How many calories and grams of proteins, fats and carbs do you eat?”

Potential hardgainer: “I don’t know but I know it’s a lot!”

Me: “Ok, so basically you have NO IDEA.”

See the problem? Studies have consistently demonstrated that people are usually WAY OFF when estimating their calorie intake let alone their macro breakdown. My advice is to start tracking your regular food intake NOW. Actually, see how many calories and grams of proteins, fats and carbs you are eating for a full week of normal eating. Now you have a baseline known as your maintenance. All you need to do now (in combination with a good workout) is add 500 calories to your total and make sure you are getting roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Do this for a full month and if you don’t gain any weight go up by another 500 calories. Real hardgainers tend to need to eat at least 1000 calories above their maintenance to see the scale move up.

Get strong at key lifts

The second thing I question hardgainers on is their strength on the key lifts. Barbell Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts and Barbell Overhead Presses. Often times they will tell me they either don’t do those lifts or, if they do, they tell me they don’t lift for maximal strength. Both answers tell me a lot about what they are doing wrong.

If you have a hard time packing on muscle mass and you don’t do the exercises I just listed, you are literally making your goal vastly more difficult to attain. Although all resistance training exercises have some potential to build muscle, they don’t all have the SAME potential. The big key barbell movements build muscle the BEST hands down. Far better than machines or other exercises.

Train the big lifts 2-3 times a week. Practice the big lifts and GET GOOD AT THEM. This means you will have to do them frequently. Don’t do the typical bodybuilder split where you hit each body part once a week. Its just not enough frequency to get you good at those really effective movements. Squat, deadlift and press at least 2-3 times a week EVERY WEEK.

Also, if you don’t train for maximal strength you are leaving your true muscle building potential untapped. Get strong and you will get bigger. Especially if you are a newer lifter. I recommend to anyone who is trying to build muscle to do at least 6 weeks a year on straight up heavy strength training in the 3-6 rep range. If you are a hardgainer I recommend at least 12 weeks. I have never met a skinny guy or girl who could lift impressive numbers.

The above tips work for ANYONE including hardgainers. Apply them and be consistent and be patient. An amazing and muscular body requires one thing above all else, patience.

Hardgainer Guide | Mind Pump

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Sal Di Stefano

Sal is one of the hosts of the Mind Pump Podcast. At the age of 18 his passion for the art and science of resistance training was so consuming that he decided to make it a profession and become a personal trainer. By 19 he was managing health clubs and by 22 he owned his own gym. After 17 years as a personal trainer he has dedicated himself to bringing science and TRUTH to the fitness industry.

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