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
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 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 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.

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
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
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.
About The Author
Muscle & Strength's Content Team is a group of fitness industry experts dedicated to publishing the highest quality articles, workouts and guides on the M&S Website.

702 Comments+ Post Comment

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

Dumbbells will work just fine.

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Posted Thu, 04/26/2012 - 20:03

Hey Steve -- very impressed that you've been so diligently responding to everybody's queries.

I'm wondering -- I don't particularly want to gain much mass below the waste; I wear skinny jeans (so I don't want big quads) and I'm happy with my bum as I'm a hockey player. My upper body, however, leaves something to be desired. I'm 6'1", 150 lbs, and pretty lean. Is it necessary that I do the weekly lower body workout, or can I replace it with an extra upper body workout? If this is okay, which workout would you recommend replacing it with? Should I make any alterations?

Thanks a bunch.

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

Hi Troy,

I wouldn't add upper body work. I would recommend still using lower body work, but not trying to get stronger on it.

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Posted Sun, 04/22/2012 - 19:24

Hi Steve.. I have been working out the past 2 months (since I quit smoking) while eating as much as I can and I gained 7 kilos .. Currently I am 63 kgs , 169 cm. I feel that that I reached my limit :( my aim is to reach 170 kgs .. I have a crazy high metabolism .. Any suggestions please

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Posted Sun, 04/22/2012 - 11:44

Hey Steve,

I know you've heard this a million and one times, but i am currently doing a 3 to 4 workout over the past year and no matter what I have tried or how much protein I've consume I simply can't build any muscle. Example Workout: 4 sets Reps10/8/6/Fatigue: Incline bench, Flat Bench, Low Rows, Seated Row, Bent Over Row, DB Side Raises, DB Front Raise, DB Overhead Tricept Ext. and last Cable Tricep press downs...a lot of work a not much results. Can you help?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 04/24/2012 - 13:16

Check out this article and see if it helps at all:

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 04/30/2012 - 14:05

My best advice is to focus on what you can control, that being training. Work as hard as you can to progress. In the long run that will pay off.

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Posted Sun, 04/29/2012 - 05:04

hi im currently a deloied soldier in the us army and i cant gain weight im 24 i weigh 150 lbs and im trying to gain weight but i find it very hard since i have to eat what the army gives me over here and cant eat much more any advice to what i can do

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Posted Wed, 04/18/2012 - 23:19

Hey mate!!!! I weigh at the moment. 67kg /166cm abit of body fat still needs to be lost should I still follow eating program? 27yrs old
Thanks did my first workout plan today.., bloody awsome ,,,,

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Posted Wed, 04/18/2012 - 08:40

Hi Steve
I weigh 65kg and have always maxed out at 70 kg and when i did put on a bit it went to my stomach. I have always had an exceptional fast metabolism. I was wondering how do you monitor the calorie count especially when at work . That I find is harder than doing a workout or eating the right kind of food. Do you have to keep a diary ?

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Posted Tue, 04/17/2012 - 00:49

I only have 2 weeks left of this workout left to do and I have to encourage everyone to give it a go I have seen a change since staring this and im a true hard gainer. Im not piling on the weight as I hoped but alot of people have said they have noticed my chest shoulders and arms have gotten bigger so im very happy..
Thank you guys for putting these workouts up. And any help on picking a new routine would be very much appreciated.

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Posted Mon, 04/16/2012 - 15:38

Im 5'4" and weigh 115. Would the calorie count be the same even tho im so small?

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Posted Sat, 04/14/2012 - 07:51

Is there such a thing as a Fat Hard Gainer?

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Posted Thu, 04/12/2012 - 04:00

Hey, at what point would transitioning to another program perhaps the 4 day split you have outlined be beneficial? Would that be when progress has slowed down dramatically? I have already added at least 15 pounds to my max bench and 25 to my squats. Not to make this too complicated but in hopes of having the muscle before I try to get to 10-12% body fat perhaps I would save workouts with more than 5 exercises per day for burning fat and getting more toned.

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Posted Wed, 04/11/2012 - 20:29

Hey Steve
question, is it worth while (while adhearing to the 25 rep total) doing an ascending pyramid? ie bench, starting light 10 reps, heavier 8, and max weight at 6/7?
keep up all these awesome articles btw :)
Jason from NZ

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Posted Wed, 04/11/2012 - 15:46

I am 6ft 1in and about 200 lbs. I ride a lot of road bike about 2-3 hr rides on the weekend and 1hr or 30 min. rides 2x's through the week. I also go to the gym 3 days a week. I was thinking about trying this workout or do you have a better suggestion?

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Posted Tue, 04/10/2012 - 17:58

What's the time cutoff for this workout? 90 Days and then switch it up to another workout?

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Posted Sun, 04/15/2012 - 22:23

I basically ride road bike all summer and then switch to snowboarding in the winter but I work at the resort so I ride a lot. I also go to the gym 3 days a week.

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Posted Mon, 04/09/2012 - 20:33

I noticed that you don't want a lot of cardio for this program but it seems really great! I love riding road bike and snowboarding which seems to be very high cardio. I ride 2-3 hrs on weekends and during the week about an hour. Could I still do this workout and follow the diet and see results? I have been with Men's Health Personal Trainer, it helped me get started but just doesn't seem to be enough!!

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Posted Mon, 04/09/2012 - 20:25

im not a beginner (i feel like i have a good grasp on form) but i havent made real gains in the 5-6 months of training i've been doing. im 21 5 ft 7 and 135 lbs. basically im frustrated and trying to find something new that'll work for me. any extra super secret suggestions/ tips you could share?

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Posted Mon, 04/02/2012 - 14:47
Derek Molina

Steve could you please explain the rep and set scheme I am not understanding do we lift heavy or light and how many exact reps per set 3 does not go into 25 equally. Thanks Derek

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Posted Wed, 04/11/2012 - 14:18

He answered this question about 600 times. 25 total reps, 3 sets, its pefectly ok to go over 25 total reps, you just need to go up in weight on that exercise the next week

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Posted Sun, 04/01/2012 - 18:34

Hey, I have been working at this for a few weeks now, just starting to throw in creatine. I was just wondering if you had any recommendations for cutting afterwards. I would like to be around 11% body fat without begin a scrawny team hense this program.

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Posted Fri, 03/30/2012 - 20:05

I think the above poster, Luke, was referring to the workout plan you've come up with Steve. On Fridays, it says to do 1 set of Squats and 20 reps. On mondays it says to do 3 sets. Is this right? 3 sets on Monday, 1 set on Friday? BTW, I've been sticking to this plan, gone from 147 to 160 in about a month, lost some of my beer belly, trying to eat as much as I can, making sure to get at least 3 meals in a day

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Posted Fri, 03/30/2012 - 13:59

If I'm just a normal 180lb 5'9 guy, in decent shape that's been lifting as a normal gym noob for many years, can you tell me what kind of cycle I can expect to do to get bigger, yet stay trim? Would I do this muscle gain workout for a few months, but then switch to a trimming workout for a few months to lose belly fat? I'd like to gain muscle, but I don't want to have a big gut. I guess I'm just wondering what the overall cycle should be like... thanks!

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Posted Fri, 03/30/2012 - 07:18

Hi Steve,

Firstly thanks for posting the work out. I'm about 5 weeks in having done 2-3 weeks just getting used to the routine and getting technique sound, last 2 weeks starting to push things in the manner you describe. I definitely feel I'm making good progress but had a couple of questions.

1. 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?
2. Barbell row - am I ok to do dumbbell rows instead? I'm nervous about this exercise as haven't really done it before.
3. Dumbbell bench press - am I ok to do barbell bench press instead. Ditto for barbell curls instead of dumbell curls. It just makes it easier to organise my weights to do it this way - less changing up and down of weights all the time for the other dumbbell exercises.


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Posted Sun, 03/25/2012 - 10:09

Hey Steve , can i do this programm without weight gainers at all ??

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Posted Sat, 03/24/2012 - 14:05

Simple question I am looking to build mass and a lot of definition. I recently just lost 40lbs I am 5'10 at 153 LBS and as of now I run about 5 times a week and I want to add this workout in but will I build a lot of definition?

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Posted Sat, 03/24/2012 - 07:38

Hello, i am 19, 6"2, 180,.... i wanna gain body mass fast, i really dont what steps should be taken.... like what should i eat, or what exercises i should complete.... i also smoke i know, i need to quit... i just wanted to Know if you had any advice for beginners

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Posted Tue, 03/20/2012 - 10:35

Hi Steve, i am not really a hardgainer, but i am just lean, so is this workout good for me to put some weight on? Thanks!

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/20/2012 - 13:06


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Posted Mon, 03/26/2012 - 19:16

I came across this workout plan and came to know the new term "hardgainer". I was just thinking about this for myslef saying that maybe because of my bone structre I cant gain any muscle weight and also I am not doing so much lifting also. I am currently doing Insanity cardio workout plan to get rid of the belly weight. Its not easy to get rod of the belly fat. I was looking for similar workout plan, so, since I came across this I ll start from in a week or two. meanwhile, I ll do the exercise in this workout to figure out which weights I should start with and how my diet plan should be.
my question is that if concentrate only on this workout, will my belly fat be reduced or it wont affect at all?
I dont have big belly, but if you look at me wearing tshirt, you could tell where the fat is.
I am 5'4", 170lbs.
I would really appreciate your input.
thank you,

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Posted Sun, 03/18/2012 - 14:06

Is it really supposed to be 25 squats on the third workout?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/20/2012 - 13:06

It's 25 reps total for 3 sets. Not 25 per set.

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Posted Tue, 03/13/2012 - 15:41

Hi Steve,

I am 29 years old, 6'4", and my weight is fluctuating between 222-230 lbs. I have been on this workout and diet routine for 3 months and I have added 10-15 lbs of muscle and a few pounds of fat. In fact, I have developed stomach/belly fat; most notably on my hips for the first time in my life. In my previous routine (1 year duration before this workout began), I was working out (lifting) 5 times a week with too many reps and sets, and running biking 3 times a week. Although I did become much stronger in the previous workout, I couldn't break 210/215 pounds. So here are my questions:

1. Should I continue this workout, but add A FEW additional exercises per day?

2. Increase catrdio to reduce some of my body fat?

3. I feel like I am not exercising all parts of my body; should I start a different routine?

Thank you Sir,


Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/20/2012 - 13:08

If you're not gaining weight I would not add extra exercises. Your focus should be on adding more strength. Adding extra work isn't beneficial if your strength levels haven't increased dramatically. If you want to lose fat, cut calories. But this will make it harder to build muscle.

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Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 16:13
craig hilliard

Im sorry but theres no way i could physicly eat that much in a day, 1 i go to work and are only allowed a 1 hour break and 2 i would probably puke it up. And 3 cant afford it. seem to get full really quick.aswell i know this is why i cant bulk up because of how much i can eat. any advice

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Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 11:24

Ok i have been working out for about 3 months getting back into the swing of things, after loosing 60lbs in a biggest looser challenge( that i won). I have gone through P90x and Rushfit DVD programs and now want to pack on some muscle. I am 6'3" and currently weigh 215. I workout at home only because of time and family.I workout M,W,F do karate, jiu-jitsu, tiquando on T,T and run an average of 8 to 10 mi on Sat. I have a set of select tech 1090s and pull up bar. I found this workout(see link) and am currently getting it underway but after reading this was wondering if you would suggest something else or will this work for adding good muscle. I was thinking about changing to the 25 rep total. What do you think?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 13:33

25 rep total for 3 sets? Good idea.

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Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 09:02

hi steve hte workout looks great but as regards calories intake im 6 foot and weigh 17 stone as it is. do you still recommend i take in that many calories

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 13:32

What's your age?

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Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 04:37

Hi Steve,
First, a big thank you! Im in week 7 and have noticed a great improvement in gains for the first time in my life. As promised, I have kept to the Mon, Wed, Fri schedule and added weight as instructed (my between days Tue & Thursdays I do 4-5Km runs, but intervals of 1 Km easy pace, then 1 Km fast pace, back and forth, excellent for fat burning and stamina). For support, I drink a bottle of creatine before workout (never tried before, but boy what an energy kick) and then post- protein shake. My calorie intake no matter how hard I tried has never reached 4000 odd, but the training has forced me to eat way more, perhaps pushing the 3000 limit. However, I would like to highlight to others that I use smartphone app, Gymbuddy (This is a brilliant little app that you can program your workouts and track your progress, so highly recommended! In reality, you are actually competing against the app during your workout sessions.
So, great start and a big thank you, but I am now concerned what workout direction I should take after the end of the nine week program? Any suggestions to take it to the next level, or maybe keep this workout and add in some more intense muscle group splits? Your advice is appreciated! Best, James

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 03/12/2012 - 13:31

The next level will all be about adding more strength using muscle building rep ranges. this is really the game for several years. I would simply pick out a muscle building workout from the site and focusing on improving each week.

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Posted Mon, 03/05/2012 - 14:33

Hey, I'm 17 6'3" and weigh 155 lbs. Being a teenager I'm on a pretty low budget. So is there any really cheap ways to increase my calories/protein intake? I know protein powder and peanut butter are relatively cheap.


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Posted Thu, 03/01/2012 - 07:47

Hi steve. I am 180CM/74KG, all of my body parts look fine as i am pretty athletic. But the major part that wouldn't really grow much are my chest which demoralizes me from hitting the gym thus i am always working out on and off, thus now i'm having my project days for the next few weeks , therefore i am determine to get into a top-notch shape during my free time. So i was wondering if this workout is suitable for me or do you have any other recommendations.

Thanks alot!

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Posted Thu, 03/01/2012 - 00:30
Paul O

I noticed steve hasnt posted in a while

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Posted Wed, 02/29/2012 - 08:27

Hi Steve,
I'm 15 years old, i weigh 69kg and am 176cm tall. Igot very low fat percent and I'm tall and thin so it makes me lankey. I just want to know how to grain muscle when I'm really weak. Also does this guide have any ab exercises?

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Posted Wed, 02/29/2012 - 04:54
lahiru appuhamy

dear sir
can i get a six pack at the same time???

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Posted Tue, 02/28/2012 - 23:12
Paul O

Hi Steve. Im very into your workout routines and i have a question that i bet you can help me with. First off im 45 years old and when i was 20 years old i worked out back then for 1 year and then stopped but i did reach a 405 bench clean 1 rep. 610 dead lift and 535 squat and i wieghed 265 pounds. Through the years i have lost most all of the strenght and size i had and replaced it with fat. Im 6'4" and now wiegh 355 pounds and have obvious health issues.

Ive went and got a tread mill and weider club 500 wieght machine,wieghts and the olympic straight bar 2 of them. Ive lost some wieght from 415 down to 355 and started your hardgainer program "maybe thats not the right one for me" This is my first week using that program and im of course very sore but it talks about eating more calories for growth, thing is im trying to loose the calorie and burn fat to loose wieght.I need to do both loose wieght and gain muscle. Any good ideas about doing this. I want to loose the wieght and gain muscle at the same time be working toward getting the right cut or muscle definition.

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Posted Tue, 02/28/2012 - 17:22

Hi Steve,

I always hear to add more weight when you work out! Does that mean add after every set? Or do you use the same weight on every set and add next week?