Building muscle – the hard gainers guide.
Before we get into why you’re struggling to gain muscle, let’s define what a hard gainer is shall we?
In the bodybuilding circle, a hard gainer can usually be described as a person who practices bodybuilding but has an unusually hard time putting on muscle. Sometimes, 6-8 weeks of ‘hard’ training and a ‘meticulous’ diet can go by with no significant changes in muscle size….frustrating right?
But in most cases said person is missing the forest for the trees. And by that i mean, said person is usually missing the bigger picture, focussing on details instead of what they truly have a lot of control over.
An example of which could be concentrating too much on ‘rep tempo’ each session, without ever taking note on whether they are using progressive overload over a given time period.
Obviously the latter is a bigger determinant of muscle building, getting stronger over a period of time, rather than how slowly you can lower a weight per se.
So below i’ve highlighted some key aspects to work on if you feel your efforts in the gym are going to waste and i’ve expanded on them further down.
– Stop training Phil Heath.
– Start taking note of what you lift.
– Stop eating like a sparrow.
Ok, I can see how you would come to the conclusion that training like Phil Heath could be ‘optimal’ for muscle building. But come on, you’ve been trying that for a long time haven’t you? And even though you’re training ‘balls to the wall’, nothing is working.
As Albert Einstein said, insanity can be described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And that’s exactly what hard gainers quite often do. Follow a training plan over and over again that their favourite body builder uses, never stopping to think why things aren’t working, and usually putting their failures down to minute details such as;
– “Ohhh i’m resting too long between sets, thats the problem”
– “Ohh it’s because i need to be having whey isolate PWO instead of normal whey, that must be it”
– “Oh it must be because I’m overtraining, ill cut down on my training”
But in reality, the answer is so much more simple and usually staring at you in the face. You see, not everyone is genetically blessed and born with huge muscle building capabilities like Phil Heath. He could probably follow the worst training plan ever made and still grow way more muscle than you. Which is why you have to stack the cards in your favour.
Don’t get me wrong, i’m not giving you an excuse to use genetics as your reason to not building muscle, but the simple fact of the matter is they play a very large role in this sport and you cannot get away with making simple mistakes. So with that being said, take these points below into account.
1 – We know there is a very clear dose-response relationship between volume and hypertrophy.
Which means that you need to start keeping a track of total weekly volume guys.
Too many times i see people training ‘hard’ but they don’t even know if they lifted more in that session compared to the last. Your training plan ‘could’ be ok, but you’re shooting in the dark if you’re not recording what you do.
You NEED to know if you are improving even if that means you did one more rep, or you did one more set, you need to write this down. Your weekly volume should ideally be increasing over time, factoring in periods of sufficient recovery.
Essentially, if you’re not using the principle of progressive overload and recording what you lift each week, then you are simply hoping for the best. Which obviously is not working for you right now.
2 – Frequency of training matters too, not just volume.
The usually story is you train muscle groups only once per week, destroying them with a huge number of sets, hitting each muscle from different angles.
Sounds plausible and it’s what Phil Heath currently does, but quite often, the key here is that YOU personally might benefit from training muscle groups twice to three times per week.
I quite often ask people, do you think your chest would grow larger if you trained it 3 times per week or once, considering you recover between each session…and every time they answer with the latter. I mean, training is the stimulus for growth, so if we could train more often then we would grow at a quicker rate.
Check this study out https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932981 – which showed significantly greater increases in forearm flexor MT (muscle thickness) for TOTAL body routines compared with SPLIT body part routines. The findings suggest a potentially superior hypertrophic benefit to higher weekly resistance training frequencies. And the best part of this study was that it equated total volume! This was done to isolate the effects of training frequency on muscular adaptations – an essential strategy for determining causality of the study results.
So from this study, it could suggest if you’re finding it difficult to build muscle training groups once per week, maybe try splitting that volume over the week and train each muscle twice or three times per week.
3 – Total calories are important to building muscle not just protein.
Hard gainers quite often vastly overestimate how much they are actually eating in a day, or over the span of the week. They like to call themselves the big eaters, and tell their friends they eat ‘loads’ but cant gain weight.
Well, this is usually not the case. If they are eating ‘so much’, not gaining muscle, but at the same time, not gaining any body fat, then they are simply not in a surplus of calories. Which is needed in 90% of cases to build muscle.
You have to provide not only the proper training stimulus as discussed above, but also the building blocks for the new tissue…
This means not only sufficient protein as all bodybuilders jump to, but also sufficient calories and total energy. Muscle can’t be made from thin air. So if you’re eating less calories than you expend, then you are simply setting yourself up for failure. I mean, what will your body use to make new tissue??
So as a take away point here, you need to start tracking your food intake. For instance, if you start eating 3000kcal every day, week after week, and you still don’t gain any muscle, you simply add calories each day/week until you do!! Find the correct balance.
And there you have it. Apply all of the above and you should start to finally build that well earned muscle.
I’m not promising you anything here, but if you do apply all of the above, you will be in a much better position than if you weren’t.