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Blog index > April 2012


Help for Hard Gainers

April 10, 2012

These days when we see someone utilizing the services of a personal trainer, we often assume the person needs a program for weight loss. We are living in a society where obesity is on the rise. According to Statistics Canada, obesity is lower than our U.S. neighbours to the south. Canadians still recorded an obesity rate of 24.1% during 2007-2009. Rather than typically assuming that personal trainers are only used to assist with weight loss programs, we should consider it in terms of 'weight management'. But what about those individuals at the opposite end of the weight management spectrum? More specifically, those individuals who are attempting to increase their muscle mass for weight gain. We have a way of overlooking people that have a difficult time in gaining muscular size. Perhaps our society does not generally view this as a problem or health-related issue. But for those 'hard-gainers' out there, their challenges and frustrations can be very similar to those looking to lose weight.

The 'hard-gainer' client may pose a real challenge for trainers looking to assist them in achieving their goals. This is not a 12-week fix where the trainer outlines the importance of a balanced nutritional program consisting of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and essential fats and prescribes an hour of HIIT cardio in conjunction with an all body workout to help decrease body fat while increasing their metabolism. When a client's goal is to gain 5-10 pounds of lean muscle, this can be a difficult and lengthy process. The trainer may encounter more than the physical barriers hampering success. There may also be some psychological obstacles which play a factor in this situation as well.

Working with a hard-gaining client looking specifically to gain muscular size potentially requires a unique training approach and planning. Some individuals may require constant reassurance from their trainer that they will not simply just get 'fat'. Proper nutrition is the key in assisting the muscle gain along with specific training. One of the biggest challenges in the mindset of the individual is the concern of 'looking fat'. If the person is having a difficult time gaining weight/muscle, the chances of looking fat will be non-existent. With the increase of caloric consumption, their appearance may be smoother than normal. This is the process in order for them to gain size. By eating clean and increasing the consumption of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and essential fats, the client is on the right path to assist in building size and slightly altering their body composition. The more lean body mass a person has, the more carbohydrates one must consume in order to gain size. The metabolism of the ecto-mesomorph body (extremely lean and muscular body composition) is extremely high and this body-type needs to load up on carbohydrates in order to increase glycogen to allow them to build muscle.

Focusing on lower, heavier reps and reducing the number of total sets in a workout will assist in building muscle and helps to keep the client's body in this state. Due to their high metabolism, higher reps and multiple sets would have the reverse effect and increase this client's metabolism, depleting their glycogen stores required for building muscle. It is important to avoid supersets and high rep training as these methods would likely increase the body's metabolism. All bodies require adequate rest and sleep in order to rebuild. These body types are no different. In fact, it's imperative to get enough sleep allowing the body to rebuild and avoid over-training.

Cardiovascular training for the person looking to gain size should be minimal. Avoiding high intensity training is important in order to keep the metabolism at a lower rate. A slower cardio pace is better for these body types, typically because their metabolism is already fast. The duration of cardio session is kept low as well. In order to gain lean body mass it is important to keep the glycogen stores in the muscles full and not deplete them through cardio sessions. Some clients may have difficulty with this concept because the reinforcement to train with high intensity is embedded in their training philosophy. Altering this training mindset to slow down and allow their bodies to gain size can be a battle. This is where constant reassurance and guidance by a trainer is important in the clients' overall success.

Next time you see someone working towards their personal goals with a trainer, take a second look and consider that perhaps the objective is to increase their overall muscular development!

You only have one body, one life. Live it well.

Lisa Schirok-Dardis, Schirok Hard Bodies