I have a real problem with the term hardgainer. Actually, my problem stems with what happens when people believe they are a -so called' hardgainer.
In a bodybuilding sense, the hardgainer is classified as someone who cannot make positive changes to their physiques, no matter who much effort they put in. They might strive away for hours at a time in the gym, eat the right foods, take the latest supplements, yet still cannot put on a pound of muscle. Well I am telling you right now. Every person has the ability to put on slabs of muscle in record time, safely and naturally. I don't care if you truly believe you are a hardgainer or not. To me, that's just an excuse.
That's all the hardgainer title is anyway - an excuse. You might be inconsistent with your workouts, but that's not your fault - you're a hardgainer. You might not eat the right foods at the right times - again, you're a hardgainer. You might be following a program, which is not effective in achieving results - again, this isn't your fault is it? Its because you are a hardgainer, right?
All this term is, is a scapegoat for people who are not reaching their high expectations. Instead of taking accountability for your own actions, it's a lot easier to class yourself a hardgainer. Then you and all your hardgainer buddies can sit in the gym, complete set after set of one arm cable concentration curls, and when your arms don't grow, you can all sing the hardgainer song together.
Gaining muscle and losing fat is so ridiculously easy, yet people always try to over complicate the process. It is so simple to gain muscle and strength in record time, and I am now going to put you on the right path for success with these ever so simple steps:
Step 1 - Ditch the title
I was checking out the -House of Pain' site a few weeks ago and seen a video clip of a dude benching over 800lbs. Whilst I'm not a power lifter, I can appreciate that this is a HUGE accomplishment. I sat down to think about how I would achieve such a lift, and the one thing for certain is that before I even laid down on the bench, I would have to be certain that I would make it. I would have to have a total belief in my own abilities.
Wait up - what does this have to do with being a hardgainer?
You see, he believed he could make the lift, it's that simple. Now if you deep down believe that you are a hardgainer and a muscular physique is out of reach, do you think you will achieve any meaningful results? NO WAY! Every trip to the gym, every protein shake you gulp, every cardio session, it will always be in the back of your mind that all your effort will do squat because you are destined to a life of smallness.
The very first thing you need to do is ditch the title. Stop thinking of yourself as a hardgainer, but maybe as an -untapped resource of explosive muscular power'. Skip la Cour will often instruct people in his writings to -think big', what do you think he means by this? All actions come from your beliefs, and if you truly believe that you will never succeed, then what chance do you have?
Believing in yourself and your own abilities is a quality you must posses if you want to be successful. Ditch the title -hardgainer' and replace it a title that best suits you (future Mr O). If you believe you can make it, then guess what - your already 1 step ahead of where you were yesterday.
Step 2 - What do you want to achieve?
Alright, so you now believe that you can achieve anything - now what? You need a goal.
Ask yourself this - why are you training and what are you training for? Are you interested in physique competition or simply to look and feel better. Do you want to have the ideal body in 3 months, or in 3 years. Or is it even more specific then that, like rehabilitation of an injured knee etc. If you have a definite plan and something worthwhile to achieve, then the chances of success are even greater.
Without a goal, sometimes it feels as though we are simply coasting through the motions. We seem to lack that drive and integrity needed. Even with our best intensions, the lack of a goal can slow progress. It's that simple.
At the start of each year, I make it a habit to write down my goals that I would like to achieve over the next 12 months. For me personally, these are competition related goals, but they will be unique for each person. That's the key, they are your goals.
Go ahead, write down what is most important for you to achieve. When you do this, you give yourself a definite objective, rather then just a wishful goal. It also instils a sense of urgency with your training, because you now know that be the end of the year, you must stand up and assess your progress. Success here comes down to how hard you want to achieve.
Step 3 - Knowledge is Power
You often hear the statement that -with knowledge comes power', well guess what - it comes into play here as well. The more knowledgeable you are in health and fitness, the better you can apply that knowledge to your training to achieve outstanding results.
But there is a catch. Not all knowledge is correct.
The fitness industry (especially the physique industry) is one of the most deceitful and ruthless industries around today. Why you ask? Well, there are many individuals and companies out here solely in it for the money. Us as consumers are very easy targets to these individuals because they use our insecurities and weaknesses against us. For one reason or not, we all dislike either the way we look, feel or function, and these people play on this. Promising you the world with little chance of success, they pass off their bogus cellulite reduction creams and ab-belts, liquid creatines and MethoxyIsoflavone capsules, take you precious money and laugh all the way to the bank.
Obtaining knowledge from these people will generate weight loss from your hip pocket, and that's about it.
I personally believe that you should be wary of any person who claims they are an expert, guru, revolutionary etc - you get the picture. To me, a guru (and the like) is someone who knows all and is so jam-packed full of information, they are like a walking encyclopedia of bodybuilding guru-ism. To be anyone of stature, you always need to be willing to learn and to take on new things. The day you class yourself a guru, that's the day you are telling the world that you know it all - sorry, but you don't. There is always something new to learn, you just need to be open to new things.
Plus, this sometimes seems like a snazzy sales tactic so you instantly see them as someone of higher importance to yourself, and they are indeed worthy of your dollars.
So who can you trust?
Supplement Companies - Only rely on those who have been in the game for a number of years, considered an industry leader and do not produce any of the bogus articles you see on the shelves today.
Supplement Retailers - Same as above. The stores who stock scientific based researched articles, offer good service and refuse to stock the crap gets a nod in my book. Bypass any store that sells the crap - this alone will show what they are motivated by
Trainers - Any trainer that recommends functional based exercise over isolation exercises (apart from rehab purposes) gets the big thumbs up
Gym buddies - Can be tricky. If you buddy is telling you how great liquid creatine is, he obviously still believes the hype. Associate with those in your gym who share your views, and you feel that have valuable information to offer you.
Websites - This is another that can be tricky. It is very easy to hide behind the PC screen, post anything on a home page and become as instant guru. Lately, there are more bad PT's online then there are in gyms. To find a good website, look past all the snazzy bells and whistles, and go for a site that offers sound knowledge on all facets of the fitness industry, offers online support, is sincere in their approach and only offers quality articles and services.
Institutions - Places like the -American College of Sports Medicine' are always offering the latest findings on effective sporting techniques. Services like these can offer you some really good info.
Step 4 - Training
More often then not, people will over complicate the whole training process when they are not getting the results they demand. Throwing in an extra set here, another exercise there will be detrimental to you if you are already suffering minimal results. Now add into the mix the -so called' intensity techniques (super-sets, giant-sets, drop-sets, forced reps, etc) and you will be lucky to stay the same size you are now. You might be laughing at this now, but I guarantee that there are guys and gals right now doing exactly this out of sheer frustration, and determination.
Training is merely the stimulus to get the muscle building process rolling along. You do not need to do a lot of work, you just need to do it right.
Below is a simple plan you can stand by if you as desperate for results now:
- Work large muscle groups, such as legs, chest and back, before small muscle groups, such as triceps and biceps.
- Chose multiple-joint exercises, like barbell squats and dead lifts, before single-joint exercises, such as leg extensions and curls.
- Overload is the key factor to muscle growth. Load (resistance) must be constantly increased in order to produce a growth/adaptation response.
- Once past the novice stage, emphasis of heavy loads in the 1-6 maximum rep-range is most effective.
- Use at least three-minute rest periods to allow vital ATP stores to regenerate completely.
- Training volume should be kept minimal to avoid overtraining.
- A training frequency of 4-5 sessions per week is recommended for experienced lifters, and 2-3 sessions a week for novice trainers.
- Train muscle groups once a week, twice a week is the maximum (you are already doing this if you incorporate a shoulder workout into your program).
- Chronic muscle damage (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS) is not a prerequisite of muscle growth - muscle growth still occurs without severe muscle damage.
Step 5 - Nutrition
No matter how dedicated you are to your training, or how effective your program is, unless you back up your efforts in the gym with a equally sound nutrition plan, then you will only expierence minimal results at best.
Maybe you want to be just as dedicated to your nutrition plan as you are to your training program, but you simply don't know how to go about it. Maybe you don't know which foods are good to eat and which are not, or you do not know the composition of foods. Don't despair, there is an answer.
In regards to food composition, I suggest you go out and buy a Food Almanac or Calorie Counter book. These generally have the nutritional breakdown (Protein, Carbs, Fat, Sodium, Potassium, Fibre, etc) of the most common foods and drinks and are a really great tool when comprising a diet.
Now when it comes to diet, you really need to decide on your goals first. Without your goals affirmed, there is no way you can create an effective diet. If you are 50lbs overweight, you will not be eating the same was as someone trying to increase bulk - see what I mean. Decide on your goal, and then you can tailor your diet to meet that goal - it's that simple.
If you need to source advice, there are heaps of avenues. You know that guy in the gym who is always in great shape, ask him what he does. Spend the dollars and see a sports dietician. Or you could check out the nutrition sites online, check out your favourite bodybuilding sites, or even as simply as asking questions from anyone whom you think has valuable advice to offer. Your ideal nutrition plan is waiting for you, it just comes down to obtaining the right knowledge to create it.
Note. Make sure that the people you ask will be able to provide you with realistic answers. If your goal is physique competition, don't waste your money obtaining a diet from a sports dietician who specialises with distance runners. Seek the advice with like minded individuals as yourself.
Step 6 - Supplements
Have you ever wondered if using sports supplements is all worth it? I mean, they can get very expensive sometimes and with so many bogus articles out in the market, have you ever wondered if the risks are just do damn high? Well if you are dedicated to staying 'drug free' and want to improve your current physique bad enough, then yes, supplements can definitely help you.
A well-structured supplementation program can be a tremendous advantage in your quest to gain muscle and lose body fat. When combined with proper training and nutritional habits, a good supplementation program can assist in more efficient and rapid muscle growth - without the moral, legal, and medical ramifications commonly associated with drug-use. It will, however, take patience, knowledge, and a financial investment.
Before we go any further you must understand something. No one supplement will make an ounce of difference if everything else in your program isn't structured for efficient muscle gain. Nor will an entire supplementation program assist you if you do not train correctly, eat correctly or fail to follow all your principles 100%.
A supplement is exactly what it states, a supplement to an otherwise correct approach to training, nutrition and recovery. It is only when these principles are met that you can expect to see the exceptional results that a sound, supplementation program can deliver.
The science behind sports supplements has never been so detailed. Why? Because sports supplements are now big business and as in all business, they need a article to sell. This is when caution must be used. Stay well clear of the 'too good too be true' articles, because they usually are. To give yourself the best chance of success, stick to your basic, research proven articles such as Creatine, L-Glutamine, high quality Whey Protein and a good Multi Vitamin/Mineral formula.
Step 7 - Recovery
If you ask the average gym member when they get bigger and stronger, most will answer when they are actually training. Ask that same person about recovery, and they usually end up with a puzzled look on their face. Many do not realise how important recovery is. In fact, it is so important that it can literally mean the difference between success and failure.
To make things simple here, I have divided the recovery up into 3 phases:
Phase-1 Recovery - This is what I call the recovery between sets. As you should be aware of by now, when training in an overload manner, Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) is our primary energy source. Between each set of maximum intensity, you need to recover for a minimum of 3 minutes. This enables a minimum if 90% ATP replenishment. Any less, and you greatly reduce your energy output. You can see now why training techniques such as drop-sets can be counter articleive.
Phase-2 Recovery - This is what I call the recovery between training the same body part twice. You hear some people saying that it takes 48 hours for a body part to recover before you can train it again - what nonsense. If you train hard, you are nowhere near recovered by then. Plus, if you are recovered, what about the over-compensation? This is how it works.
When you train hard, after the workout you become sore. There have been a lot of theories behind Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and the most respected is that during the lowering phase of the rep, tiny microscopic tears in the Sacromeres develop (little muscle tears). Now, you need to wait until these guys heal, and then they get a little stronger and bigger to handle that same stress again. Do you think this can all happen in 48 hours? Nope.
You need to wait a recommended 7 days before training the same body part again. In other words, if you train chest on Monday, wait until next Monday to train it again.
Phase-3 Recovery - This is what I call it when you need to take an extended leave from the gym. Before you get all edgy over this, listen up. You need to schedule in periodic absences from the gym every 2-3 months to really benefit from all your hard work.
As we all know, intensity governs how hard a workout is. If we keep training day in and day out for months at a time, our intensity will drop, You might not realise it, but it most certainly does. By taking a week off every 10 weeks or so, this lets our body (both physically and mentally) recharge, and when we come back to training we are once again performing at 110%. There is no point training at 90% when it takes a 100% commitment to change your physique. For that week off, kick back and do as little as possible. Let your body take advantage of this time-out period, your goals will be better for it.
Step 8 - Be happy with your accomplishments, but never be satisfied
I honestly believe that the day you become satisfied with your development is the day that your results will stop dead in their tracks. The reason is that with out the never ending feeling of not being good enough, that you must continually improve at all costs, you lose the spark that drives you. Without that unwavering determination, you face a very steep battle to succeed.
If you are truly satisfied with your development, congratulations! You are probably in about the top 0.5% of people who regularly train with weights. For the rest of us, we must keep the battle alive.
Now if we don't have that drive to push ourselves harder then ever before, to lift 5 more kilograms or one more rep, then why will we be rewarded with muscle growth? We must fight for every single gram of muscle growth we get, so a half-assed approach unfortunately will not do it.
Whenever I compete, or even have an exceptional day in the gym, people will often ask me why don't I ease up for a while. The typical comment -you looked so good' or -that was an awesome effort' are examples of some of the comments you will hear. You can afford to take it easy once in a while. I'm like, no way. I achieved these results with 100% dedication and determination, anything less will produce marginal results at best.
I am always proud of my previous accomplishments, but I know there is so much more I can achieve, and I will only ever get close to my high expectations if I chase my goal every single day. I encourage you to develop a simple mindset.
Step 9 - Draw inspiration from others
Maybe there is an athlete who you look up to and really admire in your gym. They always look good, have a good attitude to training and are approachable for conversation and advice after their session is over. Why not take a leaf out of their book, and use some of their characteristics yourself.
Say what! Now this sounds like it's getting a bit weird.
Hear me out. Maybe the reason they look good is because they are consistent with all aspects of their training, and you are not. You could draw the conclusion that the reason they look the way they do is due to consistency, hence employing this technique yourself. Are you approachable to your fellow gym members or do they stay clear of you? Try and become more open, and maybe after your work is done, you will have the chance to share ideas with other members, taking all their relevant information and using it to your own advantage to advance your training progress.
This person doesn't even need to be an athlete. Maybe you work in the corporate world and really admire your bosses never say die attitude. Your boss might be grossly overweight, unhealthy, big time smoker and drinker, and nothing like you in character, but this personality trait of his might really benefit you. This might give you the strength and courage to tackle new weights, or step your training up a notch when it gets tough.
Take a second to look around. There are inspirational people around you everywhere, you just need to step outside the square to see the qualities that will benefit you.
Step 10 - Passion
No one said it was going to be easy. We all realise that nothing in life, which is worth having, comes easily. It all takes determination, effort, focus and a never-ending commitment. Now just because we need to give so much, people never take the time to enjoy it.
I personally have an unbreakable passion for training, and everything that goes along with it. Some times, it is hard, sometimes even being unbearable. But, I always take pride in the fact that I am doing something I truly love doing. If I didn't, there is no way I could keep the ball rolling, day after day, week after week and year after year. To but it bluntly, apart from my family, bodybuilding (personally and professionally) is my passion.
There is nothing better then making that squat with a weight you never dreamed possible, or standing on stage taking the first place trophy, when you didn't even think you looked like a -real' bodybuilder.
I honestly believe that if you have passion, you will put more effort into your goals, you will find the struggle easier, and at the end of the day you will be rewarded handsomely.