Hard Gainers

February 18, 2007

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.

Brobdingnagian B.S.

February 3, 2007

Here’s another imaginary email from a simulated reader that I found quite interesting:

Dear Muscleman,

What a great post about Arnold. I really enjoyed those classic pictures. I just wanted to comment that I hope you’re not saying we should all bulk up like Arnold. I’m trying to tone up a little, but I have no interest in looking like a bodybuilder. I don’t want to get too big.


Average in Albuquerque

Average, I couldn’t agree with you more. Like you, I also strive in my affairs to be neither too rich nor too good looking.

In fact, a great many people apparently live in fear that they may wake up one morning with a chisled physique. Almost daily, I hear a group of guys at the gym, leaning against the equipment, chatting about how they really have no desire to get “big.” When I share with co-workers my passion for fitness, the conversation frequently lapses into how they bypass the gym due to the risk of packing on mass.

I believe it was bodybuilding pro Mike Matarazzo who summed up exactly what is requried to get big: 1) freakish genetics and 2) use of anabolic steriods. I would also add to his list tremendous heart, drive and commitment to the sport.

Women especially should stop using outsized muscularity as an excuse for a spotty gym record. In females, low testosterone levels make extreme muscle growth virtually impossible.

Finally, I really haven’t heard a strong case against a powerful physique, even if it were possible for the average man to achieve. What is the downside of broad shoulders, an intimidating profile, a waist and set of glutes that looks great in jeans?

If you’re only going to go through life once, why not do it with big arms?