I met up with Chris at Lola’s Coffee shop a few minutes after 10am on a Tuesday. He had a backwards Hurley hat on, faded jeans and a pair of Syracuse orange and navy Nike Dunks. At 6’1” and 170 pounds with narrow shoulders and a small potbelly Chris was anything but jacked.
In fact, like me, he had the exact 180 degree opposite genetics of the kid in the picture to the left.
Colorful traditional Japanese style snakes and dragons covered his 13-inch upper arms that dangled in his Volcom shirtsleeves.
“Look at these pipe cleaners,” he said. “They haven’t grown a centimeter in two years. Ya gotta help me.”
If ever there was a classic, stereotypical skinny-fat “hardgainer” it was Chris.
“I’ve tried all the hardgainer advice out there. I’ve done only two 20-30 minute workouts per week, I’ve kept my volume and my reps super low, I’ve done five sets of five, zero cardio or conditioning, gone on the see-food diet. The only thing that happens is I end up slightly stronger and a whole lot fatter.
I never gain any real size and I always feel like shit. Minor injuries, aches and pains, the whole deal. I’m just getting beat up, but no the least bit bigger.”
By now, I’d seen it all a thousand times before. And, over the years I’ve come to realize that, contrary to what I once believed, the typical “hardgainer” advice actually doesn’t work for most skinny-fat dudes.
Below are 9 Hardgainer Myths:
Myth #1: Hardgainers Should Only Do the Big Power Lifts
“Chris, the reason that those 5×5 routines based only on compound exercises don’t work for you is because you’re not built for that type of program.
If you were 5’6” and built like Ed Coan you could do nothing but squat, bench and deadlift all day and you’d get huge and strong.
But you have long limbs and a short torso. I can tell just from looking at you that you’re tight and your mobility sucks.”
“Yeah, it does. When I squat my lower back rounds over like a C.”
“I’m sure it does. So while the big lifts are great you’re going to get injured if that’s all you do. In addition to the big lifts hardgainers need some other bodyweight and dumbbell exercises that don’t beat them up as badly to round out their programs.
Some guys are injury prone no matter what. Michael Vick, Allen Iverson, Grant Hill and Reggie Bush come to mind. Others will never get injured no matter what they do. A guy like John Cena will withstand years of heavy squatting and deadlifting far better than the average skinny-fat dude.
My friend and sometime training partner, Todd is like that. He’s got huge wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. I’ve seen him round over with 600 pounds and feel great the next day. I’ve also seen injury prone skinny-fat dudes get crippled by the slightest bit of lower back rounding with 135.
By nature hardgainers are long limbed, tight, tiny-joint-having, injury prone somebitches.
It’s one of the qualities that make them a hardgainer. If all someone had to do was bench, squat and deadlift there would be nothing “hard” about it.”
Myth #2: Hargainers Shouldn’t Do Any “Isolation” Exercises
“Ok, yeah, that makes sense, actually,” Chris said while sipping on a coconut water and shifting anxiously in his chair.
“So while I would never advise isolation exercises like flyes, leg extensions and what not, I still recommend at the very least doing some single limb lower body exercises like split squats or single leg squats.
Back squats are the big mass builder but they beat up hardgainers when overdone, so you need to add some of this other stuff in to stay healthy. The same thing goes for deadlifts. If you’re built for the exercise it would be all you’d really need. But that’s not the case for most skinny fat guys. So you need to throw in some back raises and glute hams.”
“Are you gentlemen doing okay? Can I get you anything?” I looked up to see a cute young waitress who bore a slight resemblance to Olympic Gold medalist Alyson Felix. And what do you know, her name also happened to be Alyson.
Chris just looked at his shoes and said he was fine.
“No, thanks, Alyson, I think we’re good. How’s your morning going?”
For the next two minutes Alyson and I exchanged pleasantries while Chris scrolled through his phone. When she left, he said, “Man, that chick was pretty.”
“Why didn’t you talk to her then?”
“I don’t know, man. I have no confidence with girls. I hate the way I look. I feel like no girls would want to talk to a guy they could throw across the room.”
“Alright, well let’s get you jacked then.”
“Ok, so you said I have to do some lower body exercises other than squats and deads. What else?”
“At first some hardgainers will get by on chins and rows for their biceps but it will rarely be enough for the long term. If you want arms that fill your shirtsleeves you’ll need some curls. Unless you’re wearing one of those really weird cut Gildan t-shirts. I’m not sure if anyone’s arms fill those.
I wouldn’t go heavy on curls, though. You’d think that would be the approach for hardgainers to take but it’s not. You’re just asking for an elbow injury if you do that. Go with sets of 8-12 reps.”
“Okay, sounds good. I’d give anything to see these arms of mine grow.”
“Another area for isolation exercises is the upper back. Typically hardgainers always seem to have poor posture. And for some reason, all the rows and deadlifts in the world aren’t enough to fix it in most situations. That’s why I think there’s great benefit to doing various band pull aparts on a regular basis to strengthen the muscles back there and improve your posture.
Crappy posture portrays a lack of confidence. When you approach a girl like Alyson with a lack of confidence you’re already dead in your tracks before you take your first step. They’re trained to sniff that shit out, like dogs. They can smell fear a mile away.
No confidence= no girls.”
Myth #3: Hardgainers Don’t Have to Train Neck, Forearms or Calves
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I hate bitches,” Chris told me with an angry look on his face.
“Duuuuude, you gotta chill out and change your whole attitude and perspective here. Whenever you have a negative belief system about something it’s impossible to attract it to you. It’s just a universal law.
If you believe people with a lot of money are bad and that money is the root of all evil you’ll never have money. Your belief system will make it impossible because you’re repelling it. The same holds true for girls.”
“Yeah, I guess you can say that when it comes naturally to you or it’s easy to get girls,” Chris retorted.
“Ha! Wrong guy, pal. If there was every anyone who struggled to talk to girls it was me. But I made the conscious decision to get over it and better myself. Like anything else in life it takes practice.
And in all honesty, though, I was never able to confidently approach girls until I gained my first 25 pounds. When I was skinny I had the same mindset that you did. So I totally understand.
What’s weird, too, is even to this day if I’m super busy for a while and get to eat or train as much as normal and I go out a little skinnier than I normally I am I don’t get the same attention from girls.
It’s probably not that they would notice a ten pound difference in me but there must be something in my confidence that comes across subconsciously that I don’t even know about. Because when I leave the house with a t-shirt on that’s looser than it normally is I know I’m not 100% my normal self. And I guess they can sense it.”
“So that still happens to you, at your age?”
“My age? I’m still in my prime, son. Whatchu talkin ‘bout?”
“I meant that you never really get over that, which is interesting.”
“Yeah, and more than anything for me it’s my neck. When my neck shrinks my big pumpkin head really stands out at attention. That’s why you’ve gotta train neck. It’s always exposed, even during the winter.
Supposedly hardgainers don’t have to train neck, forearms or calves, the outermost extremities. Your neck should get bigger from deadlifts and shrugs as should your forearms and your calves should get bigger just from all the lower body exercises you do and the weight you gain.
But it doesn’t happen that way for true hardgainers. For most people that theory holds true; not for us though.
Just looking at you I can tell that your neck will never be noticeably big unless you train it directly. You don’t really have to for another 6-12 months as it will grow a bit. But at that point if you want to resemble a UFC fighter in a t-shirt you will need some direct neck work.
As far as the forearms go, just doing a few sets of rows and deadlifts without straps will never be enough. You’ll need to do farmers walks with fat handled implements on a regular basis and always include some type of hammer curl or reverse curl in your program.
Beyond that you may eventually find you need to bomb them directly with sledgehammer work and the like.”
“And what about these pixie stick calves of mine,” Chris asked.
“Yeah… no, those will never be big without some direct training. They will get bigger. And when you weigh twenty pounds more than you do right now their circumference will be up significantly. But they’ll be far from big. Huge calves usually comes from the right parents.
Or you can look at the fact that soccer players and dancers almost always have big calves and try an Arnold approach of just blasting them with volume on a non stop daily basis. That might work.
But just thinking that they’ll get huge from general training… Na, never gonna happen.”
And in the meantime, if you want a program specifically designed for skinny-fat hardgainers then check out Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0