Building muscle seems like a simple of enough process - overload the body in the gym, rest so the body can rebuild itself, and eat more food than you need to generate new body tissue. But for the 'hardgainer', it can often seem like even though these actions are being carried out, results are not following.
The term hardgainer is often used to describe someone that is just that. Hard - gainer. For them, gaining muscle seems incredibly difficult and despite their best efforts in the gym, they just cannot seem to get the results they are looking for.
Hardgainers need to keep a few extra points in mind to ensure their time in the gym is well spent and they are getting the results they deserve. Here's what you need to know.
The very first mistake that almost all hardgainers make is doing too much volume. They see that they are not growing and the first thing they do is go and add more volume to their program, rather than less.
The big thing to keep in mind here is that hardgainers have a limited capacity for recovery - typically lower than that of a normal trainee's. Therefore, if you aren't gaining muscle and you just go add more work, that's more that you're not recovering from. Essentially it's like taking one step backwards instead of one step forward.
The next adjustment you should make to your training program is to try to remove all the isolation exercises if possible. Since, as just discussed, you have that limited recovery capacity, you want to spend all your reserves on exercises that are going to offer the most 'bang for your buck'. A biceps curl is not that. A heavy row however, is.
Focus on exercises that allow you to stimulate the greatest number of muscle fibers at once, while also allowing you to lift as heavy of a weight as possible.
Third, watch the volume of cardio training you do. Again, going back to your recovery, if you attempt to do four weight workouts a week, and then go and add another three or four cardio sessions, that isn't giving you much time at all to recover.
For the hardgainer, two to three easy cardio sessions (a brisk walk or a light jog) is more than enough to maintain cardiovascular health, enhance hunger, and increase the blood flow to the muscles to deliver all the necessary nutrients. Any more than this and you're simply working against yourself.
Also, bear in mind that cardio burns calories. The hardgainer's mission is to take in as many calories as possible, so again, if you add in extra cardio you're just going to have to work even harder to see results.
Another very important lifestyle adjustment the hardgainer needs to make is removing as many of the outside life stressors as possible. Since stress tends to make us release higher volumes of a hormone that is catabolic, it's vital you do what you can to control this.
High levels of this hormone will put the body in a catabolic state (tissue breakdown), and your aim is to be in an anabolic state (tissue building).
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On the diet side of things, the biggest thing the hardgainer wants to focus on is eating as many calorie dense foods as possible. While regular individuals may be cooking oats for breakfast, you should be eating the oats cold with milk (this will be more calorie dense for the volume eaten).
Likewise, other individuals may be able to have four to five servings of vegetables each day; you'll be better off drinking V8 to help get in extra nutrition, while limiting yourself to two or three servings of vegetables each day.
The basic mantra the hardgainer needs to focus on is getting more and more calories each day. You must do this until you start gaining weight. Until you get your calorie intake high enough for your body to start generating new muscle tissue, you aren't going to gain weight regardless of what you're doing in the gym.
It's hard to say exactly how many calories this will take. For some individuals it may take 4000 calories, for others, 5000. You'll have to just keep adding more and more calories until you start gaining at an appreciable rate. Then hold that intake constant until you stop gaining, rising it up again when that situation arises.
Finally, to add to that point, the hardgainer should seriously consider supplementing with some liquid shakes. It's going to be hard to reach very high calorie intakes eating solid food itself, unless you're really eating a high amount of nuts, red meat, and dried fruit (which are some of the most calorie dense foods available).
Generally speaking, the body doesn't register liquid calories quite the same way it does solid calories with regards to satiety, so you'll be able to squeeze in extra calories each day if you include a few shakes.
Consider some of the commercial weight gainer products out there if that makes your life easier, or create one of your own. Simply throwing together some protein powder, raw oats, frozen fruit, cottage cheese or yogurt, and peanut butter will provide a well balanced shake that hits all three macronutrients.
So, keep all of these points in mind. Hardgainer's do need to approach their training differently, but they certainly can have great success if they clearly understand what they need to be doing and implement these changes accordingly.