Hard Gainers

Although a certain segment of the population goes out of its way to avoid making progress in the gym, hard gainers – or “hardgainers” (an actual fitness term of art) – find their bodybuilding dreams limited by mediocre genetics. Experts in the field estimate that somewhere between 60 and 95 percent of people are hardgainers.

These figures aren’t all that surprising. In any sport, a few elite athletes set the standard for legions of amateurs. And besides, statistically speaking, most people are average.

I, however, would like to advance a new theory. In my estimation, when it comes to building muscle, the problem is that 60 to 95 percent of people have no idea what they’re doing.

Today at the gym I watched a couple younger guys make an absolute mess of their back workout. They performed sets of t-bar rows and barbell rows with their posture nearly ramrod straight, transforming these excellent mass builders into sloppy bicep curls.

Then there are the folks who turn a simple set of abdominal crunches into a chiropractor’s nightmare. Lying on the floor, they wrap their arms tightly around their heads, and yank their chin into their upper chests over and over. I don’t know which is more remarkable – the 30, even 50, reps per set performed this way, or the ability to spend this much energy on abs without tapping even one stomach muscle fiber. Either way, I urge you people, why don’t you start by trying to execute just one clean crunch – fingers behind the ears, chin up, strong contraction in the abs. Just one.

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  1. Just found your blog and love it – the post about perfume at the gym is spot on – nothing like a wave of nausea to ruin a cardio workout.

    I’ve got a question for you – I’ve had a trainer and unfortunately, I was not exactly happy – he was more concerned with flirting with me than teaching me proper form. I am looking to find a new trainer. I am about 15 lbs overweight with 28% body fat (measured underwater). I used to run x-country and can build a cardio training schedule on my own. However, I need help lifting – proper technique and how to combine workouts. My goals are to lose the extra fat and lift weight to offset the loss of muscle that comes with aging and build tone and strenght. I started talking to another trainer (at 24hr fitness) and again, I’m getting “red flags” – this guy is telling me that I don’t want to lift too heavy because I don’t want to get bulky- his suggestion is to do sets of 20 reps. I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen your note and read enough to know that it takes a lot of work to get bulky, esp. for females. I also consider 20 reps a bit too much and the weight too light to build bone density and build muscle. I’ve bought the book “Body for Life” by Bill Phillips and I really like the routine. I am considering hiring a trainer to help me with proper form only and following Bill Phillips’ routine.

    So – after all that windup, my question is, are there a set of “cheat sheet” questions that I can ask potential trainers to separate the wheat from the chaff?

  2. Trainertrouble,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve been giving your question some thought, but first I’d like you to know that coincidentally, I plan a post later in the week about proper rep range. However, in a nutshell, the range that is safest and tones the most is between 6-12 per set. Obviously this doesn’t mean picking a weight that you can do 50 with and stopping at 12, but achieving muscle failure in this range.

    If I were picking a trainer, I’d look for someone who plans to keep it simple and basic. Ask if they know the difference between a compound movement and an isolation movement. Ask for their opinion on machines vs. free weights. Ask how many sets they’d have you do for legs, and how many for arms. Ask them how often you should be lifting and how often you should be doing cardio, and how long each workout should be.

    In addition, I don’t believe that women should train much differently than men, especially if you’re looking just to maintain functional fitness.

    I looked at a brief review of Bill Phillips’ book just now. From what I could gather, I agree wholeheartedly with his philosophy of higher intensity for a shorter period of time. Nutrition and supplements are more complicated, however, and he seems to be pushing products made by his own company.

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