So you think you’re a hardgainer?

Article by seungmena aka Big Les – MuscleTalk Moderator

Hardgainer is one of those terms that is used quite a lot it seems, especially at the end of January. In my gym the so called hardgainers are gravitating towards each other or the way out, after a month of attending the gym and some reading round the subject they are convinced they are ‘hardgainers’, and that anyone with a decent physique is on enough steroids to open a pharmacy. Of course neither is the case.


On both counts they are completely wrong. However, how do you know if you are a ‘hardgainer’ then? It’s one of those almost impossible to define terms, it can be so loose as to include Ronnie Coleman, and so precise as to apply to virtually no one. In this article I am going to look at the phenomenon of the hardgainer slightly differently. All you have to do is answer the following questions accurately and honestly, and then you can see if you really are a hardgainer or not.


What you provide your body by way of fuel makes a huge impact on the progress you make and the type of physique you develop. It stands to reason; food provides the raw materials from which your body is built. As someone looking to develop a lean muscular physique the onus is on you to provide premium quality fuel and materials.

So have you been putting in premium grade fuel? Or is it merely the case that you would lose an eating contest with an anorexic mouse? Are you getting at least six top quality feeds a day, that provide no less than 1.5g of protein per lb of lean mass (or bodyweight); backed up with carbohydrates that provide a steady and sustained release of energy throughout the day; supported by a healthy mix of fruit and vegetables; in a diet that provides you with plenty of the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids; as well as vitamins and minerals that a you need?

Do you know how to do this properly?

Truthfully? Or is it a case that many meals are powder, ready meals, or just plain refined and processed garbage masquerading as nutrients? Do you justify skipping meals, as well as eating and drinking empty calories to yourself and others?

The simple fact is that many trainers do not put in either enough fuel or the right type of fuel to build a physique of any muscular mass, their diets are deficient, and often resemble little more than a fad diet or three square meals plus a protein shake of some sort in between. A few more think that bodybuilders exist via pills and powders and that food itself is of secondary importance and their diets seem to serve only to keep supplement companies in business. Ask yourself honestly: is your diet up to the job?


The fun bit for most people is the lifting. Here the pitfalls are huge, from well intentioned but counter-productive full body routines, to mix and match splits lifted from various magazines, to the plain crazy inventions of trainers, staff writers and so-called professionals, or the body part specific page fillers that have multiplied faster than many bacteria.

Ask yourself: have you tried any properly structured routines, and if so, is that routine really appropriate? There are many systems, too many to mention from the infamous DC System used by professional Dave Henry, to the High Intensity methods of Dorian Yates or Mike Mentzer, to the volume approaches of most successful pros and amateurs. Have you researched these; have you made sure they are appropriate to your level of experience; and have you tried them?

Did you take the time to learn proper form and groove technique before you tried to shift as much poundage as you could? Do you and your workout buddy get two body parts trained per session (the one being trained and the ones used to help the other one move the damn weight!)? Have you actually been in the free weights section yet?

The point is this, successful regimes that build muscle and strength are based around the same basics, whatever their ultimate goal. That is compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, bench presses and so on, emphasise the use of free weights with machine work added only to compliment the core exercises.

Technique and form are crucially important and should never be sacrificed simply to lift more; muscles can only feel resistance, they cannot read the numbers. 10kg can be made to feel like 30kg, and 30kg to feel like 10 – all depending on how you lift it! These regimes use splits, so that the body is worked over a number of days in order for each muscle to be stimulated, not annihilated and to give the body time to repair and grow both in terms of muscle and in terms of the support systems, such as your immune and central nervous systems.

Once you have the routine nailed in terms of emphasising the most productive exercises with proper form. How do you lift? Do you approach each working set ready to push yourself to the limit? Intensity does not mean screaming out load on every rep; it is focussing 100% on the job in hand, and not quitting until you have nothing left to give. Or is your trip to the gym more akin to a social occasion, where getting your pristine sports gear so much as damp with sweat would constitute a crime against humanity?

Too many trainers, lift with the passion and intensity of a toddler doing quantum mechanics, their focus drifts easily, and they barely seem interested in the lifting at all!

Which trainer are you? 100% focus, each set ending with you almost collapsing as you struggle to get enough air into your lungs after the all out effort you gave, and who works out with an obvious passion and enjoyment of the process? Or do you go to the gym to hang out and lift something while you are there? Lean muscular physiques are not built at social gatherings!


Simply put, are you asking too much of your body? Do you get up super early, rush to your super stressful job, dash to the gym, dash home before dashing out till late? Do you burn the candle at both ends in some other way sacrificing sleep night after night? Is your personal life a drama that makes TV soaps seem dull and lifeless? These things all have an impact on the progress you can make. Run yourself ragged outside the gym and your performance in it and the physique you get will reflect that.

Sleep is crucial; if you don’t get enough, or don’t get quality sleep and you are going nowhere. You may read that you need at least 10 hours sleep every night. I don’t really follow this, but what you do need is enough for you. For me, that’s 6½-7 hours, for my wife it’s 9-10 hours. I wake up and look at the alarm clock just as it goes off, this tells me I am in a good cycle sleep wise, when I am roused from a deep slumber and am groggy as heck, then I know I’m off. If I need an early night I get one, and I try and have one day per week when I can sleep for as long as I like. The point is you need quality rest to make progress.


Short and sweet – are supplements the crucial cornerstone holding up your bodybuilding efforts, or do you see them as the crucial elements that unlock progress? Unfortunately neither should be the case. Supplements are just that, they are tools to help; nothing more, nothing less. Part of the trainer’s arsenal to achieve growth and strength, yes. But it’s more than possible to get there without them, lean too heavily on them and you will be disappointed.

To conclude…

Are you a hardgainer then? Have you got your diet nailed; is your routine sound and do you train with 100% focus and intensity? Really? If the answer is no in anyway, or no to any small element, then until that is right you cannot even contemplate labelling yourself a hardgainer.

Okay your diet is right, training spot on, and still nothing. How long have you tried this combination? A month? Six? A year? How many times have you changed things to encourage growth and progress? How many different tactics have you tried with 100% dedication and commitment? One? Two? Have you tried professional guidance?

The fact of the matter is, until you try over a period of years a number of different methodologies, diet strategies – composed both by yourself and knowledgeable trainers and nutritional advisors – you cannot call yourself a ‘hardgainer’.

Many bodybuilders have plodded along slowly, until they have found the right combination of diet, training and rest. Personally, it was 18 months of nothing, and comments like “I thought you were working out”, and then finally something started to happen; even then it was slowly.

That was 12 years ago and I am still learning and still making changes along the way. And I have hit plateaus, gone backwards, had setbacks and made great strides forward. But at no point could I call myself a hardgainer because I knew there were still lots of things I hadn’t done to achieve my goal.

A final thought… before you call yourself a hardgainer give yourself a chance to be a bodybuilder.

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