The best gym accessories for a hardgainer are those that help you to recruit the maximum number of muscle fibres for a given exercise.
As a hardgainer you need to keep your focus away from the flashy marketing promos for guaranteed muscle building supplements, programs and accessories and focus on instead getting stronger in the gym, eating in a calorie surplus and getting adequate rest and recovery.
I preach those three topics as essential for not just a hardgainer but the general population as a guaranteed plan for success when developing a physique and building muscle. You should always look to master the basics and not jump from one new trend to the next looking for the magic pill that will make everything easier.
As a hardgainer you will want to find easy solutions because unfortunately if you want to build muscle it is going to take hard work and you’ve likely already experienced this. I’ve been blessed/cursed with incredibly long limbs and small joints (not ideal combinations for working out and building muscle) however, I fortunately started lifting weights and enjoyed the process and was too young to realise that I had poor genetics and just wanted to get stronger.
I worked towards lifting the heaviest dumbbells in the gym, these were only 66lb dumbbells but working towards them meant I was doing the basics in just getting stronger and doing it frequently. Then when it got to the point that I was actually lifting decent weights by normal standards I finally started to use accessories that would benefit my workouts.
Whilst focusing on the basics is essential for hardgainers that are some accessories that will 100% help you progress faster and develop your physique, these aren’t fancy accessories like an arm blaster but using them will definitely give a noticeable impact on your workouts.
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This is by far my number one accessory recommendation for a hardgainer, there’s a lot of material that says you should increase grip strength and not look to make exercises easier by then the opposite view is that you shouldn’t halt progress because of a limiting factor. The best lifting straps I’ve used are Sheiks padded lifting straps, a basic strap will do the same job but it’s worth mentioning that the padded version are game changers.
To make a single observations as to why you should ignore grip strength to an extent is to allow you to push your body and exercises to the limit and grip strength will definitely limit this. Your back is a very large and powerful muscle group and therefore it’s a fair point that it’s much stronger than your forearm muscles and subsequent grip strength, when deadlifting without straps the main factor you face when failing to get another rep in 9/10 cases is that you lose your grip before you can fatigue your back muscles.
Using straps will eliminate this weak link in your chain and allow you to lift more weight, for longer and stimulate more muscle hypertrophy. As a hardgainer you need to push your physical limits in order to see changes and using straps is a quick way to do this, if you want good grip strength then that’s one thing but if you want to build a physique then ignore this mentality and put a set of straps on.
The best exercises to use these on are back exercises in the form of rows, deadlifts and shrugs, you’ll notice very quickly that with straps you can not only lift more weight than previously but also for more reps. Just having this jump in weight on these exercises will have immediate effects on your physique if you can suddenly add 10lb – 20lbs to these lifts.
Knee & Wrist Wraps
I mentioned earlier that I have small joints and fully understand the strain that can be placed on joints from lifting heavy weights, as a hardgainer your joints are definitely not designed to have this stress placed on them. The first type of wrap that would therefore be beneficial is a wrist wrap.
A wrap basically secures your joint in a stable and secure position once it’s been tightly wrapped, not only will this give you the confidence of feeling safer in terms of injury prevention but will also allow you to handle heavier weights pain free which is a must if you are looking to build muscle. The reason powerlifters use a wrap on every joint as well as a full body elasticated suit is to offer more stability for the joints and also to increase mechanical tension for the lift.
A wrap will build elastic tension and energy when flexed (much like a slingshot or elastic band) which means that the lifting portion of the lift will then feel easier, which is technically will be as some of the energy produced when lifting the weight comes from the elastic energy built up in the wraps. Therefore you will feel like you can lift more weight with wraps but just be aware that the muscle won’t necessarily be doing a lion share of the work.
Wrist wraps just add to the safety of lifts such as the bench press and overhead press though don’t serve much purpose for lighter isolation exercises, for these look to actually build wrist strength and joint stability without the use of wraps.
Knee wraps however are a big one to use as a hardgainer as it’s very much likely that your squat variations and leg presses are with significantly more weight than you can use for your upper body (though if this isn’t the case then you need to prioritise leg development and focus on getting stronger in these lifts asap) and therefore the knee joint will be at a much greater risk.
I’m all for building stabilising and supporting muscle groups however when you truly start to lift heavy weights you need the additional support for safety and stability. Having a stable joint will allow you to successfully generate tension throughout the active muscle and therefore recruit more muscle fibres and elicit hypertrophy.
Knee wraps like most accessories should be used sparingly however and you should use these for your absolute top sets where you will be lifting the most weight, it’s important to get strong without external aids and be at a level where you use them as a form of additional support rather than relying on them. Once you use these however you will notice a world of difference in how comfortable a squat will feel without feeling the strain in your joints.
Pull ups and dips are two of the greatest mass building compound exercises that a hardgainer can add to their routine. Both exercises use multiple large muscle groups to perform the movement and also work against gravity rather than in a fixed plane of motion (lat pulldown machine for example).
As there is no external weight for these exercises and they are very much body weight focused you can end up shooting mainly for rep goals rather than increasing the weight lifted on a regular basis. A dipping belt is a simple addition that will allow you to increase the weights used for these exercises making an already good movement great.
Weighted pullups are one of the most challenging movements that someone lifting weights can master but the benefit is tenfold. Mastering body weight pull ups alone is a challenge and this should be your first target before even considering adding any weight to the movement but as a hardgainer you need to search out the difficult bang for your buck exercises and get freakishly strong in them to build muscle and weighted pull ups are one of those movements.
Dips are another great mass builder, especially for hardgainers but caution needs to be exercised when doing this movement, for some the dip isn’t a very joint friendly movement for the shoulders and if you can comfortably perform dips without irritation then don’t even consider adding further resistance to them, just look for another exercise. If however you are comfortable doing dips then it is an excellent way to overload the chest but more importantly the triceps.
Being able to dip 50lbs on top of your own body weight will do more for your tricep and arm development than cable pushdowns ever will. As a hardgainer you need to be focusing on movements that offer the greatest potential for adding weight over time and along with the close grip bench press, weighted dips are a must.
On a side note dipping belts can also be useful for adding weight to exercises when you are short on specialised equipment. You can use a dipping belt for both standing and donkey calf raises, commercial gyms are notorious for a lack of calf specific machines but a dipping belt will allow you to add additional resistance anywhere that has a raised platform (step). They can also be used for weighted leg raises to target the abs and as a spine sparing squat variation.
If you are going to lift heavy weights then you should do so in my opinion with something that will offer security and act as a queue to correct posture and form during and exercise and a weightlifting belt will offer just that. A lot can be said for perfecting your breathing and posture without a reliance on external aids and I fully believe in that process, a weightlifting belt however can be utilised during your top sets of a workout for added security.
If you are comfortable using good form for between 80% – 90% of your 1 rep max then your top set above this threshold should be allowed for additional support to prevent injury and give the feeling of security (mindset can play a great role when attempting your top set lifts). A weightlifting belt not only supports your lower back and prevents rounding of the spine during heavy squats and deadlifts but also promotes proper breathing technique.
One of the key benefits of using a weightlifting belt is that it makes it a lot easier to brace your core and utilise intra abdominal pressure. Intra abdominal pressure is about inhaling deeply through your stomach rather then chest to create tension throughout your core and allow for more explosive lifting during the exhale. Have a weightlifting belt allows you to inhale against the belt and have extrinsic feedback which will mean you naturally start to use this intra abdominal pressure. For most it’s difficult to accomplish when you have a heavy bar resting on your back and therefore eliminates aspects of poor form when dealing with heavy weights.
As a hardgainer you want to be pushing your maxes from time to time to promote muscle growth and using a weightlifting belt will certainly aid in these lifts. The safer you can perform movements and the longer you can remain injury free will have a direct impact on the physique that you can build. I don’t however believe in relying on a belt during all of your sets and feel the use of this should be restricted to your heavy sets only.
Another way of looking at the benefits of a dipping belt is the ability to apply pressure to an external object in order to brace yourself and build tension in the muscles. During a lat pulldown you can lock your body into position with pads and push against these pads during the movement to build tension, if the pads weren’t there then you won’t be able to brace against anything to build the tension and likely won’t even be able to move the weight you usually do, never mind performing a set.
A weightlifting belt acts in the same way in the you can brace against the belt in order to build tension throughout your core which will then translate to the lift you are performing, if this is a barbell row for example you can theoretically create a similar feeling of bracing and tension as you would resting against a pad during a t-bar row. It wouldn’t have anywhere near the same neuromuscular effect but will still be a useful addition to your exercise and every little edge that you can get as a hard gainer is crucial.
These will have a less direct impact on your exercises and physique as some of the accessories listed above however they are still a very handy and hypertrophy inducing accessory to have as a hardgainer.
Thick bar training has been a new revolution in the training world in the last decade and the benefits are mostly focused on forearm, upper arm and back development due to the higher number of muscle fibres activated when training with a thicker bar. This was a specialised way of training much like the trap bar (rarely available in commercial gyms) until a handy new invention was released to the masses in the way of a portable accessory to add thickness to a bar or dumbbell.
Fat grips are rubber accessory than can be placed on the bar to added additional thickness, the size of which can vary depending on what you purchase and will allow you to train with a thicker implement to challenge the forearm and upper arm musculature.
The upper arms are notoriously difficult to build in true hardgainers because you likely have very long limbs with shorter muscle attachment points meaning the work needed to add even an inch to your arms is monumental.
Fat grips are however a very beneficial way to add additional tension to an exercise to further promote muscle growth and the great thing is you can do your exact same normal training routine but just add these for a further stimulus and increased mechanical tension. Any addition that has a genuine positive effect on training stimulus should be added to your arsenal as a hardgainer and when it comes to building bigger arms there isn’t a better invention on the market.
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