The bastardization of the term “hard gainer”

The term “hard gainer” has been much misunderstood and misinterpreted by many bodybuilders. And they have paid a heavy price.

Some bodybuilders use their self-determined “hard-gainer” status as a scapegoat for their poor progress. But the primary explanation for their poor progress is that they don’t properly apply themselves to their training and recovery.

Some bodybuilders have much greater potential for building strength and muscle than others, of course, but everyone can improve, and most bodybuilders can improve a great deal, provided they set about the task properly for long enough.

I say this even though I’ve probably done more over the last 30 years to popularize the term “hard gainer” (or “hardgainer”) than anyone else.

The training method I promote, when implemented properly, works well for all types of gainers, regardless of where on the spectrum of “gainingness” or “gainability” specific individuals are.

What I was driving at right from my early writing (even before I started HARDGAINER magazine in 1989) was differentiating between the sort of weight training that works for modern-day bodybuilding “champions” — high volume, and four or more workouts per week — and the sort that works for drug-free, “normal” bodybuilders.

The bodybuilding “champions” have tremendous advantages from their genetic good fortune, which they embellish with drug assistance. They are in a totally different category of bodybuilders to those who are genetically normal, and drug-free.

The conventional (or mainstream) training methods taught in most gyms today, and by most training publications, are much closer to the methods used by the bodybuilding “champions” than the methods that are appropriate for “normal gainers.” And that’s the main reason why conventional training methods have such a lousy record among bodybuilders as a whole.

I’m not suggesting that the easy-gaining “champions” don’t take their training seriously. Most of them are tremendously dedicated to their workouts and recuperation, but they are also tremendously responsive to training because of their genetics and drug assistance. And they have a potential for muscle and might that’s way beyond what’s possible for genetically normal, drug-free bodybuilders.

You can’t change your genetics, so don’t fixate on them. How you train and recuperate is what really matters, because that’s where you have total control.

Conventional training methods create hard gainers because those methods don’t work well for genetically normal, drug-free bodybuilders. In many cases, those training methods create impossible gainers.

When seen from this perspective, it’s liberating to acknowledge one’s “hard-gainer” status when following conventional training methods. It identifies methods that don’t work, and acknowledges that other methods must be sought. That’s a positive development, which leads to terrific results once the right methods are found and properly applied.

Many bodybuilders who were “hard gainers” (or even “impossible gainers”) when they followed conventional training routines, became good gainers, or even easy gainers for a while, when they properly applied themselves to routines that were appropriate for them.

In most cases, bodybuilders who have difficulty building muscle have badly designed training routines, use incorrect exercise technique, train too much, train too often, don’t train with sufficient effort, don’t eat well enough, don’t sleep well enough, don’t strive enough (if at all) to build strength, don’t set goals properly, and don’t keep workout records. And that’s why they don’t make much progress, if any progress.

When I rest between sets at the gym where I train, I can’t help but notice how others work out there. Some have trained there for years, and almost all of them haven’t improved during those years. Yet most of them are youngsters, and still in what should be their prime gaining years when it isn’t difficult to make progress provided that training, nutrition, sleep, and rest in general, are implemented properly.

They may wonder why they don’t make any progress. But they persist with their joke of a training program, comprising of three or four exercises per body part, and four to six workouts per week.

They never really train hard, and they keep lifting the same weights. But they faithfully attend the gym, as if just turning up and going through the motions with a bunch of exercises will change their bodies.

For those who do include the major exercises in their routines, it’s as well they don’t push themselves hard. Their form on the major lifts is so poor that if it was combined with intensity, it would cause injury.

Most of the unsuccessful bodybuilders show more enthusiasm for their phones than their workouts — between sets they make calls, check for messages, send texts, and browse the internet. Some of them make calls while performing one-handed exercises.

If physique improvement is what they really want, they must display full-blown desire for it on a relentless week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year basis. Without that degree of desire they haven’t a hope of making decent progress.

Rather than four to six sham workouts each week, they should bust their butts on just two workouts per week (or three at most).

And they should leave their phones in their cars or the locker room, along with their music players in most cases.

During their workouts, their training should be the most important thing in their lives.

Nothing else should matter.

They should eliminate distractions, and apply 100% focus on their training.

But they must apply themselves to routines that have the potential to work for them. Effort properly applied is what matters, remember.

Of course, no one without outstanding genetics for bodybuilding is ever going to develop 18-inch arms drug-free, or bench press 400 pounds drug-free, but everyone can make improvement.

Most bodybuilders can make huge improvement, depending on their age and on how much progress they have already made.

But they must pay their dues in the gym, just like you must.

If you’re not on bodybuilding drugs — and you shouldn’t be if you value your long-term health — and you’re genetically “normal” (which most bodybuilders are), then stick to the sort of training methods I promote.

Provided you find an interpretation that’s been tailored to suit you (which requires some trial-and-error experimentation), and you implement it properly for long enough, you’ll get results way better than what you’d get from using conventional training methods.

If you’ve been blessed with better-than-average genetics for bodybuilding and strength, you’ll still make faster and better overall gains from using the methods I promote than you would from using conventional methods. But you’ll have more leeway to work with regarding schedule design, and more options to try, than bodybuilders with average genetics for bodybuilding and strength. And you’ll spend much less time in the gym than you would if you were to use conventional methods.

This is an excerpt from INSIDE THE MIND OF AN IRON ICON. This 200-page book is available exclusively from Amazon. For further information, many reviews, and a preview of the first 27 pages, please click here.