The Hardgainer’s Guide to Building Muscle

Ectomorphs (also referred to as “hardgainers”) are generally skinny, fairly lean, highly insulin sensitive and have a hard time gaining muscle (or any weight at all). If you find yourself in the position of having a high metabolic rate and struggling to build muscle, you should definitely check out the tips in this article to overcome your body’s tendency to remain scrawny.

A somatotype is a term used to describe the general body morphology of an individual, and from that we can decipher the physiological tendencies of individuals. There are three basic somatotypes (body shapes/structures) in humans: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Ectomorphs (also referred to as “hardgainers”) are generally skinny, fairly lean, highly insulin sensitive and have a hard time gaining muscle (or any weight at all).

Endomorphs generally have a pear-shaped body structure and tend to put on fat easier than the other somatotypes due to lower insulin sensitivity and metabolic rate. And lastly, mesomorphs are a sort of sweet-spot between ectomorphs and endomorphs; they are naturally broad-shouldered and muscular, and tend to put on a good amount of weight (mostly muscle) with diligent training and proper dieting.

In this article we’re going to focus specifically on ectomorphs/hardgainers and suggestions they should follow to overcome their body’s tendency to remain scrawny.

Emphasize calorie-dense foods
At the end of the day, if you’re not eating enough calories you simply will not gain an ounce of weight. Intuitively then, to ease the burden of having to eat enormous amounts of food just to meet your daily nutrient/calorie quotas, it’s prudent to emphasize foods that are calorically-dense.

Calorie-dense foods include things like: nuts, spreads (butter, peanut butter, cream cheese, etc.), oils/dressings, beef, pork, dairy, eggs, granola, coconut, dark chocolate and a variety of other foods. An extra 200-300 calories can be added to your current intake by simply throwing an ounce or two of these foods into your diet. There is no excuse to not be eating enough if you eat the right foods.

Drink your calories
There’s a reason weight-gainer supplements are to be mixed in liquid, and it’s because liquid nutrition tends to be much less satiating than an equivalent amount of calories from solid food. Just think how rapidly people in the U.S. have been gaining weight since the advent of Big Gulp slushies. This isn’t suggesting you rush to the nearest 7-Eleven and guzzle down a gallon of sugar just for the sake of trying to gain weight, but if you are struggling to ingest enough calories from solid food sources, than consider adding in some liquid calories like milk, fruit juices, weight-gainer shakes, etc…

Multi-joint exercises utilize multiple muscle groups and recruit a greater amount of muscle fibers than single-joint exercises; thus you greatly increase your training economy by doing them. Examples of compound exercises include: squats, dead-lifts, presses, rows, pull-ups/chin-ups, etc…

By utilizing multiple joints, and thus more muscles, you are able to lift a heavier loads, allowing you to put more tension on the muscle and accrue more fatigue (which is ultimately favorable for muscle hypertrophy). Just think, when was the last time you saw Toothpick Timmy squatting 500lbs ass to the grass? It would probably be as rare as spotting Bigfoot.

This isn’t suggesting you should neglect isolation exercises, but make sure your program is mostly comprised of compound movements and do the isolation exercises as “assistance”movements to the primary muscles you’re training on a given day.

The primary cause of stagnation in the gym is lack of progression; it’s really that simple. This applies to everyone; when you’re in the gym your main goal should be progression, in some form or another.

Bear in mind that progression doesn’t always have to be mean adding weight to the bar, but can come in the form of adding more volume (reps), increasing frequency, adding various intensity techniques (like drop-sets), etc. The main thing is that you’re progressing/improving in some capacity each week.

There’s a reason all the gym-goers who just go through the motions and lift the same weight for months (even years) on end look the exact same now as they did a decade ago.

Hardgainers should certainly keep cardio to a minimum, especially when muscle building is the primary goal. Cardio ultimately serves as a means to expend more calories, and most ectomorphs are already at the disadvantage of burning too many calories to build appreciable muscle mass.

This is not to say that hardgainers can’t do any cardio at all while trying to add weight/muscle, because frankly it is advised to keep some cardio in most anybody’s routine, regardless their somatotype and goals. Hardgainers just need to be sure to keep the cardio duration reasonable (i.e. 25-30 minutes) and relatively infrequent (maybe 2-3 times a week); resistance training should always be the primary focus.

You grow during the hours spent out of the gym (especially during sleep); not getting enough rest will greatly hinder your ability to recover and continue training hard, much less build any muscle.

Keep a consistent sleeping regimen, aiming for between 7-8 hours per night. If you aren’t able to get an adequate amount of sleep at night, try taking power naps of about 15-20 minutes during the day; those will at least help keep you somewhat fresh and energized. At the end of the day, the goal is quite simple–eat, lift, sleep, repeat.

If you find yourself in the position of having a high metabolic rate and struggling to build muscle, you’re sure to find some sort of solace by following the suggestions in this article. Don’t feel bad for yourself or defeated, because there are plenty of muscular ectomorphs out there, and they got there by being consistent, eating like it’s their job, lifting heavy, and getting adequate rest. Don’t make excuses; make progress.

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