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“I’m a Hardgainer”: No big deal… everyone’s a hardgainer when not training effectively

Any time before ten years ago, you’d have heard me utter the words “I’m a hardgainer” in the context of muscle building. As you might guess, I don’t say “I’m a hardgainer” anymore. Not only do I avoid such comments because they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies; I avoid that particular one because “I’m a hardgainer” is a statement that truly no longer applies to me. I used to struggle to gain muscle. Now I gain it steadily and predictably.

There’s a guy who trains at the same gym I do who repeatedly uses the statement “I’m a hardgainer” in describing himself and his frustration. In recently speaking with him, I discovered that he’s been at the muscle building pastime for about eight years. I hate to say it, but he appears to have never trained a day in his life. I know – those are harsh words, but it’s the truth. Granted, the man is in his fifties. But his body resembles what people describe these days as a “skinny fat person.”

One of these days, I’ll probably offer to train that guy. It would be a challenge, and very rewarding to eventually witness the “I’m a hardgainer” excuse as it vanishes from his vernacular. I know without a doubt that I could help make it disappear.

Let me explain my reasoning.

Dumbbell Concentration Curls
'Gaining Muscle vs. Gaining Weight': Don't allow a slender body to cause you to believe muscle growth will be more difficult for you. It's simply your unique starting point if you're underweight.


“I’m a Hardgainer”: Really… have you ever heard anyone claim they’re an “easy gainer?”

If you’re a naturally slender person (an ectomorph), you’ve probably already been conditioned to accept the words “I’m a hardgainer.” Even if you didn’t originate such a thought upon first glancing into the mirror and realizing you’re slenderer than most, some online ‘weight gain guru’ has probably convinced you of it by now. There are plenty of them, all telling you that they “feel your pain.” They’ll display pictures of themselves in early to mid-puberty to show you how skinny they were before they discovered their weight gaining secrets. Of course, you’re told to contrast those images with current pictures of them in their early to mid-twenties. Never mind that most guys are underweight in their teens and that they naturally fill out as they reach their early twenties; we’ll forgive the weight gain gurus for leaving out that vital detail from their stories. Just observe whether they’ve made appreciable muscle gains since they’ve undergone that boy-to-man transition and you’ll know if they’re as lost as everyone else.

And what if they are lost? Well, then their label for you as a “hardgainer” could easily be a misdiagnosis.

Think about this if you’ve ever uttered the “I’m a hardgainer” phrase… either aloud or in your self-dialogue:

Bench Pressing WorkoutThe place you’re starting has nothing to do with how quickly you make progress in your quest to improve your physique.

 If you’re slender, it only means that this is your unique starting point for gaining muscle. It doesn’t mean you’ll have any more difficulty gaining it than anyone else. Get that “It’s harder for me ‘coz I’m different” idea out of your head right now. It’s not true.

How do I know it’s not true?

I know it’s not because I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t think they’re a friggin’ hardgainer. Let’s get realistic; pro bodybuilders are loading themselves with stacks of pharmaceuticals in order to gain muscle. Overweight guys are having no easier time of gaining muscle than skinny guys. Mesomorphs (those blessed people) are getting off to an advantageous start, but that doesn’t mean their journey in gaining muscle size is any easier than yours.

Bottom line: Have you ever met anyone engaged in building muscle who says they’re an “easy gainer?”

“I’m a Hardgainer” are just code words for “I’m doing this ineffectively”

Like that guy at my gym, anybody will become a VERY hard gainer when approaching muscle building ineffectively. I’ve watched him train from a distance. He’s in the realm of “running east… looking for a sunset” when it comes to building muscle. That’s lost. And it’s a terrible place to be when emotionally invested in any endeavor for which we’re desirous of impactful results.

If I were his trainer, the first thing I’d do is inquire about every type of bodybuilding routine he’s tried in the past. I’d make a list saying…

“Okay, here are all the things that haven’t worked for you in the long run.”

I’d then contrast that stuff with some of the distinct techniques I personally use to get ongoing results. I’d show him how to perform each exercise for maximum targeting of the muscle being worked. I’d explain how he should use ‘micro-feedback’ from total weight volumes moved rather than getting fixated on dead weight being lifted on a “heaviest set.” I’d explain how time is related to volume and that he’ll not make progress without meaningful measurement of these parameters. I’d show him that he needs feedback among these parameters in the form of a written record, and how record-keeping can be so simple that it’s more pleasurable than just “winging it” through a workout. I would then show him how that feedback is what dictates his workout schedule; he’d no longer be brainwashed to think that he needs to work each muscle every week lest the tissue go shriveling away.

When he’s finished with using me as his trainer – he’ll no longer say “I’m a hardgainer” and his inspiration to build muscle for a lifetime will be kindled. What’s more, he’ll have the tools to keep fanning the flames of real motivation.


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