For some people, building muscle comes easy. It doesn’t matter if they break all the training and nutritional rules and do everything wrong; they grow anyway. Combine great genetics with a truckload of steroids, and our easy gainer can build muscle almost by thinking about training.
Of course, following the advice of such a genetically blessed individual would be a terrible idea. Yet, that’s precisely what a lot of beginners and hard gainers do.
That’s why so many lifters are so unsatisfied with their progress. They’re using programs written by and aimed at people who have built their muscle mass not because of their training but almost in spite of it!
Beginners and hardgainers are not so lucky. Still, a lot of training advice seemingly assumes that the average lifter has phenomenal bodybuilding genes and access to exotic drugs.
If you ever see a workout that recommends two hours in the gym six days a week and 30 sets per muscle group, it’s safe to say that a plan like this is NOT suitable for beginners and hard gainers. Following such a program will just lead to frustration and injury.
So, forget training advice aimed at steroid-using genetic superfreaks – it won’t work for you! Instead, use the tips in this article to build muscle naturally, sensibly, and healthily.
Bodybuilding Tips for Beginners and Hard Gainers
- 1. Focus on a small number of lifts per workout
- 2. Hit each body part 2-3 times per week
- 3. Go easy on the intensity boosting training methods (for now!)
- 4. Use isolation exercises sparingly
- 5. Stop doing so much cardio
- 6. You aren’t eating enough
- 7. Stop skimping on sleep
- 8. Save your energy for training and muscle growth
- 9. Be patient!
- Bodybuilding Tips for Beginners – Wrapping Up
Bodybuilding Tips for Beginners and Hard Gainers
Are you frustrated by your lack of bodybuilding progress? Then stop following the advice of genetically blessed steroid-using elite bodybuilders and train and eat like the beginner or hard gainer you are! Use these tips to build muscle naturally.
1. Focus on a small number of lifts per workout
A lot of bodybuilders use a “kitchen sink” approach to their workouts – they throw lots of exercises into the mix to ensure that they hit each muscle from every possible angle. While such a voluminous training approach can work, most beginners and hard gainers will do far better with fewer exercises per muscle group.
So, when designing your workouts, pick just 2-3 exercises per body part, using the most productive movements you know.
For example, when training chest, you could do bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, and cable crossovers. That’s more than enough angles to achieve a good level of development and more than enough volume to trigger hypertrophy.
2. Hit each body part 2-3 times per week
Lifters with great genes often do best on one big workout per muscle group per week, i.e., a body part split. They’ll literally destroy the target muscle with a large number of exercises and a high volume of sets. Seven days later, now fully recovered, they’ll do it all over again.
Hard gainers and newbies usually get better results from shorter but more frequent workouts, hitting each muscle twice or even three times per week.
Good training splits for this include:
|Full body||–||Full body||–||Full body||–||–|
|Upper body||–||Lower body||–||Full body||–||–|
|Upper body||Lower body||–||Upper body||–||Lower body||–|
Related: The 12 Best Bodybuilding Splits
3. Go easy on the intensity boosting training methods (for now!)
While wanting to use intensity-boosting training methods like drop sets, forced reps, and giant sets says a lot about your willingness to work hard, it could also be why you aren’t gaining muscle.
Using these methods, it’s all too easy to overtrain and exceed your ability to recover. To paraphrase Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, you are annihilating rather than stimulating.
Training your muscles to complete exhaustion is not always the best way to build muscle. In fact, you only really need to take your muscles to within a couple of reps of failure to increase size and strength. Training beyond this point just delays recovery, making subsequent workouts less productive.
So, instead of trying to see how intense you can make your workouts, dial things back a little, and leave some energy in the tank. And don’t worry; there will be plenty of time to reintroduce these intensity-boosting methods when you are a little more experienced.
4. Use isolation exercises sparingly
Strength training exercises can be classified in one of two ways – compound or isolation. Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups and are generally the best use of your training time and energy.
They’re usually well-regarded muscle builders and good for building strength, too. Examples include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, bent-over rows, etc.
In contrast, isolation exercises involve just one joint and fewer muscles. Examples include the pec deck, dumbbell flyes, side raises, and triceps pushdowns. They’re good for getting a pump, but don’t tend to create as much muscle tension, so they’re not so good for building muscle.
As your training time and energy are limited, it makes sense to use the most productive muscle-building methods in your workouts, and that means compound exercises.
You don’t need to go all compound all the time, but 80% or so of your workout should be compound exercises. If you use them, use isolation exercises as finishers, i.e., do them after you’ve put most of your energy into a couple of good compound movements.
5. Stop doing so much cardio
Cardio is good for burning fat and improving cardiovascular fitness and health. Still, you can have too much of a good thing, especially if you are a hard gainer or beginner.
Cardio mainly targets your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which have no real impact on muscle size or strength. It also takes energy that could be better used for muscle repair and growth.
If you are struggling to gain mass, doing too much cardio could be the reason.
How much is too much? That’s hard to say because exercise tolerance varies from person to person. For example, there is always “that guy” who’s ripped, massive, but also runs marathons!
But, for most hard gainers, 20 minutes of cardio 2-3 times per week should be enough to produce increases in fitness and endurance without undermining muscle growth.
Better yet, make the switch from low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio and do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead. HIIT is more time-efficient and stimulates the muscle fibers responsible for muscle size.
Read more about HIIT here.
6. You aren’t eating enough
While some people can build muscle without much of a calorie surplus, less lucky individuals need a calorie surplus to gain muscle mass (1). Hard gainers often have a high resting metabolism. The calories they consume are burnt very rapidly, leaving little left over to fuel workout recovery and muscle growth.
If you are naturally slender and find it hard to gain weight (either muscle or fat), you probably need to start paying more attention to the type and amount of food you are eating.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide you with a diet to follow, but here are a few guidelines for eating yourself bigger.
- Consume three sizable meals and a couple of snacks per day. Missed meals are missed opportunities for muscle growth!
- Eat mostly natural, healthy goods, but it’s okay to eat some less healthy foods now and then to get the extra calories you need.
- Drink your calories if lack of hunger makes it hard to eat enough. Weight gainer shakes are the hard gainer’s friend.
- Meat and potatoes are arguably the most anabolic foods you can eat! Other options include fish and rice, or chicken and pasta.
- Eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. Protein is critical for building muscle, especially when you’re a hard gainer.
7. Stop skimping on sleep
One of the most important things you need to build muscle is also the easiest to do – sleep. Where training causes muscle breakdown, sleep is when your body has the time and resources it needs for repair and growth.
When you sleep, your body releases various anabolic hormones critical for muscle growth. Not getting enough sleep will undermine your progress. You will shorten the “anabolic window” during which your body does most of its muscle building.
Most lifters need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, so if you are getting less than that, it’s time to go to bed earlier. While this may mean turning off the TV earlier than you are used to, you’ll be rewarded with more significant muscle growth and more energy for training.
8. Save your energy for training and muscle growth
When it comes to building muscle, hard gainers need to be lazy. Not in the gym, but outside of it. Physical activity above and beyond your training wastes valuable energy and could interfere with your recovery and muscle growth.
While it may not be easy, hard gainers need to be stingy with their physical energy and use it sparingly. So, that means no pick-up games of basketball and no long walks or bike rides.
As Australian strength coach Ian King used to say:
- Don’t run – walk
- Don’t walk – ride
- Don’t stand – sit
- Don’t sit – lie down!
In other words, look for ways to conserve energy rather than waste it.
9. Be patient!
Hard gainers and beginners often make slow progress, which can be frustrating. It’s especially hard to deal with when you see yet another of those Instagram transformation stories where some guy has gone from skinny to buff in 60 days or less.
But, here’s the thing about a lot of those transformations – a lot of them are fake! Or, the subject was taking a whole bunch of anabolic steroids. Or perhaps they’re just more genetically gifted than you.
Regardless, hard gainers and beginners should avoid comparing their progress to anyone else’s. Train hard, and you will gain muscle and get stronger, but it’ll be at the pace your body dictates, so you need to be patient.
It may take you years to achieve what other people manage in months, but that’s the luck of the genetic draw, and you just need to learn to deal with it. Don’t start looking for shortcuts or get disheartened. Just keep your head down, be patient, and work hard to reach your goals. You CAN do it!
Bodybuilding Tips for Beginners – Wrapping Up
Beginners and hard gainers often make a lot of bodybuilding mistakes, and usually, not trying hard enough is NOT one of them. In fact, many people who are struggling to build muscle or get stronger are guilty of trying too much!
Lifting weights can have a powerful effect on your body, but there is such a thing as too much, and you need to support your workouts with an appropriate diet and lifestyle. Get this balance right, and your muscles will grow.
That said, some bodybuilders are destined to make slower progress than others. It’s a question of genetics, and some people are more blessed than others.
If you are a hard gainer, or a beginner making slow progress, use these tips to ensure that you get the best from your workouts and avoid accidentally sabotaging your muscle growth.
And, for the sake of your own sanity, stop following programs designed for elite steroid-using bodybuilders or comparing your progress to theirs. That’s just a recipe for frustration and heartache!
1 – PubMed: Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated with Resistance Training? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6710320/