Last Updated: June 28, 2018
Welcome to the Building Muscle Guide: the ultimate hardgainer's guide to gaining muscular weight effectively.
Once you know how, overcoming your average muscle gain genetics and building muscle mass to get into best shape of your life can be quite simple (takes hard work of course tho).
But what makes things a whole lot more difficult, and the reason that 95% of guys never get the results that they want, is the fact that most information and advice about bulking up, mass building, gaining muscular weight...however you wanna put it... isn't targeted for YOU: the skinny, high-metabolism, slightly-genetically-disadvantaged hardgainer who has a tough time getting big, strong, muscular and ripped no matter what you may have tried before.
Here's the thing - if you want to actually, and truly, transform your body and physique completely to overcome your potentially poor muscle gain genetics and leave your hardgainer status behind for good (which is 100% possible no matter what others may have wrongly told you), asking advice on bodybuilding from any random personal trainer or some big guy at the gym who likely has better muscle gain genetics than you (or unnatural help in some cases if we're being honest) isn't the smartest course of action because chances are they don't understand how you can fully transform your physique as they weren't a hardgainer themselves in the first place.
You MUST be smarter with your strategy and approach to training and dieting as a skinny guy starting from scratch - otherwise you're just gonna be another lifting statistic...the reality is, the majority of guys who start a mass gain program will eventually quit before ever seeing great results (for any number of reasons).
"Are "hardgainers" even real tho? How do I know if I'm a hardgainer?"
Scientifically speaking, the muscle building and bodybuilding "hardgainer" is a very real phenomenon based on your predominant natural body type, your genetic makeup, and your own specific ability to gain muscle mass which varies from person to person.
There are three main body types, the ectomorph, endomorph and mesamorph, which determines certain physical attributes about you. Some people fit exactly into a certain type, whilst others may be a blend of 2 or even 3 (although pretty much everyone will typically lean towards a certain type).
See what is a hardgainer for more details including whether or not you are a hardgainer (ie ectomorph).
Yes, anyone can build significant muscle mass and get as big and strong as they pretty much want, but the truth is your genetics do indeed play a role in how easily (or not) you can build muscle mass, how fast you can build it, and how much overall muscle you can build naturally.
Don't worry tho, you're never ever likely to reach your limit and it's proven that with clever strategy and hard work hardgainers can get huge just like anyone else if that's your goal; even 100% naturally which is what I've always stuck to and recommend to others.
All this talk about being a hardgainer isn't my favorite thing to talk about though because the reality is that way too many guys (some of who aren't actually hardgainers) use their hardgainer label as a convenient excuse to not pursue their dream physique or to avoid pushing themselves too hard because they've bought into false beliefs such as "building a large, muscular, strong, ripped physique isn't possible for me" etc.
I have a different view on being a hardgainer: being the "underdog" is a blessing in disguise, and gives you the advantage of you needing to use your intellect to outwit, outwork and outlast the rest, to eventually be the one still standing and to be one of the few who slowly but surely improves month on month and year on year to the point where one day you'll be a stark contrast from where you first started as a scrawny skinny noob without a clue.
Plus, as a skinny guy who is fed up with being that way and/or who's frustrated with not being able to gain weight and muscle mass, you have another huge asset up your sleeve: more fire, focus and motivation than the average gym-goer. Let me explain...
Don't underestimate a strong desire inside of you to prove to your genetics, to yourself, to the world, and to your doubters that you CAN and WILL achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, no matter where you start from or what barriers stand in your way.
Some people call this "having a chip on your shoulder", which is like a healthy sense of competition with yourself, with others, and with the world.
Whilst you do want to draw a lot of motivation by visualizing all of the great weight training benefits you'll reap from all your hard work, the added motivation that typically comes with being the skinny hardgainer type that nobody really believes will actually make it big should NOT be suppressed but instead used as extra fuel to overcome whatever odds you're facing.
When you learn how to build muscle effectively using some of the best strategies and resources in the natural bodybuilding world, which I do my best to share across this site, you'll be armed with more knowledge than the vast majority of other lifters and fitness enthusiasts who never take the time to properly self-educate themselves in this field.
On top of that, with time you can actually turn the tables on its head and literally kiss your average mass-gain genes goodbye for good.
In other words, with the right habits in place and enough momentum of results your body will actually adapt over time, and you won't ever have to be a "hardgainer" ever again once you push past a certain level.
For example, if you build a significant amount of lean muscle and get to a certain great level with your physique, and then you take your foot off the gas for a while and let your physique drop off over a few months: perhaps work really gets in the way etc, which actually happened to me a couple times in my life as I work even harder at my career than I do my fitness.
Once you start your focused muscle building program again to get back to where you were physically, whilst still requiring hard work, it'll be a heck of a lot easier the second time 'round (the phenomenon known as "muscle memory" would help a lot in this instance).
That's exactly what happened to me over my journey from super skinny to super strong and muscular, and despite finding it difficult and an uphill battle to gain any sort of weight or muscle back when I started (my strategies sucked as well tho to be honest), now that I've "cracked the hardgainer code" to efficient muscle gain I can build muscle easily whenever I want to and help other guys to do the same.
How can a hardgainer build the body of their dreams as efficiently as possible?
That question has been a big focus of my endless studying, tweaking and testing over the years, and I've fine-tuned my ideas, strategies, habits and little handy tricks into as fine-tuned a science as possible.
Although, to give credit where it's due, most of my findings in the area of hardgainer weight and muscle gain are not new, and this site acts more as a convenient collection and myriad of all the best training, nutrition and lifestyle ideas I've discovered that have worked well for me personally and for others, so don't expect anything revolutionary or groundbreaking.
No need to reinvent the wheel though - just fine-tune it and weed out any inefficiencies I'd say. Also, you don't need anything fancy to get amazing results, and 90% of your results will just come down to good old basics and fundamentals (which are actually quite overlooked in the modern day and age, partly thanks to slick marketing trying to make us believe there are shortcuts and magic solutions out there...).
Most important than my constant thirst for knowledge and always questioning my current beliefs and ideas about all aspects of fitness (and not just building muscle although that's the main focus of the site), I have achieved great results in my own life and how I am now is worlds apart from when I first started out as a clueless, borderline-anorexic skinny guy who was wrongly told by a few people starting out that that's just how I was going to be my whole life.
I want the same life-changing transformation for you, so if you're a fellow underdog hardgainer (or even if you're not and you just want to build muscle as effectively as possible), hear this and let it sink in:
Despite how skinny you may be now, where you may be starting from on your journey, or how hard it might seem to gain weight and pack on muscle mass even after having perhaps tried before - you absolutely, positively 100% CAN flip your genetics the bird and transform your physique in every way shape and form that you want.
Whether that's achieving a super lean, highly muscular fitness model physique, or a larger, bulkier natural bodybuilder style body (I've done both but have settled into the former as a permanent lifestyle), the only thing stopping you is YOU. Get your hands on great strategies from those have achieved what you is it you want to achieve, and apply it, and there's 0 reasons you can't do the same and level up your life in this area (which also has spillover benefits into other areas of life).
If anybody tells you that you can't change your body type and you can't build significant strength and lean muscle cause you're a hardgainer, or ectomorph, or [insert excuse here], and that's just the cards you're dealt and you have to just accept that...smile and nod but don't believe it for a second.
Most people falsely believe that how you are today is generally what you're kinda stuck with, When it comes to health and fitness strategies and ideas, the harsh reality is, and this will sound a little overzealous to some but it's just my objective thoughts based on a ton of experience - around 9 out of 10 people don't know what they're talking about.
If you want to take your destiny in your own hands, be very careful from where and from whom you take advice.
Generally speaking, the health and fitness industry, whilst definitely having good guys and gals who mean well and pay their dues to provide accurate info to inform others, is an industry chock-full of myths, average-to-straight-up-horrible advice, profit-over-people pill-pushing companies who'd rather you not know how things work, trainers who don't walk the walk and repeat the same outdated advice taught by institutions, and keyboard warriors who don't speak from experience.
If you want build muscle and strength effectively to really transform your body and health (and mind) in every way shape and form, and especially if you are a hardgainer/ectomorph body type who needs all the odds stacked in your favor for massive results... I don't claim to know it all but there's one thing you MUST do right now.
Stop training, dieting and supplementing like everyone else.
The facts and reality is that most who start a mass gain (heck, any fitness program) get average to no real noticeable, life-changing results, and end up throwing in the towel on their hopes and dreams of building the physique (and life for that matter) they've always wanted.
And those who stick it out and stay in the gym?
They mostly have the same physique month on month, year on year, decade on decade, with many looking worse as time goes on. This sounds horrible and it's an oversimplification on my part for sure, but the point is that just doing what everyone else is doing isn't in your best interests if you're after life-changing, lasting results. Most people just hand over their physique (and life) destiny over into the hands of someone else and blindly trust and follow whatever generic, mainstream, and/or bro-science advice is out there without too much thinking ahead.
Don't let that be you.
Even listening to a qualified personal trainer could be a bad idea if you want the best muscle building and fat loss results, as the reality is that almost anyone can get qualified as a trainer and get a piece of paper that says you know your stuff, but many so-called professionals aren't taught the first thing about effective, science-based muscle building program design, let alone having got great results themselves.
Not to mention, most programs prescribed for building muscle and gaining weight by trainers (or by people online) completely neglect crucial things like maintaining proper posture and overall muscular balance (and not deteriorating it like many bodybuilding-focused programs do), and maintaining or ideally improving overall health and energy at the same time (again, a rare focus of your typical mass gain program).
I'm not here to take a stab at personal trainers, or the fitness industry in general (although I do have my gripes as you may see throughout some articles on this site..).
But whilst there are some good ones out there, and most generally mean well, those who know what they're talking about when it comes to building muscle, fat loss and all the other interconnected topics are unfortunately in the minority.
So, when seeking health and fitness advice, you've gotta stay on your toes, and as I said before you want to ideally learn from someone who has both achieved what you want to and who started in a similar situation as you so they understand your frustrations and what it actually takes.
If you've a naturally thin frame with a high metabolism who's genetic predisposition makes it a bit more challenging to bulk up and build muscular weight, no matter what people will tell you there IS a way to do a complete 180 on your supposed skinny guy destiny and create the powerfully strong, highly muscular, super ripped body that would level up your life in various ways.
However, like I said before you must plan your workout and diet routine carefully. Not saying you gotta be a perfectionist freak about it and stress over every little detail and give up your life for you mass gain goals, but you gotta be smart about it to some degree to really maximize results.
If you were to ask a naturally muscular guy or some random big guy at your local gym how to build muscle and put some meat on your bones to be more like them, you'll highly likely to just hear some generic advice that doesn't help you.
"Just eat more and lift more, bro, it's easy"
But there's more to it than that, especially if you're a typical skinny hardgainer with a high metabolism who's starting from scratch. Yes, you do obviously have to eat more and lift weights, but there's more method to the madness otherwise you're not going to pack on lean muscle effectively, might pack on way too much fat instead and get nowhere overall, might encounter common yet less-talked about problems in the bodybuilding world like muscular imbalances, poor posture, injuries, deteriorating health, and you'll eventually lose motivation like most guys due to average results and end up eventually throwing in the towel on your initial dreams of an amazing physique that lasts.
Don't become another lifting statistic.
You're smarter than that ('cause you've read this far)
You gotta be more strategic about your approach to mass gain to get the best results possible and avoid problems such as the ones I mentioned above.
You can be as fired up as you like right now to get lasting, life-changing results, but heading over right now to your local gym in fury and smashing out the most intense workout you can by lifting the heaviest weights you can get your hands on and doing the best exercises that come to mind followed up by a drive-thru at McDonalds to down 10 Big Macs...or dropping down right this second and cranking out 100 pushups and 100 situps in a rage followed by a trip to your kitchen to munch on a couple horses worth of food...there's more to it than that.
If you want great, life-changing, lasting results...you've got to approach your training, nutrition, recovery and other lifestyle habits quite strategically, and as boring as it sounds - plan things ahead.
It really pays to take the little extra time upfront to learn how building muscle, fat loss, and everything related to those goals really works under the hood based on what others have successfully done before you. Ideally, those who were once in your exact skinny-guy shoes, frustrated with being the paper-thin pushover who finds it hard to gain weight...but who gave their genetics the middle finger and built an amazing physique.
You can't just train just like that random big guy at the gym or follow generic mainstream fitness advice and expect to change your life anytime in this lifetime. Do that and you'll likely end up like most who unfortunately never see the results they initially were so motivated to get.
After cracking the "hardgainer code" and learning how building muscle mass really works from a scientific point of view, and learn exactly what sort of training and nutrition routines successful hardgainers before you have used to create super impressive physiques from scratch, in due time that extra upfront work you put in will pay you back over and over again over the long haul.
Because you'll be getting consistently good results over time due to your superior training and nutrition strategies, you'll eventually overlap everyone else who may have slightly better muscle building genetics but who just aimlessly follow whatever mainstream fitness magazine or semi-clueless personal trainer is telling them, and eventually people will wonder just how you transformed your physique so dramatically over time (completely naturally) and some will think you never were a hardgainer in the first place (that can be your little secret).
The below steps will take you by the hand through each step of planning the ultimate workout and eating routine to start your hardgainer to hero transformation over the next few months (and years; once you get results you won't want to quit, trust me). If you're committed to levelling up and changing your life, the below guide could be one of the most important things you ever read, so grab a drink, strap in, and start planning your awesome new reality. Let's do this!
/ Only-Slightly-Ranty Motivational Pep-Talk Over
Take full control of your health and physique destiny and start your quest towards transforming your body over the next few months by following the below steps mapped out in a logical order for beginners, that will put you ahead of the gym game and on the road towards the best gains of your life. Whether you're a hardgainer or not, it's time to put the excuses aside and to put in the work. Trust me; it'll be worth it.
Just a heads up first before we get into the steps you need to create the ultimate science-based, results-focused program to literally go from skinny to superman (not overnight tho, this isn't some cheesy informercial that promises you instant, easy results...they don't exist): If you'd rather save yourself the time of having to research and plan the best training and nutrition plan for your goals, and instead would rather simply execute on a proven, pre-made program that is specifically designed for hardgainers to get the best results (and that's backed up by tons of real life testimonials from guys who have got life-changing results).
There are many programs out there, most of which aren't worth the time and money, and most of which aren't finely optimized for hardgainers (remember that as a skinny guy with muscle-building genetics NOT on your side..you must be strategic about your training and nutrition to really get results). But if I had to recommend a program in 2018, Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint is easily one the best out there, period. Sean's a breaht of fresh air in the fitness industry, always practices what he preaches, and thoroughly knows the ins and outs of building muscle as effectively as humanly possible, and his program is one of the rare few that really delivers and that I can stand by 100%.
I've personally bought and tried various mass gain programs over the years but Sean's is the best that I used and it was invaluable to my early success with building muscle mass and creating my dream physique. When I first went from a super-scrawny 130 pound twig to a super muscular, ripped and overall much more healthy, happy and confident 180lbs within a year or so (I then went on to get to 220 lbs but have since gotten more lean as I prefer it to being huge), this is the program that helped the most and I don't think I would have gotten such great results without its guidance if I'm being dead honest. You can read my full review of the Body Transformation Blueprint program here, or check out the program here which also shows all the many before and afters of other hardgainers who've used it with great success (see my own before and afters in my review).
But if you want to go ahead and design your own muscle gain training and eating program from scratch, let's get into the 7 key steps that you'll need. If you're new to all this, take your time and make sure to set aside a few days or so to learn all the following information so that you can then piece together the perfect plan for you. Let's do this.
First thing you should do is take the time to learn and understand the fundamental must-do principles to build muscle, as well as making sure to inform yourself of the common pitfalls and mistakes that beginner lifters fall victim to over and over again like clockwork (yup, even in 2018 when the world is supposedly quite enlightened) so that you can avoid all of the BS and myths out there in the fitness industry.
The first main half of the muscle building equation is your training regimen (diet being the other). There are different ways you can go about training for muscular gain, such as doing full body workouts or split routines (or even bodyweight workouts which can work well if you're smart about), or training say 2-3 times a week versus 4/5/6 days.
There's no perfect plan for everyone, and various different programs can work well for results, but just make sure to always integrate the main scientific principles of building muscle into whatever program you decide on. Whatever type of muscle building routine you decide on, what matters most is you plan it so you'll actually stick to it, so design a workout routine that fits in well with your lifestyle and that you hopefully find fun (although at first you might not find any weight lifting fun; don't worry that'll change as you start to reap results..).
What you don't want to do is waste your precious time in the gym lifting weights aimlessly like most people do, hopping from random exercise and set and rep to another without too much thought and planning. Otherwise, you'll end up with the same physique a year from now just like everybody else. Harsh, and I don't mean to belittle anyone whatsoever, but it's true.
Don't be another gym statistic and learn how to design and implement an intelligently structured, results-focused training program:
Hardgainer Workout Routine Tips (also includes diet tips)
The second half of the muscle building equation, and just as important as your actual training if not MORE important, is what you eat day in and day out. You can execute the perfect workout routine to build muscle, but without the right eating strategy it's all in vain and you won't get anywhere, period. Again, like with weight training, most people kinda wing their diet, and then they wonder why they either aren't building muscle like they want to, or why wonder why they're gaining too much excess bodyfat along with that muscle.
Despite what most supplement companies want you to think, supplements are completely 100% optional and are NOT needed to build a significant amount of muscle mass effectively. They should be considered as their name implies; as a 'supplement' to an already solid eating plan.
But yes, if you stick to scientifically-proven, good-quality products (don't get sucked into the endless over-marketed, junk products out there) such as whey protein among others can help make your bulking/cutting diet plan easier and more convenient, as well as give you a little boost in certain other ways (ie creatine for slight strength increases, caffeine for more workout energy, multivitamins as nutritional backup, etc).
But yeah, don't overdo supplements, don't rely on them, and do your research before ever buying any as you could be doing more harm than good.
When you pursue a particular goal in your life, you want to align all areas of your life towards that achivement if you're committed to giving it your all. When it comes to building muscle and putting some meat on your bones (or even cutting fat if that's the stage you're in), sleep and other lifestyle habits are more important than you probably realize.
You want to ensure you get enough (quality) sleep to recover properly from your workouts and be 100% for the next one, and optimize your natural testosterone production using various methods. If your T levels are too low, if you're gonna have a harder time gaining much muscle size and strength, and especially so as a hardgainer/ectomorph.
Once you have an effective training, nutrition and supplementation plan, once you start executing your program you must remember to track your results as you go. You want to monitor how your program is coming along over the next few weeks and months so you can tweak your program where necessary, and so you can stay motivated as success begets success: when you see you're making progress, your motivation levels will stay high.
Here's the important metrics to track on your transformation from skinny to superman:
You can have the greatest program on earth, but it's worth nothing if you don't apply it over a long enough period of time. Most who start a muscle building program will quit due to losing that initial spark of motivation they once had to take full control of their destiny; don't let that be you.
To stay the course and persist through the inevitable down periods where you just don't feel like doing that workout, or eating that meal, or taking that supplement...you must understand one crucial concept that eludes most:
Motivation is not needed for success. I repeat, NOT needed.
What is needed, and what will set you apart from everyone else who just wishes for what they want, is committing yourself to take action no matter how you feel.
Sure - it's ok to take a day off every now and then, and may even be good for you if you've been overworking yourself. However, your chances of achieving the ripped, muscular physique you're after will all come down to how consistent you are with your muscle building program.
Even if you're a little tired, demotivated, or just don't feel like hitting the gym or eating a meal one day - you must strive to push through your physical and/or mental resistance at all costs, and as often as you can.
When you slowly build up your discipline and your follow-through, and you make what you do into a solid habit that you don't have to really think about and debate in your mind all of the time...that's when the magic happens, and when you rely less on willpower and more on your overall momentum to easily keep going.
It's always hardest to start something new, but once you build some momentum with your program it'll get easier and easier to stick to and you won't have to think about it as much because it will have become a habit.
Then when you've created strong habits, you'll find that what you may have disliked before (perhaps a tough gym sessions or forcing yourself to eat a certain meal) is something that you actually look forward to.
Once you build enough momentum with your program, there's no turning back, and you'll find that it becomes harder to quit then it is to just simply keep going and keep up your great momentum.
Once you get to that point, you become unstoppable and all that you want will become yours in due time.
So push yourself a little more when the going gets tough and your future self will thank you for it!
Also, always keep your eyes on the prize.
Visualize your goal physique, health, energy, strength, and the added pride, self-respect, security and self-esteem you'll gain from that, and think of how all this will benefit your life in various ways.
Whenever you feel like all the hard training and extra meal prep/eating may not be worth it...remind yourself of all the many benefits of pursuing your ideal physique.
Anyway, that's it for the 7 key steps to building muscle mass effectively as a beginner hardgainer.
If you want to save time with all the learning and research, and just want to follow a full pre-made program that incorporates everything these steps talk about into the one program that's also already been proven to work excellently for countless other hardgainers, the top program I'd recommend is The Body Transformation Blueprint which is a step-by-step (downloadable and print-friendly) workout, nutrition and supplementation program created by top natural bodybuilding author Sean Nal.
If you want to save time with all the learning and research, and just want to follow a full pre-made program that incorporates everything these steps talk about into the one program that's also already been proven to work excellently for countless other hardgainers (including me), the #1 program I'd recommend is The Body Transformation Blueprint which is a comprehensive step-by-step (downloadable and print-friendly) workout, nutrition and supplementation program created by top natural bodybuilding author Sean Nal.
Most programs aren't specifically designed for the hardgainer in mind, but this one is an exception and has proved very successful for many years and is actually the program that I initially used back in the day to initially transform my physique (read my full review of the Body Transformation Blueprint here which includes my own before and after shots of how the program helped me in a big way).
I've bought and tested various muscle building programs online over the years, with the majority of them being overpriced and seriously flawed IMHO, but Sean's program is one of the few that I can stand by 100% (I've used it for many years myself with great success) and is the most complete, detailed and well-thought out program for hardgainers that I've seen (as of 2018).
The author is a well-known, extremely knowledgeable (puts my knowledge to shame if I'm being honest) and well-respected former super-skinny guy who now has the physique that most can only dream of, and is one of the good guys in this fitness industry full of questionable, average (and sometimes straight-up scammy) products and characters who don't always put your best interests first.
The program teaches you exactly how to get similar amazing results to his own, with step by step and easy to follow workout routines and meal plans, and bonus modules such as videos of exactly how to perform all the important mass gain exercises properly and safely, and I can't recommend it highly enough if you want a head-start on your journey from skinny to superman over the next few months.
Anyway, whether you choose to design your own program using the 7 key steps above as a base, use a premium online program like Sean's, or you manage to find a quality in-person personal trainer who hopefully knows about scientific muscle mass building (and has the results themselves so you can trust what they say), I wish you all the best and good luck.
Don't quit, keep going no matter what, and your dream of building a super strong, muscular, and ripped body will become reality in due time, even if you're starting from absolute 0 and reading this right now as an absolute paper-thin, pencil-necked pushover pu**y (now that's some poetry right there).
With the right info and mindset...you got this my friend, and in a year's time if you stick with it you won't be the same ever again.
To your health, strength, happiness and success,
Natural Bodybuilding & Health Author Since 2008
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor
PS: Got questions or feedback? Feel free to drop me a line and I'll try help out where I can. Cheers.