Bearded Beast of Duloc
The Hardgainer Tag
A good thing gone bad
I believe this has become the plague of 21st century weight training. I’ll get back to that later.
I want to state that this is not a personal attack on anyone. This is simply my professional opinion based on 20 years as a professional strength coach. The motivation to write this article was specifically stimulated by the information that I am constantly receiving from around the world.
The Hardgainer moniker and the training information that went with it did a lot of good for the strength training world - at first. It got trainees away from the pump and blitz, overtraining volume and frequency training methodologies presented by the mainstream muscle media which is proliferated by nonsense training advice from the steroid-using bodybuilding fraternity. This ‘fraternity’ by the way, makes up but a fraction of the people involved in strength training and bodybuilding. And the steroid users have NO IDEA of how to really train. That is to train without using drugs – in other words ‘real training.’
This ‘Hardgainer’ training advice, from various sources, pointed out the pitfalls, fallacies and downright lies that were being propagated by the mainstream muscle media. This misinformation was getting trainees nowhere, or at least ‘helping’ them fall short of what they could accomplish. This was accompanied by years of wasted training, millions of dollars wasted on useless supplements, frustration, and many, many injuries. The sensible ‘Hardgainer’ training information also got trainees on the right track of training to get stronger to get bigger -- instead of the ‘pump and blitz (glitz), oil your body, stare into a mirror, and surround yourself with big breasted females’, training advice. This stupidity suggested that trainees train up to six days per week twice per day – just plain stupid amounts of volume and frequency. I could go on and on about this but I’m sure you get the point.
So, a world of Hardgainers was born – trainees who trained for real; without drugs, training two to three times per week, on ‘abbreviated’ programs relative to the nonsense mentioned above which would overtrain a gorilla. They focused on getting stronger on ‘big’ exercises that produced real world results versus going for ‘the pump’ by doing five sets of benches, five sets of incline benches, five sets of flies, and five sets of cable cross-overs with little sissy weights that my six year old daughter could throw around. The point is, to be a “Hardgainer” as I just defined it above, was a good thing – it was a great thing.
But now, it has taken a turn for the worse. Actually it took the “turn” several years ago. What was a whole culture of trainees who learned to train in a real, drug free fashion, has become a group of trainees who have gotten brainwashed into thinking that being a ‘Hardgainer’ means that they have some kind of ‘disease’, or that they are some kind of genetically inferior species. What this has produced are way too many trainees who are basically afraid to train – or better stated they are virtually paranoid of ‘overtraining’ or worse yet – getting hurt. Now, believe me, I believe in training in as safe a manner as possible. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be in business as long as I have been. You should try to minimize risk as much as possible – but there is always a risk. So, these modern-day Hardgainers are now training in a ridiculous fashion – once a week, once every two weeks, and some even once a month! AND, they won’t do any exercise for more than one work set. They also avoid productive exercises that they have been taught ‘won’t work’ because of their genetics or that they might get hurt. Keep in mind that I’m speaking from experience here – this is what I’ve been hearing from trainees around the world. What is most disheartening to me is that they were taught and now believe that they should ‘set their sites low’; that they can’t achieve much, due to poor genetics – whether they actually have so-called “poor genetics” or not! “Accept it –and be happy with it” is what they’ve been told. Yeah, that’ll fire someone up to train. “Go out and bust your ass for a whole lot of years and maybe you’ll achieve mediocrity”. Pumps me up (sarcasm intended).
So, they limit themselves before they even start. This is sickening and it makes me mad. It makes me mad because I’ve personally trained real ‘true Hardgainers’ and they have produced results that are anything but mediocre. And then there are the many trainees that I have personally worked with who considered themselves ‘true Hardgainers’ who were anything but – and they have produced outstanding results.
What has developed are two categories of Hardgainers; the very few that are true Hardgainers and the other very, very large group who think they are – but aren’t. Let me hit both.
The True Hardgainer
So, what is a true Hardgainer anyway? Well, here’s what I think it is; a severely small boned adult whose muscle is mostly composed of Type I and Type II-A muscle fibers throughout the entire body. The Type I fibers don’t have the greatest potential for growth but the Type II-A have good growth potential; and they can be converted to take on the attributes of the Type II-B which have the greatest potential for growth. That’s it – that is my definition. Doesn’t sound like some kind of diseased individual to me? And so what if you are a true Hardgainer? Are you destined for, at best, mediocrity? In my professional opinion the answer is a resounding NO! Let me ask you; just because you have a small bone structure and small muscle bellies why does that limit muscular growth? It may occur more slowly, but does it really limit growth? You may answer; well I just wasn’t born with a proliferation of muscle cells that have the ability to get bigger and stronger. My answer; How do you know? And so what if you are? Have you tried for ten years – training properly (not the once every millennium program)? Eating properly? Do you believe the arm-chair theoreticians and their theories about muscle growth? No one is even sure how a muscle grows! They are just theories – not scientific fact!
Well, your next question would logically be; how big and strong can I get? My initial response is; “Let’s find out – and I’m confident it’s much bigger and stronger than many so-called authorities would have you believe.” But I assure you that if you buy into the mindset that as a Hardgainer, ‘if you train real hard for ten years maybe – just maybe—you’ll achieve a 15 inch arm’ all you’ll do is train incorrectly and eat poorly for ten years and maybe all you’ll achieve is a 15 inch arm. You just won’t have the motivation to do what needs to be done. And don’t ever underestimate the power of being motivated. All you will have done is limited yourself mentally, killed any real burning incentive that you had to train, and you’ll never produce the 16 ½ to 17 inch arm, the double-bodyweight squat, or bench press with one-and-half times bodyweight, that you should have had. I’m telling you, that you should dream big, train smart, eat right, and find out where you actually end up – instead of trying to figure it out ahead of time and shooting yourself in the foot before you even start.
The non-Hardgainer Who Thinks He Is
As I stated above most trainees are not true Hardgainers. Let me take that further – almost all the trainees around the world are genetically regular – they are neither true Hardgainers nor genetic superiors. As a matter of fact most trainees are a little bit of both. Boy that statement really throws a wrench in labeling someone! Everyone has a ‘bodypart(s)’ of their body that ‘grow’ muscle more easily than other ‘parts’ of their body. You may have a proliferation of muscle bellies in your back and not nearly as many in your pecs; this is my case but you wouldn’t guess it now if you saw me. Also, everyone has a lift or lifts that they get very strong on more easily than other lifts. And if you want to try to figure this thing out via how big your bones are forget it! You may have small boned wrists and big boned knees. You are a combination of what is known as ‘somatypes’. So, almost every trainee is part Hardgainer or part genetic freak! So, what the heck should we label you? How about ‘Regular.’
Here is a great real world example of what I’m talking about. I had a gentleman come in to train with me from out of the country. Before he came in he assured me that he was a true Hardgainer. From all the reading he had done he believed that he wasn’t “destined” for any further improvements in strength or development. He was busy telling me every genetic reason under the sun why he couldn’t succeed. He was going on about his wrist size, to the length of bones, to the physical characteristics of his parents and grandparents, to an in-depth analysis of somatyping. I could have sworn that we were going to get into the structure of his DNA next. Well, when I laid eyes on this guy I about went in my pants. He was 5’10” and 240 pounds; too much fat but plenty of muscle! My first thought was “this guy has been severely brainwashed.” A Hardgainer – my butt!
Way too many regular trainees are killing potential results because they consider themselves Hardgainers. They are on such a limited training program, along with poor eating and recovery habits which will produce, at best, very little in the way of results.
The Real Reasons why you’re Not Getting Results
There are two reasons;
1. You are a true Hardgainer (remember this breed is very rare) and due to your belief system – “I’m not genetically suited to achieve much” -- you’re either not motivated to do the things that are necessary to achieve significant results, or due to what you’ve been taught as “proper training for a Hardgainer” – you’re not on a productive program that has you doing the things that are necessary to achieve significant results.
2. You’ve been training incorrectly, and eating incorrectly, so you have received little in the way of results, and this, of course, makes you a Hardgainer; which is not accurate, so you now under-train and under-eat and continue to be ‘under-dedicated’. What a viscous cycle.
What to Do
Start by not labeling yourself anymore. Just consider yourself a regular trainee with great potential. Then seek out real training advice for non-steroid using trainees. To go into specific training advice is beyond the scope of this chapter. Read the chapters Designing Your Training Program and How to Eat to Get Big (from my book: REAL STRENGTH REAL MUSCLE) to learn how to do things right. Don’t just read these articles, study them. Once you know what to do then make a commitment to do everything right; train properly and consistently, eat properly to gain muscle, get in shape (cardio wise), and work on your flexibility.
In Summary from My “Gut”
If you have a muscle and if the rest of your bodies’ processes are okay; you can breathe okay, heart works okay, can eat and digest food okay, etc., then that muscle can get much bigger and stronger. Yes, it’s that simple – and don’t let anyone tell you any different. By all means don’t let anyone steal your dreams. You’ve been hammered with “be realistic in your expectations as a Hardgainer – don’t expect too much for you’ll be let down and just end up going nowhere”. Well, I’ve got one for you; BE UNREALISTIC then, versus what you’ve been taught as a Hardgainer, DREAM BIG but BE SMART along the way. No one has accomplished anything remotely great by thinking small. And I’m not living in fantasy land by giving this advice – and I’m not asking you to join me there. As a matter of fact I’m knee deep in reality land working daily in the trenches as I have been for 20 years now, and feel that I have a pretty good handle on what can and can’t be done. You can do much, much more than you think you can.
Dream Big – it’ll give you the motivation to accomplish ‘Big’ things.
Destroy That Which Destroys You
"Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado."