You may have heard the term 'hardgainer' being thrown around in the fitness world and thought to yourself whether it's a bunch of BS and just some guys whining and using it as an excuse for why they're not getting the muscle gains that they want.
Here I'll shed the light based on my extensive research into the subject as well as my own experiences in the fitness industry.
What is a Hardgainer?
The popular definition of a hardgainer is a naturally skinny guy who finds it difficult to gain weight and muscle mass.
But by that definition, practically anyone could call themselves a hardgainer because the fact is that no matter who you are, putting on muscular weight takes fairly hard work and a lot of effort in both the gym and kitchen over an extended period of time.
To get to the real, more technical definition of what a hardgainer actually is, we need to take a quick look at the three main human body types (yes...hardgainers absolutely do exist and I'll explain why).
Technically called "somatotypes", the three types of human physiques were discovered by the work and research of Dr William H Sheldon back in the 1940's.
Sheldon, besides having an appropriate name as the scientist type, stated that people are born with an inherited body type based on skeletal frame and body composition. In other words, human bodies can be generally categorised into three main types each with various attributes.
Some people fit squarely into one body type, whilst other people are more of a combination of 2 or even 3 types:
So what's a hardgainer? An ectomorph.
Most underweight and naturally very skinny guys will be ectomorphs, and therefore are the true hardgainers of the bodybuilding world who will find it a bit more challenging to pack on muscle weight compared to the other 2 body types, and especially compared to the mesamorph who will find muscle gaining a bit easier.
The reality is that hardgainers do indeed exist. The thing is though, is that some guys think that they're a hardgainer because they don't get the results they expect in the weights room, when in fact they may not be an actual hardgainer after all and are simply making mistakes such as not training properly or hard enough, not focusing on progressive overload, not eating enough, not getting their macros right, not resting enough, or any other number of issues.
But if your natural physique is on the ectomorphic side, you will have to approach your training and diet a little more strategically to get great results.
The Ectomorph's Edge
However, do not get discouraged as a hardgainer / ectomorph, and don't use it as an excuse to not pursue your desire to bulk up, gain significant muscle and become the strongest and most muscular you can be.
Being a hardgainer, whilst being great for staying lean and avoiding putting on too much excess body fat when bulking up, can also be a blessing in disguise when it comes to building muscle as well.
Well, because you will need to approach your training and nutrition plan with a little more thought than others, you'll learn and understand how the muscle building process works on a deeper level. The extra effort you put in now to properly design an effective program, cover all the scientific principles of muscle gain, and make sure you do all the right things to induce the most gains - that extra effort will pay dividents over the long run.
Most guys don't put much thought into weight training and nutrition, so be focusing your efforts more than the average guy at the gym, over the long haul you're going to not only catch everyone due to your superior strategies and knowledge, but you will eventually push past them all if you simply stick to what you've learnt.
Being naturally weak and skinny and even underweight - that's a blessing in disguise and you can use that as leverage to focus more than others, put in more time and effort, and to eventually defy your genetic underdog status and get the results over the long term that will blow people away.
Can Hardgainers/Ectomorphs Get Big and Build Lots of Muscle?
No doubt about it.
I, and countless other hardgainers before me who successfully transformed their physiques (including a few famous bodybuilders), are living proof.
If you create or follow a solid program, and do most of the right things in and out of the gym over time - being a hardgainer will absolutely NOT stop you building the amazing physique of your dreams with more muscle mass than 99% of people would ever want or need.
You can literally flip the bird on your natural body type and genetic disposition to totally transform your body over time into one that others would label as a mesamorph if asked at random (which for those who already forgot is the body type that is naturally muscular and gains the easiest).
Sometimes, especially when I was at my bulkiest (I maintain a more leaner, fitness model style physique these days as that's what I prefer), if I would have told people I'm an ectomorph or hardgainer, they would not believe me for a second.
Some people even thought I was on the juice. Personally, for the record I would never take them though.
Like I said, starting out as a hardgainer may take you a bit longer and more effort to initially transform from your super skinny frame into a fairly muscular, ripped physique, but it gets easier and easier as you go along and your body will eventually adapt and you'll be making gains consistently over and over again.
It's all about momentum, and the hardest part, like most things worth achieving in life, is always that initial take off period. You just gotta smash past that initial breakthrough period of your first few months to a year, and then you're golden if you keep on going.
Don't get me wrong - with a good program you absolute can get seriously epic results in your first few months to a year, especially cause muscle gains can come faster than average as a total beginner, but it just gets better and better and easier and easier if you stick to your hardgainer training and diet routines over the long haul.
Eventually, you will be a hardgainer no more and people will find it hard to believe where you've come from.
Hopefully this article has helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land - information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly structured, well-balanced and optmized training and nutrition plan for your specific goals (which if you're reading this is likely building muscle mass as a hardgainer/skinny guy).
To do that there's essentially 3 paths you can take, each with their pros and cons:
Path A: Design Your Own Mass Gain Program (cheapest)
Learn all the crucial basics, principles and over-arching strategies you need to know about planning the best well-balanced, science-based, all-natural mass building program for your specific goal and workout/diet preferences with our pillar 7-step comprehensive guide for beginner lifters and future heros. If you don't want to spend any money at all, this is how you do it, but be sure to thoroughly research all aspects of your DIY muscle gain program as an unbalanced/bro-science/straight-up-bad program can mean little to no gains at best, and bad posture, injuries and a whole lot of having to backtrack later at worst.
Path B: Follow A Proven Mass Gain Program ($)
To save time having to research and plan the best muscle building program for your specific goals as a hardgainer/skinny-guy/skinny-fat-dad-bod/whatever, there are indeed some excellent pre-made online programs out there that have stood the test of time in getting guys great results. It can give you a great head-on your transformation journey, and will make things simpler for you as it's simply a matter of executing a specific eating and workout program and not having to worry about getting all the little important details of your program on-point.
Sean Nal's hardgainer transformation program (you can see my full review and before/after pics using the program here) is the complete all-in-one online program I'd recommend to most people and especially beginners, and is the one I personally got the most out of when I first started.
Ignore any slick marketing, this guy's the real deal and easily one of the smartest hardgainers-turned-fitness-models I've come across online. Vince Delmonte's Mass Gain program comes in at a close second, who's another smart guy with the real-world results to back it up, who has another effective and proven step by step online program that's helped thousands of guys transform over a few months (rather than years).
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer ($$$)
The most expensive option to achieve your dream physique, but if you have the money to spend (1 on 1 coaching can quickly add up in costs) then ensure you pick a trainer who understands the science behind muscle gain, fat burning, supplementation, nutrition, etc, and most importantly choose one who practices what they preach and has similar results to what you want. If you're a hardgainer, ideally you'll want a trainer who has been in your shoes before and started out as a skinny hardgainer themselves and managed to build muscle successfully, otherwise they may not understand the best course of action for you and give you unhelpful generic advice.
Whichever path you choose - stick with it for long enough, don't give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but you understand that last sentence I said you won't need it ;)
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)