I first heard the term “hardgainer” around 2006 when I discovered the Anthony Ellis program, and immediately it rang true with me. A hardgainer is someone that is naturally skinny with a high metabolism that finds it very difficult to add any kind of weight, whether this is fat or muscle. As a kid and in my teens I was like a whippet; I seemingly had a superfast metabolism and could eat huge meals and not put on very much weight. I also trained really hard with weights, but my successes were limited. I remember being quite proud of my arms at one point as my biceps had started getting bigger, and when I showed my Grandad (who was a big man!) he said it looked like a knot in a string! He was only joking, but he was right! So when I heard this term “hargainer”, I thought that sums me up!
Looking back, I can say that I was dead wrong. I’m not a hardgainer at all, and if anything I seem to be able to put weight on relatively easily as you can see from my Weight Gain Diaries. Don’t get me wrong, I have to work very hard to achieve this but my limiting factor is not that I’m a hardgainer. So why did I think this? Looking back, the answer is really quite simple. I wasn’t educated enough in what I was doing and I was making crucial mistakes that were stopping me from growing. Here are just a few of them:
My muscle gain mistakes
My training was all wrong
I was super keen and motivated, and this was a problem in that I trained every day. I would end up working each muscle group 2 times per week, and my sessions would sometimes last over 90 minutes! I also failed to lift heavy enough, keeping my rep range quite high and mainly performing isolation moves instead of compound moves. In fact I was missing the key moves such as squats and dead lifts! I used to do a lot of arm curls trying to build my biceps with limited success. Now I only perform a really small amount of arm curls as a superset to blast my arms at the end of a back workout, and I’ve had a lot of growth in my arms. Most of this is likely coming from wide grip pull ups, barbell rows etc. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you need to follow a program specific to your goals.
I was doing too much cardio
On top of all the weight training I was doing, I was also doing a shed load of cardio exercises not just in the gym but also in recreational sports. This included kickboxing, running, squash and football which probably added up to over 12 hours+ of cardio per week! When trying to build muscle, you should really try and limit the amount of cardio you do.
My diet was all over the place
I thought I had quite a healthy diet, but really I had no idea what I was doing. I guessed everything, so I had no idea how many calories I was consuming per day (it was probably under 2,000 calories) and I was eating way too many carbs in the form of pasta. I was also distinctly lacking in protein apart from at dinner where I would have a chicken based meal. Also, I rather misguidedly tried to eliminate fats from my diet so my body didn’t have everything it needed to support growth. Now I measure/weigh just about everything and I plan my meals so I’m never left going hungry or missing a meal (or replacing it with junk food) and I record everything using MyFitnessPal on the iPhone.
Not enough rest
Aside from training so frequently, I also had a really unpredictable sleep cycle. I used to get by on 5-6 hours per night on average, and because of the way I worked I would occassionally do “all nighters” where I wouldn’t sleep for 24 hours which is crazy looking back on it. As a result my sleep patterns were really messed up and I wasn’t getting adequate rest to allow my body to repair itself.
I didn’t use any supplements
Although I don’t rely on supplements, they really do help. They are convenient, and can be an easy way of maintaining a high protein diet. Doing it without i.e. protein shakes means you have to eat a lot more meat, which can be inconvenient, expensive and means that you’re potentially eating a lot more fats etc that you don’t want. As for creatine, when I told people I was using this when I was at University people looked at me like I was using steroids! It was very frowned upon at the time because people didn’t know enough about it. Now I use a range of supplements to support my program.
So are you really a hardgainer?
It seems a lot of people are now saying they are a hardgainer, but bearing a few of the points above in mind, are you still sure that you’re a hardgainer or is there something missing that’s preventing you from achieving your weight gain goals. Assess what you are doing, and see if there are potentially any weak areas to your program.