Why is it hard to gain muscles: Rules for Hardgainers

By Ire | Lifting Tips

Oct 07

In this article I will explain why is it hard to gain muscles when you are a hardgainer. I will go into detail on what hardgainer really means, different body types and rules to live by, if you want to be more muscular.

Hardgainer term gets thrown around all the time in a lifting community. The term is self-explanatory. It stands for somebody that has a problem gaining muscle weight. In this article, we will dig a deeper on why you are a hardgainer and how to “escape hardgainer’s hell”.

Why it is important to understand
Understanding the root of our problem is crucial step when dealing with fixing the problem. Only when you understand how your body works, will you be able to work in a direction to reverse the issue.

Why is it hard to gain muscles. A question being asked by a skinny female

There are three basic body types. Everybody identifies themselves in one type more than the other two. However, most people will have a combination of two of these body types.

Body type is based on your predeterminate genetic potential. Understanding how your metabolism works and your body in general will allow you to design a workout/nutrition plan which fits your body type. With that, you can be sure that you are making fastest possible gains.

Different body types illustrated

Hands down, if you are reading this article, you are most likely in this group. Ectomorph answers the question of: “Why is it hard to gain muscles”. Ectomorph is a typically tall and skinny with relatively small joints. Ecto’s usually have long and thin limbs, small shoulder and flat chest. There is not much fat or muscle on the body.

Due to fast metabolism, ectomorphs find it hard to gain weight. Fast metabolism means that their calories gets burned very quickly. Due to that, dietary supplements are recommended. Ectomorph should workout often, without making his/her session too long. Workout sessions should focus on big muscle groups. Functional exercises like squat, bench and deadlift are recommended.

Endomorph has a soft and rounded body. They find it easy to gain both muscle and fat. They have a shorter build with thick limbs. They are naturally strong, however they do not look “beach ready”. They might out-squat you by a double but will find it hard to impress girls. Due to their slow metabolism, endomorphs find it hard to lose fat.

Supplements are not necessary for their body type, if they maintain high calorie intake. Cardio is a recommended along with weight training.

This is a type that we often expect to be, when we first started lifting. Saw a guy on reddit that gainer 20lbs of muscle in 6 months? That is probably due to his genetics traits which position him in a mesomorph body type. If you are a hardgainer, it is not the best idea to compare yourself to this guy. You would only get discouraged by how much quicker he is progressing.

Mesomorph is somebody with large bone structure and athletic physique. They find it easy to gain weight and muscles. These individuals have well defined big muscles. Their downside is that they gain fat easier than ectomorph. Therefore, their diet should be cleaner. Workouts should combine weight training and cardio.

Muscular bearded man on the beach


1. Do not blame it on genetics
Notice I said blame and not ignore. Genetics predisposition is a real thing. I never understood people that say: “I don’t believe in genetics”. How can you not believe that your height, skeletal structure, muscle type or nervous system efficiency will have nothing to do with the speed of your progress?
Genetics is something that we have no control over. We are born with it. So, if you can’t control it, you shouldn’t focus on it. Don’t blame your genetics to justify your laziness. Stop playing computer games and go to the gym. Stop watching Netflix and prepare your meals.

Focusing on things that you can control. Make lifestyle changes build around working out. Build character through time management, attitude and work ethic. If you blame your genetics you will never be successful, and this kind of negative mindset will spread to everything outside of the gym.

2. Basics over everything
Chances are, if you are still skinny, there are two reasons why. You are still a beginner who do not understand the basics, OR you do understand the basics but do not prioritize them. Let’s go over the basics first:
LIFT (focus on form and on exercises that move multiple joints like squat, bench, deadlift)
EAT (you will not gain muscles if you are in caloric deficit)
SLEEP (muscles are built is anabolic stage. Sleep is as anabolic as it gets)
REPEAT (because only doing it once will not change anything)

So, if you are a beginner, make sure you understand the above 4 concepts. I have written plenty on those subjects in my blog already. Feel free to check those out.

If you are somebody that understands those, you are probably somebody that read too many fitness related articles without focusing on the basics. That is called paralysis-by-analysis. It is a concept when we focus too much of our attention on every little piece that we do not prioritize the most important things. That’s what causes plateau in your progress. Do not be that guy! Stop worrying of you angle of bench press and just lift the god damn thing. Practicing the above four concepts is the only way anybody has ever escaped hardgainer’s hell.

Muscular male is exercising his biceps

3. Know how much you eat
Please, never say: “I eat a ton” if you do not know your calories. Learn how to count your calories and implement it every day. If your weight still isn’t going up, increase your calorie intake by 300-500 kcal and see the results in one month. Do not weight yourself every day and expect any change. Weight varies every day and does not only depend on exercise and nutrition!

4. Use mass gainers
These are products that are rich in protein and carbs. Mass gainers should solve your solution of: “I can’t eat more, I am full”. Drinking mass gainer shakes will allow you to distribute your calories throughout the day. That will give your body more time to digest food and will lead you to be less full when the time for a new meal comes. You might consider also adding different snacks in your diet.

5. Limit cardio
Higher your HR (Heart Rate) is during exercise, more calories you will burn during exercise. More calories burned means that you need to eat even more to be in caloric surplus. Therefore, you are just making it harder on yourself to gain muscles. I am not saying, do not do cardio or be worried if you joined a pick-up soccer game with your friends. Just, do not do it too much. If you must, understand that you need to eat even more.

6. Increase rest period during sets
One of the goals of every workout should be to minimize calorie expenditure. How we do that is by having a lower average HR during a workout. We lower that average by having more rest in between the sets. Some studies have also shown that increased rest between sets strongly correlates with increased muscle mass. Therefore, by increasing rest period, we are burning less calories and increasing muscles faster.

Muscular male focusing on his muscles during exercise

7. Work out with focus
Schwarzenegger said that whenever he is doing a biceps curls, he is imagining his biceps to be as big as a mountain. He focuses on the actual muscle that is doing the work. He feels muscle fibers being torn during every second of the set. I wouldn’t argue with a 7- Mister Olympia man. Having a strong mind-body connection is extremely important during isolation exercises (exercises which target only a specific muscle group). With increased focus, we tend to have better form and focus more on deficit of the movement. Deficit is what most people ignore, without realizing it is 50% of the movement. Focusing on that will break down more muscle fiber which can then be restored through proper diet. (more muscle fiber breaks down -> more muscle fibers being restored -> bigger muscles -> PROFIT)

Now, that we understand our body type and know the rules, we are on a good path to escape hardgainer’s hell. Have a realistic approach when you are setting your goals. Know that weight gain is not overnight thing and it will eventually come, if we stick to the basics. Do not get discouraged by comparing yourself to a mesomorph. You have a different playing field. Most importantly, enjoy the process of changing your lifestyle to meet your goals. If we want something that we have never had, we need to do things that we have never done.

About the Author

Hey, my name is Ire.I am a Personal Trainer/ Strength Coach based in Stockholm, Sweden.When you don't find me in the gym, I will most likely be on a Track and Field stadium throwing around a discus.

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