A couple months ago, we introduced the Hard-Gainer’s Guide, a start to a diet, training and supplement plan for those who want to put on muscle and weight (here are Phases 1 and 2!). For some of us who are taller, longer-torsoed and leaner, building and maintaining muscle is a constant process, throughout the year, one that doesn’t have a “cutting phase.”
Because we know not everybody is looking to simply lose weight, we have the Hard Gainer’s Guide — a comprehensive plan of attack for adding muscle size with the proper gym, diet and supplement strategies. This is the third phase of that guide.
We’ve included the original diet and supplement plans here for easy reference, but with an updated workout guide to follow for the next four weeks. Again, you’ll go four days on and three off, leaving ample time to recover. Check back at this page throughout the week for the next day’s workout — by Thursday, the whole plan will be in place.
EATING FOR HARD GAINERS
If you’re reading this, it more than likely applies to you: Hard gainers are classified as “longer” body types, with typically fast metabolisms, lean frames, smaller joints (narrow wrists and ankles) and narrow waists. Usually, hard gainers are longer-limbed and taller than our stockier gym friends. That’s OK — many find the “lifeguard” body type to be the most desirable. If you fall into this category, where you find that you simply can’t eat enough to ever get fat or, sadly, gain the muscle fast enough, you’re a hard gainer.
The bottom line for you if you want to add muscle is this: YOU MUST EAT. Many hard gainers make the common mistake of undereating because they don’t want to gain body fat, a reasonable concern. However, take into consideration that you are skinny for a reason! You’re blessed with a fast metabolism and the amount of calories will almost never be an issue as long as the quality of calories is premium. If you’re serious about adding muscle, your workouts will be so intense and you’ll gain enough muscle that you won’t gain significant levels of fat, and that just leaves you with the task of using food for building material. Muscle just doesn’t come from thin air — new tissue needs to come from a source. It’s food, in the form of quality proteins, fats and carbs.
Three meals a day ain’t gonna cut it anymore. It’s time to eat with a purpose and a plan. And here is that plan:
BREAKFAST (within 30 minutes of waking):
4-5 whole eggs, spinach, tomato, piece of fruit (grapefruit, orange, banana, apple, peach, etc.), 1 c milk, 1 c instant oatmeal with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter.
SNACK (2 1/2 hours after breakfast)
Protein shake in milk, peanut butter/banana/honey sandwich on whole wheat bread
LUNCH (3 hours after first snack)
Tuna* or chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread, sliced apples with peanut butter, greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
SNACK (2 1/2 hours after lunch)
Two string cheeses, handful of almonds, banana.
DINNER (3 hours after second snack)
1 serving meat (lean beef — filet mignon, loin steak, etc. — salmon, tilapia, shrimp, ahi*, etc.), 1 leafy/green vegetable (broccoli, spinach), 1/2 C brown rice or whole wheat pasta OR a sweet potato/yam. Avoid white potatoes.
1/2 C cottage cheese, 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter.
*Because of potentially high mercury levels in fish, do not eat tuna more than 3-4 times per week.
There obviously is some wiggle room for variety, which is the way you want it, but the important thing is to notice the approximate ratios of proteins, carbs and healthy fats with each meal and emulate it as closely as possible.
TRAINING FOR HARD GAINERS
Next, it’s time to come up with a plan to put all that fuel to use. The goal every time you hit the gym should be hypertrophy — the increase in muscle volume. To achieve this on a lean frame, you won’t be able to simply use a generic workout plan. Like all lanky guys experience when we clothes shop, you need something a bit more custom-fitted, tailored to you. Forget three sets of 10. We need to reach deep muscle fibers, building the slow-twitch ones larger and the fast-twitch ones stronger. To do that, we’ve set up this workout plan that will not only add size, strength and endurance of strength, but will provide just enough of a calorie burn to ensure that you’re not storing up fat.
Follow this plan for 4-6 weeks, and DO NOT cheat yourself — make every workout, do every set and get every rep. Anything less than full effort is a failure! It is a four-day split, with three rest days, ample time to get both physical and mental rest before you’re back in the gym, so there are no “burnout” excuses here. Phase 3 is all about soaring rep ranges and mental toughness — trisets and light weight will be your path to gaining!
MONDAY (Chest and Back)
Four trisets, 12 reps each: DB Bench Press/Incline DB Press/DB Flys.
Four trisets, 12 reps each: BB Bench Press, Cable Crossovers (alternating top arm), Incline DB Flys.
Four trisets, 12-15 reps each (aim for 15, but get at least 12): Various grip pull-ups (overhand, underhand, neutral, overhand)/DB Pullovers/Seated Cable Rows.
Four trisets, 12-15 reps each: Standing wide-bar cable Pulldowns/Bent-Over Rows/Lat Pulldowns.
Be sure to stretch the pecs and lats before and after!
TUESDAY (LEGS AND CORE)
Three trisets, 12-15 reps each: Barbell Squats/Front Squats/Leg Extensions
Three trisets, 12-15 reps each: Romanian Deadlifts/Hamstring Curls/Directional Lunges (forward, backward, lateral for sets 1, 2 and 3, respectively. For the lateral set, do 16 total – 8 left, 8 right).
Two supersets (very light!): 4 power cleans/4 split squats (per leg)
Planks: 4×30 seconds.
Cable wood chop and raise: 4×5 each.
6 Supersets: Cambered barbell curls x 8/Overhead Single Heavy DB Press x 8
1 Superset: Incline Seated Dumbbell Curls x 12 each/Cable Pushdown with V Extension x 30 (perfect form)
3 Supersets: Hanging Dips x 15/30 Preacher Curl Machine/15 bench dips
THURSDAY (SHOULDERS AND ABS)
5 Supersets: Overhead Press x 12/Machine Upright Rows x 12
5 Supersets: Lateral Raises x 12/Front Raises x 12
Planks: 3x 45 seconds
Side Planks: 3 x 30 seconds per side
SUPPLEMENTS FOR HARD GAINERS
If you’re a hard gainer, we can assume a few things about you: 1) You need a lot of calories, 2) your existing muscle mass is difficult to maintain and 3) your body naturally isn’t inclined to grow much more. None of these are complete roadblocks; rather, they’re just small speed bumps you can get over with some help. Now, we can address the first issue with the diet plan we’ve put in place, but really, you’ll need more. The supplement plan that works best for hard gainers is one that addresses the need for a calorie surplus, muscle recovery and rebuilding and even hormonal issues that aren’t as uncommon as you might think.
Absolutely, if you’re a hard gainer trying to build muscle fast, we recommend:
- High-quality gainer shake. GAINER7, MASS COMPLEX or MASS FUZION are all effective at delivering quality calories in a hurry post-workout.
- BCAAs. Around the clock, your body needs amino acids to prevent catabolism, where the body feeds on muscle storage for energy. Go with BCAA SPORT or IBCAA by Katalyst.
- Creatine. Abundantly researched and shown to increase muscle volume and strength, there is no reason to pick a low-quality version anymore — it’s mostly a very affordable supplement. Kre-Alkalyn is a buffered form of creatine that ensures nearly 100 percent of this product goes to the muscles and doesn’t get converted into useless creatinin. N’FUZE and KRE-ALKALYN COMPLEX by VitaSport are great options.
- Pro-testosterone products. Hard gainers are, well, hard-wired to simply not produce much muscle mass. This can be changed with more natural testosterone production. As many lean guys can attest, during puberty there was one massive growth spike where we got taller and filled out (at least as much as we were going to). Natural testosterone, which caused that spike, decreases dramatically as men get older, leading to increases in body fat and decreases in muscle mass. We simply can’t afford that! ANITEST, ARABOL, AUGMENT, 1-XD and HGH-191 are outstanding options to get your body back to growing, the natural way.
- Pre-workout products. A supplement that increases your body’s nitric oxide production is a supplement that will flat-out increase your workout quality, and the stronger you feel and the more endurance you have, the better your results will be. Imagine how much benefit you’d get from just two last reps at the end of a set, or from using a heavier weight. Pre-workout products like N’SANE, NOX-P3, ANX-P3, and THERMOVEX deliver more energy, both of mind and body, for the most high-quality workouts you can get. Plus, the increased blood flow means your other supplements are working more efficiently. Remember, to gain muscle as a skinny guy you’ll need to be working with resistance, and doing a lot of reps. Focus and energy are absolute MUSTS.
OTHER TIPS FOR HARD GAINERS
- Stay hydrated. Shoot for at least a gallon of clean, cold water a day. It will take the stress off your body, allowing it to concentrate on the ultimate mission you’re giving it: to build muscle! Plus, with the increased calorie intake and supplements, your liver and kidneys will thank you for keeping the system hydrated. On top of this all, it helps digestion, helps keep the body’s tissues healthy and ensures a flushed system that won’t bloat the body.
- ALWAYS have snacks on hand. If you’re stuck in an office, running errands, or going on a trip, be prepared. Don’t let a lack of nearby food sidetrack your mission. Bring along jerky, string cheeses, fruit, trail mix, a shaker cup and Ziploc full of PRO7, whatever — just have food handy. You HAVE to eat. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll miss healthy meals — it’s nearly as bad as missing a workout.
- Pre-cook. Most guys who need to eat a lot suffer the pitfall of being unprepared, especially if they live busy lives. Well, most of us have a least one day a week off — use that day to prepare for all seven. Cook up a week’s worth of chicken breasts and put it all in tupperware for salads, to mix in with pasta or beans, or even just to eat alone as a snack. Do the same with broccoli or squash, or even sweet potatoes and pasta. My fridge looks like I’m storing rations in preparation for a natural disaster — in a way, that’s exactly what I’m doing!
- ALWAYS eat a complete breakfast. You are most susceptible to muscle-wasting at the only time you can’t do anything about caloric intake — while you sleep. Do not let it continue when you wake up! Even if it means waking up 30 minutes early to account for the time to make breakfast, you have to eat this meal.