Building an impressive physique takes time. Even the most genetically gifted need to train consistently to really stand out.
Of course, the typical hardgainer will have to be even more persistent and patient.
Muscle growth is a relatively slow process. It is certainly much slower than fat loss. Thus, the ratio of time spent in a surplus (bulking) compared to being in a deficit (cutting) should reflect this.
For ordinary guys, a 4:1 ratio of bulking to cutting is an excellent target to shoot for.
This means that a 12-week bulk would be followed by a 3-week mini-cut. Likewise, a 20-week bulk requires a 5-week cut. Adhering to this ratio provides the sweet spot of building noticeable muscle mass, but tightening up before getting sloppy.
By sticking to this 4:1 ratio most guys can avoid ever getting too fat that they negatively skew their P-ratio so far that it affects their capacity to build lean muscle.
The Partitioning Ratio, or P-ratio, describes your body’s ability to partition nutrients.
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When your body fat percentage is high your P-ratio tends to become sub-optimal. A greater proportion of the calories you eat get stored as fat and fewer go to building lean muscle. Obviously, this is not ideal.
Fortunately, the 4:1 ratio of bulking to cutting does an excellent job of controlling this and allowing you to maximize your lean muscular potential.
A Different Story for Hardgainers
As I identified earlier, hardgainers build muscle slower than regular guys. They have a hard time gaining weight.
On the plus side, they tend to be able to maintain lower body fat levels than the average person and lose fat very quickly when in a deficit. To account for these factors, they should adjust their bulking to cutting ratio to reflect their genetics.
For hardgainers, I prefer a 5:1 ratio. So, if you are a hardgainer who bulked for 15 weeks that equates to a 3-week mini cut.
Set Yourself Up for Success
If you are someone who struggles to build muscle, you must allow yourself enough time to add a noticeable amount of mass.
Don’t short-change yourself and limit your gains by only bulking for 8-12 weeks if you don’t look any bigger in that timeframe. You need to individualize your training and nutrition to get the best possible results you are a capable of.
This is where many hardgainers go wrong. They follow the advice of the genetic elite. Sadly, this just ends up in a lack of progress and a pile of frustration.
Give yourself the best possible chance of success by biasing your efforts in favor of muscle-building phases. Building muscle is harder for you. Getting lean is easy. Consequently, it makes sense to allow more time for growth and less for cutting.
Gaining size is the hardest part of the equation for the typical tall, skinny, hardgainer so, it deserves the lion’s share of your attention.
Even Hardgainers Need to Diet Occasionally
I’m guessing that if you’re still reading this you would classify yourself as a hardgainer. The good news for you is that, you don’t have to diet as frequently, or for as long, as average guys. The bad news is that contrary to what some people would have you believe, you do still have to diet from time to time.
As a naturally skinny guy, you might believe that you can get away with a “dreamer bulk”. Stuffing yourself on pop tarts, pizza, and protein shakes until you become jacked and ripped. Sorry to rain on your parade, but even the hardest of hardgainers can’t get away with a "perma-bulk".
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When bulking, sooner or (more likely) later for the hardgainer, things will get a little fluffy. There will inevitably come a time when the surplus of calories you’ve been cramming in starts to result in a little bit too much fat gain. Your abs will soften and a little extra flab might even appear on your love handles. At this point, you're P-ratio has deteriorated and in all likelihood any weight gained from this stage onwards will be mostly fat.
When this situation eventually occurs, do the smart thing. Don’t try and force feed yourself to more muscle. Accept that you had a good run, but now you need to change tack to maximize your long-term progress. Take a mini-cut. Lose fat. Improve your body's capacity to gain pure muscle and then start over with another bulk. This will allow you to build more muscle (instead of fat) in the long-term.
Use the 5:1 ratio to determine the length of your mini-cut. If you bulked for 20 weeks that means you likely need 4 weeks of an aggressive mini-cut to get back to being lean enough to go again. Likewise, a 25-week bulk would probably require 5 weeks’ worth of dieting.
Be Mature Enough to Accept that Progress Is Not Linear
As a naturally skinny guy myself, I know the frustration of having to cut. We often still don’t feel big enough yet and are tempted to keep pushing for the next 3, 4, or 5 pounds on the scale. Somehow, we believe this will make all the difference. Sadly, if you give into your emotions and pursue the next 5 pounds you just get fatter, build little to no muscle, and have to diet for longer to get lean enough to bulk effectively.
I’ve made this mistake in the past. Thankfully, I have finally learnt my lesson. Save yourself some time and lots of frustration by learning from my mistakes rather than making them yourself. Be mature enough to make logical decisions about your training and diet. When the time comes accept that it's time to switch gears and get lean, safe in the knowledge you will soon be able to continue bulking in a much more effective manner.
Sadly, progress in bodybuilding is not linear. You cannot add lean muscle week after week, month after month, year after year for eternity. The physique development process is more cyclical than linear. The trend, however, should always be upwards. Use the 5:1 ratio to guide you through cycles of bulking and cutting.
Big Picture View
For a naturally skinny guy, it’s going to take years to build a truly impressive physique.
Enough consistent years of smart decision making about bulking and cutting can radically transform even the skinniest of hardgainers. Each year this looks like 40-45 weeks of the year bulking and 7-12 weeks of cutting.
Put enough years like that back to back and soon enough people will be asking you for training advice.
Perhaps they’ll even say stuff like, “I could look like you too if I had your genetics.” If only they knew what it really took!
Does this rule apply to hard gaining women as well?