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Hardgainer Workout Routines to Build Muscle

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By Brandon Cook

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal- a commitment to excellence- that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
– Anonymous

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Are you looking for the perfect workout routine that will help you overcome your hardgainer genetics and pack on 20+ pounds of muscle?

Sorry to break it to you, my friend, but there is NO “perfect routine” out there that that will turn you into a modern day Adonis and have the women ripping your clothes off just to get a peak at your studly male physique!!!

Hey, I didn’t mean to crush your dreams… I’m just trying to keep you from wasting the best years of your life searching for a MIRACLE program that doesn’t exist.

Let me tell you, ultimately it’s not the program that gets the results. It’s the determination and never-say-die mentality of the person using the program. That being said…. A solid training and nutrition program can get you where you want to be a lot faster than a bad one!

The good news is that there are a ton of awesome workout routines to build muscle. The bad news is that most of them may not work for YOU!

“Whatchoo talkin’ bout…boy?”

Take Arnold Schwarzenhopper’s program for example. I love Arnold just as much as any other lifter out there does. His physique has inspired millions of people to start bodybuilding and lifting weights, including me. So, at age 18 (when I first got interested in bodybuilding and packing some muscle on my skinny bones) guess whose program I decided to start with?

That’s right, the Governators! Arnold was the top bodybuilder in the world at the time. Who better to lead the way, right? Oh, if only things were as logical as they seem to be!

Obviously many successful bodybuilders have gotten great results with Arnold’s program, but it was totally the wrong program for me. Needless to say, it didn’t work and in fact, I actually ended up losing muscle and even injuring myself.

“…but why?” you may wonder, as did I!

The Single Most Important Factor…

The reason Arnold’s program didn’t work for me is because it wasn’t designed FOR ME! Arnold’s program was designed for bodybuilders with awesome genetics. In fact, you’d either have to have super human recovery abilities (like most bodybuilders) or take steroids (again… like most bodybuilders) to get great results with that program. Both things that I didn’t have in my arsenal!

Now, I’m going to tell you something that could save you years of confusion. Listen up because this tip will get you on the right path to a better, more muscular body fast:

The single most important factor when selecting a workout routine is to make sure that it is designed for you, with  your body type and your goals in mind .

You see, we’re all different and unique, as cliché as it may sound. The harsh reality is, as a beginner and a skinny ectomorph, I just didn’t have the recovery capacity to train 6 days a week for two hours at a time. My body just couldn’t handle it very long before becoming severely overtrained. Sucks I know!

I also failed to grasp the concept of planned deload weeks. You MUST understand that you can only push your body so hard and so intensely for a limited amount of time before it’s unable to recover from the training.

Super Dork

I know you think you’re superman and all, but dude… you’re NOT!

Some people may be able to train for 12 weeks or more before needing to take a deload week. Yet, for others (like my ectomorphic brothers) it could be only 3 weeks before you need to back off of the intensity and allow your body a chance to heal and recover.

Your muscles have a tendency to recover faster than your joints, tendons and ligaments. It’s also important to note that ectomorphs typically have thinner and smaller skeletal structures to begin with compared to our mesomorphic and endomorphic brethren.

The ectomorph’s smaller more fragile skeletal structure is a BIG part of the reason why the “skinny guy” just isn’t as naturally strong as most guys and can’t lift heavy loads without consistent strength training.

A thicker skeleton with dense bones goes a long way in the strength and power department. However, don’t be too discouraged if you have a smaller frame because small wrists, knees and ankles can make for a very impressive looking physique once you overcome this disadvantage. Always look on the bright side of life!

Determining your body type or somatotype is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s a quick way to gauge your type:

Take your thumb and middle finger and try to wrap it around your wrist (right below the hand and above the wrist bone.)  If your thumb and finger overlap you are an ectomorph, if they barely touch you are a mesomorph, and if they can’t touch, you are an endomorph.

This method is NOT 100% accurate but it’s a good rule of thumb.  Get it? “rule of thumb!”… Oh man, I’m killin’ it today!  :)

Body Type

If you’re skinny guy and a classic hardgainer there’s a pretty good chance your thumb and middle finger will not only touch, but slightly overlap each other. The more they overlap the more ectomorphic you probably are and the more you need to read, learn and study everything on this website if you ever hope to gain any appreciable size.

If you haven’t already signed up for The Way to Mass e-Class then I suggest you do this immediately…. After all it’s the BEST Hardgainer e-class on the internet! Oh yeah, and it’s FREE!!!

3 Basic Principles of a KILLER Hardgainer Workout

Now that you realize the importance of selecting a program that is designed for your body type, we can cover a few basic principles of a KILLER hardgainer workout. In my opinion, the only true hardgainer is someone with the ectomorph body type. This body type will have the most difficulty gaining muscle mass. If you’re reading this, then I’m most likely talking about YOU!

Principle #1: Train Three Days a Week

Ectomorphs have a limited recovery capacity which restricts the amount of intense training one can perform during the week. Recovery is a vitally important process that most guys give little thought to. If you short circuit this process, you will also short circuit your muscle gains, as this is when the muscle growth is occurring.

The good news is that we can improve our recovery capacity over time (if we train smart) and incorporate recovery methods and techniques to improve the speed at which our muscles heal and regenerate.

Some beginners and super hardgainers may even find that two days of intense training a week is all they can handle at first. If this is you, then stick with two days a week (Monday and Thursday) for at least a month or two until you’re able to improve your recovery ability. I suggest getting to three days a week as soon as possible though.

Many top strength coaches like Jason Ferruggia say that three days is the optimal amount for the natural trainee. Some guys can get away with four days, but as a hardgainer I suggest keeping it to three. Even Steve Reeves only trained three days per week and most men would love to look like him.

Sure you can train more, but is it actually helping you to achieve your goal?

I suggest setting up a schedule for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and sticking to it. However, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday works well too, if you want to be difficult. ;)

Principle #2: Keep Your Workouts to an Hour or Less

If you’re lifting weights for more than an hour each session you’re not only wasting your time, but you are shooting yourself in your scrawny foot! After 45 minutes of intense training your testosterone levels begin to decrease and cortisol levels (a muscle eating hormone) begin to rise. This is bad for business!

In order to build muscle you must keep cortisol in check so it doesn’t eat away your hard earned muscle. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so the more stressed you are, the more of this hormone is being pumped into your blood stream. Ectomorphs naturally have higher levels of cortisol, so we must do every thing we can to keep our testosterone levels elevated.

This is how meditation can also help your muscle gains.

Keeping your workouts short and intense is the first key to elevated testosterone levels and decreased cortisol. One thing to note is that the 45-60 minute mark is related to intense training. This means you can do your 10-15 minute warm-up and even some of your warm-up sets before the clock starts ticking.

Get all of your heavy, intense sets done within 30-45 minutes for optimal results and then get the heck out of there. Sipping a protein/carb drink during the workout can also help keep cortisol to a minimum and provide some additional energy for your training. Drink another protein/carb drink immediately after or within 30 minutes of completing your training.

Principle #3: Use Compound Multi-Joint Exercises

Basically, it comes down to this:

1. The harder the exercise is…

2. The more weight you can lift…

3. The more joints involved in the execution of said exercise…

Then the better that exercise will stimulate increases in muscular size and strength.

These are the key factors that make SQUATS AND DEADLIFTS
the very best exercise selections that any hardgainer can choose.

Squatz v/s Deadliftz

I know they are hard and way more complicated than the biceps curl, but the reality is that heavy squats and deadlifts will ultimately do WAY more for your biceps than curls. This is because of the spillover effect they produce.

When you do several sets of heavy squats YOU WILL feel it and your body will feel it too. In fact, your body will be shocked to the core by this massive assault and consider it a threat to its very survival. And rightfully so!

As a survival mechanism, this will act as a signal to your body to release additional testosterone and growth hormone in an effort to build more muscle tissue all over your ENTIRE body.  This is exactly what you want, is it not?

This biological adaptation is the result of millions of years of human evolution. Your body does this so that you will be better prepared to handle such an attack in the immediate future. The best way to get big and strong is to give your body a reason to grow.  Basic Compound exercises do exactly that!

Concentration curls and triceps kickbacks just can’t compare to the muscle-building power of compound, multi-joint lifts. Nor will they have the same effect on the body’s skeletal, endocrine and nervous systems. This increased surge of anabolic hormones is why squats and deadlifts can actually cause your upper body mass to increase as well.

My other favorite compound exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, dips, inverted rows, chin-ups, one-arm dumbbell rows, one-arm dumbbell presses, overhead press, lunges, front squats and other variations of these.

With compound exercises, the main benefit is that you are working more than one muscle at a time. When you do a push-up you are working your chest, shoulders, triceps, core and even your legs, which are all working to stabilize the body.

FYI: You can always add more weight to the push-up by wearing a back pack filled with plates or weighted vest.

By comparison, an isolation exercise for the chest like the dumbbell flye, is ONLY working your chest muscles. That’s it!

So, which exercise do you think is harder; the push-up or dumbbell flye?

Which exercise do you think you can lift more weight with?

Which exercise do you think will stimulate more muscle growth?

I hope the answer is clear!

It’s not that isolation exercises don’t have their time and place. They do, but they are typically used to bring up lagging body parts AFTER you have built up a solid foundation of muscle mass through the frequent and consistent use of compound exercises.

So a bodybuilder who has a pretty big chest already may need to work on bringing up his inner and upper chest. In this case, he may opt to add in some incline dumbbell flyes or cable crossovers to hit that muscle harder and bring up that specific area.

A hardgainer who has no chest at all has no business doing flyes or cable crossovers. He should stick to push-ups, bench press, and incline dumbbell presses for heavy sets of 5-8 reps.

In other words, forget the isolation exercises until you’ve gained thirty to forty pounds of rock hard muscle! Build a solid foundation of strength and size first. You do this with the basic, compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
Hey man, throwing in a set or two of arm curls ain’t gonna hurt nobody,  just don’t make them your primary focus!

In Conclusion…

When you’re looking for the best hardgainer workout, remember that there are many factors to consider.

The first and most important thing to keep in mind is whether this program is designed with your body type and goals in mind.

There are many principles of an efficient and effective hardgainer workout. Three basic, but significant principles the ectomorph needs to remember are:

  1. Train 3 days per week with a day of rest, stretching and recovery in between each workout
  2. Keep your workouts under an hour to keep testosterone levels elevated.
  3. Use compound, multi-joint exercises to stimulate the most muscle growth.

If you’re serious about packing on some muscle, consider picking a solid program like Jason Ferruggia’s Muscle Gaining Secrets or Jeff Anderson’s Hardgainer Project X and stick with it for 12-16 weeks before even considering using another program.

These strength coaches know how to create workout routines to build muscle and they have been specifically designed with the ectomorph body type in mind. Plus, they have been proven to be effective by the thousands of hardgainers who have used them to successfully transform their bodies.

Start incorporating these basic hardgainer tips immediately to set the stage for new growth!

Train With Heart,

Brandon Cook

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16 Responses to “Hardgainer Workout Routines to Build Muscle”

  1. ironsimba Says:

    Nice complete article. So many people follow the champs without thoughts. And adapting your training to your body type is rarely thought of but a good tip. Customising your workout is the way forward.

  2. Cabel Jones Says:

    I am Cabel Jones
    Ones genes do decide the rate at which you burn calories and the rate at which you build Muscle. Hardgainers shed off calories and are usually envied by food lovers with slow metabolisms.

  3. Kevin Says:

    Start incorporating these basic hardgainer tips immediately to set the stage for new growth!

  4. Darin Says:

    Thank you sir, about damn time, some real advice for the ectomorph do you know how hard it is to find real information, some D.B’s go on sites and tell people after all its a blog based on an ectomorphs question and they relpy with oh cardio, and isolation work outs!! Are they kidding me…im an ectomorph and i know exactly how i feel and listen to my body, they say go workout 5times a week, again psycho’s…they say what works for them and dont think or have the education of other body types…. again thanks very much great information!!

  5. Brandon Says:

    Tell me about Darin! That’s why I created this website… to cut through all the BS and bring in the top coaches who specialize in transforming ectomorphs. Glad you’re finding the site helpful.

  6. chris cook Says:

    Good post. I have even gotten good results from a routine consisting of squat, deadlift, toe press, benchpress and rows or pulldowns. Like you said those exercises like the squat, deadlift and even leg press stimulate the greatest anabolic response from your body. Us hardgainers have to keep it simple. Following a “pros” routine might work for a week or maybe two but then what usually follows is overtraining, lack of motivation and burnout. Besides who wants to spend half their waking hours in the gym. I for my part have a life to live. I do what I need to to get results and then move on.

  7. Brandon Says:

    Right on Chris! Hey are you a long lost brother I never knew I had??? Just wondering since are last names are Cook and we’re both ectomorphs writing about the same topic! :)

  8. Wayne Says:

    Totally true, but i still see so many hardgainers doing split routines such as working out on mon tues thurs fri and doing isolation exercises. These concepts work a treat for me though. I tell some ppl abt that in the forums such as and others but they all seem to have been like brainwashed by the other ‘big’ guys sadly. Keep it up Brandon!

  9. Brandon Says:

    Thanks Wayne! Yeah, most people think the BIG guys have all the answers. I’m not a big fan of split routines anymore and do mostly full body. Although if you were to cut the volume back to 3 days a week and cut out some of the extra sets you could still use a bodybuilder split. In this case I would split it out like so; Monday = Push day (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps); Wednesday = Lower Body (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves); Friday = Pull Day (Upper Back, Lats, Biceps.) I’ve gotten good results on a split like that in the past.

  10. ERNESTO Says:

    Great stuff Brandon! After reading this I finally realized I was overtraining my muscles into the dust man. Now that I look back Wayne is right, I tried to follow what those other “BIG” guys were doing and boy was I lost. I use to work out 5-6 days a week
    and on my day off I would go play Basketball or soccer. I was cut up and had a good six pack, but when I put on my shirt I still looked like a skinny guy. After I started reading your stuff I took 2 weeks off to let my body recover and then began my hardgainer workout program. I started lifting heavy only working out 3 days a week and going from 3 meals to 6. It’s been 3 weeks and I must say its a complete transformation from before.
    My muscles feel less soar the day after, My muscles are getting “BIG” man!!! And you know your doing something right when your wife’s friends that she hasn’t seen in a while ask her if you just got out of jail. That stuff gets me motivated. Keep up the good work Brandon I enjoy reading your stuff your a lifesaver bro.

  11. Brandon Says:

    Great to hear about your results when switching to a program designed for hardgainers! Yeah, it’s hard to recover and grow when you’re training all the time… especially for natural, ectomorphic lifters. A great quote by Lee Haney is “Stimulate Not Annihilate.” Keep going strong, Ernesto!

  12. Ashwin Says:

    Great article.Now it s been a month since I started the workout and I am doing split on 4 days a week i would like to change after reading this article. The problem which I am facing currently is I am gaining fat more than lean mass. i have gained 2.6 kgs out of which fat is 1.4 and SLM is 1.2.If i increase my protein intake I am facing some problems.Can u suggest any solutions?

  13. Brandon Says:

    Hey Ashwin! Congratulations on the gains. My solution would be to back off about 500 calories or so a day and see if that reduces the amount of fat you’re gaining. The reality I’ve come to realize is that your body can only build so much muscle at a time. If you are eating in a surplus your body will build muscle, however you will also gain a little bit of fat. Typically it should be around 70% muscle and 30% fat. However, if you are taking in an excessive amount of calories your body will have no choice but to store the excess as additional fat. So now your ratio may be 30% muscle to 70% fat gains as you’re sort of experiencing. I would suggest cutting back on your carbohydrates/calories on non-workout days. You may be taking in a little more calories then you need. Adjust your nutrition and then reassess in a week or two.

  14. dan Says:

    thanks for the advice i have been trying to find something for my body type for a while, i lifted alot at one point and for at least 2 hours each time and and as you said saw barely any result so i lifted harder and bumped it to 4 days a week and eventualy got a hernia so haven’t been able to lift for a while. now ive read this i can understand why and now i think i’ll take it a bit slower. also do you have any advice on suplements i should use?

  15. Tumbo Says:

    I am a classic ectomorph, but with slow is that? if I trained just 3 days a week I will gain fat! so I need to train my muscles twice a week each, there is no other way and use a restrict calorie diet if I want to shred. First its a caloric law, second, I have a slow metabolism, so I am trapped and must get used to my slim physique. Of course after 20 years of training I have developed some muscle and I think is my max potential, no drugs or pill, just natural. So there is a bias in the theory of training 3 days a week, it will depend on how fast you metabolize, and of course if you are in your 20s that will work probably, I am 40.



  16. Brandon Says:

    Hey Tumbo, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. As you age your metabolism naturally slows down even though your genetic disposition remains the same. Your testosterone levels will also begin to decrease as well, which can have an effect on your ability to build muscle and stay lean. Proper nutrition is vital for maintaining high testosterone levels in this day and age and ultimately is the main factor in whether you will gain or lose weight (be it fat or muscle.) The 3 days a week of training is for your strength training. It is not set in stone, as some may start with 2 days, then go to 3 or 4 or more. It really has to do with your ability to recover from the training and the work capacity you build over time. Generally 3 days a week is a great starting frequency for building strength in natural trainees. Less can be more.

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