Ectomorphs are called hardgainers because, well, it’s hard for them to gain muscle. Having a taller, thin body with small wrist and ankle joints is a dead giveaway that your frame isn’t genetically-optimized for building and carrying a lot of muscle – but that certainly shouldn’t hold you back when it comes to becoming a bodybuilder, because EVERYONE can build and maintain lean muscle mass!
Here are 5 hardgainer tips for skinny guys and girls who want to be bodybuilders:
Hardgainer Tip #1: Have Realistic Expectations
Ectomorphs will never win the Mr. Olympia title – but neither will 99.999% of other bodybuilders either. All over the world there are bodybuilders working hard in the gym for a thousand hours a year while eating right, sleeping right and taking all kinds of supplements and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) – and at that level you need everything to be on point – including your genetics. But building muscle, have a great body and looking great in the gym or on the beach can be achieved by hardgainers, even without the genetics of a gorilla or truckloads of PEDs.
Most likely you already have one major advantage over other bodybuilders – very little bodyfat. Typically a hardgainer has a fast metabolism and is no more genetically predisposed to carrying much bodyfat than he or she is to building muscle. So as you visualize the body you want to build, picture yourself with a bit less bodyfat than you’re currently carrying and with more muscle mass. How much more? That’s going to depend on YOU – how relentless you are in your pursuit of a bodybuilder physique.
Hardgainer Tip #2: Train Smart In The Gym
As a skinny guy trying to build bigger muscles, you have to train smart and stick to the proven principles. Make sure the bulk of your workouts are focused around the big compound lifts – squats, deadlifts, bent rows, bench press and overhead presses. Yes, you’ll want some isolation exercises for arms, abs and calves, but keep the bulk of your energy & time focused on the lifts that are the proven-best muscle mass builders. And keep your ego in check – constantly trying for new personal record lifts (PRs) will hold back your gains. Endomorphs and some mesomorphs might gain noticeable muscle size from powerlifting workouts, but most ectomorphs will simply get a lot stronger without getting much bigger from that style of training.
Instead, aim to do 5 to ten sets for each exercise, with 8 to 12 reps per set. Don’t rush through your sets, but instead do each of your reps using a count of 1-2 seconds on the concentric portion of the lift and 3-5 seconds for the eccentric portion. (You can always tell which is the concentric portion for any lift – it’s the part where the muscle you’re working is getting shorter and contracting. Consider the upward motion of squats, deadlifts, rows, etc, and the downward motion of triceps pushdowns, etc.)
Rest between sets is important too. You’ll see a lot about time-under-tension (TUT) that suggests you keep intra-set breaks to 30 or 40 seconds max, but that’s not always the best advice for true hardgainers – resting 30 seconds between sets burns 50% more calories than 3-minute rests according to Dr. Jim Stoppani. While a high volume of sets and 3-minute breaks per set would take way too long, aim to get about a minute rest between sets.
Keep your form strict, and use weights that let you get 10 or 12 reps on your first few sets without breaking form, but that only let you get 6 to 8 reps on your last couple of sets. If, on those last couple of sets you can’t get 6 reps then the weight is too heavy. Conversely, if you still get to ten reps on your last set keep going to failure on that set, then increase the weight for your next workout til you’re back in that 6-8 rep range for your last set.
In many, if not most cases, hardgainers’ fast metabolisms allow their bodies to repair themselves fairly quickly. Because of that, be sure to work each bodypart at least twice per week – in fact, a full-body workout on 3 non-consecutive days is often ideal.
Hardgainer Tip #3: Eat Clean, Eat Healthy & Eat MORE
Anyone trying to be a bodybuilder needs to consume plenty of calories every day – and hardgainers need to consume a LOT more clean calories than others would. Yes, you have tons of energy. That’s courtesy of your faster metabolism and it’s habit of burning glucose, glycogen, carbohydrates and protein to keep you supercharged. But let go of the concept that you ‘can eat anything’ – that’s a common myth amongst hardgainers because they don’t put on much bodyfat from a poor diet. You need to understand that too many simple carbs on a regular basis can dull your insulin receptors. Not only can that lead to Type 2 Diabetes down the road, but insulin is the main transport for glucose into the muscles where that glucose is stored as glycogen and is used to fuel muscle activity.
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