Monday, March 6, 2023

Hardgainer Training Guide, Part Three - Stuart McRobert


All first-run Hardgainer issues are available for purchase. Plus, the second run. H.G. 2.0 is now at Issue #23. 

I like the cover of the issue above. Chuck Sipes at his peak with a big smile on top of all that strength. It's also a good example of the mixed bag of material by various authors throughout both runs. 

Here, just an example of a back issue Table of Contents: 

Editorial: Customized Exercise Selection - Stuart McRobert

The Training Cycle. a scientific look at why cycling works - John Christy

Form & Technique, the bench press, pt. 2 - Brooks Kubik

More From Experience, the tall trainee - Dick Conner

Asking Doc Ken, training reality, food combinations - Ken Leistner

Internal Power, breathing technique, western and oriental, power stance - 
John McKean

Extending Your Iron Grip - David Horne

Progressive Pathways for the Over-40 Trainee, part 2 - Jack Stocks

Sissy Warm-ups - Christian N. Temple

From the Grassroots, real life home training - Dennis G. Brooks

Chiropractic, knee problems, the leg blaster, can squatting stunt growth - 
Dr. Keith Hartman

Shoulder Care, how to prevent shoulder problems - Stuart McRobert

Forum, lessons in the value of training simplification, thrifty 'little gems', ultra-abbreviated training, training frequency. 

Here's the Table of Contents from the current, latest issue: 

Editorial, off-the-scale self-motivation - McRobert

Vintage Strength Training, addressing a common recovery disparity - 

Yorkshire Nous, 50 years of training, 50 key lessons - Donlon

From the Grassroots, closing the circle - Skjelstad

Organized Chaos, my reality check and a training revamp - Collins 

Muscle Size: not so simple, Stimulation and Atrophy- Sowers

Your Knees, problems and preventions - Steiner

From the Grassroots, motivation, balance, and context - Wicks

How to Train with Odd Objects - Duggan

Wisdom from the Past, Part 10, Ken Leistner - Bruin

Equipment Limitations - van der Merwe

Q & A - Whelan

Bodybuilding the Houghton Way, magic bullets or stray ones? - Houghton

The Last Word - Leistner 

"We all overtrain." Pat Casey to George Frenn.

"There are as many productive methods as there are creative minds." 
 - Bill Starr


What are the priority needs among typical bodybuilders? 

Size and strength, of course. 

Not cuts, proportion, balance, detail or other concerns of only the most advanced bodybuilders. How many of you are big enough and strong enough to focus upon the 'finishing' aspects of a physique? 

While few people can build substance while working on the detail, most can't. So, build the substance first (without getting fat), then work on the detail. Priorities! And remember, until you're advanced, the best way to get the small areas of the body growing is by focusing on getting the whole body a lot bigger and stronger. 

The ability to grow big muscles without much fuss is only part of the picture of a successful bodybuilder. Other factors, including muscle shape and aesthetic structural proportions are vital factors too. Many hardgainers do have fine aesthetic proportions but lack the genetic ingredients needed to get huge muscles. 

Derive inspiration from the top physiques in the field, but don't confuse that with the practical business of training the hardgainer. Always remember, what works for them will not necessarily work for drug-free, typical hardgainers. The top physiques are living under optimum bodybuilding conditions. Together with great genetic advantages, they are professionals. They are eating as optimally as they think possible; they are using or have used anabolic steroids, they can get abundant rest, and they may be free of the demanding commitments of family life. 

This is an utterly different world to that of the average hardgainer, someone who from day one has a greatly reduced capacity to grow muscle. To make matters even more difficult there are the demands of fulltime employment and living on a tight budget. Just to get into a gym is an achievement; to make the workout progressive can be bordering on the impossible. 

Some of the finest sources of advice do come from noncompetitive and only modestly successful bodybuilders. Take the man who started as a runt, battled through years of sticking points, was unwavering in his resolve, never even contemplated drug assistance, worked at a fulltime demanding job, brought up a family and, who, for every step forward had to take 7/8th of a step back. The man, who, after many years of absolute diligence, finally developed a 16" arm, a 300 pound bench press and a 400 pound squat. Here's a gold mine of practical advice for the hardgainer. Here's an example of resolve to the nth degree. Here's a magnificent success story. 

As radical and absurd as it might at first appear, many typical bodybuilders can't gain on anything more than 3 to 5 major exercises done every 5 to 7 days! Some hardgainers use modified split routines in which only 6 to 8 exercises are spread over 3 days of each week, each exercise being trained a mere once a week. This isn't fiction but a statement of reality for many bodybuilders. 

Only a few bodybuilders know about this approach to bodybuilding. Once you do know of it, of course you must try it with absolute determination, no halfhearted commitment. Most bodybuilders reconcile themselves with not making progress, and continue to use unproductive methods for year after year. Or, they give up bodybuilding without ever having been introduced to abbreviated and infrequent training.

Remember, what matters is what works. 

If you can't gain on standard split routines or on total body routines of 8, 10, 12, 15 or more exercises or more sets per bodypart; or on programs that have you training each body part more than twice a week; something radically different has to be tried. 

Imagine everyone having an extra two days between workouts, and cutting back numbers of sets by 50%. Simultaneously, imagine increasing the intensity level, and increasing the total food intake somewhat. If it was real, there would be tons of new strength and muscle in the world within just a couple of months. 

The conventional mindset is for multiple exercises and innumerable sets per body part, and working out more days than not. However, don't think this is the only way that big and powerful muscles have been built. In fact, for the genetically typical and genetically inferior, the only approach that offers hope is abbreviated training. Don't knock something unless you've tried it. 

Back to the Program

Now, back to the mechanics of the program and the second part of how to implement it. Points 1 to 8 were covered in Chapter Two:

9) Start a flexibility program this week. Get a reputable book and progressively and carefully work through a program of exercises primarily aimed at the Achilles tendons, hamstrings, back and shoulders. With increased flexibility in these areas you can adopt a better squatting. You will also be better conditioned for other exercises. 

If you stretch out before a workout, take it easy and don't push into your full stretches, and do it after 5 to 10 minutes of a general warmup that breaks you into a gentle sweat. It's much better to do your flexibility routine after your workout, when your body's well "oiled." I must stress the need to slowly and progressively increase your flexibility over weeks and months, not days. It's very easy to injure yourself if you're too enthusiastic while stretching. Staying free of injuries is the number one training priority. Respect my prioritah! While becoming more flexible will help you to avoid getting injured, the actual process of becoming more flexible can injure you if you're not careful.

10) More iron on the bar, in good exercise style, is what bodybuilding is about - progressive resistance. Most bodybuilders who have a year or so of training under their belts have an outstanding characteristic, they keep using exactly or almost exactly the same poundage, for month after month, and even year after year. Just changing exercises won't help you. How on earth can you get bigger and stronger if you're not lifting bigger weights? 

11) To use more iron for reps, in good style, you need to focus on the big lifts and become singles-minded, er, single-minded about getting stronger and Stronger and STRONGER . . . if you want an obsession, make it this. 

12) Some key form pointers now: For the deadlift, set yourself up with bend legs and feet about shoulder width apart, hips lower than your shoulders, bar close to your shins, and head up. Hold the relative positions of head, shoulders and hips during the lift. Your arms and hands in a straight and vertical line from start to finish, no bending at the elbow, with your legs placed in-between your arms. Keep the main stress of the exercise off your toes. 

"Squeeze" the bar off the floor, don't snatch at it; simultaneously pushing with your legs and pulling with your back. Use a reverse, alternate grip (one palm facing you, the other turned away) -- see illustration, bottom grip -- and straps if necessary. 


Don't bounce the weights from the floor. Set the weights down for a few seconds between reps, and check that you're in the right starting position.

Always keep the bar moving right next to your legs, wear something over your shins to prevent abrasions. 

Absolutely do not allow the bar to travel out and away from you. This is crucial. Avoid a backward lean at the top of the lifts, and don't thrust the hips forward. Once you're training hard, deadlifting once a week is the maximum training frequency, and take more rest if your back is still sore. 

NEVER work to absolute failure. Keep the "do or die" rep in you. For both the squat and deadlift, if you have had a back injury, get the clearance of a sports-oriented chiropractor first.

When squatting, do widen your stance a little -- to about 15 inches between your heels (or more if you're very tall). Turn your toes out more, to about 35 degrees or a little more out from a line extending from your face. Experiment to find the best position for you. 

Squat to where the tops of your thighs are parallel with the ground. Keep your knees out as you rise, and keep your hips and shoulders in the same relative position. Keep your head up and drive your feet through the floor. Avoid using a board under your heels -- get yourself more flexible and wean yourself off the board by using a progressively thinner board as the weeks go by.

For the bench press, don't use extremes. Lower the board to your nipples or just below, and push the bar up and slightly back towards your face. Don't bounce the bar off your chest, just touch and then drive the bar up.

13) Back to the progression of workouts initiated in Point 8 of this guide, in Part Two. Doing each workout once a week will mean you need eight weeks before you are using your previous best 8-rep poundages. Only maintain the 2.5% per week rate of progress for 6 weeks though. In the next week, drop the rate of increase to 2 pounds per week for the squat, bench press, deadlift and calf work, and 1 pound per week for other lifts. This will slowly get you back to your previous 8 rep best lifts. 

However, when you get there, you won't just be doing one set for 8 of each lift but 2 or even 3 sets with that weight. That's the first type of real progress. (Don't rush to get back to your previous best poundages. This program is built on about 10 weeks of building back to where you were before starting the program, but for multiple sets, and then having about 16 weeks in which you move into new poundage territory. 

Training each routine only once a week, in effect training each major exercise once per week, may still come as a big shock to you, considering the conventional mindset for excessive training frequency. But remember, only with extraordinary genetics and/or drugs can you grow from very frequent training. 

Understand the vital importance of getting fully recovered between workouts. While some of you will have started this program (initiated in part 2) by training three times a week, alternating the routines, all of you should now be training twice a week, doing each routine only once a week. Some of you, though, may be battling on with three times a week training, believing that more must be better. 

If so, you will probably be tired for much of the time, not relishing each training session, overtraining and finding it difficult if not impossible to maintain the poundage progression. Get into twice-a-week training, get recovered between workouts, and you will be much more likely to be able to keep up with the poundage progression. Remember, never forget that adding ever more iron to the bar is what effective bodybuilding is all about, not clocking up hours in the gym for the sake of it. 

14) You don't have to use 8-rep sets. You may "feel" that a different repetition target is better for you. I recommend, at least for this program, that you choose a rep target no lower than 8 for squats, deadlifts, calf and abdominal work, and somewhere between 5-8 reps for the other exercises. 

15) Once you are at your pre-program 8-rep best lifts, reduce the top sets to two per exercise and maintain the poundage progression at 2 pounds per week for the squat, bench press, deadlift and your calf work, and one pound per week for the other exercises. 

16) Be able to add some small amounts each week, obtain tiny discs or use some individual initiative. You can, for example, but 1/4 kilo (and even 100 gram) discs from suppliers of Olympic lifting equipment. 

By using these, together with 1/2 kilo discs, regular fairly small discs that almost all gyms have until this blog author steals them during a drop-in, you can arrange an increment of very near to the necessary one pound or two pounds each week. 

Don't laugh at the prospect of adding a "mere" pound or two a week. Add 2 pounds a week for 16 weeks following working back to your 8 rep best, and you'll pack 32 pounds on the bar for squatting, benching and deadlifting. (Perhaps you won't make 2 pounds each week, having to drop to 1 pound a week at the very end of the program.). 

If you are a bodybuilding neophyte, then you can certainly do a lot better than this. If you have been weight training for quite a while, and have been stagnated for a long time, then you should start thinking more of a pound or two a week for the next few months, after first having created a gaining momentum whilst working back to your previous best poundages. 

17) Why not continue with the 2.5% poundage increments when almost at the pre-program 8 reps bests? Because we want to ensure long-term progress, and not "kill" it by upping the poundages too rapidly. Your body can increase in strength by a pound or two a week, every week for 4 months, while maintaining the 8 rep target, than to add 5-10 pounds each week and see the reps falling almost as soon as you exceed best pre-program 8 rep bests.  

Patience and persistence, remember: haste makes waste. Revel in slow progression, it's the root of sustained, "real" bodybuilding.   

18) Now that you are really training hard, and are in the growth part of the training cycle, it's time to check that your form is good and that you're not relaxing your exercising style in order to keep adding weight to the bar. Now is the time you'll have to start getting out "willpower reps," really pushing yourself to make your first rep targets. As stated in the first part of this program, you do not rep out to failure per set. You do whatever reps are required of you each set. Just because you could do an extra rep or two on at least some of your sets, don't. Keep t hat little bit in you as you continue with the poundage progression and the gaining momentum. The sets will get harder and harder as the weeks go by as the iron on the bar increases, so don't go jumping up the intensity level any earlier. 

An important procedure to ensure that you don't start dropping, jerking and heaving the weights around with uncontrolled momentum, is to pay attention to the negative or lowering part of each repetition. Lower the bar under control. No need to count seconds but just be aware that you are lowering the bar as opposed to dropping it.

This slight slowing of the negative part of each rep at this stage when you're moving personal best poundages will increase the training intensity slightly while simultaneously helping keep your training strict. Don't consciously count seconds up or down as this makes training artificial and distracts from the important matter of driving the weights up in good form. You must use momentum, but controlled momentum is fine and what has built tons of muscle over the years. 

Note: At different points in my lifting I have used various rep speeds, or cadences as they are sometimes called. To get a natural, "inner" feel for a new or revisited rep speed, for various concentric, eccentric speeds, or paused parts of reps, I like to spend a little time on a day off or two with a sweep second hand wall clock and an empty bar. Just get a feel for it with the clock and empty bar first, then, at your next workout it'll be there in you, ready to be remembered. We know when we're trying to "con" ourselves with rep speeds, making believe a 3-second negative portion is 3 seconds when it's actually closer to 1 second. The same goes for "pauses" or "holds" . . . it's way to easy to convince yourself that a second or so is actually 3 seconds when there's a heavy bar on your back and your in the hole of a squat position. So, the clock and an empty bar can right that lazy B.S. quickly, even at any point in your "real" workout if necessary to serve as a reminder and a reset. Your mind can easily do the sweep work of a clock's second hand if you train it to, allow it to, and don't try to fool yourself. Your body remembers too, just like your mind, if you let it and don't get in the way too much.

Uncontrolled, throwing-the-bar-around momentum is what you really don't want as it's both potentially dangerous as well as less productive for building size and strength. 

Next, in Part Four: Nuts & Bolts

Enjoy Your Lifting! 





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