"Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle."
I never even heard the term "hardgainer" until I began perusing the Internet a few years back in search of bodybuilding and fitness knowledge.
The moment I understood what it meant, I had an epiphany.
I AM a hardgainer.
For those without a Webster Dictionary on hand, a hardgainer is essentially the worst of genetics when it comes to body physique.
Hardgainers are skinny but have no six pack.
Hardgainers are light but can barely perform bodyweight movements.
It's like being SpongeBob Squarepants in real life and without Anchor Arms.
I have wrists that barely measure over 6 inches, couldn't pull myself up to a bar before I started lifting, and had nothing remotely close to a six pack even after years of sprinting for Track & Field.
Despite my disposition to be weak and devoid of leanness, I found ways to break past it.
So what does a hardgainer have to do to get bigger, stronger, and jacked overall?
The answers, my fellow warriors, are below.
1) Focus on Low Volume Workouts
If you're lifting every day for over an hour each session, stop right now.
Every hour of intense lifting could burn as much as 500 calories for you if you're a hardgainer. So why lift any longer than that? Even if lifting properly for 45-60 minutes, some of you still will have to eat 4000 calories on your workout days just to bulk up; don't increase that caloric requirement even more.
Furthermore, long workouts inhibit testosterone and growth hormone production; you need high levels of these hormones for both muscle gain and fat loss. Athletes bound for the professional leagues could get away with lifting for 2+ hours; you guys could not.
On top of that, limit your lifting workouts to 3-4 days a week. Don't try some crazy crap like Push/Pull/Legs for 6 days each week.
2) Eat Healthy but Reasonably
"Don't drink calories."
"Have vegetables at every meal."
How many times have you heard these "tips" before when it comes to nutrition?
If you follow these pieces of advice, you will NEVER be able to eat enough to gain weight. You'd have to constantly eat throughout the day, which gets uncomfortable quickly.
A glass of cranberry juice won't hurt your gains; it'll clean out your urinary tract.
A mocha iced coffe in the morning won't give you a sugar rush; it'll wake you up.
Vegetables at every meal could lead to you having 5 or more bowel movements a day; to avoid that, just eat enough fiber to keep everything flowing.
I will emphasize for hardgainers, however, that processed foods have even worse effects than they would on normal individuals. Stuffing your face with microwavable snacks and junk food all day won't help your hormonic profile.
3) Be Smart about Cardio
One myth I see thrown around about hardgainer training is to completely avoid cardio. Truthfully, cardio isn't NECESSARY per say, but it does make losing fat a lot easier for someone with a poor hormonic profile.
Follow my tips on cardio here to start with. I'll add this however: hardgainers should be even MORE wary than the average lifter about overtraining. Thus, if you're going to implement HIIT cardio, I'd limit it to once a week (assuming you lift for 3 or 4 days each week).
4) Prioritize Sleep
Not surprisingly, hardgainers tend to have a poor time sleeping as well.
For tips on sleeping better, I have a handy article that will help you do just that.
You'll want to aim for 7-9 hours each night (actual sleep; tossing and turning in bed for 7 hours doesn't count).
5) Avoid Explosive Movements
I'm not a fan of explosive movements that involve multiple planes of motion (Clean & Press, Snatch, etc.) to begin with, but hardgainers ESPECIALLY should not be doing these movements.
Your joints aren't nearly as strong as those of professional athletes. If that kind of training wears NFL players down by 45, how quickly will you wear out after performing cleans and high pulls at the gym? Would you even make it to 25?
Longevity is essential; wouldn't you like to be able to lift up your grandkids?
Stick to the basic exercises for mass (Deadlifts, Military Press, Bench Press) and add isolation (Y Raise, Dumbbell Curls) where you need it.
There you have it guys: effective ways to break out of your hardgainer rut.
Bear in mind, being a hardgainer has limitations that are more than just relative to your bodyweight. Olympic athletes like Jordan Burroughs allegedly can perform pull-ups with 50+ lbs attached to their waist for over 30 reps; personally, I'd be excited if I could do that kind of weight for just 20 reps!
At the end of the day though, it doesn't make you a worse person or a weakling. Part of fitness is accepting your limitations, which helps you accept who you are.
To me, that's a huge part of what life is all about.