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Growing up I was always one of the skinniest and one of the tallest kids in my class. I was the perfect target for teasing. Plus, I was painfully shy and a late bloomer. Once I finished high school, I thought that being older would mean it would be easier to put on weight and grow some muscles. To my surprise, that didn’t magically happen. Go figure. I then thought if I joined a gym and started working out, I would definitely put on size. I couldn’t believe, when nothing changed after a few months, that this didn’t work either. Go figure…again. I was told that since I was a “hard gainer,” I needed to eat anything and everything. So I ate everything and anything and, you know, I got softer…but once again did not get any bigger.
At this point I was frustrated and feeling incredibly discouraged as I was experiencing failure after failure. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I happened to meet a nutritionist/bodybuilder who changed my life forever. He told me that I was doing everything wrong for my body type and explained to me what it really means to be a hard gainer. He really broke things down for me so that I could understand, accept, and execute the process that would change my body. Let me break it down for you:
Consistency Vs. Perceived Consistency
As a hard gainer, you literally can’t have an off day or an off weekend. You have to eat 7 days a week and train consistently if you want to grow. You can’t just be on point Monday through Friday and take the weekend off. Two days doesn’t seem like much, but it will be a huge setback for a hard gainer. I have had the scale stay at a steady 145 lb and then slowly creep up day after day, but when I took it easy over a weekend the scale showed a sad 143 lb. My lack of consistency was a huge wake up call. It took me almost another 2 weeks to get that scale back up to 145 lb.
This is something every bodybuilder struggles with and I am no exception to the rule. You have to be patient, especially if you are a hard gainer. Results do not come quickly when you are trying to put on muscle. You will see other people putting on muscle faster than you, with less effort and time. It may take a hard gainer twice as long or more to put on the same amount of muscle as it does a normal person. You have to have realistic expectations. No, you probably won’t ever be Mr. Olympia or you probably won’t compete in the world’s strongest man competitions. But you can absolutely achieve goals that you may feel are slightly out of reach.
Training Heavy and Frequently
I was told back when I first started that if I wanted to get big I had to lift heavy, old school style. This meant doing squats, lunges, leg press, and dead lifts. I eventually ended up getting hurt from this old school way of training, and the injury is something I’m still managing today even though it happened a few years ago. Here’s the silver lining: by injuring my back, I ultimately had to find new ways to train as I could no longer do any exercises that engaged my back. I then began to notice that my body was changing incredibly fast. I discovered that I had to lift moderately heavy and often to put on any muscle. I went from training glutes and quads individually once a week to training glutes three times a week and quads once. In order to keep my body challenged, I also had to keep changing my exercises.
I thought I was eating a lot—believe me, I was—but I was eating all the wrong things at the wrong time. Writing down my macros showed me exactly what I wasn’t eating. My food was very high in fat, moderate in carbs, and low in protein. I was getting junk results because I was fueling my body with junk food. Now, the food I eat includes mass gainer shakes, oatmeal every single morning, protein shakes, a lot more meat sources, egg whites, and workout shakes that are high in carbs. You have to find your sweet spot on food intake that allows you to bulk, but not just put on fat. A dirty bulk is never a good thing.
Everyone has a different opinion about cardio. Some people believe hard gainers shouldn’t do any, while others say keep it in. I personally think a little bit of cardio is fine, especially since it’s good for cardiovascular health. I’m not saying that you should do 45 minutes of fasted cardio every morning or 30 minutes of intense HIIT. Obviously, as a hard gainer, you don’t want to burn off your hard-earned muscles. Just use your best judgment. When I first started lifting, I literally ran my backside off from doing way too much cardio. Today, I only do minimal cardio, usually during my warm ups.
Set realistic goals. Once you accomplish that goal, set another goal. It’s more than fine to have an ultimate end goal, but it’s easy to get discouraged if you feel like it’s taking forever to reach it. If you set goals along the way, you will feel like you have accomplished something, and you will be motivated to keep going. If I had said my goal was to go from 125 lb to 145 lb when I first started, I would’ve laughed. There was no way in the world I would have believed that I could ever put on 20 lb. My first goal was to put on 5 lb. My next goal was to put on another 5 lb, and so on and so on. Set yourself up for success, not failure.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Don’t be insane. You’re probably not eating enough, training smart, or being consistent in your every day life. I also made these mistakes for a long time, and nothing changed until I changed. Make your changes—see the results for yourself.