Think of this program as a slingshot, but not a long-term plan. The principles within can be used forever, but this is just the first step in making career gains in the next 30 days for the ectomorph.
- What Is "Hardgainer"? Considering the increased amount of fruitless results in the gym, it appears to be a mix of poor training, nutrition and genetics. Although no direct etiology is found.
- Do I Have "Hardgainer"? Perhaps. It's hard to tell at this point, but with proper nutrition principles and exercise prescription most signs point to no.
- Can I Catch "Hardgainer" From A Friend? Yes. In fact, it seems to travel in packs of men influenced by faux-workouts printed in popular press magazines with empty promises.
- How Do I Avoid Others With "Hardgainer"? You'll be deprived of the exact equation, but a standard assumption is anything under a tight large T-shirt for males taller than 5-foot-9.
Recognizing deception is key, especially in the lay population (i.e. cutting sleeves off a T-shirt from a youth baseball league 10 years ago so it appears tight and they large). Early detection is the key to prevention.
The Best Strength Training Program
The primary goal of this phase is to introduce proper tension, volume, and intensity over the course of the month to allow for the most rapid strength gains without inhibiting recovery.
The best strength training program for the hardgainer is surprisingly a full body workout 3 times per week, or an upper/lower split each done 2 times per week. Why? With typical bodybuilding programs you need to use multiple exercises to induce hypertrophy in the muscle.
Isolation exercises in intermediate to advanced bodybuilders can create a lot of muscle breakdown (and subsequent amino acid uptake by the muscles).
In the amateur lifter who lacks muscle mass, less total volume is needed to get the same relative amount of breakdown. Not to mention, isolation exercises in the beginner are done with such insignificant weight it's common sense to stick with heavier exercises.
The 3-day full body program is rather difficult for many to digest. We've been bred to think that more is better. But more isn't better. Better is better. For someone struggling to gain mass, a different approach must be taken. Allow me to explain the benefits of a 3-day program.
A 5-day per week body part split only gives us 4 opportunities to hit each muscle group for the month (once per week). With a full body split we have 12 growth opportunities (3 per week) over same period and an upper/lower split, 8 (2 per week).
With a high metabolism, more time is better spent out of the gym. Exercise causes an increase in energy expenditure and, in terms of gaining muscle, can only be countered by increased food intake.
To my way of thinking, 12 growth opportunities without too much of an increase in metabolism is a phenomenal way to ignite muscle growth.
We know that muscle is built outside the gym, so prioritize rest. Couple this with the fact that Rhea and colleagues (2003) found 3 times per week training to be best for beginners.
So given a 3 day split, the next step is to use daily undulating periodization. Coach Alwyn Cosgrove likes this method for a one reason: it works.
It has been shown by, again, Rhea and colleagues (2002) to be better for strength gains. This brings us to a 3-day per week full body program with a rotating rep scheme for maximal hypertrophy gains over the next 4 weeks.
You may have expected the next high volume program packed with tons and tons of exercises and workouts over the next 30 days, but this isn't it. Evidence based knowledge is going to prove superior if you do two things:
- Train hard
- Believe in the program
You'll notice I've selected 3 tempos for this phase: slow, controlled and fast. The only thing you need to be counting during a set is the number of reps. If you know what tempo is prescribed you can easily adjust the rhythm of each rep to roughly match it close enough.
Tempos are one variable guys look at on a program, but never pay much attention to. Let me tell you this is critical to increasing the time under tension - which will ultimately influence the quantity of muscle growth.
A slow tempo should come out to roughly a 4-5 second rep. A controlled tempo is a 2-4 second rep and a fast rep is a typical just-lift-the-dang-bar pace.
The concentric, or exertion, portion of every lift shouldn't be controlled. When you accelerate a weight fast, or attempt to, you increase the amount of force the muscle is producing. This will help increase the growth response. With tempos, only tweak the eccentric (lowering) or pause at the bottom.
- Day 1 (Monday): 5 x 5 reps, slow tempo, 120 sec. rest
- Day 3 (Wednesday): 4 x 10 reps, controlled tempo, 90 sec. rest
- Day 5 (Friday): 3 x 15 reps, controlled tempo, 60 sec. rest
- Day 8 (Monday): 2 x 20 reps, fast tempo, 30 sec. rest
- Day 10 (Wednesday): 5 x 5 reps, slow tempo, 120 sec. rest
- Day 12 (Friday): 4 x 10 reps, controlled tempo, 90 sec. rest
- Day 15 (Monday): 3 x 15 reps, controlled tempo, 60 sec. rest
- Day 17 (Wednesday): 2 x 20 reps, fast tempo, 30 sec. rest
- Day 19 (Friday): 5 x 5 reps, slow tempo, 120 sec. rest
- Day 22 (Monday): 4 x 10 reps, controlled tempo, 90 sec. rest
- Day 24 (Wednesday): 3 x 15 reps, controlled tempo, 60 sec. rest
- Day 26 (Friday): 2 x 20 reps, fast tempo, 30 sec. rest
- Day 29 (Repeat): repeat reps, repeat tempo, repeat rest
During this 30-day period, each workout will have a different rep range each week, and it will repeat on the 29th day, carrying into day 60 and beyond.
Muscle-gaining nutrition is still a source of contention for many. I'm guilty of taking a simplistic approach to gaining mass. Some may disagree with me, but I am a fan of liquid nutrition for gaining mass.
Liquid nutrition does two things I like: it's easy to "sneak" a lot of calories into a drink and it's never as filling as whole food (8oz steak, 6 oz sweet potato, and a vegetable).
For the hardgainer, I prefer a higher carbohydrate diet due to some hormonal factors (higher catecholamines, thyroid, etc) and it helps keep protein from getting too high. High protein diets are used often when leaning out to increase metabolic rate, something we want to control when trying to "out-eat" your metabolic machinery.
A protein and carbohydrate blended protein powder works well when making drinks throughout the day and best in a ratio of at least 2g carbs to 1g protein. Beverly International Mass Maker is one of my all time favorites but I've blended a pure carbohydrate with a whey protein isolate more often than not.
My choice is to either eat 4 food meals and 3 shakes, or 3 food meals with 4 shakes. My preference is really neither because my decision usually depends on how busy I am running around on a given day. Generally the busier, the more shakes make their way into my diet.
I've done everything from grinding oats to adding way too much olive oil to my shakes in the past. My stomach has been through the gauntlet as my personal laboratory.
This is largely why I prefer powders now. You should strive to have a minimum of 500 calories per shake through additions like skim milk, heavy cream, peanut butter, or carbohydrates. With 7 meals per day at roughly 500 calories per pop you'll be in the ballpark of 3500+ calories. This should be sufficient for growth.
Of course your whole food meals should consist of 30-40g protein and 40-50g carbohydrates as slow digesting, low glycemic options. With ample amounts of fat you should easily hit 500 calories per meal.
While the advice contained here is far from sexy, it's what I'd bet on. This type of routine is tried and true, backed by research and real-world success, and will help you gain the maximum amount of mass if you give it your all the next 30, 60, 90 days and beyond.