The Ex-Hardgainer Workout And Eating Plan

Tired of being a hardgainer? This program contains a detailed workout and progression scheme, along with eating advice and a sample daily diet plan.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Full Body
Beginner
3
Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells
Male & Female

Workout Description

You're not a hardgainer, you just think you're a hardgainer.

A hardgainer is someone who makes muscle and strength gains at a slightly slower rate than most. This may be due to any number of factors, including bone size. Small-boned lifters tend to carry around less muscle mass than large-boned lifters.

But let's not get sidetracked. Notice I said hardgainers progress at a SLIGHTLY slower rate than most. See, here's the problem...you aren't a hardgainer at all. Why? Because you aren't making ANY gains. A hardgainer still makes steady progress. Instead of being a hardgainer, you are a "no gainer."

Here's the good news: being a "no gainer" is a fixable condition. A no gainer isn't making progress because of 2 reasons:

  1. They aren't eating enough.
  2. They aren't training hard enough.

Ok, stop smirking. I know some of you are thinking...what a joke. I train hard and eat enough. This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Yes, I do. And I'm here to tell you that you are NOT training hard nor eating enough - you just think you are.

You may not believe me right now, but that's ok. You don't have to believe me. I will let the results of this article speak for themselves. If you think you're a hardgainer try this plan for at least 90 days. It works. You have nothing to lose.

The Hardgainer Workout Approach

This workout approach will ask several things of you:

  1. That you stay persistent and don't miss any workouts.
  2. That you stick to the plan and add weight to the bar according to the plan.
  3. That you minimize your cardio to no more than 3 sessions per week of 20-30 minutes.

A note before you begin this plan: this workout is not for novices or absolute beginners. If you do not have a grasp of good form for the exercises listed then take a month and get the kinks ironed out. When you start this workout plan you must be capable of adding weight week in and week out, and that will demand decent exercise form.

You will be working out 3 times per week, on non-consecutive days of the week. Here are 2 possible options:

  • Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

Sets. For each set you will push yourself and try to perform as many reps as possible, stopping that set when you feel like you may be unable to complete the next rep. Don't train to failure.

Use an appropriate number of warm up sets. Warm up sets should prepare the body for the heavier sets to come without fatiguing or taxing the body.

Rep Goal. Each exercise has a rep goal. This goal is the total number of reps you want to obtain for the 3 listed sets. For example, if the rep goal is 25, your goal is to perform 25 total reps for the 3 sets. This is NOT 25 reps per set...it it 25 total reps for the 3 sets.

When you reach this rep goal, you will add weight the next time you perform this exercise. It's ok to go over this rep goal during a given workout.

The following is progression list for each exercise. When you reach the rep goal for this exercise, add weight as listed.

  • Squats - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 10 pounds to the bar the next time you squat.
  • Deadlifts - 15 rep goal. When you are able to perform 15 total reps for 3 sets, add 10 pounds to the bar the next time you deadlift.
  • Bench Press - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the bar the next time you bench press.
  • Overhead Press - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the bar the next time you overhead press.
  • Dumbbell Rows - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the dumbbell the next time you row.
  • Barbell Curl - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the bar the next time you curl.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the dumbbell the next time you press.
  • Barbell Rows - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 10 pounds to the bar the next time you row.
  • Dumbbell Curl - 25 rep goal. When you are able to perform 25 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the dumbbell the next time you curl.
  • Calf Raises - 45 rep goal. When you are able to perform 45 total reps for 3 sets, add 10 pounds to this lift the next time you perform them.
  • Weighted Situps - 45 rep goal. When you are able to perform 45 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds the next time you perform them.
  • Side Bends - 30 rep goal. When you are able to perform 30 total reps for 3 sets, add 5 pounds to the dumbbell the next time you perform them.
  • 20 rep Squats - 20 rep goal. When you are able to perform 20 total reps for this single set of squats, add 10 pounds to the bar the next time you squat.

For calf raises, you may use whichever variation works best for you. Weighted sit ups are performed like regular sit ups, except that you hold a plat or dumbbell on your chest. DO NOT swap in any exercises. The exercises listed are the exercises to be performed. No exceptions.

What Weight Do I Start With?

Estimate which weight you would currently be able to use to reach the rep goal for a given exercise, and then start with about 75 to 80% of that weight. It will take several weeks to grow accustomed to the unique demands of this program, and it may take several weeks to get your eating up to speed, so don't rush to add weight right out of the gate.

Monday
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 3 25
Bench Press 3 25
Dumbbell Row 3 25
Barbell Curl 3 25
Weighted Sit Up 3 45
Wednesday
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlift 3 15
Overhead Press 3 25
Dips 3 Max
Barbell Calf Raise 3 45
Side Bend 3 30
Friday
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 1 20
Dumbbell Bench Press 3 25
Barbell Row 3 25
Dumbbell Curl 3 25
Weighted Sit Up 3 45

The Hardgainer Eating Plan

You have one goal during the next 90 days:

  • To eat 4000+ calories per day.

Combined with the aggressive progression of weight found in the workout plan, this food intake will assist you with packing on muscle.

You can train as hard as you want, but if you're not eating enough it will be extremely difficult to add muscle or strength. Most hardgainers don't eat enough food. They often have lightning fast metabolisms and have a hard time adding any weight.

As a "hardgainer" you must not underestimate the importance of eating big. Eating big will only make you fat if you're not training hard enough, and we already have that base covered.

Stop panicking. You will not turn into a sumo wrestler during the next 90 days. In fact, if you truly are a hardgainer with a super high metabolism you probably won’t gain much fat at all. But you should gain muscle and strength at a rapid rate.

Don’t even think about skipping this step. Eating is just as important as training. Here are some tips to help you eat right are reach 4000 daily calories:

  • Protein. Eat at least 30 to 40 grams of protein every 2.5 to 3 hours. At minimum you should eat 180 grams of protein each day.
  • Fat. Eat at least 30% of your daily calories from fat. It will be virtually impossible to eat enough if you focus on protein and carbs.
  • Carbs. Make sure to eat at least 3 servings of quality carbs each day, if not more. Quality carb sources include oatmeal, rice, whole grain cereal and bread, and quinoa. You can also eat fruits and veggies.

High Calorie Foods

It can seem tough to reach 4000 calories per day, but it's rather easy if you plan properly and consume the correct foods. If you are having a hard time eating enough, here are some suggestions:

  • Whole milk. Sip on whole milk throughout the day. Each cup contains 150 calories and is full of muscle building protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Almonds. An ounce of almonds is rich in calcium, healthy fats, and contains about 160 calories.
  • Butter or Olive Oil. Add a pat or two of butter to your veggies, or cook your meat in olive oil.
  • Sour Cream or Cheese. Top your dinner with a little sour cream or cheese. Both are calorie rich and can add quite a bit of flavor.
  • Weight Gainer. Weight gainers add quite a few calories per serving and are a good choice if you don't always have a lot of time to cook.

Sample Eating Plan

Here is a sample eating plan that provides 4300 daily calories:

  • Breakfast (889 calories) - 4 large eggs with 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, 12 ounces of whole milk, 1 cup cooked oatmeal with one large banana.
  • Snack (519) - 8 ounces of whole milk with 1 scoop of whey protein powder, 6 ounces of Greek yogurt with 3 diced strawberries.
  • Lunch (1020) - Double cheeseburger, 12 ounces of whole milk, spinach cooked in butter or olive oil, medium sized baked sweet potato with butter.
  • Snack (557) - 8 ounces of whole milk with 1 scoop of whey protein powder, 1 ounce of dry roasted almonds, one large banana.
  • Dinner (915) - 8 ounces of chicken topped with salsa, 2 ounces of sour cream and 1 ounce shredded pepper jack cheese, peas and carrots cooked in small amount of butter, 1 cup cooked rice.
  • Snack (400) - 8 ounces of whole milk with 1 scoop of casein protein powder, handful of almonds.
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701 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Tue, 06/05/2012 - 00:32
Joel

Hi Steve, something i wanted you to clarify for me. I was under the impression that to build mass you need to stick to heavy weights, low reps. This program has you doing high reps. As a hard gainer, what would benefit me the most to pack on mass the fastest? Thanks for the awesome article by the way.

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 13:04
Steven

Hi Joel,

This program doesn't have you performing high rep sets. Re-read the workout description. the reps are goals for all sets, not per set.

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Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 14:07
Joel

Haha yeah sorry read it wrong. Awesome workout . Thanks!

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Posted Sun, 06/03/2012 - 00:31
chris

im looking at switching from the pull,squat, press workout program, can i exchange barbell curls for pull ups and i do weighted crunchs every morning with other core exercises, what should i use instead on monday and friday. thanks

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 13:00
Steven

I would do chin ups instead of pullups.

If you are already doing weighted ab work in the morning then there is no need to do any ab work during these workouts.

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Posted Sat, 06/02/2012 - 11:01
Chris

Hi Steve.

I am an extreme hard-gainer, and despite being 21, I weigh only 105lbs. I have virtually no body fat (so at least my abs look good), and would like to target my pecs and biceps so that I don't look so skinny. To make matters even more complicated, I had a complete spinal fusion (2 years ago) to correct severe scoliosis. I am getting back into a lot of sports lately, but want to gain muscle as well. However, there are certain exercises that I am simply incapable of doing (squats, dead-lifts, etc.) I did try bench-pressing a little bit and that seemed to feel good because there was no tension on the back. Do you have any more recommendations in addition to the bench-press that will help me achieve results without straining my back. Thanks so much.

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 12:59
Steven

For medical reasons, I would suggest trying leg presses instead of squats and one arm dumbbell rows instead if deadlifts. Let me know how these feel for you.

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Posted Wed, 05/30/2012 - 09:20
Aaron

Hi Steve,

Great article, I'm 6-1 and 160 and excited to get started on this program! One question - what is your opinion on barbell deadlifts vs. trap or hex deadlifts. I always end up hitting my shins on the bar when I do the barbell deadlifts so is it okay to use the trap instead?

Thanks for reading all of these comments, your answers to other questions have been very useful as well.

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 12:56
Steven

Trap bar deadlifts are a good choice, but in a perfect world I would prefer that you stick with barbell deadlifts.

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Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 20:47
chris

thanks for ur help steve this is a great help to me i have just 1 more question i know u have said not to swap exercises and no exception but i have nowhere to do dips 4 chest is there any other exercise i can do instead of dip ?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 06/08/2012 - 12:54
Steven

I would do seated overhead two arm dumbbell extensions.

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Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 07:08
Mohammed Sadiq

Hi Steve pls let me know for how long should i follow this plan e.g 3 months, 6 months a year. Thanks

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:53
Steven

Try it for 3-4 months and assess your progress at that point.

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Posted Mon, 05/28/2012 - 18:35
Joel

Hi Steve, awesome article! I was just wondering if i could do plyometrics on my off days. Im 140 5'8 and working on being an ex-hardgainer. Thanks!

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:52
Steven

Sure, you can do plyos on off days.

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Posted Mon, 05/28/2012 - 13:13
Ben

Hi Steve,

First of all, thanks so much for putting something like this together and answering back to the questions asked here.

I'm certainly a hardgainer at 6' and 147lbs... so this looks perfect for me to try and use and gain weight/strength with.

Just a couple queries... Over the last year at college I had gotten my cardio to a decent level for football (soccer), where from the start I could barely last 15 minutes to now comfortably lasting the whole 90 minutes. If I were to do this over the summer now the season's over (including the 20-30 min cardio on days off), would this see my cardio levels drop at all?

Secondly, if I stuck religiously to this, how much weight do you reckon I could put on in say 3 months? And then 6 months?

Thanks for any replies.

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:51
Steven

Are you asking that if you drop cardio from 90 to 20-30 minutes a day will you see your cardio levels drop off? Yes.

If you stick to this there is no reason you can't gain a few pounds per month.

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Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 19:14
Ben

Not quite saying from 90 a day to 20-30 a day. At college I only did at most 3 hours of cardio a week.

What I mean is with 4 months out of any football now, if I do this workout, with doing around 2 hours of cardio a week, will I see a big drop in my cardio levels when I go back to uni in 4 months time?

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Posted Sun, 05/27/2012 - 18:32
chris

hi im just wondering do u hav to do a warm up set before the start of each exercise? say for monday before squates i do a warm up set than after before i start bench press i do warm up and so on ?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:46
Steven

For major compound lifts you want several non-taxing, progressive warmup sets. So, if your first bench press set is 155 for reps, you might do something like:

Bar x 10-15
95 x 5-8
135 x 3

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Posted Thu, 05/24/2012 - 00:03
shalim

I have started my gym workout since 2.5 moth ..my age is 24 and my height is 185 (6.1) and weight 75 ...before joining gym my weight was 72 now 3 kg increased also am having (protein powder isopure) kindly suggest for gain wight gain mass,strength what is the best workout for me ?........

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:43
Steven

This workout is a good choice.

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Posted Sun, 05/20/2012 - 13:13
Alejandro

Hi! I have a question, during the programm is it ok if I do sprint training also? I know that it should be less than 30-25 min, is this per week or per workout?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/29/2012 - 15:42
Steven

Sure, you can do sprinting after lifting or on off days.

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Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 23:42
justin

Wow, Motivated as hell.

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Posted Mon, 05/14/2012 - 06:09
Graeme

Hey Steve,

One more question sorry, should I do all three sets of one exercise before moving onto the next exercise or do the first set of each and then move on and cycle back round to second set of each?

For example should I do all three sets of bench press to try and get to 25 and then move on or do one set of bench presses and then move on to do first set of rows etc etc?

I've been working out at home so doing the later but last week was on holiday so went to a local gym and realised that doing it the first way would be a lot more practical. Wasn't sure if one way was better than the other.

Thanks,
Graeme

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:56
Steven

Yes, perform all sets for one exercise before doing the next.

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Posted Sun, 05/13/2012 - 18:08
Griff

Hi Steve,

Can you recomend an alternative exercise to the deadlifts in this program?

Due to an old injury I can not perform deadlifts.

Many thanks,

Griff

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:40
Steven

Without knowing the nature of the injury I am hesitant to recommend replacement exercises.

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Posted Sat, 05/12/2012 - 17:20
charlie

hey steve
will this program be a good muscle tone workout for me without losing any muscle mass , im at about 200 right now and taking iso flex for protein , all i need is a good toner , any suggestion ?

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:39
Steven

Toning generally involves fat loss to some degree, This is not a fat loss program.

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Posted Sat, 05/12/2012 - 04:21
Mac

Hey Steve,

I am 5'10 at 145lbs with ~12% body fat and I'm skinny with high metabolism. I've been training on and off for the past 3 years (few months at a time) but never found the workout routine that worked best for me. This time, I bought weights for my home so I have no excuses and I plan to stick to a workout plan. I am confident in doing the basic compound exercises with proper form(bench-165lb max, squat-165lbmax, deadlifts-200max, etc) so I don't consider myself a complete beginner. Aside from the diet, which I plan to eat according to your guidelines, which workout routine is best for me to gain mass as fast as possible? I was considering either this one or these or any others:

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/power-muscle-burn-5-day-power...

https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/get-huge-fast-the-2-year-plan...

Thank you in advance

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:37
Steven

Either this plan of the get huge fast program are your best bets right now.

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Posted Fri, 05/11/2012 - 14:26
michael

so i should divide the rep goal as equaly as possible for three sets? and the weight should be about the same for all three sets as well?

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:35
Steven

No. Re-read the article. You want to do as many as possible for each set, stopping a set when you fell you may fail on the next rep.

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Posted Fri, 05/11/2012 - 09:21
Jonathan

This is great. One question though, how do I keep track of the calories I'm consuming? Like, how do I know when I've had 4000 calories in a day.

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 15:33
Steven

You have to count them. Count (approx) what you eat at each meal.

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Posted Thu, 05/10/2012 - 03:53
Steve C

Good work out and diet plan for sure. Ive been on this for ten weeks and have gone from 83kg to 92kg as of yesterday, so it does work if you follow the program. Question for you Mr Shaw, is what to start after the 12 week mark?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 15:15
Steven

I would suggest continue the program, but pull back the daily calories by 500 and see what happens during the next 90 days. You don't want to continue gaining weight as aggressively. From here on out more than 2 pounds per month might be too much of a gain.

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Posted Thu, 05/10/2012 - 02:21
Vince

Hey Steve,
Im around 5'7 and 120 lbs and am looking to gain muscle mass, i can stick to a meal plan but am not super experienced in the gym. Any suggestions on a workout/diet plan?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 15:05
Steven

Yes, this one!

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Posted Mon, 05/07/2012 - 21:43
Griff

Hi,

Due to a previous back injury I am unable to perform Deadlift exercises. Do you have a substitute exercise that can take the place of Deadlifts?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 15:04
Steven

Without knowing more about the nature of the back injury, I am hesitant to recommend other exercises.

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Posted Mon, 05/07/2012 - 12:06
Tom

Steve,

Tried to scroll through the comments section to see if this has been answered before but didn't see it anywhere. Forgive me if it has.

For the DB rows, single arm bent with bench for support or two arm bent?

Thanks in advance!

Tom

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 15:02
Steven

Single arm with bench for support.

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Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 04:59
Graeme

Awesome, thanks Steve appreciate you taking the time to respond.

Really pleased with the progress I'm making. About 10 weeks in now, though first 2/3 was just getting form right and not really pushing. Have definitely got a lot stronger and the results are there to see. The progression thing seems so obvious now I don't know why I never saw it before. Sometimes you just need someone to point things out before you can see it I guess.

Great workout and all round advice. Can recommend highly to anyone taking a look.

Graeme

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Posted Tue, 05/01/2012 - 05:04
Graeme

Hey Steve,

Thanks for the work out, just a couple of questions if that's ok?

Dips - I'm working out at home and don't have a forward facing dip stand available. Instead I've been doing bench dips. Is this ok or would you recommend a different exercise?
Barbell row - am I ok to do dumbbell rows instead?
Dumbbell bench press - am I ok to do barbell bench press instead. Ditto for barbell curls instead of dumbell curls?

Thanks!
Graeme

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 05/03/2012 - 14:49
Steven

That should work ok for dips, and the dumbbell exercises are solid choices.

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Posted Thu, 04/26/2012 - 20:05
Troy

One more thing: I don't have anyone to spot me for bench press because I work out at my condo during the day while nobody's home. Will I achieve the same effect if I use dumbbells rather than a bar?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 04/30/2012 - 14:08
Steven

Dumbbells will work just fine.