Let's clear this up right away: you are not a "hardgainer." Please stop using the term; it's so self-defeating. And let's face it, if you call yourself a hardgainer it's pretty fair to say you've given up on yourself. At the very least you've already assumed that's it going to be ridiculously hard for you to put on any appreciable size. Bullshit.
Sure, some of us didn't exactly hit the genetic lottery, but to get all Tony Robbins on you for a second, a lot of achieving your goals starts with your mindset.
If you truly believe you can get bigger, chances are you'll figure out ways to do it.
So let's stop with the excuses and go over why you're still small.
1. You're Doing Too Much Volume
After working with dozens of guys who have difficulty putting on size, I've found a consistent theme: they train way too much.
Now, I don't mean they're overtraining. What I'm talking about are the guys who have a metabolism comparable to a hummingbird hooked on trailer park meth who are still trying to "burn calories" by doing way too much work in the gym.
We've all seen the skinny kid at Gold's doing 57 sets of 12 different exercises. (Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.) But if you think I'm too off base, here's the leg day one of my new clients was following before he hired me:
Squat 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Deadlift 3 sets of 6-10 reps
Lunges or Leg Press 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Leg Extension 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Leg Curl 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Seated Calf Raise 3 sets of 10-20 reps
I can't even imagine running myself into the ground like that!
If you've got more than five exercises on your agenda on any given day, chances are you're either making poor exercise selections, or simply not working hard enough on the given lifts.
If you start each leg workout with two big, compound exercises (like squats and RDL's or deadlifts and good mornings) for three to four sets and actually work your ass off, chances are you won't be able to do six to eight more exercises after it.
I remember reading an article by bodybuilding legend Robbie Robinson when I was growing up. Regardless of what you think about bodybuilders, I always got the impression that he was one of the "good guys." I clearly remember Robbie saying that your goal should be to stimulate the muscle, not destroy it.
Sage words indeed.
And I'm not just harping on the wannabe meat-heads. There are some guys who not only do too much in the weight room, they do too much cardio as well. Apparently they think they can't get through life without ripped abs. So when you factor in:
- A fast metabolism
- Too much volume in the weight room
- Cardio and a bunch of other random "stuff"
It's no wonder they're not putting on any size.
2. You're Not Focusing Your Time On the Big Exercises
We already know that skinny guys love to do a ton of volume, but I haven't pointed out that most of it's really "junk volume" on easy exercises.
I know Dave Tate often states he'd rather have someone work balls-out on biceps curls instead of going half-assed on a set of chin-ups, and that's a great point to make. You have to not only pick the right exercises, but work your ass off on them as well.
Following the Dan John rule (a modification of Pareto's Principle), the first exercise you do everyday is going to net you eighty percent of your gains.
Training legs? Start with a heavy squat or deadlift variation.
Upper body? If it's a push, make sure it's either a bench or military press variation. If it's a pull, a heavy rowing exercise or pull-up variation are really the only acceptable options.
You can whine all you want about not getting bigger, but it's not going to happen if you continue to waste your time on junk exercises or devote an entire training day to getting jacked guns.
Big exercises first. Finishing touches later.
3. You're Not Committed to Your Eating
If you're serious about putting on some size, I'd like you to take the following oath:
"I (state your name) do solemnly swear to eat at least five meals per day. If I can't eat a whole food meal, I'll supplement with protein powder instead. I will become as dedicated to my eating plan as I am with my training. If I fail to carry out these rules, may my lifeless, skinny body be consumed by wild animals in the hopes that they can gain the muscle I couldn't."
Even if you think you eat enough but still can't gain muscle, chances are good that you're doing fine for a few days but then reverting back to your normal eating patterns. It's just like Joe Public who wants to lose fat. He may eat well and train hard for a few days, but eventually he becomes inconsistent and complacent and goes back to watching Nutrisystem ads and slurping full-sugar Coke.
It's just damn hard to get enough calories if you're only eating three times per day. You have to get serious (and consistent) about your eating if you want to pack on the size.
Granted, I understand the boys at Biotest are hard at work at proving their much-vaunted "3rd Law," the one that states the peri-workout nutrition is what really matters and if you take care of your nutritional needs for the approximate 3.5 hour window before and after your training, you're pretty much set for the day.
I'm open to that idea, but until I see what they've got cooking, I'm gonna recommend that you eat. You don't need to drink three gallons of milk per day, but you do have to pick up the damn fork and apply the Vulcan death grip.
4. Your Supplement Program Sucks
I've written approximately 90 articles for T NATION and rarely do I mention supplements.
But I'm going to come right out and say it: you must use high-quality supplements if you want to reach your full potential.
The next step is to dial in your nutrition around your workout. Here's what I recommend. (Other coaches may have different methods, but all agree on the importance of total workout nutrition.)
Half an hour before your workout, have a high-carb and protein meal, preferably something like Surge® Recovery, that will supply your body with energy, cause an insulin spike, and prime your body to start transporting nutrients.
Halfway through your workout, consume some high-quality amino acids to fuel your muscles and supply them with nutrients to encourage growth.
After your workout, have another protein and carbohydrate-rich meal.
Now, it works best if you get all three. But if you're one of those guys who's prone to over thinking, you have to make sure you do something. So stop lollygagging around, pick a meal (or preferably all three) and nail it.
5. You Don't Have a Training "Foundation"
I see tons of people who come in my gym that are too unstable at one or more joints. It doesn't sound like a big deal until you realize they simply won't get the size or strength gains they're capable of because something is out of whack.
My good friend Justin Ware used to have tons of shoulder issues and never saw the size gains in his chest and upper back that he desired. After a thorough evaluation, it was clear that he was very unstable through his shoulders and upper back. To improve this, we gave him a steady diet of basic scapular stabilization work, and then started re-building a strength base to his upper back.
The result? In his "corrective" program, he added two inches on his chest and upper back simply by turning the right muscles on and getting them stronger!
What's better, he's now pain free as well.
Your body is smarter than you are. If you lack stability at any major joint (knee, hip, shoulder, low back, etc.) your body isn't going to allow you to continue getting bigger or stronger. In most cases, you're going to injure yourself. This joint instability also leads to prolonged plateaus where you just don't seem to make any progress.
How about an example?
Most guys assume that if their bench isn't going up or they aren't putting size on their chest, they need to focus and specialize on the bench press. In fact, the opposite is more often true.
They probably lack the necessary upper back stability and strength, and as a result their body puts on the brakes. If they were to take two to three months and really focus on their upper back strength and stability they'd be pretty friggin' amazed at what happens with their bench total and chest size.
The same thing can be said for the guy who spends all his time on his quads instead of bringing up his glutes and hamstrings. Or the guy who stalls out on his squat because his core isn't strong enough to support the weight. Quite simply, the weak links in your chain will always hold you back from building your ultimate physique.
It's not just for the anatomy geeks anymore. Structural balance between muscles and joints is often the limiting factor.
To combat this, I'll often take one to two months every year and re-build the foundation of my clients and athletes to ensure they're ready to progress forward. This includes dedicated time with a focus on stability, connective tissue strength, and building work capacity.
If you really want to water it down but prep yourself for serious growth, you can spend a month or so every year where you specialize on the backside of your body (upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings).
It's not the sexiest program you'll ever write, but if you're unstable and you bring those weak areas up to speed, the next program you embark on may just be your most successful to date.
So there you have my top five reasons you're still too damn skinny. But I'm sure there are others out there, and I'd love to hear them. Why do you think most people aren't as muscular as they want to be? Let us know in the discussion!