Ectomorphs are called hardgainers because, well, it’s hard for them to gain muscle. Having a taller, thin body with small wrist and ankle joints is a dead giveaway that your frame isn’t genetically-optimized for building and carrying a lot of muscle – but that certainly shouldn’t hold you back when it comes to becoming a bodybuilder, because EVERYONE can build and maintain lean muscle mass!
Here are 5 hardgainer tips for skinny guys and girls who want to be bodybuilders:
Hardgainer Tip #1: Have Realistic Expectations
Ectomorphs will never win the Mr. Olympia title – but neither will 99.999% of other bodybuilders either. All over the world there are bodybuilders working hard in the gym for a thousand hours a year while eating right, sleeping right and taking all kinds of supplements and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) – and at that level you need everything to be on point – including your genetics. But building muscle, have a great body and looking great in the gym or on the beach can be achieved by hardgainers, even without the genetics of a gorilla or truckloads of PEDs.
Most likely you already have one major advantage over other bodybuilders – very little bodyfat. Typically a hardgainer has a fast metabolism and is no more genetically predisposed to carrying much bodyfat than he or she is to building muscle. So as you visualize the body you want to build, picture yourself with a bit less bodyfat than you’re currently carrying and with more muscle mass. How much more? That’s going to depend on YOU – how relentless you are in your pursuit of a bodybuilder physique.
Hardgainer Tip #2: Train Smart In The Gym
As a skinny guy trying to build bigger muscles, you have to train smart and stick to the proven principles. Make sure the bulk of your workouts are focused around the big compound lifts – squats, deadlifts, bent rows, bench press and overhead presses. Yes, you’ll want some isolation exercises for arms, abs and calves, but keep the bulk of your energy & time focused on the lifts that are the proven-best muscle mass builders.
And keep your ego in check – constantly trying for new personal record lifts (PRs) will hold back your gains. Endomorphs and some mesomorphs might gain noticeable muscle size from powerlifting workouts, but most ectomorphs will simply get a lot stronger without getting much bigger from that style of training.
Instead, aim to do 5 to ten sets for each exercise, with 8 to 12 reps per set. Don’t rush through your sets, but instead do each of your reps using a count of 1-2 seconds on the concentric portion of the lift and 3-5 seconds for the eccentric portion. (You can always tell which is the concentric portion for any lift – it’s the part where the muscle you’re working is getting shorter and contracting. Consider the upward motion of squats, deadlifts, rows, etc, and the downward motion of triceps pushdowns, etc.)
Rest between sets is important too. You’ll see a lot about time-under-tension (TUT) that suggests you keep intra-set breaks to 30 or 40 seconds max, but that’s not always the best advice for true hardgainers – resting 30 seconds between sets burns 50% more calories than 3-minute rests according to Dr. Jim Stoppani. While a high volume of sets and 3-minute breaks per set would take way too long, aim to get about a minute rest between sets.
Keep your form strict, and use weights that let you get 10 or 12 reps on your first few sets without breaking form, but that only let you get 6 to 8 reps on your last couple of sets. If, on those last couple of sets you can’t get 6 reps then the weight is too heavy. Conversely, if you still get to ten reps on your last set keep going to failure on that set, then increase the weight for your next workout til you’re back in that 6-8 rep range for your last set.
In many, if not most cases, hardgainers’ fast metabolisms allow their bodies to repair themselves fairly quickly. Because of that, be sure to work each bodypart at least twice per week – in fact, a full-body workout on 3 non-consecutive days is often ideal.
Hardgainer Tip #3: Eat Clean, Eat Healthy & Eat MORE
Anyone trying to be a bodybuilder needs to consume plenty of calories every day – and hardgainers need to consume a LOT more clean calories than others would. Yes, you have tons of energy. That’s courtesy of your faster metabolism and it’s habit of burning glucose, glycogen, carbohydrates and protein to keep you supercharged. But let go of the concept that you ‘can eat anything’ – that’s a common myth amongst hardgainers because they don’t put on much bodyfat from a poor diet. You need to understand that too many simple carbs on a regular basis can dull your insulin receptors. Not only can that lead to Type 2 Diabetes down the road, but insulin is the main transport for glucose into the muscles where that glucose is stored as glycogen and is used to fuel muscle activity.
Instead, plan to eat a cleaner diet with plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Start by figuring your daily requirements using this simple formula: you want to consume 15 calories for every pound you weigh – so at 150 pounds you’d start with 2,250 calories per day. You want at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and in our example that 150-pound person would eat 150 grams of protein, meaning 600 calories would come from their daily protein intake. Twenty to twenty-five percent of their calories (450 – 560 calories) should come from healthy fats, so that means the remaining 1,090 to 1,200 calories should come from carbohydrate sources like yams, brown, red or black rice, oatmeal and greens.
Remember, though, that your goal is to become a bodybuilder with plenty of lean muscle mass – which means you don’t want to stay at that 150 pounds. Once you’re nutrition is on point as detailed above, you can start adding in more calories. Start by adding 500 calories to your day and give it a couple of weeks to see the results. If you’re building muscle without adding belly fat, add another 500 calories the following month, etc. If you have trouble eating bigger meals, get the extra calories from adding a meal or two to your day – eat 4 or 5 times a day instead of 3 times per day.
In most cases, hardgainers don’t eat right and don’t eat enough. Don’t be that guy or girl – pay attention to proper nutrition and be sure to consume all your required calories every single day!
Hardgainer Tip #4: Get Enough Sleep
One great truism for bodybuilders is that muscles are worked in the gym, fed in the kitchen and built in the bedroom – while you sleep. Not getting enough sleep will prevent you from every being a true bodybuilder – remember, as an ectomorph you need everything to be just right in your routine. There’s no sense to putting a ton of effort into your workouts and tearing down the muscles if you’re not going to feed the muscles right and then sleep long enough to allow your body to repair and rebuild those muscles, making them bigger to meet the anticipated progressive resistance they’re going to face in future.
In today’s real world very few people can get 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night, but you can certainly come close if your goal as a skinny guy or girl is to become a bodybuilder. You don’t NEED to be on social media for hours every night, you don’t NEED to be texting friends til all hours of the night, and you don’t NEED to hit the clubs every single weekend. A busy social life won’t get you the muscles you want – but smart training, proper nutrition and 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night will. It all comes down to how badly you want it, right?
Hardgainer Tip #5: Strategic Supplementation
Walk into ANY professional bodybuilding supplement store and you’ll find more than enough options to completely empty your wallet, melt your debit and credit cards and leave you in debt. Fortunately for you, hardgainers can skip all but 3 or 4 of them…
For example, chances are they have a large selection of pre-workout potions and pills. But with your fast metabolism and all the carbs you’re eating, you’ve already got more energy than you know what to do with, coupled with the determination that you’ll do WHATEVER it reasonably takes to pack on bigger muscles.
So just what SHOULD you consider?
First and foremost, find a good whey protein or whey isolate powder. I don’t advise getting one of the high-calorie weight-gain protein blends, since most are jam-packed with simple sugars. Instead, look for a good, clean source of whey, and choose a flavour you like. Mix it with water or 2% milk, and have one each morning on rising since your body has no dietary protein left at that point. Then have a protein shake an hour before your workout and as soon as reasonably possible after your workout. Remember that the bulk of your protein requirements should be coming from whole foods – chicken, eggs, turkey, fish, lean beef, etc. – so you’re just topping that protein up at the times when your body can make the best use of it.
Second up is Creatine. Creatine is probably the single most-studied bodybuilding supplement, and scientific study after study has shown it to be very a very effective muscle-building aid. Throw a teaspoon of Creatine into a glass of water and drink it down at some point during the day on rest days, and both before and after your workout on training days.
Rounding out the big 3 is Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The purpose to supplementing with them is to help build your muscles, and they’re believed to also help keep your existing muscle mass from being cannibalized during intense workouts. Get the pills or powder and have them before, during and immediately following your workouts.
Bonus Hardgainer Tip:
Perseverance and patience have to be your guiding lights through your bodybuilding journey. As a skinny guy or girl it will take longer to build muscle mass, and you have to be consistent – while others may see gains while skipping workouts, straying off-diet, etc., you need to be reasonably strict with yourself. But fear not – follow the 5 Hardgainer Tips above and you’ll get the results you’re aiming for in due course.