tips for hardgainers to build muscle

25 Powerful Tips For Hardgainers To Build Muscle Mass Onto A Skinny Body

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Are you a skinny guy struggling to gain muscle? Then keep reading. Because today, I will share 25 powerful tips for hardgainers to build muscle mass.

Building muscle as a hardgainer requires you to optimise your weight training, nutrition, and lifestyle choices. Hardgainers should perform the right exercises at the correct training volumes, consume a daily caloric surplus, and reach a daily macronutrient quota. Doing this will provide the stimulus required to build muscle.

I used to be hardgainer. But I gained 40lbs of lean muscle. And I know you can too. You just need to know what to do.

So let’s dive in!

I used to be a hardgainer but learnt how to build 40lb of muscle
Find out how I gained 40lbs of muscle as a hardgainer. Read to the end for my 6-step blueprint to build muscle!

Workout Tips For Hardgainers To Build Muscle

Here are 10 workout tips for hardgainers to build muscle:

1. Compound Lifting Is A Hardgainers Best Friend.

A compound lift is a weight lifting exercise which engages multiple muscle groups around multiple joints. Compound lifts are the ideal exercises for hardgainers to build muscle since they activate many muscles in a short period of time. Therefore, a hardgainer should focus their training programme on compound exercises.

bar chart showing compound bench presses activate the pectorals more effectively than isolation chest flys

Additionally, this 2020 study shows that muscle activation is not only more numerous, but also greater during compound lifting, when compared to isolation lifting (which are single joint, single muscle exercises).

Next, I will share my favourite compound lifts.

2. Bench Press To Add Muscle To A Skinny Chest.

How to Bench Press with Proper Form (AVOID MISTAKES!)

The bench press engages the upper pectorals, lower pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps. This makes the bench press excellent for hardgainers to develop muscle mass in the chest. The flat bench press emphasises the mid pectorals, incline bench press the upper pectorals, and decline bench press the lower pectorals.

This is a great compound pushing exercise. And when you include different angle variations, you will make impressive chest gains!

3. Overhead Press To Add Muscle To Skinny Shoulders.

The ULTIMATE Overhead Press Tutorial (feat. 2019 World's Strongest Man Martins Licis)

The overhead press engages the anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, posterior deltoids, triceps, and upper pectorals. This makes the overhead press excellent for hardgainers to develop broad shoulders. The ideal grip width to maximise shoulder activation is shoulder-width apart, with elbows tucked towards the torso.

This is another great compound pushing exercise, focusing on the shoulder rather than the chest.

4. Do Pull Ups To Thicken A Skinny Back.

How to Pull-Up CORRECTLY (3 Step Guide)

The pull up engages the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, and biceps. This makes the pull up great for hardgainers to develop a thicker back. Weights can also be added to the pull up by holding a dumbbell between the legs, and this will promote greater muscle growth.

This compound pulling exercise is an extremely effective back-builder.

It’s perfect for hardgainers to develop not only a thicker, but also a wider V-shaped back!

5. Squat To Add Muscle To A Skinny Legs.

How To Squat | Proper Form & Technique

The squat engages the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and core muscles. This makes it an excellent exercise for hardgainers to develop larger legs. Furthermore, variations such as the low-bar, high-bar, and front-load squat can be used to emphasise the different leg muscles.

This compound leg exercise should be a staple to your muscle-building programme. You don’t want to develop a killer upper body, only to be left with skinny chicken legs!

Additionally, this 2018 study has demonstrated high intensity squatting can drive muscle-building hormone release!

Read my other article for a list of squat variations for hardgainer legs!

6. Dead Lift To Add Muscle Mass To A Skinny Body.

The dead lift is a whole-body exercise which engages many muscles in the body including the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, core, deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, latissumus dorsi, and triceps. This makes the dead lift one of the best exercises for hardgainers to develop general muscle mass.

Deadlifts are the king of compound exercises!

It will engage your entire body. And it’s one of the best lifts you can do as a hardgainer.

7. Perform 8-12 Rep Max Training For Muscle Hypertrophy.

The optimal rep range for muscle growth is 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Therefore an 8 to 12-rep max should be performed for any given exercise, to maximise muscle development. This can be done by choosing a weight which fatigues your muscle by the eighth or twelfth rep, respectively.

In light of this, a 2021 study has just revealed that a 24% increase in bench pressing strength was seen in those who performed 10 weeks of 8-rep max training. In contrast, only a 16% increase in bench pressing strength was seen in those who performed 10 weeks of 12-rep max training.

bar chart to show 8 rep weight lifting is better than 12 rep weight lifting for muscle growth

The scientists also attributed the strength increase to muscle growth.

Take home message?

Hardgainers should stay within the 8-12 rep range to build muscle!

8. Complete 12 To 24 Sets Per Muscle Group Per Week.

The optimal range of weight lifting sets required for muscle growth is between 12 to 24 sets per muscle per week. Additionally, these sets should be spread over a minimum of 2 training days per week. This will provide the greatest stimulus for muscle growth.

line graph to show wasted sets after 24 sets per muscle group per week
“Sets” = Sets Per Muscle Group Per Week

This is due to the phenomenon of diminishing returns seen in weight training, as shown in this 2017 study.

Put simply, performing more than 24 sets per muscle group per week leads to “wasted sets”.

Just make sure you are lifting within your 8-12 rep max for those 12-24 weekly sets.

9. Hardgainers Need To Overload Regularly.

Progressive overload is the principal of increasing exercise intensity over time. This is most commonly achieved by increasing weight, repetition number, set number, or training frequency. Progressive overload helps hardgainers to build muscle by forcing the muscles to make growth adaptations in response to the increasing workload.

line graph to show the strength-recovery-adaptation model for progressive overload

This is seen more clearly on the strength-recovery-adaptation curve (above).

As you can see, hardgainers need to overload in order to grow! If you don’t overload by increasing training intensity, you will lose your muscle adaptations.

But make sure you adopt one method of overload at a time. Otherwise you will risk overtraining.

10. Maximise Muscle Activation With Dumbbells

Dumbbells are highly effective free weights to increase muscle activation from a weight lifting exercise. Compared to barbells, dumbbells allows for a high range of motion and provides a greater muscle stretch. This increases muscle activation, making dumbbell training great for hardgainers to gain muscle.

MuscleMuscle Activation Using Dumbbell (Compared To Barbell)
Anterior Deltoids15% higher
Lateral Deltoids7% higher
Muscle activation results for a standing shoulder press. Data derived from Saeterbakken Et al. 2013

The effectiveness of dumbbells can be seen in a 2013 study.

Here, the scientists showed that using dumbbells for a standing shoulder press led to an 11% higher average deltoid activation, compared to using barbells.

So if you want to build more muscle as a hardgainer, start doing more dumbbell work!

Nutrition Tips For Hardgainers To Build Muscle

Here are 10 nutrition tips for hardgainers to build muscle:

11. Maintain A 15% Caloric Surplus For A Lean Bulk.

Bulking is essential for hardgainers to build muscle. A lean bulk refers to a 15% daily caloric surplus, which requires you to consume 15% more than your daily maintenance calories. When you lean bulk, you provide the body with the energy and nutrients required to build muscle.

pie chart to show a 15% caloric surplus is required to build muscle

The reason hard gainers should lean bulk rather than dirty bulk (consuming over 20% above maintenance calories) is to minimise fat storage.

After all, most people want to minimise fat gains with their muscle gains.

In addition to a caloric surplus, those calories should come from macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat). I will explain this next.

12. 1.5g Of Protein Per Lb Of Lean Bodyweight.

Hardgainers aiming to build muscle should consume 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. As an example, a 140 pound individual at 12% body fat would require 185 grams of daily protein. Additionally, protein should come from a variety of lean meat, fresh fish, and plant sources.

Protein SourceGrams Of Protein Per 100 Gram
Steak25
Chicken Breast27
Pork Chop24
Salmon20
White Fish18
Tuna28
Tofu8
Kidney Beans24
Chickpeas19
Examples Of High-Protein Foods

The body NEEDS protein to build muscle. If you don’t consume enough protein, your muscles simply won’t grow!

Check out my other article find out how to eat protein cheaply!

13. 2.5g Of Carbohydrates Per Lb Of Bodyweight.

Hardgainers aiming to build muscle should consume 2.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight. As an example, a 140 pound individual would require 350 grams of daily carbohydrates. Additionally, the majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates, rather than simple sugars.

Carb SourceGrams Of Carb Per 100 Gram
Potatoes17
Oats66
Brown Pasta (Uncooked)75
Brown Rice (Uncooked)23
Brown Bread52
Quinoa (Uncooked)64
Kidney Beans60
Chickpeas61
Examples Of High-Carb Foods

As a hardgainer, you will want to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. Complex carbs should be consumed throughout the day. Whilst simple sugars can be consumed immediately after/before a workout.

If you don’t have the energy to lift weights at a high intensity, your muscles won’t get bigger!

14. 0.4g Of Healthy Fats Per Lb Of Bodyweight.

Hardgainers aiming to build muscle should consume 0.4 grams of healthy fats per pound of bodyweight. As an example, a 140 pound individual would require 56 grams of daily healthy fats. Good sources of healthy fats include oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils.

Fat SourceGrams Of Fat Per 100 Gram
Avocado15
Olive Oil100
Cottage Cheese4
Almonds42
Sunflower Seeds51
Salmon13
Mackerel25
Red Meat And Poultry14-20
Examples Of Healthy Fat Foods

Fats not only provide you with energy, but they are also required for hormone production (such as testosterone and growth hormone).

So as a hardgainer, you don’t want to under-consume on fats!

15. Eating 5 Meals A Day Is Enough For Hardgainers.

Eating 5+ meals per day is recommended for hardgainers to build muscle. A high meal frequency allows for a steady intake of nutrients during the day, and allows you to consume more calories throughout the entire day. And this provides the body with the energy required for muscle growth.

From my personal experience, 5 meals a day is enough to build muscle as a hardgainer. After all, I managed to gain 40lbs of lean muscle myself from only 5 meals a day.

The important point is to reach your daily caloric and macronutrient target, and not necessarily how many meals you eat.

Anyway, who actually has time to eat 6+ meals a day?….

16. Protein Powders Help Hardgainers Reach Protein Targets.

Protein powders are made from whey or casein protein. They help hardgainers to build muscle by contributing to daily protein intake and facilitate in reaching daily protein targets. When protein targets are satisfied, the body has access to the amino acids required for the muscle-building process.

Type Of Protein PowderTypical Calories (kcal)Average Cost Per Calorie (USD)Typical Protein (g)Average Cost Per Gram Protein (USD)
Whey/Casein150$0.00425$0.024
Mass Gainer500-1000$0.00435+$0.052

Protein shakes are a godsend for hardgainers.

It’s extremely difficult for beginners to eat 150+ grams of protein every day (and expensive).

So if you are a hardgainer struggling to build muscle, try adding protein shakes to your diet!

17. Mass Gainers Help Hardgainers Reach Calorie And Protein Targets.

Mass gainer powders are made from whey or casein protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They help hardgainers to build muscle by contributing to daily caloric and protein targets. When caloric and protein targets are satisfied, the body has access to the energy and protein required for muscle growth.

Mass gainers are like the jacked up version of protein shakes.

The added carbs and fats provide valuable calories, in addition to the protein content.

I only recommend you to use mass gainer shakes if you are really struggling with hitting your calorie targets. Mass gainers usually have lot’s of sugars, fats, and other unhealthy additives!

Read my other article for homemade mass gainer alternatives!

18. Calorie-Dense Foods Should Be In All Hardgainer Diets.

Calorie-dense foods have high calories and low volumes. They are beneficial for hardgainers to build muscle by making it easier to consume a high number of calories and satisfy daily caloric targets. Calorie-dense foods include foods high in sugars, carbohydrates, and fats.

calorie dense foods are helpful for hardgainers to build muscle

If you are a hardgainer, you probably struggle with eating vast quantities of food.

This makes calorie-dense foods your secret weapon to hitting caloric targets!

My personal favourites are honey, ice cream, and oily fish/meats.

19. Pre-Bed Protein Meals Help Hardgainers Build Muscle

A pre-bed protein meal is high-protein consumed within 1 or 2 hours of going to sleep. Pre-bed protein helps hardgainers to gain muscle by maintaining blood protein levels during the fasting period of sleep. The ideal pre-bed protein source is casein, which is a slow digesting protein.

example pre-bed high protein meal

Dairy products are a great source of casein. Cottage cheese in particular is a favourite amongst body builders. It’s easy to eat and packed with slow digesting protein.

If you don’t like cottage cheese, casein shakes are also great!

20. Consume Pre- And Post-Workout Meals.

Pre-workout and post-workout meals refer to foods consumed within 2 hours before and after performing a weight lifting workout, respectively. These meals should be high in complex carbohydrates, simple sugars, and protein to maintain energy levels during the workout. This facilitates intense training and helps hardgainers to gain muscle.

Of your 5+ daily meals, these are ESSENTIAL for hardgainers (and breakfast too).

A nutritious pre-workout will allow you to train at a high intensity to stimulate muscle growth.

Similarly, a nutritious post-workout meal will re-supply your muscles with the calories and protein burnt during your workout.

Result?

Greater gains!

Lifestyle Tips For Hardgainers To Build Muscle

Here are 5 lifestyle tips for hardgainers to build muscle:

21. Get Home Weight Lifting Equipment.

Home gyms can help hardgainers to build muscle by providing ready access to workouts, a more suitable environment to practice new exercises, and reducing waiting times for equipment. Home gyms are also cheaper than gym membership in the long-term, and this can facilitate continued muscle gains.

If you were undergoing any form of training goal in 2020/21, you will probably have been affected by gym closures at some point.

Do yourself a favour. Get your own home gym and don’t let anything stop you making those gains!

A home gym doesn’t have to be expensive. A dumbbell and bench setup is perfectly fine for building muscle at home.

Check out my other article to find out if home dumbbells are worth the money!

Or

Read my other article to find out if a home gym is worth the money.

22. Stress Is A Hardgainers Worst Enemy.

Stress is extremely counterproductive for hardgainers trying gain muscle. This is due to the release of cortisol, a hormone responsible for increasing fat storage and reducing muscle development. Therefore, hardgainers should minimise the amount of daily stress in order to maximise muscle growth.

This is easier said than done.

But chronic stress can lead to the classic “skinny fat” look, where you have skinny limbs, yet still have pronounced love handles.

Try stress management programmes and mediation. Or change jobs/girlfriend/pet (whatever the hell is stressing you out)!

23. Sleep For 7 To 9 Hours Per Night.

Hardgainers should get between 7 to 9 hours of high quality sleep every night to optimise muscle growth. This is because the muscle-building process occurs during the deep-stage of sleep, and regular sleep deprivation will negatively impact the body’s ability to produce muscle gains.

Sleep is underrated for hardgainer transformations.

The more you sleep, the more muscle you will build. Simple as that.

diagram to show sleep is required for hardgainers to build muscle

Take a look at this 2011 study. The scientists found people with sleep deprivation have 60% less muscle, compared to people who get 8 hours sleep a night and have 40% more muscle.

24. Learn Weight Lifting Form And Technique Online.

Weight lifting form and technique can be learned from online resources such as Youtube, exercise databases, and downloadable courses. Perfecting form and technique is essential to maximise engagement of the target muscle for any given exercise, making this important for hardgainers trying to build muscle.

In todays digital world, you don’t need a PT to make gains.

ResourceGood For:
Jeff Nippard Youtube ChannelScience-based bodybuilding
Athlean X Youtube ChannelWorkouts, nutrition, and training advice
Weight Training GuideExercise form for popular lifts
Strength LevelEstimating your 1 rep max
TDEE CalculatorCalculating calorie surplus

There are lots of online resources to help you build muscle as a hardgainer. I know it will work for you because it worked for me!

25. Overtraining Is Counterproductive To Muscle Growth.

Overtraining occurs when your training intensity exceeds your body’s ability to recover from exercise. This restrict’s your body from undergoing the muscle-repair process which is important for growth. Hardgainers should aim for a training frequency of no more than 5 days per week to avoid overtraining.

Are you training intensely for 6 day a week? 7 even?!

If you still aren’t making any gains, you should consider reducing to 5 workouts a week (max).

Doing so will give your body the rest it needs to build muscle.

Conclusion

There we have it! That’s 25 tips for hardgainers to build muscle.

If you are a hardgainer, you will need to optimise your workouts, nutrition, and lifestyle. You could begin by identifying areas where you are lacking, and work from there.

I have covered all the important points which helped me to gain 40lb as a hardgainer myself.

It may take time adjusting too. But once you nail these 25 tips, I promise you will make your deserved gains!

How many of my tips do YOU currently implement?

Let me know in the comments below!

Alternatively, download the FREE Kalibre Muscle Blueprint to find out EXACTLY how I transformed my skinny body as a hardgainer!

how I built 40lbs of lean muscle as a hardgainer

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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