If one definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result each time, then there are a lot of crazy bodybuilders.
Too many trainers continuously perform the same routines, forever lifting the same amounts, and yet they foolishly expect to grow.
The first rule of Bodybuilding 101 is progressive resistance: Muscles grow in response to progressively greater stress. This is even more crucial for a hardgainer than for a genetic superior. The bottom line: You must continuously change your training program to continually change your physique.
Out of the Rut!
Hardgainers know all about the rut, those extended periods when you're stuck at the same level of development and strength. In fact, sometimes it can seem as if your entire bodybuilding life is one rut. The genetically gifted may grow stronger, and thus larger, while doing the same exercises in the same order, year after year. That's why they're easy-gainers.
By definition, you, as a hardgainer, need to work harder. That's the bad news. The good news is there are many ways out of a rut. In classic tortoise-and-hare style, it's even possible that you, as a hardworking hardgainer, can grow faster in the long run than a complacent easy-gainer.
Before each workout, you need a clear idea of how that session will stimulate muscle growth. Will you be doing more reps with the same weights you used before? If not, will you be doing the same number of reps with a greater weight. If neither is probable, then you need to find another way to alter the stress on your muscles. This can range from a faster pace (more work done in the same time, or the same work done in less time), to a new rep scheme, to a completely different set of exercises.
Choose one or more of the methods in the list below of "workout rechargers." Stick with the new methodology for at least three weeks to determine its effectiveness.
Getting to Know You
The key to training variety is knowing when and how to change, and you gain that knowledge only when you're in tune with your body. A cook creating a new dish from scratch will sample it several times, redoing what worked and altering what didn't. Likewise, you learn what works best in your workouts via experimentation and observing feedback, such as fatigue, soreness and, most important, strength and size increases. Most good cooks take careful notes of their ingredients and methods. You, too, can more easily find a recipe for success if you keep a training journal.
Record exercises, sets, reps, poundages and how you felt during and after each workout. Being able to accurately assess what you did previously will help you change for the better in the future.
Getting in tune with your physique takes time. It typically requires at least one year of training, sometimes much more, and it's a continuous journey. Not only is your body constantly changing, but it's influenced -- sometimes in barely perceptible ways -- by an endless multitude of factors, from what you ate for breakfast to the stress of relationships to the weather. Knowing how to push your muscles for growth in any given workout is perhaps the most difficult thing in all of bodybuilding -- and the most important.
The truth is you're always just guessing at what is the absolute best way to spur growth. When you walk through the gym doors, you can't know if four heavy sets and one drop set will stimulate more muscle fibers than three supersets. All you can know for certain is the best way to stimulate growth: Surprise your muscles and train with intensity. For this reason, make sure you're doing something different than your prior workout every time you train a bodypart. If you're not using more weight or performing more reps for the same exercises, then change one or more of the other variables.
Many successful bodybuilders like to do different exercises each time they hit a bodypart. They never do the same sequence two workouts in a row. While such organized chaos makes it more difficult to ascertain the results of any given workout, it does make certain your muscles never get too comfortable. Furthermore, it keeps your training perpetually interesting, which is beneficial to both your mind and your muscles. Whether or not you change every lift every time, always remember that variety is not just the spice of life: It's the main course of successful bodybuilding training. Make certain every workout stresses your muscles in new ways, great or small.
1) Ditch the Split -- Change the days you train bodyparts and/ore the pairing of bodyparts. For example, instead of working chest and shoulders together on than the first day of your split, train chest with triceps on the second day.
2) Shuffle the Sequence -- Alter the order of exercises. Try starting with the exercise you usually end with. Don't shy away from doing an isolation lift (like flyes) before a compound lift (like bench presses), as the former will pre-exhaust your chest before the latter.
3) Low Reps -- Instead of moderate reps (8-12), focus on low reps (4-6) and heavy weights for three weeks.
4) High Reps -- Perform all sets in the 15-30-rep range for three weeks.
5) High and Low Reps -- Using the high and low approach, alternate between high reps (15-30) for one exercise and low reps (4-6) for the next.
6) New Exercises -- Incorporate several new lifts into your program. Use machines that you rarely or never use. One way to facilitate this for a limited time is to sign up for a short-term membership at a different gym. The new environment itself may invigorate your training.
7) Same Exercises, New Techniques -- Old exercises can be turned into new ones by changing your stance or grip or otherwise altering the angle and your relation to the weight. Tweak 'em!
8) Supersets -- Performing a set of an exercise immediately after a set of a different exercise with little or no rest in between is one of the best ways to intensify your training.
9) Descending (drop) Sets -- Expand your sets past the typical point of failure by immediately reducing the weight and continuing to pump out reps. Two to four such reductions during a last set for a bodypart can greatly intensify your training.
10) Increased Pace -- Dramatically reduce the rest periods (to 20 seconds or less) between sets. You will, by necessity, have to lighten your weight, but three weeks of such pump-up, circuit-style training can be a welcome response from heavy lifting.
11) Decrease Pace - Expand the rest periods between sets to at least 5 minutes. You will find that handling heavier weights can be made possible by resting longer between sets.
12) Nutrient Overload -- For now, suffice it to say that boosting the quality and/or quantity of your pre- and post-workout carbohydrate and protein intake and including creatine and glutamine supplements can dramatically improve the results of your workouts.
13) Time Change -- Changing the time of day you work out can be good or bad in the long run, but in the short term, being in the gym when you're typically resting (and vice versa) can recharge your training.
Enjoy Your Lifting!