The ability to gain muscle varies from person to person. For most people gaining muscle isn’t an easy task and requires a lot of commitment to a specific diet as well as dedicated exercise and workouts in order to see results.
However, for some people gaining muscle seems nearly impossible, no matter what they do or try. This is what’s often referred to as a hardgainer, essentially someone who really struggles to gain muscle.
If you’re a hardgainer then it’s easy to feel disheartened and think that it’s impossible for you to be able to build muscle. However, being a hardgainer doesn’t mean it’s impossible to gain muscle though, just that it’s more difficult than it is for the average person.
In the next sections, I’ll explain for anyone wondering what does hardgainer mean as a term, how to know if you are a hardgainer, and how you can still build muscle as a hardgainer.
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What Does Hardgainer Mean?
When it comes to building muscle, a hardgainer refers to someone who finds it very difficult to gain muscle through diet and working out. Essentially, despite eating a calorie surplus and training a hardgainer still struggles to increase their muscle mass.
To be clear, most people find it difficult to gain muscle. The average person can only gain 0.5-2 pounds of muscle per month. It’s generally easier to gain muscle when you first start working out. It’s usually also easier when you’re between 15 and 30 years old due to hormonal and metabolic factors.
However, for hardgainers it’s very difficult to gain muscle usually because of their body type.
According to WH Sheldon, there are 3 main body types: endomorph (this is someone who is prone to gaining weight easily and is generally fatter); mesomorph (someone who is generally in shape and can easily build muscle); and an ectomorph (someone who is generally thin and struggles to gain weight, essentially the opposite of an endomorph).
Someone who is a hardgainer is normally also classed as an ectomorph. They usually have a very fast metabolism which means that they struggle to gain weight or build muscle regardless of what they eat. They’re usually very thin with low muscle mass and low body fat percentages.
Although it can be a case of body type, there can also be other reasons why someone struggles to gain muscle. For instance, to build muscle you need to have a nutritious diet that is high in protein. Not having a nutritious diet can stop someone from gaining muscle.
** There can also be underlying health conditions that affect muscle growth. It’s important to rule these out and be checked for these if you are struggling to gain muscle.
Is Hardgainer Real or a Myth?
Hardgainers are not a myth.
Whilst it’s uncommon to be a hardgainer, it’s not as uncommon as you might think it is. Being a hardgainer is often the result of body type whereby your metabolism is so fast it burns calories before they can be made into fat or muscle.
To expand on this some more, hardgainers are sometimes thought of as a myth. However, they do exist, and being a hardgainer is a real thing. Although it is pretty uncommon, it’s not as uncommon as you might think it is.
Body types fall along a spectrum and just as there are people who find it really easy to gain muscle (often called “easygainers”) there are those that struggle to build muscle and put on extra weight.
What Makes Someone a Hardgainer?
Different characteristics make someone a hardgainer. These include having an ectomorph body type, involving low fat and muscle percentages. They will also have a fast metabolism making it difficult to gain fat or muscle despite exercise and diet.
So there are different characteristics which make someone a hardgainer. These characteristics involve difficulty putting on muscle despite following a calorie surplus diet and working out in a way that would cause muscle gain in the average person.
Hardgainers also have a very fast metabolism. Essentially, a hardgainer will burn off the calories that they consume very quickly which means that they don’t end up gaining weight or muscle mass even if they eat a lot.
As with most things related to body composition and athleticism, whether or not you are a hargainer will usually come down to genetics.
How Do You Tell if You’re a Hardgainer?
It’s difficult to tell if you’re a hardgainer as a lot of people can struggle to build muscle. However, if you’ve ruled out any health conditions that can affect muscle growth and still struggle to put on muscle or fat despite having a nutritious diet that’s in a calorie surplus then you might be a hardgainer.
A lot of people find it difficult to gain muscle, so what specifically makes someone a hardgainer? Well although most people will struggle to gain muscle to some extent, a hardgainer will find this much harder than the average person.
As they have a high metabolism, gaining muscle and fat is really challenging for hardgainers and they will struggle to see results in comparison to others.
If they’ve ruled out any potential health conditions that could be affecting muscle growth, follow a healthy and nutritious diet with a calorie surplus and exercise in a way that’s going to build muscle (by this I mean doing heavy weight training, not cardio) and still no results or limited results then it’s likely that person is a hardgainer.
It needs to be stated though that the term hardgainer is an incredibly overused term and something people use as an excuse. For 99% of the population, if you consume a calorie surplus, have an energy surplus, and follow an optimized weight training program then you will build muscle.
Hardgainers are not a myth but they are also a rarity. If you are not gaining weight or building muscle, you need to track calories, adjust them upwards and keep a logbook of your weights used.
If you increase calories, lift more weight each week, yet still don’t see any changes then – and only then – should you entertain the fact that you could be a hardgainer.
What Should I Do if I’m a Hardgainer?
If you’re a hardgainer you can still gain muscle if you follow a specific exercise and workout regime involving a focus on weight training and low cardio. You can also change your diet and take supplements which can help to promote muscle growth.
If you are a hardgainer then you should follow a specific exercise and workout regime. A hardgainer should workout 6 days a week. 4 of these days should be spent focusing on weight training doing heavy weightlifting sessions.
You might think that hardgainers should workout intensely all of the time. However, this is a common mistake as overtraining can prevent muscle growth as your body doesn’t have time to recover and grow muscle.
In fact, overtraining can actually lead to a loss of muscle, as your body can’t cope with the demand being put on it.
Doing heavy weightlifting sessions four days a week is more than enough to promote muscle growth.
The other two days should be spent actively recovering by doing low intensity, steady cardio. For muscle building as a hardgainer it’s best to avoid intense cardio as it’s going to boost your metabolism and burn calories.
If you already have a fast metabolism then you don’t want to be burning excess calories. So to promote recovery as a hardgainer it’s best to focus on low-intensity cardio.
As well as following a specific workout regime, a hardgainer should also focus on eating a calorie surplus. In order to build muscle, your body requires more calories than you are using. If you already have a faster metabolism then this calorie surplus will need to be higher than the average person.
However, when having a calorie surplus it’s important to still maintain a healthy diet if you want to see muscle gain. Some of the best foods for muscle gain are those with high levels of protein and carbohydrates. It’s also important to include good fats in your diet.
Related – Best bulking foods for hardgainers
There are also different supplements that you can take that can promote muscle growth. These supplements aren’t a replacement for working out and following a specific diet, but they can help to aid progress.
Some of the best supplements for hardgainers are creatine, whey protein, and essential amino acids.
Hardgainers are one of the most misunderstood body types you’ll find. True hardgainers are very much real and their genetics do not allow you to build muscle easily. It’s not impossible but it just takes more training, more optimized dieting, and more hard work than the average person.
The reverse of this is an issue. Most people assume they are hardgainers but don’t eat enough or train smart enough to grow muscle. Training too often with a bro split, not hitting a calorie surplus each week, not progressing in the weight room, and not resting enough are all issues that people who think they are hardgainers face.
The truth is that hardgainers do exist but the term shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not building muscle quickly. If you think you’re a hardgainer, consider the previous paragraph and make sure you’re following all of those steps first before throwing around the term hardgainer!
Check out this video on gaining muscle as a hardgainer: