Why It’s Hard to Gain Weight: 4 Rules to Building Muscle


Are you the guy who’s always being overpowered on the field? Are you the pick-up game’s last pick? Have you been grinding out hard work in the gym for hours on end with no results to date? Chances are you’re a classic example of an ectomorphic-hardgainer. Your genetics have built you lean, and that’s how you stay. But have no fear, with a little patience, persistence, and training by the rules, you’ll be well on your way to living large(r).

Rule 1: Go big or go home

Heading to the gym to lift just for the sake of lifting won’t get you anywhere faster. You’ve got to go with the exercises and movement patterns that give you more bang for your buck. “Far too many guys spend time working on isolation exercises searching for hypertrophy,” says Colorado-based certified trainer and fitness writer Jeremey DuVall. You want to program your workouts with moves like the deadlift, squat, and overhead press. “Bigger exercises require more muscle recruitment and make for a more efficient workout,” he adds. John Annillo, C.S.C.S. of Training for Warriors agrees, “Your body works as a unit, so drop the isolation exercises and train it like one. The more muscles (or joints) that are working during any given exercise the better.” Trainer, fitness writer/model Parker Cote also believes “big moves” are especially important for beginners, saying, “It’s the best way to expedite the mass-gain process.”

Workout recommendation

Make the squat the primary exercise in your legs workout (3-5 reps, 6-8 reps); the deadlift in your back workouts (3-5 reps, 6-8 reps); overhead presses in your shoulders workout (3-5 reps, 8-12 reps); and barbell bench presses for chest (3-5 sets, 10-12 reps).

Rule 2: Rest and relax

When you’re going big and tossing around heavier weight, recovery is what’s going to give you the gains you need. Another component to this is how you’re actually programming your workouts. “Supersets and other circuit-style techniques are excellent for fat loss, but when trying to gain lean muscle, it is beneficial to have longer rest periods,” says Cote. Blowing through your sets will slow the mass-building process—you need to preserve your strength for bigger lifts and heavier loads. “To maximize each set, focus on resting longer (3-5 minutes), so your muscles are ready to fire at 100% with each rep,” Annillo advises.

Workout recommendation

Assuming you’re training with heavier weight at lower reps and lighter weight at higher reps follow this rest period guide:

10-12 reps, rest 3 minutes
6-9 reps, rest 4 minutes
5 reps and under, rest 5 minutes

Rule 3: Get more sleep

“Real progress lies in the recovery stage—not the actual time in the gym,” says DuVall. This means get in the gym, work hard, and get to bed. “Both the quantity and quality of your sleep will play into how much testosterone you produce, how your muscles repair, and how you pack on the pounds,” Annillo says. Yes, we’re going back in time to the days of “bed times.” “You destroy muscle in the gym and build muscle at night,” says celebrity trainer Jay Cardiello. So get your eight hours.

Recovery recommendation

Take 10 minutes or so to practice some relaxing yoga poses, prepare a cup of caffeine-free chamomile tea, and you’ll be good to go.

Rule 4: Eat to get big

While we’re not giving you carte blanche to raid the fridge and eat everything in sight, you will need to eat more than you’re used to. “Eat something every couple of hours, upping your intake of calorie-dense foods, downing healthy carbs right after your workout, and having a casein protein before bedtime,” Annillo says. And to get the most out of your food, opt for high-calorie, dense options. “Peanut butter and avocados provide a big boost of fat and calories to your daily totals,” says DuVall.

Eating recommendation

Start yourself out by adding small things to your current diet. If you eat two pieces of toast in the morning with a protein shake, add an additional slice, or add a piece of fruit. Peanut butter sandwiches are also a great option as meal add-ons. If all this fails, then go ahead and raid the fridge and eat everything in sight.

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