Muscle Growth, Hardgainers

I Have a Hard Time Putting on Muscle - What Should I do?

By Joe Talarico on May 14, 2020 10:39:53 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time


There are a whole host of reasons people struggle putting on muscle. Over the course of the next couple weeks, I’ll be going through each of them individually, so that I can get a little more in depth. So be on the lookout for those articles as they come up.

For today, I’d like to focus on - Progression

Too many novice and intermediate lifters of all sizes get stuck on the same weights. There can be a whole host of reasons why, but at the end of the day they all have the same answer. You need to progress. Most times it is usually due to the fact that: 

1. They focus on smaller muscle groups and machines (can also turn into excess volume), and never work towards heavy weight they can push under a barbell.

2. They get TOO meticulous on form and never allow themselves a period to push past it.

Yes form should be in check, but there should be a heavier strength phase where you are using heavier reps in a 2-6 rep range. While some momentum may kick in, you should still be able to overall target the main muscle. Make sure you are staying 1-2 reps shy of failure.

But how do you know if you’re progressing? 

Are you tracking a single thing when it comes to your workout? Some guys may get away with not having to track and still making progress. But guess what? They probably aren’t struggling to put on weight! YOU are. If your car wasn’t working properly would you diagnose what is going wrong, or just guess and hope you’re right?

Start tracking down each workout. There are plenty of options of where to keep a log of your workouts so choose one. You need to be able to see week to week, are you making progression in some form: 

  • 5lbs more than week before
  • More reps than the week before
  • More sets than the week before

I realize a high strength number doesn’t EXACTLY correlate with bigger guys. Some individuals just have the ability to recruit more muscle fibers than others. But seeing our strength, and weight go up, are our only indicators available to track growth, aside from paying to get our body fat tested every week. After all, I don’t know many skinny guys who are properly deadlifting 450lbs+, squatting 350lbs+, or benching 315lbs+. If you aren’t hitting close to these numbers, you have no excuse for those that claim they are “strong” but just don’t add size easily.

The Solution:

If you want your muscle to be BIGGER than the week before, than you need to be DOING more than the week before. The weight or volume NEEDS to go up. I think the other big reason is, a lot of hardgainers don’t understand or appreciate the other forms of progress. They think the only thing they can focus on is adding 5lbs every week. That just wouldn’t be possible, otherwise we’d all have 1,000lb deadlifts by now. We are going to hit more than one plateau throughout our journey, and we need to have a plan of getting past them (other than just increasing weight and breaking down in form), if we are going to continue the growth trend upward. I really like linear progression, and double progression for all ranges of lifter experience. Here are explanations of examples of each:

Linear Progression (better for lifters < 3+ years proper lifting) -
Each week lower the rep by 1-2, and increase the weight 2.5-5lbs. Basically the traditional way you are probably used to, although bringing the rep down a little, can help further that progress.

Week 1 - Bench Press 3x10 with 135lbs

Week 2 - Bench Press 3x8 with 140lbs

Week 3 - Bench Press 3x6 with 145lbs

Double Progression (better for lifters > 3-4+ years) - Take a rep range for a given exercise in a set, and each week, try and increase the reps until all sets hit the upper limit. It allows for continued progress, when you can’t continually up the weight by 5lbs every week using the linear method. I really like making this the focus of my programs when I really hit some sticking points. It allows me to focus on the quality of the set vs just upping the weight.

Week 1 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (let's say you hit 12,11,10 reps for each set)

Week 2 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,11)

Week 3 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,12)

At this point since you’ve hit all sets for the upper end, you can now up to 140 and repeat the cycle till you hit all sets for 12 reps again.

Realize that with double progression, that is STILL progress! Just because you didn’t go up in weight and only added a rep or two, that is still a step forward. As we get further along in our lifting careers, the gains are going to slow down, and what we’ll need to do to achieve those gains will be more precise. Adding a rep or two to each set, while small in the short term, are big volume increases in the long run, which is a big factor for stimulating growth.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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