‘ I’ve never liked the term hardgainer because I believe a lot of people use it as an excuse for their inability to pack on strength and mass. ‘I can’t’ and ‘I won’t’ are common phrases in their vocabularies, and they often attribute the successes of other lifters to good genetics or drugs. For example, ‘If I was born with those parents and I could spend that much time eating and resting, I’d be that damn big as well.’
The truth is that at least 98 percent of trainees have a very hard time gaining muscle. So, if you’re a so-called hardgainer, you’re not really in the minority, are you?The first thing you need to do in your search for results is to get out of your head the idea that you’re automatically at some disadvantage the rest of the world doesn’t face. Start saying ‘I can’ or, better yet, ‘I will.’ Then try out a program that’s designed to stimulate muscle size and strength in the majority of trainees’average trainees like you.
If you’ve been lifting for a long time, you probably know the basic recommendations for hard-gaining strength athletes. They usually go something like this: 1) Train very hard, 2) train infrequently, 3) use only basic, multijoint exercises, 4) get plenty of rest between training sessions and 5) eat lots of wholesome food, especially high-quality protein. That pretty much sums it up.
Most of the routines include only one set per exercise per bodypart. Most of the sets are done for six to 12 reps and are taken to complete muscular failure. The following is a typical hardgainer routine. You perform it twice a week, say, on Monday and Thursday.
Squats 1 x 20
Dumbbell pullovers 1 x 10-12
presses 1 x 8-12
Pulldowns 1 x 8-12
Nautilus curls 1 x 8-12
Pushdowns 1 x 8-12
Such routines seem to work for a good many people. If you do the 20 squats like true 20-rep breathing squats, the program will definitely produce some gains in muscle tissue and all-around strength. Over the years, however, I’ve talked with a lot of people who don’t get results from such programs, especially when they leave out the breathing squats. If that’s you, don’t worry. There are other effective approaches’fantastic routines that will add bulk to an average gainer’s frame.
The program outlined below is probably one of the best for packing muscle and raw power on hard-gaining bodybuilders and strength athletes. It incorporates many techniques, including old-time methods such as the 5×5 system, heavy singles and high-rep breathing exercises, plus more modern techniques such as negative reps, jump sets, partials and drop sets. Give it a try for at least six weeks.
The ultimate program uses a threeway bodypart split, with three workouts performed on nonconsecutive days, commonly Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Many average gainers find that they need even more rest. A one-on/ two-off schedule is a good solution to the problem. Here’s the way the cycle looks:
Monday: Workout 1
Tuesday and Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Workout 2
Friday and Saturday: Off
Sunday: Workout 3
Monday and Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: Cycle begins again
Chest and Back
This routine is basic but brutal’just what average trainees need to make good gains. Start with some type of light warmup for approximately 10 minutes’nothing hard or overly taxing, just enough to elevate your heart rate slightly and warm up your muscles. Light pedaling on the stationary bike or walking on the treadmill should do the job. You do the same type of warmup for all three workouts.
After the warmup head over to everyone’s favorite exercise’the bench press. Begin with one light warmup set for 10 to 15 reps with nothing but the empty Olympic bar. Rest a minute or two and do a warmup set of five with a weight that you can handle for about 10 reps.
For your work sets on the bench press you use the 5/4/3/2/1 method. Load the bar with whatever weight you can handle for about five hard repetitions and crank out your first work set of five. After two to three minutes’ rest put 10 to 20 pounds on the bar and shoot for four reps. Rest a couple of minutes, add another 10 to 20 pounds and shoot for three. Repeat two more times, until you reach your final set of one all-out rep. Try to increase the amount of weight on each set every week, even if it’s only by a couple of pounds. A lot of bodybuilders seem to have a fear of doing heavy singles, thinking they’re only for powerlifters, but that isn’t the case. You can also build a good deal of muscle if you use them properly and don’t max out on every exercise at every workout.
After the bench presses come drop sets of inclines. Set up an incline bench and grab a pair of dumbbells that you know you can get five reps with. Then get two progressively lighter pairs of dumbbells and set them on the floor in front of you. For instance, if you took 80-pounders for your first pair, set a pair of 70s and a pair of 60s in front of them. Pick up the 80s, lean back on the bench and try for five reps. When you reach five, put down the dumbbells and immediately pick up the 70s and try for five more, then repeat with the 60-pounders.
Drop sets have long been a popular intensity technique, especially among the brigade of high-intensity lifters. They can work really well for hard-gaining bodybuilders, but, as with all intensity techniques, don’t go overboard. One drop set will probably be plenty.
After a five-minute rest it’s time for some heavy lat work. Use a big rowing movement, either bent-over barbell rows or T-bar rows, and use the 5×5 method, in which you do two progressively heavier warmups of five reps and then three sets with your top weight. For example, say the most you can do on bent-over barbell rows for five reps is 225 pounds. Your progression starts out with one set at 135 pounds for five reps and another at 185. On your first work set shoot for five reps with 225. Rest a minute and repeat the 225, once again aiming for five reps. Rest a few more minutes and repeat again. Once you can handle five reps easily on all three work sets, increase the weight at the next workout. It’s as simple as it gets but extremely effective.
That’s your only lat exercise. Take another five-minute rest, and then it’s time to move on to some heavy barbell shrugs. On this little goodie you perform five to six progressively heavier sets of singles (that’s right, only one rep!) until you reach a maximum attempt with whatever you can handle. Even though you’re going heavy, make sure you use perfect form. Make each rep a full one by bringing the weight up as high as you can and really squeezing your trapezius muscles at the top before lowering the bar very slowly.
Quads, Hams and Lower Back
Start with another light aerobic warmup on the stationary bike or treadmill and get your blood flowing into those legs, then move to the squat rack. Use the 5×5 method, as described for rows in workout 1. Squats are a hard exercise. If you don’t get more than two or three reps on your last set, that’s fine. Stick with it until the five reps are fairly easy on all three sets, then add weight.
Don’t wimp out on squats. Make sure you go deep on each rep, to where your hips are parallel to your knees. Squats and deadlifts are the most productive things you do in the gym. They’re exceptional muscle-building tools for the average gainer.
Rest at least five minutes after your full-range squats and then head over to the power rack for some partials. Set the pins so you start the movement about five to six inches from lockout. You’re going to do singles, so warm up over five to six progressively heavier one-rep sets until you get to 95 percent of your one-rep maximum.
The third and final exercise of the workout is 20-rep breathing deadlifts. After several light warmups pick a weight that you’d usually use for 10 reps and get 20. After each rep take at least two deep breaths. Once you reach about the 10th rep, you’ll no doubt need five or six deep breaths in order to complete the set.
Twenty-rep deadlifts are absolutely brutal, no doubt about it, which is the reason most routines only recommend one work set (though I’ve done two in a workout oftenenough). They’re also highly productive and can be the average gainer’s best friend. Do not’I repeat, do not’leave them out of the program. They’re a very integral part of its success.
Arms and Shoulders
After your warmup it’s time for arm training and a technique known as jump sets, alternates and power supersets. The exercises you alternate are barbell curls and close-grip bench presses, and you use the 5/4/3/2/1 method on both.
Warm up on the presses and curls with a couple of light sets using nothing but the bar. Load the bar with your five-rep work weight and then crank out your first set. Rest two minutes, then move over to the close-grip bench presses for your first set of five. Alternate back and forth in that manner, adding weight on each set and dropping one rep until you reach your max single on both exercises.
Jump sets work really well because, when you activate the agonist muscles during a set and then do a set for the antagonist muscles, the antagonists can contract more intensely than if you hadn’t done the agonist set. It’s uncanny how well it works.
After the power arm training it’s time to move on to shoulders and a seldom-used exercise, the push press. Position yourself in the squat rack and unrack the weight onto the fronts of your shoulders. Walk out of the rack and begin the set by initiating momentum with your legs, then explode the weight up above your head.
Do four sets of push presses to complete muscular failure. On your first set pick a weight with which you think you can get eight reps. On the three ensuing sets try to get at least five. Work these hard. You can do these behind your neck as well if you don’t have shoulder problems.
That’s it. The last workout is tough but not as demanding as the first two (although you may disagree after you try the push presses). Now you go home, rest and get ready to start all over again in a couple of days.
The Sum of the Parts
Take as much rest between workouts as you need but try to stick to a fairly exact schedule. Don’t get in the habit of taking off days just because you’re too lazy to go to the gym.
If you haven’t been working out for very long or if you’ve been doing a more traditional hardgainer workout, go lighter for a week or two and give your body a chance to adjust to the routine. After that it’s full steam ahead.
On the other hand, if you’ve been training with multiple workouts for a while, take at least two weeks off so your body can heal before you start this program.
Try and get as much rest as possible on your off days and be sure to eat plenty of wholesome food, including complex carbs and protein.
Put it all together, and it’s one power-packed program for the hardgainer in all of us’simple, no-nonsense and, most important, highly effective.
Ultimate Mass-Power-and-Strength Routine
Workout 1: Chest and back
Bench presses 5 x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
presses 1 x 5 x triple drop
Bent-over barbell rows
or T-bar rows 5 x 5
Shrugs 5-6 x 1
Workout 2: Quads, hams and lower back
Squats 5 x 5
Partial squats 5-6 x 1
Deadlifts 1 x 20
Workout 3: Arms and shoulders
Barbell curls 5 x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Close-grip bench presses 5 x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Push presses 4 x failure