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Are You a Hardgainer? And How Does it Affect Your Body Building Routine?
By Jean Lam

When we think of body builders, many of us think of the pros-people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Art Atwood, and Jay Cutler. Many of these people got to where they are today by spending five or six days a week at the gym and training for hours per day. They publish their workout routines in magazines and books, and the rest of us follow them religiously in the hopes that someday we, too, can look like them. And when we fail to make the kinds of gains they made, most of us just try harder.

But is it really possible to follow a pro's workout routine and get the same results? For many of us, it's not. And that's not because we don't work hard or aren't doing the exercises correctly-it has to do with our genetic makeup.

You may have heard the term "hardgainer" used to define someone who supposedly has trouble gaining muscle. But people who are hardgainers don't have an unusual amount of trouble; it's the pros who are unusual.

Hardgainers are actually normal. A small amount of the population is born with a genetic gift; these people can put on muscle easily and quickly with frequent high-intensity workouts. Many famous body builders are born this way. However, experts estimate that 60% to 95% of the population-depending on who you ask-does not have this particular genetic gift. That means most of us are, in fact, hardgainers.

Hardgainers don't gain muscle like pros do. A genetically gifted person can work out for six to eight weeks with an intense routine, and can see immense muscle gains. A hardgainer-that's most of us-can do the same workout for the same period of time and see only slightly improved muscle tone. This is why so many people get frustrated trying to follow the same workout routines the pros use.

How to tell if you're a hardgainer. The only way to tell for sure if you're a hardgainer is to look at the type of results you see after working out for a long period of time using a "conventional" training regime-or one that emphasizes weight training more frequently than three days a week. Are you seeing major results? If you're doing everything right and you're not seeing discernible muscle and strength gains, you're probably a hardgainer.

It's easy to overtrain when you're a hardgainer. When you overtrain, you push your body beyond its ability to recover. If you train too hard, you're not making gains-you're just wearing your body down. You may actually see a decrease in the amount of weight you can lift if you overtrain. Genetically gifted people can train extremely hard before they reach this point, but most of us can't.

If you're seeing only small results with a conventional routine, it may be because you're working your body too hard. Try cutting back the number of days per week you spend at the gym, and reduce the amount of sets you do per body part and reps per set.

Less is more with hardgainer workouts. Most pros recommend hardgainers perform a full-body workout, rather than targeting specific muscle groups on different days, and that they only go to the gym two times a week at most-some suggest once every four to five days. The time between workouts is essential to allow your body to adjust to the workout.

In addition, hardgainers are encouraged not to add too much weight too quickly. Add a small amount of weight consistently instead. Add too much too soon, and you won't be able to maintain your form in the exercise. Even worse, your muscles will get tired sooner and you may actually wind up lifting less over the duration of the set than you could if using lighter weights.

Hardgainer workouts emphasize intensity cycling. Intensity cycling is a method recommended for hardgainers to give their bodies maximum recovery time. In a routine that emphasizes intensity cycling, you'll do a lighter workout for three to five weeks to prepare your body for a heavier, growth-oriented workout for the next six to twelve weeks. In general, if you train at your highest intensity at all times, you'll always overtrain eventually. When you do this, you'll hit a plateau. Hardgainers must reduce the intensity of their workouts to break through plateaus.

Hardgainer workouts focus on whole-body exercises. For hardgainers, it can take years of performing exercises that target multiple muscle groups-exercises like squats, lunges and dead lifts-to build up a solid muscular foundation. Only after a hardgainer has succeeded in building that foundation is he ready to target specific muscle groups to sculpt the body.

Hardgainers have different diet needs. Hardgainers tend to have a fast metabolism. If you've determined you're a hardgainer, you may want to eat more fats and carbohydrates than is typically recommended for body builders. While it's usually recommended for body builders to eat twelve calories for every pound of body mass, some hardgainer diets suggest as much as 24 calories per pound. Hardgainers are sometimes encouraged to eat as much as 50% carbs, with the rest split between healthy fats and protein; compare that with the 40% carbs, 40% protein and 20% healthy fats recommended in a typical body building diet.

Hardgainers can make astonishing gains in weight and muscle mass, and they can have the same sculpted physiques that genetically gifted body builders have. But for the hardgainer, the process can take longer. If you're a hardgainer, don't just follow the routines the pros use; talk to a trainer and design a routine targeted to your body. If you do, you're sure to see better results.

About the author

Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body Building Resource which provides articles on weight training, nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.


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