The vast majority of the information produced by the fitness industry revolves around one main topic: how to lose weight/burn fat. It makes sense considering the fitness industry follows market demand. Most consumers of fitness information WANT fat loss and weight loss information because most people struggle with being overweight. This is fine (even though most of the information is garbage) if you are overweight but it SUCKS ROYALY if you are UNDERWEIGHT. If you are a hardgainer it can be hard to find information pertaining to the struggles that come with having a difficult time building muscle and gaining weight.
You eat lots of food and you lift weights and you STILL DON’T put on any size or gain weight. It feels IMPOSSIBLE. I understand what this feels like, and I am here to tell you there is a solution and it doesn’t involve taking anabolic steroids. In my two decades of experience as a personal trainer and strength coach I can attest that the VAST MAJORITY of people who claim to be hardgainers are not gaining muscle size and strength because they are making 3 big mistakes. When we fix those mistakes they all gain muscle and size like clockwork. These mistakes are actually extremely common.
Mistake Number 1: Not Eating Enough
In order to gain weight, you absolutely MUST consume more calories than you take in. You are probably frustrated just reading that last sentence because you think you already do eat a lot. Well it simply isn’t enough. Perhaps you have a fast metabolism. Maybe you are active all day from physical work or sports. Doesn’t matter, you aren’t eating enough to gain weight. I know how hard it can be for a hardgainer to eat enough food. When I was younger I felt like I was force feeding myself half the time. It wasn’t until a friend of the family who was BUILT LIKE A TRUCK told me point blank “eat more cause it ain’t enough.” At this point I realized I had to figure out ways to get in more quality calories without feeling like I was gagging. Here are some tips:
Eat in an order that will overcome palate fatigue. Palate fatigue is when your body simply doesn’t want to eat anymore of the same taste or flavor. Here is an example; you will likely be able to eat more calories in salty French fries than you can with plain baked potato. Much more. This is because French fries are more PALATABLE. This doesn’t mean you should eat French fries, I am just highlighting what palate fatigue is.
Eat the stuff you LEAST want to eat first and save what tastes the best for last. For me, this meant eating the proteins and veggies first and saving the starches for last. After I ate a big steak or chicken breast, I could always find room for rice or pasta or fruit. If I reversed the order I always ate less. This may be different for you. Find the order that overcomes palate fatigue best for yourself so that you can eat more.
Drink calories. If you aren’t intolerant to dairy, have a glass of whole milk in between meals. Make high calories smoothies for snacks. Drink organic juices with meals instead of water. Before bed have a high fat protein shake by adding in full fat coconut milk or dairy. You will find its EASY to add 500-1000 calories if you add high calorie drinks.
Don’t eat garbage food too often. I know this sounds counter intuitive since I just told you to eat more food, but hear me out. It’s true that highly processed “garbage” food like burgers and pizza are high in calories and they are EASY to eat. Its perfectly fine to eat them on rare occasion, but these foods simply aren’t good for you. They are especially harmful towards digestion. If your gut health is off with bloating, diarrhea or constipation your workouts will suffer and you won’t WANT to eat more. Worse yet, if your health starts to decline from a crappy diet, you can forget improving your strength or building muscle. Stick to mostly whole natural foods and eat a lot of them. This includes meats, poultry, fish, nuts, fruit, starches like potato and rice and full fat organic dairy (so long as you can tolerate it).
Mistake Number 2: Not Training for STRENGTH
Bodybuilding training is great and it does build muscle, but it won’t work great for a hardgainer like yourself until you have built a SOLID base of slow grinding STRENGTH. Most bodybuilders started their muscle building careers with good old-fashioned strength training. Once they got strong as hell they backed off the weight and focused on feel and the pump. This is largely because of injury prevention (at some point it becomes dangerous to push more weight).
If you are a skinny hardgainer, then your MAIN FOCUS should be to get strong at the major lifts. Train more like a powerlifter or strength athlete than a bodybuilder. Get strong at benching, squatting, deadlifting, rowing and overhead pressing. Forget all the other auxiliary exercises, pumping movements and machines.
Your routine should look basic and you should train those main lifts OFTEN. The best results I have ever seen with hardgainer clients was when I had them lift three days a week and they focused on those core movements with maybe some curls, calf raises, crunches and tricep press downs thrown in.
Add 30lbs to your bench, 50lbs to your squat and 70lbs to your deadlift while you are eating adequate calories and watch what happens. You won’t be disappointed.
Mistake Number 3: Not Working on MOBILITY
Yeah I know, the word mobility conjures up images of skinny yoga guys bending themselves into pretzels. Mobility doesn’t exactly naturally connect with hardgainers, but hear me out. Having good control and mobility can play a MAJOR role in how much muscle you can build.
First off let’s cover the obvious, you can’t train hard or train properly if you are injured. Sounds obvious, but I want you to take this seriously. Due to the nature of hardgainer training (heavy and hard) and the strength gains that come from combining it with a high calorie diet, injuries are COMMON. In fact, hardgainers tend to injure themselves more often than people who want to lose weight. Add 10-15lbs to a major lift without improving your control and mobility in proportion and your risk of injury skyrockets. Injure yourself and you can’t work out and muscle loss happens FAST when you are injured and not lifting. Especially for a hardgainer.
Second off let consider the following, longer ranges of motion build more muscle than shorter ranges of motion. A full squat is better than a half squat. A full press is better than a half press. This is true for most exercises and especially true of the big lifts. The key here, however, is that the longer ranges of motion MUST be under good control. If you simply go deeper on a squat WITHOUT owning that range of motion, it’s a matter of time before you hurt yourself. Proper mobility training and pre-workout priming (warm ups) not only allow you to go deeper and longer with your range of motion, but they help your body OWN the range of motion. As you get better at your reps and lifts you will be able to activate more muscle fibers and get better results PERIOD. Don’t make the mistake of building muscle and becoming a tight immobile person because you will limit your muscle building potential.
That’s it. If you are making those mistakes fix them now and your body should respond. If you want more detailed help with hardgainer solutions you can read my free guide on the subject here.