A hard gainer is someone who has trouble putting on muscle.
If you’re a hard gainer you have probably tried “everything” but just can’t seem to build muscle.
You have tried different training programs, different rep ranges, different exercises.
Or maybe you have tried many different diet protocols.
Some work for a bit and some work better than others but you just can’t seem to build any substantial amount of muscle.
I am sharing this because I was there once. I thought I was a hard gainer.
Here I am when I was a few years into training and felt like I was a hard gainer:
Here I am now years later:
But really it came down to me not understanding how muscle growth worked and trying to worry about things that actually didn’t matter.
Since then I have dedicated an enormous amount of time working with clients, getting data on myself, and learning the ins and outs of building muscle.
Because of this, I have really dialed in what the biggest limiting factors are in terms of muscle growth and why some people just can’t.
First, it’s important to go over why it can be tough to build muscle.
Muscle falls low on the priority list.
It costs a lot of energy to build and maintain.
Our bodies evolved needing to be efficient with its energy, and muscle just isn’t worth it except for what you need to do for your activities each day.
Things like your brain and other vital organs/bodily functions are more important and get preference over muscle.
This is why as you become sedentary or stop lifting weights you will lose muscle because your body sees that you don’t need it.
Or this is why if you don’t overload OR have poor nutrition you will build muscle initially, but then it slows down and you have to be more dialed in with things in order to build more.
In today’s environment having muscle is extremely helpful because of its energy costs.
But your body will only build as much muscle as it deems useful.
So in order to build muscle, you need to do things that tell the body you need more of it and that’s it’s ok to build more/maintain your current level of muscle.
With this understanding….
In my experience with online clients, talking to potential clients, tracking data on myself, and the countless hours I have spent studying the subject here are the typical traits of hard gainers.
➡️Not consistent with training
Either you program hop or one week you go to the gym 6 times, then 3, then 0, then 6, then 4, etc.
You are all over the place. Building muscle takes time and consistent training.
In your mind you are consistent, but these little details add up when you actually think about how consistent you are with training.
If you think you are a hard gainer, you probably dont have the best genetics for muscle growth, this doesnt mean your genetics are bad, it just means you have to be a little more dialed in with things to see results.
And missing some workouts here and there is a big problem that adds up over time.
You dont have to lift 6 days a week, you can easily do 4 a week and see great muscle growth.
So long as things like intensity are there.
If you think you are a hard gainer, make sure you are consistent day over day, week over week, month over month.
Not just one day or one week, or one month.
➡️Not consistent with nutrition
This is pretty much the same as with training.
4 days out of the week you eat in a surplus and then 3 days you are in a deficit.
You go off of how you feel and naturally your body likes to stay somewhat on the leaner side so you actually end up never being in a surplus, which makes building muscle tough, especially if you feel like you are a hard gainer.
For example, someone will have a big meal and then think they are in a surplus, but then the rest of the day they skip meals.
Or the example from above they have one day where they eat in a surplus, then take it easy the next day.
Just like with training, you need consistent nutrition to build muscle.
With online clients and myself, I still like to track nutrition even when in a muscle gaining phase.
You might be thinking “ugh tracking is a pain” and I agree with you, but if you are stuck and have been trying everything but want to improve, then you need to do things you aren’t comfortable with or haven’t done before.
➡️Very active outside of the gym
Activity is great, but too much outside of weight lifting can hurt muscle growth, especially if your body naturally doesnt like to build more muscle.
This is especially true if nutrition isn’t on point and you aren’t eating the amount of food you need to for how active you are.
Most people who have trouble putting on muscle/weight usually have body types that naturally will stay lean if you give it any reason to.
High levels of physical activity tell your body that it needs to be resourceful with the energy you give it, and muscle just isn’t high on the priority list.
So if you aren’t eating enough regularly and doing a lot outside of the gym this is probably why you are having trouble putting on muscle.
You either need to:
- Find ways to eat more regularly.
- Or decrease activity outside of the gym
- OR a combo of both.
➡️Training volume too low
Volume is a big driver of building muscle. If you dont do enough you may not build as much muscle if you were doing higher volumes. Now too much can be an issue too, especially if recovery isn’t on point.
But chances are you focus too much on strength training and you end up not doing enough training volume to build muscle.
Strength training would be training in the 1-5 rep range. This training can be good from time to time, but if it makes up the bulk of your training then it’s going to be suboptimal for muscle growth.
This type of training is very fatiguing on the body and really stresses joints and tendons, and because of this, you can’t do as much volume. Or if you do try to do enough volume you end up getting hurt or having to take time off of training.
➡️Tries to eat “clean” all of the time
Let’s be honest, you want to get jacked, but you also want to stay shredded all year long.
Because of this, you eat only “clean” food year-round. You are afraid to eat calorie-dense foods because you think they will just pack on loads of fat.
But these types of foods are needed to help you eat enough calories so your body can be comfortable with putting on muscle.
Try incorporating some more tasty foods into your diet if you are having trouble putting on weight or muscle. Your body will thank you.
As you can tell it comes down to a few things:
- Too much activity.
- Not enough food consistently.
- Suboptimal training methods.
Maybe your genetics make building muscle tougher, but if that’s your mindset going into it you WILL make this process even tougher than it needs to be.
If you need more guidance or structure around this process fill out the form HERE and lets see if you would b a good fit for 1:1 online coaching.