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Q&A: The Hardgainer Tag and Eating More to Grow Massive

www.ironmanmagazine.comQ: Did you originate the word hardgainer? Isn’t there a danger that bodybuilders who label themselves hardgainers will end up limiting their progress?

A: I didn’t originate the term. If you look through issues of Iron Man from more than 50 years ago, you’ll regularly come across the regular use of hardgainer. My first IM article was published in 1981 (when I was 22), and I believe I used it in some of my earliest articles, but it was 1989 when I brought attention to the term by publishing a magazine called The Hardgainer. I published it for 15 years, and I had many hardgainer-oriented articles published in newsstand magazines throughout its lifetime. That combination probably gave the term more widespread publicity.

Whether the designation of hardgainer has a limiting effect on progress depends on how it’s interpreted. If you think something along the lines of, “Because I’m a hardgainer I can’t make much, if any, progress, so I’ll not bother with bodybuilding or will just go through the motions,” that would be disastrous—and a bastardization of the meaning. If you interpret the term as I do, however, it will free you from the sort of training instruction that’s useless for most bodybuilders and give you a strong chance of making good progress.

The huge majority of people are genetically average and free of bodybuilding drugs. They don’t have the freaky genetic talent for building huge muscles or the drug assistance that made the champion bodybuilders so super-duper-responsive to exercise when they were building themselves up.

In truth, hardgainer really means “normal gainer.” Because many hardgaining bodybuilders follow the training methods of the champions, they make themselves into zero gainers.

Once you acknowledge that you’re a hardgainer—because you’re genetically typical and drug-free—you should also acknowledge that the training methods that work for easy gainers won’t work for you. Then you’ll be much more likely to follow the methods that will work for you.

Even hardgainers can develop terrific physiques, although nothing like the monstrous builds of today’s drug-enhanced, genetic standouts. Forget about trying to match the 250-plus-pound, sub-5-percent-bodyfat physiques, but if you’re 180 to 190 pounds and 12 percent bodyfat at around 5’9”—or an adjusted bodyweight for different heights—you’ll have a physique that will impress everyone other than those who are impressed only by monster physiques. If you’re 180 to 190 pounds at around 5’9”, with less than 8 percent bodyfat, that will stun most people.

Such relatively modest physiques are possible for many hardgainers provided they train in a way that’s appropriate for them. When they train really well and fully attend to the components of recuperation, many so-called hardgainers gain so nicely that they no longer feel they belong in that category.

—Stuart McRobert


Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new BRAWN Series, Book 1: How to Build Up to 50 Pounds of Muscle the Natural Way, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or

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