Hardgainer: A Death Sentence?

I think I know you. You were that skinny kid who couldn’t fill out like the other kids around you. Your siblings, while having not even the slightest clue about how the body works, shame you for not looking like everyone else. Your arms are long, you’re pencil necked, you’re chest is nothing more than a shell caging an anxious heart. But worst of all? You’re weak.

So you hit the gym for no other reason except you no longer are willing to be a pushover. But it isn’t as easy as it looks, is it? Everyone around you is making progress, while you’re toiling away on every machine, every station, relying on every 8 to 12 week cookie cutter program you can find and even wasting your money of supplements that do nothing for you. At some point, you’ve probably heard the term Hardgainer and wondered if that’s what you are, and perhaps what you’re destined to always be. There have been articles written on the topic; and with the release of one book, one man even made a career based on helping hardgainers.

By definition, a Hardgainer is someone who simply finds it hard to put on any kind of muscle. But is that all there is to it? What really determines whether or not a person is a Hardgainer? And can this be worked around? The short answer is: of course it can be worked around! First off let’s tackle the decades old, somatotype that’s oft used to characterize the hardgainer, the Ectomorph.

The Ectomorph

Here are a few physcial traits of an ectomorph

  • Thin frame
  • Narrow hips, face, shoulders and shallow chest
  • Long arms and legs
  • Long muscle bellies

And that alone, thanks to stereotyping, goes hand in hand with the alleged emotional aspects of an Ectomorph:

  • Social awkwardness
  • Self-consciousness
  • Artistic tendencies
William Herbert Sheldon - Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia
William Sheldon PhD. I wouldn’t trust him to determine my physical potential. Neither should you!

All of these seem to make sense, even as I look at myself and my own personality. But therein lies one major red flag. The creator of somatotypes, William Sheldon, PhD, wasn’t a doctor who specialized in orthopedics, as most doctors who work with athletes are. He was a psychologist and you better believe that’s a problem. Psychologists of Sheldon’s era were the same people who used propaganda under the guise of Public Relations to feed us the belief that smoking cigarettes would make women thin, and that our wardrobe choices are what define our outer most personalities (ex: the music we listen to). Feel like a sheep yet?

All of this is just a psychological ploy. The skinny kid walks the halls in his school, gets laughed at and shamed by the other, far more developed looking kids, and becomes self conscious. See the pattern yet? And how do I know this? Because I, too, fell for this. And to think, all it took for me was to learn how to work around my not so great genetics, and to realize I had asthma; and before I knew it I was pulling off physical feats I once thought to be impossible thanks to a lifetime of psychological and emotional conditioning! So there are without question two components of utmost importance that must be understood in order for you to not just defy genetics, but meaningless, yet potentially harmful, psychological stereotypes:

Training

Maybe you’ve heard this before, I know I stress this point alot; but here are a few pointers that’ll help you realize your own physcial potential:

  • You must utilize full body workouts two to three days a week (less if your schedule doesn’t allow for optimal recovery time).
  • Each training day must include the basic compound movements and/or their variations.
  • Understand that Range Of Motion will not always be your friend depending on your goals and you will possibly have to make tweaks in your own training.

Nutrition

  • You should be in a caloric surplus while sticking to healthy options as much as possible. All. The. Time.
  • Increased macronutrient intake. The daily recommended protein intake for a sedentary person, for example, is 0.8g per kilogram (2.2lbs) of bodyweight. Yours should be anywhere from a gram to 1.5g per pound of bodyweight. Likewise, your carbohydrate intake should be anywhere between 2 to 4g per pound of bodyweight, which is crucial for glycogen storage both before and especially after your training is complete.
  • Sodium. Of its many benefits for training, the most important, as it relates to this article, is that it boosts intracellular water retention, just like Creatine, but minus the extra benefits I don’t have the time mention here.

I myself have stuck with these over the years, going from being told before a show I played with my band that my drumsticks where essentially an extension of my arms, to using those arms to deadlift more than double my bodyweight as well as pack on size like I only imagined in my wildest dreams!

August 2002, age 18, just before I started college. I was at most probably 140lbs if I was lucky, no meat on me. Hell, I was gross! Outside the venue before this gig my friend told me my drumsticks were basically an extention of my arms.
March 2020, age 35, just days before gyms were to shut down thanks to the current pandemic, and also with a 45lb increase in muscle mass.

There’s a 45lb weight difference between the two pictures presented here. All I did was pay close attention to how and how often I ate, as well as training consistency and intelligence. If I can add muscle to my thin frame and offer a handshake that makes most people weary of ever extending their hands to me ever again, you can as well. So is being a Hardgainer a death sentence? I’d call it a societal state of mind, and one that can be and must be reversed.

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