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If you’re a hardgainer, you know how hard it can be to put on muscle. However, just because it takes you longer than the average lifter, putting on size isn’t impossible. Here are 9 tips you can add to your routine to improve your muscle building efforts.
This is probably the last thing you wanted to hear as a hardgainer. However, patience is the most important recommendation you can adhere to. Since it’s going to take you longer to put on size than it is anyone else, that means you have to stick to one particular method or idea longer. Getting impatient and switching things up before they have a chance to work is only going to delay your results even further. Be patient and consistent.
It’s almost always better for a hardgainer to focus on strength than it is size. This is because strength improvements usually come more readily, more consistently, and are more easily measured. When you can see that more weight is being added to the bar or that you’re doing more reps than you could before, this will bolster your motivation and keep you sticking with your plan longer.
At the same time, with increased strength (as long as caloric intake is sufficient) will always eventually come increased muscle mass. Stick to getting stronger on almost exclusively compound, multi-joint barbell movements, and your body is going to end up getting bigger. Read up about the different types of strength training here.
Since you do want to focus on strength-based hypertrophy, don’t be afraid to take longer rest breaks between sets. This is the opposite of what bodybuilders usually like to do, but 3-5 minutes between top end heavy sets is the way better choice for the hardgainer. This not only ensures enough time to rest physically so as to be able to put in sufficient effort into your next set, but also greatly reduces the risk of overtraining the nervous system.
You know that to induce hypertrophy, you’re going to need to eat more. However, don’t make the mistake of eating too much. While your body needs the extra calories to put on muscle, since you naturally build size slower than normal, too many excess calories can end up turning to fat, instead. You’re better off increasing your calories by a small amount, gauging your progress, then increasing from there if it seems appropriate.
A good place to start would be to multiply your desired bodyweight in pounds by 13-15 to get daily caloric intake. Then multiply your desired bodyweight in pounds by .75 to get daily grams of protein. The rest of your calories can be split evenly between carbs and fats. This would mean the 175lbs guy that wants to weigh 200lbs should start off by taking in 2600-3000 calories and 150 grams of protein per day.
The only caveat is that you should cap off your numbers in 25lbs increments. So if you weighed 175lbs and wanted to get to 215lbs, start off with the 200lbs numbers listed and go from there. Once you gain to 195lbs, you can recalculate for 215lbs. You can also use our macronutrient calculator for a good starting point.
Often times a hardgainer will be afraid of having excess fat in their diet. The truth is that saturated fat is great for you and is something you shouldn’t stay away from. Saturated fat can help lubricate joints, improve and balance hormone levels, clear brain fog, and even provide energy. This is why once you have your daily protein intake on point, splitting your remaining calories evenly between carbs and fat is a better idea than keeping fat intake to a minimum.
One of the reasons why it takes you longer to build muscle is because your body doesn’t recover quickly and easily as others do. Ensure that you’re maximizing recovery by getting enough sleep, keeping stress low, going for a massage now and then, and so on.
The flip side of the recovery coin, doing too many exercises for too much overall volume usually stalls the hardgainer trying to put on size. If you’re focusing on strength-based hypertrophy with multi-joint, compound exercises as recommended above, you don’t need a bunch of extra isolation work. Let the big strength movements do the work for reps of 6-8 and sets of 3-4. These can be exercises like the squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press etc. When you see progress you can start adding in isolation exercises to better shape your body.
Staying hydrated is critical to keeping the body running optimally. Since you build muscle slower than normal, you need to make sure every process the body goes through to repair, recuperate, and grow is running as efficiently as possible. Drinking a gallon of water per day can flush toxins from the body, support digestion, and even minimize the risk of getting cramps while training.
You want as much of your body’s recuperation and repair processes going to hypertrophy as you can. This means you don’t want to do excess cardio as this will take away from strength and size-building for the hardgainer. Walking or light jogging for 30+- minutes, 2-3x/week can be good to build some aerobic capability and boost recovery, but don’t do any more than that.
Just because you’re a hardgainer, that doesn’t mean all is lost or that you should give up on your size-building goals. Know that it can take a little longer, but consistently getting stronger coupled with the right diet and proper recovery will have you putting on the muscle you want. Just be patient and stay in it for the long haul. If you enjoyed this article, check out our write up on how to build muscle fast.