How often should a hardgainer workout? A hardgainer should workout 6 x days per week. 4 x days should be spent doing heavy weightlifting sessions and 2 x days should be for active recovery in the form of low intensity steady state cardio.
As a hardgainer struggling to put on any sort of muscle mass it’s easy to fall into an assumption that you need to work harder in order to see results.
Unfortunately human physiology doesn’t work that simply, if you work too frequently as a hardgainer and don’t recover fully then you can actually lose muscle mass as your body fails to cope with the demands being placed on it. This would of course be the result of true overtraining, however and ectomorph would be the most susceptible body type to overtraining.
If you dedicate 4 days per week to heavy weightlifting session then this will be more than enough to stimulate muscle hypertrophy and promote muscle growth. Overtraining is a term used too loosely these days, true overtraining is hard to actually achieve, if however you are natural (don’t take performance enhancing drugs) and a hardgainer then training too often could be a very real issue, especially if you fail to recover from workout to workout.
There isn’t a recognized optimal training frequency that guarantees results as everyone has different biological make-ups, there are however frameworks that can be followed regarding training frequency to ensure you maximize results from your efforts in the gym.
Body Part Split For Hardgainers
As a hardgainer you are already at a genetic disadvantage when it comes to building muscle. Some people have the capability to perform isolation exercises for small muscle groups and still recruit a significant enough number of muscle fibres to elicit muscle growth.
For the majority of the population, in particular those with an ectomorphic body types, this style of training will not produce the same type of results, a hardgainer needs to target the large muscle groups with multi joint, compound movements. Isolation movements will have their place in a routine, however if you follow a program that has a specific arm day then the frequency at which you train the larger muscle groups is going to be less and which will not benefit a hardgainer.
In terms of structuring a body part split there are a few popular splits that you will already be familiar with, the most common of which will likely be training one body part a day (ie the bro split). There’s an international appreciation for chest day on Mondays and you’ll also see reference to leg day, arm day etc.. When people describe a session it tends to be associated with a body part day.
There are major advantages to this type of training, it’s one of the easiest to recover from as specific muscles will get a longer rest period between sessions and it’s also ideal for bringing up lagging body parts through targeted training. When looking at a hardgainer looking to put on muscle mass this is probably the worst split that you could use, your large muscle group won’t receive anywhere near enough stimulation to grow.
Training a body part frequently and stimulating your muscle groups will lead to growth rather than excessive volume with less frequency. Christian Thibaudeau, an elite level strength coach goes into more detail on this here
If frequency is king for a hardgainer then the best splits to incorporate are either upper body/lower body days or a push/pull/legs. Instead of separating the body parts you will now be separating the movements based on function and categories.
An upper/lower split means one day you will train upper body and the next you will train upper body, each would be done twice per week for a total of four sessions though if you are at an advanced level this could be done six days per week with one rest day. The advantage of this is that you will pick the exercises with the most multi joint functions and therefore work the most muscles.
Examples for an upper body day would be:
- Incline bench press which will target the chest, triceps and shoulders
- Dips would also target the above muscle groups
- Standing overhead press for shoulders and triceps
- Barbell row will work your back, biceps and rear delts of the shoulder
You could also include some accessory work in the form of bicep curls or ab crunches however these will not be the focus of the workout.
Push, pull, legs breaks this down further and acts as a middle ground between upper/lower splits and full body part splits. On a push day you will target the muscle groups involved in pushing movements so chest, triceps and shoulders. Pull days will be focused on the pulling muscle groups of the back, traps and biceps and leg day will be legs (which could be rotated based one session focusing on quad movements and the following then focusing on hamstring and glutes).
The benefit of this routine is that you can train on a four day split (3 training days followed by 1 day off) which will be very beneficial for rest and recovery whilst also allowing for frequent training of each muscle group within the period of a week.
Workout Frequency & Volume
I touched on this whilst discussing body part splits and it’s crucial that a hardgainer places an emphasis on more training frequency with a lower volume. It’s easy to think that doing more will result in quicker/better results and that going hard in the gym is obvious solution though it’s easy to take this mindset to far and it’s not an optimal training strategy for hardgainers.
The reason someone is a hardgainer is because they do not have the genetic potential to do what everyone else does, a hardgainer needs to stimulate the muscle and get stronger over time to see muscle growth but it’s more important that you recover from session to session and eat the necessary amount of calories everyday to build muscle.
Training does need to be hard but the focus will not be on training duration for a hardgainer (10 sets of bicep curls will see some progress but it will be marginal), it will need to be on intensity and getting stronger in the key lifts.
A well known program for beginners and hardgainers is called Starting Strength, the concept is that you perform the three major lifts (barbell bench press, squat and deadlift) for 3 sets of 5 reps, 3 x per week. The progressive point is that once you do 3 sets of 5 reps with a given weight, you add more weight next time you do it and over time as you get significantly stronger in these core lifts, you will put on size due to the muscle groups being used.
There are some accessory movements included in the program to use if you want however just using this fundamental program you will train three days a week and have four rest days. On the three training days you are hitting the major muscle groups and therefore training frequency is actually 3 x per week for the chest or legs as an example.
The focus for a hardgainer should be to do more with less, you want to hit the major muscle groups, get significantly stronger in compound movements and then recover just as much as you’d train. This is how you will see significant changes in your physique and muscle mass, some sets of bicep curls simply won’t stimulate the same response.
Active Recovery & Rest Days
To build muscle as a hardgainer the focus should not only be on how frequently you train but also on how often you rest and recover. Once you’ve trained and placed adequate stress on the muscle, the repair and building process actually occurs during rest, if you can’t recover from session to session then you can’t build muscle.
The first focus should be on scheduling in rest days as a priority rather than an afterthought, if you train for ten days consecutively and then take one day off you will burn out in no time and see minimal progress (though honestly you might see some to begin with as that sort of training frequency will be a shock to your body). An ideal split will be 2-3 days of hard training followed by a rest day, it can also be beneficial to add consecutive rest days on a regular basis to ensure you are fully recovering.
It can feel like you are wasting away having time off and you feel unproductive and this is a mindset that is difficult to change, one thing that you can incorporate to overcome this is an active rest day. These are not meant to be taken to the extreme and treated as a different type of workout (high intensity cardio session for example) but should be used as a way to circulate blood and aid recovery.
A 20 – 30 minute walk to raise your heart rate and get blood pumping will help with the muscle repairing process as nutrient rich blood is pumped to the muscles, just don’t let your heart rate get too high (70bpm+) as this is then becoming a workout in itself.
You can also include some soft tissue and mobility work to aid in injury prevention which is a necessity when your lifting focus should be on getting stronger in big lifts. A 30 minute foam rolling session can break down scar tissue, bring more blood into a certain areas to aid recovery and prevent tightness and muscle shortening which could lead to injury down the line. When done correctly foam rolling will also hurt and this is a powerful mental aspect that will replace the feeling of ‘not doing anything’ on a rest day.
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Also check out:
Guide to getting big as an ectomorph