Are You a Hard Gainer who Craves Gains in Muscle & Strength?
"Does hard-gainer-style training really work?" you may ask. That's what Chuck Miller asked nearly 30 years ago when he was looking for a much more effective and time-efficient way of training than the mainstream/conventional one. Then, in 1991, he came across Stuart McRobert's HARDGAINER print magazine and his book BRAWN. Chuck put the hard-gainer-style training into practice, and the above photograph shows the results. Chuck is a lifetime drug-free trainee.
If your training isn’t working, and provided you’re taking your workouts seriously, you’re almost certainly a hard gainer.
All drug-free women are hard gainers, but some are harder gainers than others.
Nearly all drug-free men are hard gainers, but some are harder gainers than others.
Doing more of what didn’t help you over the last few months isn’t going to help you over the next few months.
Stop wasting workouts!
It’s time to try a different approach.
“What’s the deal with the ‘hard-gainer’ label?”
What I’ve done from my earliest published work, in 1981, is to differentiate between the mainstream (or conventional) training methods that work for modern-day bodybuilding “champions”—high volume, and four or more workouts per week—and the training methods that work for drug-free, genetically “normal” bodybuilders and lifters.
I wanted a term that would identify the drug-free, genetically normal trainee. It already existed—“hard gainer” or “hardgainer”—but it needed a new lease on life.
Especially since 1989, when I started publishing and editing HARDGAINER print magazine, I’ve done much to publicize that term, to target the training population that mainstream bodybuilding and strength training neglect.
If you’re drug-free and genetically typical for building muscle and strength, or genetically disadvantaged, you’re a hard gainer, and incapable of progressing well (if at all) on mainstream training methods other than, perhaps, during your first few months of training.
“How do I know whether I’m a hard gainer?” you may ask
Answer: Never mind the newbie gains during your first few months of training. Such progress is common among most serious trainees from almost any safe method of strength training. It’s what happens next that identifies your “gaining status” for building muscle and strength.
Beyond the newbie gains, if you persist with mainstream training instruction and really give it your all yet make little or no gains, you’re a hard gainer.
When hard gainers apply mainstream training methods after the initial short period of newbie gains, they commonly become “impossible gainers.”
Conversely, if you gain really well on mainstream training methods for two consecutive years, and utterly transform your physique (including building muscular arms of at least around 17 inches), be grateful and thank your parents. You’re blessed with exceptional genetics for building muscle and strength and are an “easy gainer.” (A true hard gainer would be able to gain only during the first few months of mainstream training, albeit usually only very modestly.)
But if you’re a hard gainer and acknowledge it, and thereafter train in a way that’s appropriate for hard gainers, you’ll make good progress. Perhaps excellent progress.
And that’s when the term “hard gainer” is useful: to help identify training methods that really work for drug-free, genetically typical trainees.
Although I’m interested only in training methods that work for drug-free, genetically typical or disadvantaged trainees, those methods work even better for the genetically blessed and/or the drug-enhanced.
The training methods I promote are more effective and time-efficient than conventional methods for all categories of trainees.
Genetic outliers who are drug-enhanced can be turned into muscle-and-strength freak shows by the methods I promote.
I don’t support the use of bodybuilding drugs, though. Good health is the number one priority.
Hard gainers and normal gainers
Most hard gainers are actually normal gainers because most people have normal (or typical, or average) genetics for building muscle and strength, although there’s a range of normal “gainability” potential. And most trainees don’t use bodybuilding drugs.
The misinterpretation of the term “hard gainer”
Some trainees use their self-determined hard-gainer status as a scapegoat for their poor progress. But the primary culprit is usually that they don’t properly apply themselves to their training and recovery for long enough.
While some trainees have much greater drug-free potential for building muscle and might than others, everyone can improve, and most can improve a great deal. But they must set about the task properly.
Some trainees who were initially self-assessed as hard gainers or even “impossible gainers,” because of how poorly they responded to conventional training methods, went on to achieve astonishing progress without drugs. But they trained on routines that were appropriate for them.
“Aren’t you the genetics-really-matter guy?”
Bodybuilders and strength trainees vary in their strength- and muscle-building capabilities, in part because of their genetics and in part because of how they train and recuperate.
On the one hand, genetic factors are hugely influential, but on the other hand, they don’t matter. Let me explain.
Only a very small percentage of trainees inherited outstanding genetics for bodybuilding and strength training, so the chances are that you’re not one of them. And some of them compound their genetic advantages with drug use, to become super-duper easy gainers provided they train and recuperate adequately. They have a potential for muscle and might that’s way beyond what’s possible for genetically normal, drug-free trainees.
Never mind how drug-assisted genetic studs train. That way won’t work for you.
Most trainees have normal or average genetics for building muscle and strength, but some have disadvantaged genetics.
So, genetic factors are hugely influential.
For example, some trainees have short muscle bellies, low numbers of muscle fibers, hormonal shortcomings, structural configuration disadvantages, and a history of injuries that make exercise selection tricky, all of which combine to make muscle-building especially challenging.
As a result, a very small number of trainees are extreme hard gainers, or near-zero responders. The recommendations that work for most hard gainers may not work for them. So they should experiment with more radical variations of what I teach, to have a good chance of making progress.
When genetics don’t matter
Whether you’re tall or short, lanky or stocky, have a predisposition for being fat or being skinny, have long muscle bellies or short ones, have a heavy bone structure or a spindly one, have fantastic leverages for squatting or mediocre ones, have tremendous potential for muscle growth or just normal potential, have high calves or full calves, or whatever other genetically determined feature you want to mention, you can’t change your heredity.
So, from that point of view, your genetics don’t matter.
The training approach I promote works for all trainees, regardless of where on the spectrum of “gainingness,” “gainability” or “responsiveness” the individuals are. But some trainees are more responsive than others.
Each trainee needs to customize the general guidance to suit his or her age, health, current physical condition, history of injuries, motivation, goals, available equipment, and so on.
The mainstream (or conventional) training methods taught in most gyms, and by most training publications, websites, and social media “influencers” are much closer to the methods used by the bodybuilding “champions” than the approach that’s appropriate for “normal gainers.” And that’s why mainstream or conventional training methods have such an abysmal record among most trainees.
The wrap-up on labels
Once you've crossed the Rubicon and adopted the hard-gainer-style training methods I promote, you can discard the labels of “hard gainer,” “easy gainer,” or any other type of gainer, and focus where it matters most: learning the best interpretation of training for you and then relentlessly applying it so that you do the best possible with whatever genetic hand of cards you were dealt.
Once and for all . . . discard mainstream training methods. They are irrelevant to you because they won’t work for you.
There’s a much better way to train. Keep reading this column!
About the author
Stuart McRobert has been a voice of reason in the training world for 41 years and counting. He was first published in 1981, in IRON MAN magazine, when he was 22 years old, and has had over 1,000 articles published in US and European bodybuilding print magazines other than his own, including IRON MAN, FLEX, MUSCLE & FITNESS, and MUSCLEMAG INTERNATIONAL. He also published HARDGAINER print magazine for 15 years—from 1989 to 2004—and is the author of BRAWN, BEYOND BRAWN, BUILD MUSCLE LOSE FAT LOOK GREAT, and several other books.
But Stuart’s not an armchair coach. Drug-free, he built himself up from a skinny youth to 195 pounds and deadlifted 400 pounds for a set of 20 reps. And he still trains seriously today, at age 64.
Success stories from those who also use hard-gainer-style methods for their training and coaching include Marty Gallagher and Chuck Miller.
Stuart currently publishes HARDGAINER 2.0 digital magazine. Visit his website to get your FREE sampler issue: www.hardgainer.com