Best Muscle Building Programs for Hardgainers (2020 Review)

Top 3 Recommended Step-by-Step Bulking Programs for Beginners (Hand-Picking the Most Effective, Comprehensive Programs on the Market for the Best Mass Gains of Your Life)

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

We all know there's no shortcuts to building the physique you really want that can genuinely change your life for the better in various ways, but the closest thing to a "shortcut" to success is finding a very knowledgeable, experienced, credible mentor/coach and incorporating their specific strategies in your day to day, week to week routines and plans.

Or even better? Getting your hands on the EXACT muscle building program they use themselves (or that they used in the past to initially transform from skinny to ripped and muscular).

If you want to leave absolutely nothing to chance, and avoid making any number of the many different mistakes you could be making in your own program that sabotages your gains, following a premade step by step program created by a pro could be the game-changer you need to finally get the amazing life-changing results you really want.

Here's the lowdown on buying a premade program:

You don't need to buy a strength and muscle building program to get transform your physique, and you can get results by designing your own program from scratch through piecing together different articles and videos you find online.

However, planning your own program is something you shouldn't rush by any means, as there are many factors to take into account in order to ensure your program is properly structured, well-balanced, and actually effective in producing muscle gains (most out there just simply aren't though, as there is a ton of misleading, incomplete or straight-up dangerous training and dieting information in every single corner of the internet).

By implementing a finely-tuned step by step program that's been specifically designed for maximum muscle gains as a skinny hardgainer/beginner, and one that's been proven to get results for many others time and time again, you're fast-tracking your way to results and avoiding all the common training and nutrition mistakes that literally a good 80-90% of other people in the gym are falling victim to.

April 2020 Update: The Best Quarantine Home Workout for Muscle Building (Beginners Guide)

During this time, bodyweight training is probably the only way you have to workout. While it's true that gym programs like the ones we recommend in this guide can more easily give you gains, what's also true (and not very well known) is that bodyweight training CAN still build a significant amount of muscle.

However, that's IF and only if you train in a certain way. The far majority of bodyweight workouts you see around on social media these days just won't cut it. In order to get decent results from home, it's absolutely crucial you do the right exercises, in the right way, for the right amount of intensity, reps, and sets, while getting other things right like rest and recovery.

If you want a full program that guides you through all of that and more, this is the best bodyweight program we can recommend at this time from someone who's actually got good muscle gain results from such workouts. It's a reputable video course perfect for beginners and will teach you how to actually build muscle the right way using only bodyweight exercises:

Science-Based Bodyweight Workout: Build Muscle Without A Gym (By Felix Harder)

A full video series on building muscle as effectively as is possible from home (with NO gym or equipment at all)

In other words, if you want to guarantee that you'll be maximizing your precious time spent in the gym (and kitchen) to extract maximum results, leaving the design of a highly effective mass gain program to a true natural bodybuilding pro could turn out to be one of the smarter decisions of your fitness life when you look back a few months/years from now (it certainly was for me; putting my ego aside and following Sean Nal's program allowed me to finally get the gains I wanted).

To build the physique you really want, it's crucial to be implementing an effective, strategic, well thought-out program that's been proven to get results

The harsh reality is, most who start their own muscle gain program (or follow someone else's) just won't get the results they want. Most will eventually get discouraged due to lack of great results, and end up continuing their training and dieting half-halfheartedly, forever spinning their wheels in the gym and never achieving the physique they were initially so excited and motivated to build.


Inconsistency is of course one reason, as most people just lack the long-term discipline to stick at something long enough to produce great results, but the other big reason that most guys (or gals) don't end up building the physique they want is their strategies are ineffective and not well thought-out enough.

You can't expect to get really good results if you listen to any random advice you find online, or by implementing some random average program handed to you by the first personal trainer you stumble upon (there's a lot of PTs who wouldn't know the first thing about science-based muscle gain or fat loss).

There is a science to lifting and building muscle mass, and many variables to take into account to compile an effective, well-balances program that covers all bases (and that avoids things like developing muscular imbalances or posture problems; a huge issue with many bodybuilding programs).

Without taking proper care in planning your workout and eating routines, the truth is you're just not going to get results anytime soon. 

Especially not as a "hardgainer" or skinny ectomorph who finds it difficult to gain size and strength, as in that case it's even more important to be smart with your training as the odds are slightly stacked up against you (but remember not to let that phase you for you can still build the physique of your dreams).

If you want results now and over the long haul to eventually reach all your goals, you must put in the time and effort to plan your own effective, well-balanced, intelligently-crafted mass gain program from scratch.

Or - follow a proven effective program created by someone who walks the walk and has created the results you're after (and starting from a similar place to you, ie a hardgainer/skinny guy/skinny-fat guy).

You can train real hard in the gym and really WANT results badly, but if your program is poor all that work could count for very little (or cause common issues like muscular/postural imbalances)

But when hunting for the best muscle building program to follow it can get real confusing real fast, as there are plenty of low-quality, over-priced, overly-marketed, or straight-up junk programs out there to avoid at all costs. 

It's no secret the fitness industry is notoriously full of opportunities who just want to cash in on gullible people who dream of looking like Captain America overnight, but there are diamonds in the rough if you know where and what to look for (which is hard to do if you're a beginner). Below I've listed my very top recommendations of the best mass gain programs based on my extensive experience and having experimented with many different programs and strategies over the years.

Any of these step by step bulking programs are going to be safe bets to cut your learning curve, avoid the many possible possible when crafting your own program, and to allow you to conveniently just "plug-and-play" and apply what's in the program week in and week out for the best results of your life (if you stick with it, that is).

See Also: Recommended Fat Loss Programs for an Effective Cutting Phase

You're not going to see anything below besides the absolute best of the best programs from some of the most knowledgeable, experienced natural bodybuilding coaches in the world, and with proven track records of success in helping hardgainers and skinny guys to genuinely transform their physiques completely for the better. I personally stand by all the below coaches and programs 100%, so I would never include a low-quality recommendation on this page for that will reflect badly on me.

If you're unsure which program is right for you, I'd simply pick the trainer and program that you feel suits your style, lifestyle and goals best, and then stick with it for long enough to produce results (don't be lame and throw in the towel after a week complaining that you didn't become superman).

If after a good few weeks and months you don't see really noticeable results, you'd have to be doing something seriously wrong as all the bodybuilding programs below are very specifically designed for producing the best muscle building gains possible (in the shortest amount of time, though again there's a limit to how much muscle your body can actually build in any given period of time so you must still be patient).

At risk of sounding like something out of a lame late-night infomercial (don't get me started on that) - once you internalize a good program, and then execute on it consistently, you'll literally have an edge over a good 95% of others in the gym who haphazardly throw weights around, eat any random foods they generally feel like, down overpriced and/or straight-up useless mainstream supplements, and who predictably spin their wheels for years and years (if they don't quit before then).

Don't let that be YOU my guy.

Either take the time to craft your own muscle gain program carefully, or stick with a high-quality premade program like the ones below, and you'll be on your way if you simply vow to never give up. Without further rambling, let's get into the current top 3 best muscle building programs for hardgainers in 2019 in my honest humble opinion after 12+ years of hands-on experience with many different programs and types of training. Whatever you do, I wish you luck.

#1 Best Muscle Building Program for Hardgainers:

The Body Transformation Blueprint

Don't be fooled by the slick covers - this program is the real deal for anyone serious about transforming over the next few months

Sean's own transformation from applying the invaluable knowledge he shares in the program

Description: Your Definitive Science Based Guide to a Lean and Muscular Body

Recommended For: Beginners/Intermediates (must have access to full gym)

Created By: Sean Nal (Natural Bodybuilding Author, Fitness YouTuber)

Format/What's Included:

  • Comprehensive Mass Gain Manual/eBook for Hardgainers (with included fat burning strategy)
  • 3 x Comprehensive Mass Gain Workout Routines (beginner, intermediate and advanced phases)
  • Mass Gain Meal Plans (customizable)
  • 2019 Supplement Buyer's Guide
  • Detailed Instructional Videos (shows how to perform every single important lift with perfect form)

Includes Coaching? Yes (1-on-1 email help/support included)

My Rating: 5 / 5 (Exceptional)

Full Review: My Experience Using the Body Transformation Blueprint (includes my before and after photos)

Short Review:

If you read my introduction to what it really takes to build muscle as a hardgainer, you'll know my general thoughts on the fitness and bodybuilding industry: a land full of opportunists who will tell the general public anything they want to hear in order to make a fast buck. But thankfully, there's some good apples in this world, and Sean Nal is one of them. If you're after the real no BS, science-based truth and simple-yet-highly-effective workout/nutrition/supplementation principles that will build significant muscle mass for any guy willing to execute for long enough - this program has you covered and then some.

If you don't have the time, patience, or know-how to create your own program, Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint is the closest thing to a "shortcut" and you'll be hard pressed finding a more complete muscle gain/bodybuilding program anywhere.

It covers everything you need to know about highly effective weight training, nutrition and supplementation to gain weight and muscle mass, but most importantly it's written and taught by a credible strength trainer who walks the walk, and who was once a hardgainer themselves who overcame that excuse to build a seriously impressive all-natural physique.

This program has a long proven track record of helping skinny guys get great results (check out the before and afters of guys who used it) and it personally helped me a ton when I first started - so much so that I owe Sean Nal a lot of credit for my initial "hardgainer to hero" transformation.

Sounds kinda cheesy, but it's what happened to me - these days when I tell people I was a hardgainer they see my super-ripped, muscular physique and think I'm full of it, but little do they know where I started from as the straight-up skinniest guy on my football team bar none (I'm sure Sean gets that a lot these days too).

Before randomly stumbling on this program online one fateful day I was trying a bunch of different workouts in the gym and eating based on friends advice (and from random forums and articles online), but my results were super slow and average and I was really spinning my wheels without having a complete, proven program to follow.

I was genuinely confused how the heck a super scrawny noob like me would ever pack on enough muscle mass to properly overhaul my physique and my life for the better, and decided to give this program a go because Sean seemed totally legit and I have a strong BS radar for junk programs/scams out there (there are a ton) due to having had a lot of experience working online prior to that.

All I'll say is thank god I took the leap and stopped trying to figure it all out on my own, as Sean's program was the unlock to real lasting results that I badly needed, and at the risk of sounding like some lame late-night infomercial (don't get me started on that), this program really did change my life.

See my full review of the Body Transformation Blueprint for a full breakdown of this program, what's included, and whether or not it's right for you, and my own before and after pics (which I credit massively to the program). But to summarize; out of all your options out there right now if you want a comprehensive yet easy to follow bulking program, this is hands-down the best muscle building program on the market.

Learn more or download the program here.

#2 Rated Muscle Building Program for Hardgainers:

Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0

Another high-quality bulking program that includes everything you need as a beginner to maximize results

Hard to believe if you're the skeptical type, but like Sean, Jason used to be a hardgainer too

Official Description: The 90 Day Skinny to Jacked Transformation Plan

Recommended For: Beginners/Intermediates (must have access to full gym)

Created By: 

Jason Ferruggia (Advisor to Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, LiveStrong, MLB, NFL, WWE Athletes, Personal Trainer With 25+ Years Experience, Natural Bodybuilding Author, Podcast Host)

Format/What's Included:

  • Comprehensive Mass Gain Manual/eBook
  • 90 Day Hardgainer Workout Sheets (printable)
  • Mass Gain Meal Plans (customizable)
  • Exercise Instruction

Includes Coaching? Yes (access to a private coaching community for hardgainers)

My Rating: 4.5 / 5 (Great)

Program Summary:

Another classic muscle gain program that leaves out the BS and focuses on what matters most when it comes to building muscle and gaining weight (compound exercises, progressive overload, good program structure, etc) and puts it all together in an easy to understand yet complete program that you can simply execute week in week out for the best results of your life. 

Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0 isn't as comprehensive and detailed as Sean Nal's program (or Anthony Ellis's program below even), but it's cheaper and packs enough high-quality info and supporting modules (including printable/downloadable premade workouts and nutrition plans) to give you all the tools and resources you need to kick-start your (hopefully) life-changing hardgainer transformation.

Plus, like Sean Nal, Jason walks the walk and has actually got great results himself as a former hardgainer who really struggled to gain weight and muscle (see his before and after pics on the main program page) from the training and eating strategies and methods that he teaches, and like Sean's program Muscle Gaining Secrets has a proven track record of success stories from a whole heap of happy hardgainers around the world who credit his program as their breakthrough.

Both guys really know their stuff and walk the walk of having both started out as super-skinny guys and going on to transform their physique quite dramatically like every skinny beginner dreams of, so either program can work wonders for you and unlock the gains you're looking for. They each have slightly different approaches to their training and nutrition strategy, as well as slightly different personalities, so I'd pick whoever you resonate with most and which program you like the look of.

Learn more or download the program here.

#3 Rated Muscle Building Program for Hardgainers:

Gaining Mass 101

Official Description: The hardgainer's step-by-step guide to building muscle mass

Recommended For: Beginners/Intermediates (must have access to full gym)

Created By: Anthony Ellis (Natural Bodybuilding Author)

Format/What's Included:

  • Comprehensive Mass Gain Manual (downloadable eBook or hardcover)
  • Comprehensive 24-Week, 4-Phase Hardgainer Workouts (printable or softcover)
  • Mass Gain Meal Plans (printable or softcover)
  • Supplementation Guide
  • 90+ Photos of Specific Exercise Instruction

Includes Coaching? No

My Rating: 4 / 5 (Very Good)

Program Summary:

This program, along with Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint, were the 2 single most helpful resources for me back when I was first starting as a beginner lifter. While Sean's program helped me the most in bulking up from super skinny to super muscular in a matter of months (and I continued on after that to achieve my ideal physique), I also learned a ton from this program too which is almost as comprehensive and detailed as Sean's but that also covers a few additional tips and strategies that Sean's program doesn't cover. 

Famous YouTuber Elliott Hulse (I'm a fan and learned a lot from him) also gives credit to this program as a big helper in his early bulking days. Again though, if you had to choose just one bulking program, it's hard to look past Sean Nal's program (our #1 recommended program mentioned above) as it is objectively more complete and overall helpful than this one or Jason's, however this program is no slouch when it comes to high-quality instruction specifically for hardgainers.

Plus, there are some real nuggets in this program that isn't covered anywhere else, and Anthony Ellis really is a true mad scientist of hardgainer transformations who goes real deep on topics like super-optimal post and pre workout nutrition in more scientific detail than you'll find anywhere online, as well as very detailed and in-depth workouts based on scientific principles of how to gain muscle mass as effectively and quickly as possible. Most importantly though, like any good hardgainer coach he practices what he preaches and has the amazing legit transformation to back it up:

His program is well worth considering, especially if you'd rather have a physical hardcover book to hold in your hands and/or take to the gym with you as he offers a physical copy edition unlike the other programs (which is what I initially did starting out as there's a ton of useful pics and info to refer to inside). Gaining Mass 101 is one of the oldest programs in the natural bodybuilding world, but one of the most detailed (second only just to Sean Nal's) and a true classic that still applies today, even it must be said it seems Anthony Ellis seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth these days and has no public presence whatsoever (fair enough though, some people like their full privacy).

His story and program is totally legit though and I can vouch for it personally and still to this day many years later occasionally glance back over it for quick reminders as it really is chock full of information and in very specific detail (including good clear and concise photos on how to do all the important lifts; a big reason I used to always take the manual to the gym as a newbie). Just don't expect to be getting any support or email help with the program, as like I said he seems to have now gone MIA and is probably sipping cocktails on the beach somewhere enjoying life (probably still massively muscular and ripped...although who knows maybe he's gone full skinny fat mode and is in hiding lol). Good for him though, and he's helped a lot of hardgainers over the years with this helpful program. In the past I would have had this program as my #2 (or even tied #1 with Sean's) program, but Sean's and Jason's programs underwent updates over the years which made them now stand out as the best options if you want a great proven program to follow.

Learn more or download the program here.

Honorable Mentions (Bulking Programs)

MI40 Intermediate Bodybuilding Program

M140X Advanced Bodybuilding Program

Author: Ben Pakulski (Professional IFBB Bodybuilder, Winner of 2008 Mr. Canada Competition)

I would have loved to include well-known pro bodybuilder Ben Pakulski's popular program M140 in the top 3, but despite it being a quality program with tons of included high-quality video instruction and coaching, I gotta stay true to my word... What do I mean? Well, this guide is for the best muscle building programs for beginners, and Ben's programs are for intermediate to advanced trainers who already have achieved some success in the gym and who are looking to break a plateau with some intense routines and alternate training techniques used by pros. If that sounds like you, the M140 program (or its successor, MI40X) is well worth considering as it's impressive and I don't know a single trainer who wouldn't learn something new from it to test out in their training.

Usually I wouldn't recommend taking advice from a pro bodybuilder because as a hardgainer it's probably hard to relate to them because a lot of competing bodybuilders are naturally inclined to build muscle easier than the rest of the population (and/or they use steroids) and so their advice is to be taken with a grain of salt. However, Ben is different in that he once did struggle to build muscle mass, and he's a smart dude who knows how to craft clever programs that gets results - even for hardgainers. But again, Ben's programs are great and recommended if you're more advanced, but for most who are reading this who are new to lifting, you should probably stick with the beginner-friendly programs in the top 3 recommendations from earlier.

Top Specialized Programs (Posture & Core Strength)

For pure bulking up and building muscle mass, choosing from one of the top recommended best muscle building programs above will put you in the best hands possible with a highly effective, fine-tuned program. But if you have specific problems with posture or muscular imbalances (which many guys do in this modern technology age of too much sitting) then the programs below are highly-rated to fix certain issues and created by true experts/doctors in the field.

This posture issue is all too common these days thanks to the overly sedentary lifestyles we tend to lead (& too much bench press)

The Forward Head Posture Fix


Rick Kaselj (Certifications: MS, CSCS, FMS)

Official Program Description: 

The #1 Muscle That Fixes Ugly Forward Head Posture, Trouble Sleeping, Text Neck & Back Pain...All While Diminishing Headaches, Brain Fog & Looking Old.

How 10 simple exercises will instantly restore balance to your posture making you physically stronger, mentally sharper and achieve peak performance.

Overview & My Thoughts:

The digital age is amazing and all, but there are the downsides: look around in public these days and a good majority of people have some sort of obvious postural/muscular imbalance, likely caused by extensive phone or computer usage. In fact, I used to have a slight problem with this myself due to all the work on the computer, but once I learned how to overcome it I wish I had done it many years sooner.

In this best-selling comprehensive posture correction/improvement program you learn specific exercises and techniques to leave this problem behind for good which will alleviate all sorts of pain issues (neck, shoulder, back) and improve your posture and appearance (and confidence). Highly recommended, but to overcome this problem you must stick with the exercises for a few weeks minimum so don't expect your posture to magically transform overnight.

Learn more or download the program here.

Not for everyone, but if you suffer from this issue this step by step program could be a lifesaver

Unlock Your Hip Flexors: The Key to Strength and Vitality

Author: Rick Kaselj (Certifications: MS, CSCS, FMS)

Official Program Description: 

The #1 muscle in your body that is the Key to eliminating joint & back pain, anxiety and looking fat. The 10 Simple Moves that will bring vitality back into your life so that you can be strong, active, & energetic for yourself and loved ones.

Overview & My Thoughts:

One of the overall best-selling/most popular fitness programs online as when this released there was a huge need for this sort of specific, high-quality information (and still is) as so many people sit for so long every single day at desk jobs which tighens your hips among other areas (ie neck and shoulders). The hips are a crucial yet often overlooked part of strength training, posture, and avoiding/reducing injuries, and by freeing up your hips (and hamstrings, which is also explained in detail) you have the potential for much better functional strength and overall health (not to mention infinitely better posture).

When I learned how to free up my own hip flexors and hamstrings I saw a significant improvement in my posture and stability, and it helped all my other exercises (especially leg day). Plus, I know it sounds strange but I walk much more loosely and naturally, which is a great side benefit to doing this sort of training and feels/look a lot better than that stiff walk you see most guys have in the street.

Learn more or download the program here.

If you're a guy or gal training in the gym, chances are high you're not training your glutes properly which will hold back your overall strength, posture, balance, and appearance

Unlock Your Glutes: Develop a Rounder and Stronger Butt

Author: Brian Klepacki (Certifications: MS, CSCS, FMS, CISSN)

Official Program Description: 

Why Everything You Know About Training Your Body’s LARGEST Muscle For Greater Shape, Power, Strength, And Long-Term Health Is WRONG… (HINT: if you’re still doing squats and lunges it’s time to STOP!) Plus The #1 Exercise to Develop a Rounder, Stronger Butt.

Overview & My Thoughts

That official description sounds like something straight out of a dodgy late-night infomercial, but slick marketing aside this is another pure-gold program that costs hardly anything but may be well worth it if your glutes are lacking in development and strength.

Like the hips, the glutes are badly overlooked in the majority of strength/bodybuilding programs, but without training them properly with specific exercises and great form yours are bound to be weak and underdeveloped which can lead to all sorts of posture/pain problems.

This was personally an issue of mine too as I had weak glutes after not knowing how to train them properly, but after I learned proper exercises and form I was able to correct this muscular imbalance which many guys (and gals) have.

Learn more or download the program here.

Want to design your own muscle gain program from scratch?

Start with our introductory guide to building muscle mass