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.

697 Comments+ Post Comment

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 12/27/2011 - 14:32
My best advice is to follow the workout plan and diet in this article. Let me know if you have any specific questions.
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Posted Wed, 12/28/2011 - 15:55
I have worked out steadily about 4 months, have gained about 15 lbs. and increased strength quite greatly. But now my joints are sore. It is too painful to continue with heavy weights. Do I need a layoff? For how long? I'm 57 years old.
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Posted Wed, 12/28/2011 - 16:22
Here is my work out regimen: Mon.- bench, inclined bench, military press, rows, curls, triceps pulldowns, all 5 sets of 10 reps increasing 10 lbs. per set. (light weights) Tues.- squats, leg curls, situps with weight, calf raises, 5 sets of 10 reps,(light weights). Thurs: repeat Mon. workout with heavier weights 5 sets of eight reps Fri: repeat Tues. workout with heavier weights 5 sets of eight reps. Is this too many reps or sets?
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Posted Sun, 01/01/2012 - 01:48
Is it ok to sub lat pull downs in place of Friday's rows? Or will that decrease the effectiveness of the program?
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Posted Sun, 01/01/2012 - 03:50
Iman Kalyan
actually, I wanna loose my fat at-first and then add some muscles, although I'm not very fat.As I'm not so long to add huge amount of muscles like 20-21 inches biceps or 50 inches chest, but will it be alright if I want 17 inches bices and 42-43 inches chest?Please suggest me.......Thanks
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Posted Tue, 01/03/2012 - 20:14
I had the second-day workout and I found it so hard to do the dips after finishing the overhead press as both used the triceps. I just wonder whether it is fine to switch the order of dips and barbell calf raise so that I could regain more power for the dips. Also, is using machine for the calf is as good as barbell?
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Posted Wed, 01/04/2012 - 15:05
Amazing article Steve! Love the workoutplan. But I am a member of the "fragile lower back club" since hurting it after doing a careless squat. Could you recommend an alternative exercise for the squat? Even though I know the squat is the best! Thank you for writing the article! -Oz from Norway
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Posted Thu, 01/05/2012 - 03:09
im a 6'4' 140 pound skinny guy would this be a good workout for me as well?
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Posted Fri, 01/06/2012 - 09:08
Hi I am 30 years old and I weigh 250 pounds and I'm 5"11 will this workout help me lose weight and gain muscle or should I lose weight first and then do this workout
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Posted Sat, 01/07/2012 - 23:25
Joe G
Hello Steve, I'm 6'2" Tall and Weigh 187. I was 208 and lost 21 pounds. I have been working out 3 days a week to failure for 4 months with no size or weight gain. I know you recommend 4000 calories a day but would I still gain muscle if I only ate about 2,500-3000 calories a day? As long as I worked out hard?
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Posted Sat, 01/07/2012 - 23:28
Joe G
Steve, Is there an exercise that I could do instead of the deadlift? Im worried about my back.
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Posted Sun, 01/08/2012 - 14:40
Hi Steve, Instead of doing the overhead press behind the neck can this be swapped for another movement? I have never enjoyed doing that exercise behind my neck. Thanks
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Posted Sun, 01/08/2012 - 19:24
hi steve i dont get one thing how come triceps are only once a week
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Posted Sun, 01/08/2012 - 22:11
Hi, Awesome job over here really. I have a question, is 3x full body workout better then 5x split ? On musclue building matters. Regards
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Posted Sun, 01/08/2012 - 22:29
Hi I was just wondering why you go for a high number of reps in your exercises, as i thought low reps higher weight was better for building mass.
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Posted Mon, 01/09/2012 - 17:59
Hi, I'm 6'5 185lbs. I've been thin my whole life and recently started going to the gym to pack on muscle. Since I'm taller will it be harder for me to gain?
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Posted Mon, 01/09/2012 - 18:49
Shannon hunt
I was just curious on why you only do one back shoulder and tricept exercise. You really think dead lifts, dubell and barbell rows is enough? To put size on the whole back? Middle and upper traps.. And only 3 sets of tricepts and shoulders all week? I just want to make sure I'm preportional. Do you not suggest adding anything else?
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Posted Tue, 01/10/2012 - 17:42
Can you do weighted sit-ups w/ the weights over your chest? I've been holding them behing my neck, but it's rubbing against the skin, and I'm also worried about putting undue stress on the neck.
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Posted Thu, 01/12/2012 - 06:04
With the cardio, is that 20 - 30 minutes for the whole week or 20 - 30 minutes a day? And is that on the same day as the muscle training? Also is that hard cardio or just gentle cardio?
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Posted Thu, 01/12/2012 - 16:37
Hi! I have a couple of questions about my workout. First, is it alright to pyramid the weights w/ each exercise, or should you stay w/ the same weight for each set? Second, I've noticed w/ the deadlifts and squats that my knees feel sore afterward (maybe pressure or strain would be a better description... I don't know). Is this anything to worry about? Thanks!
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Posted Thu, 01/12/2012 - 21:58
Say for barbell curl, could we replace it with preacher curls or E-Z bar curls? Thanks
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Posted Fri, 01/13/2012 - 17:11
Do you recommend adding 10 lbs instead of 5 lbs with squats, deadlifts and barbell rows because 2.5 lb plates might not be available? Or are 10 lb additions better for gains? I feel like if I tried adding increments of 10 lbs vs 5 lbs, the amount of time to reach my rep goals wouldn't change anyway.
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Posted Sun, 01/15/2012 - 13:53
Great workout Steve, I'm starting it this week. Currently I'm not doing any cardio however with this workout of yours on Monday, Wednesday, Friday if I was to introduce 2 x 15 min HIIT cardio sessions would you recommend to do it on different days which would mean less rest days or combine the HIIT on the same days as the weights, e.g Monday/Friday HIIT morning before work, then weights in the evenings after tea? Leaving Wednesday just weights after tea. Thanks
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Posted Mon, 01/16/2012 - 16:38
I'm 5'3 and currently weight 132 lb can I put on anymore muscle with my height? I used to have a belly and got rid of it all and turned it into muscle I'm toned and fit but want to get bigger?
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Posted Sat, 01/21/2012 - 06:40
Hi Steve, i just want to know, lets say im doing 3 sets for a particular bodypart. Do I go all out for all 3 sets or are the first 2 war ups and the 3rd set the real one? thanks a lot
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Posted Sun, 01/22/2012 - 18:36
Just a quick question about the high reps. Most of the articles I've read for size have suggested around 6-8 for muscle gains. With this being such high reps, how does it help with muscle gain? Not saying it won't work, just asking.
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Posted Mon, 01/23/2012 - 13:51
Hey there, I'm interested in starting to follow your guide but have a concern. I've been training in Taekwondo for just over two years now, I train three hours a week on a Monday and Wednesday. If I were to begin following this routine, would it affect my ability to not only perform as an athlete but my increase in muscle and strength? Cheers, Matt
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Posted Mon, 01/23/2012 - 18:53
Iam 17 yrs old my height is 5ft and weight is 31kg. I wanna grow my height n weight in 4 months. Iam a vegetarian but i do eat eggs. please help me thanks.
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Posted Tue, 01/24/2012 - 01:44
Hey Steve, Just came across ur articles, and they r great! For this reason I'm hoping for a response . Lol I'm 25. Going on a year and a half at 3-4 days a week. I am 5"10 . Started at 195 no muscle now 176lbs between 12-15% body fat. Maybe lower. I'm rather lean although not as defined in abs due to lack of ab workouts. . I do a split routine and bench, for example is at 225x3. I'm wanting to try this meal plan and routine. Although trying to customize to my lifestyle. 1. Always scared to try a full body routine for fear of losing strength, as opposed to my split routine . From ur article I'm assuming that's wrong ? 2 . I assume the creatine I'm taking is fine ? 3. I find it very hard to get to 4000 calories but I will. My question is where does my preworkout and post workout meals come into play. Please provide an example. Please help!? You seem like you have the knowledge. Thank you
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Posted Thu, 01/26/2012 - 19:30
What's does 3 reps of 25 mean mate ,
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Posted Sun, 01/29/2012 - 19:31
Hi Steve (or anyone else who may be able to answer my question), The dumbbells in my gym only go up 50lbs, which I have surpassed in dumbbell bench. What should I do on day 3 in lieu of db bench so that I can continue to push hard for progression? I thought of doing barbell bench again or doing incline barbell or some variation. Any thoughts? Thanks, JP
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Posted Mon, 01/30/2012 - 00:32
Hi steve,as i have reviewed this workout i figured out that there is no any workout specifically for triceps,how come?? thanks alot for ur unique site and awsome workouts,it changed my life after doing body building and fitness for 10 years!
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Posted Mon, 01/30/2012 - 03:40
Hi Steve, im 5'8 and weight around 74kg, i've been training for a few years now and have had good strength gains but muscle development has slowed down. Im considering to start this workout and diet, my main concern is should i be doing cardio on the rest days and if so for how long? and should i stick to the rep goals on this programme
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Posted Tue, 01/31/2012 - 19:05
I am going to give this a go; but I have a few concerns. Triceps appear to only get one direct workout a week - dips... I understand that they are indirectly stimulated from the compound movements, but it does not seem like enough (is it?). To add, you state that we do three sets of maximum reps. This seems to elusive. Some may be able to do 20 reps, where as others only 6. In this case, the 20 would not encourage as much growth, and so would not be consistent with the rest of the routine. What is the average tempo? I presume 2 positive, 4 negative? Do I apply this to abs and calves too? Thank you very much for the workout.
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Posted Tue, 01/31/2012 - 20:00
Hi Steve, Thanks for this - your plan looks encouraging - I'm going to give it a try. Just a couple of questions - 1) The 4k calories per day - does that figure apply across the board, in spite of the metabolic differences between different age groups? I'm 44 and w/o exercise I probably burn about 1700-1900 cals/day. That's quite a bit less than someone in their early 20s burns. I'm concerned that I may end up gaining muscle mass, but also see my BF% remain the same or even increase. 2) You say not to do reps to failure, just until it feels like I won't be able to complete the next one. Why not to failure?
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Posted Wed, 02/01/2012 - 14:26
(Don't think my last comment went through, so re-submitting) Hi Steve, thanks for this - I'm going to try it out. Just a couple questions: 1. Eating 4K calories per day - Does that apply across the board, regardless of age group? At 44, my BMR is slower than that of a guy in his early 20s. I'm concerned that even though I'll gain muscle, my BF percent will remain the same or rise, and that's something I want to avoid. Tell me if there's flaw in my math: my BMR = 1,750 cals/day add a few cals because I'm not sedentary my avg burn rate = 2,000 cals/day If I work out 3 times per week, and each workout burns 300 cals my weekly burn rate = 14,900 cals/week my weekly calorie intake = 28,000 cals/wk net weekly caloric surplus = 13,100 cals. That means a gain of 3.74 pounds per week (13,100/3,500). Of that 3.74 pounds gained, what percent will be muscle and what percent will be fat? If 20 percent or more is fat, then my overall BF percent (which is 20) will remain the same or increase. I'd have to be putting on (80% of 3.74 = 2.99) at least 3 pounds of muscle per week -- which I'm sure isn't realistic -- for my BF percent not to increase. 2. You say to do reps not to failure, but rather until it feels like we won't be able to do another. Why not to failure (if other than safety reasons)?
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Posted Thu, 02/02/2012 - 14:25
Jake Giebel
Hi steve, I am currently weighing 155 pounds about 5'9". I am a soccer player and can bench about 135 for 3 sets of about 5 or 6.My bench has gone up as well as other weights, but I just don't see the gains in the mirror which is kind of concerning. I know I am getting stronger, but the results aren't showing, any help?
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Posted Thu, 02/02/2012 - 15:00
John Smith
How do I know when to increase the pounds as mentioned in the article? Thanks in advance!
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Posted Thu, 02/02/2012 - 18:03
Hey Steve, Looked to see if you already mentioned this but did not see anything... B/C of work, I have to do my lifting in early AM (6:30am). Any tips on nutrition/supplement methods that could help me with your program?
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Posted Fri, 02/03/2012 - 13:09
hey guys ! how long you have to follow this routine ??
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Posted Tue, 02/07/2012 - 15:36
Hi Steve Could an experienced lifter benefit from this program? It looks like an ideal 'simple' workout to get me progressively overloading the muscle again. Iv hit a big plateau and need something to get me lifing heavier and gaining again. Thanks in advance.
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Posted Wed, 02/08/2012 - 18:55
Hi, I really wanna try this plan but I'm worried about my sedentary profession as a bus driver for NYC transit. I believe I have read all the threads and it has been hammered down into my brain that this will work. But I have seen bus operators gain 50 lbs. in no time at all. I already have packed on some weight around my mid section along with moobs (man boobs). I guess I need to read it again after my very own post... Will this work with sedentary life styles?
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Posted Sat, 02/11/2012 - 18:26
I wanted to know which is the best workout for rapid muscle gain
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Posted Mon, 02/13/2012 - 18:56
hello steve, questions about eating more and working out heavy. since I already have some belly fat(its not more, but its not enough for me to notice), will it increase the belly fat or it will burn during the workout? right now I am on heavy cardio program(Insanity) and do the weigh lifting three times a week. I like what you wrote about the "hardgainer". for me its new topic and interesting. I am thinking about my body just that way you described that I cant gain muscle weight, since my bone structure is small and I am made that way, although I have been trying to increase the muscle fat.(not lifting the weights like you mentioned) Thank you very much for the good workout plan. I ll be starting next week. currently I am just making the table of the reps and the weights for the exercise and also to increase my calories. Thank you, Paresh
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Posted Tue, 02/14/2012 - 00:19
Ben S
Hey Steve Great looking workout, especially for someone like me who is just starting off with resistance training. I have a few quick questions though: 1) Is there another exercise to replace the deadlift? and 2) Alot of people say that you should change your workout every few weeks to keep shocking your muscles. Should I do this, or stick with the same routine and just keep increasing the weight?
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Posted Tue, 02/14/2012 - 17:54
Can i do the work out twice a day once in the morning and again in the afternoon
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Posted Wed, 02/15/2012 - 00:05
Can't wait to try this and see the results. This routine is perfect for me. I have been trying to find a routine to get me out of the current plateau that I have found myself in and this is perfect for the job. I am a fan of full body routines, so this routine caught my eye from the start. Thank you, Steve
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Posted Thu, 02/16/2012 - 21:28
Hello, 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, Paresh
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Posted Mon, 02/20/2012 - 03:19
This is perfect! I have a cousin who does bodybuilding and he has been urging me into the gym to work on gaining some mass and the workout plan he gave me is very similar to this. The diet plan as well. however, I think the important thing to add to this is something im seeing i need to have more of... that much protein had a negative effect on my skin at a point and maybe it was because i wasnt training as hard as i could? but i think its also important to remind people to drink as much water as possible. preferably more than 3 litres a day!
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Posted Mon, 02/20/2012 - 18:12
Hey Steve, Im very new to this workout plan. I have been working out for about a month and a half on my own workouts. I played football for 4 years of high school so, I have been doing those workouts. Im about 5'6 135LBs and i want to be 150 or more. I did this workout today, I don't feel it was a very affective workout. It was to easy. Do I need to change it up some? Also I noticed there isn't alot of ab workouts, I have a six pack and I don't want to lose it. Should i do more abs? Core strength is VERY important.