Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hardgainer Mass Calculator: how slow and steady progress yields results

Never mind all the advertising hype about "Massive Gains in 6 weeks!" that permeates the bodybuilding and strength training magazines. I just laugh. I'm not built like Charles Atlas, and I have no delusions of grandeur. Today is Thursday and I'm still stiff from exercises I did on Sunday! I'm a classic "hardgainer", and I discovered the Hardgainer FAQ over a decade ago.
What I didn't realise at the time is the maths behind the method, and how impressive it could be. If I could guarantee that you would double your strength in 2 years and 12 weeks, would you believe me? Probably not. But it is theoretically possible if you can follow the HG training technique.
Part of the problem is that the potential gains are lost behind the numbers. So I have created an Excel Spreadsheet to help. The graph of a typical workout pattern over 54 weeks (3 periods of 18 weeks) with a "previous personal best" of 100 kg is shown above. Notice that the new personal best after just over a year is now 139.4kg, or 40% improvement.
I can vouch for the technique, albeit at a less grand scale. I managed to improve my bench press from a measly 30kg to an average 40kg in a year, without injury. Before using the HG method (and buying the 500g, 250g and 100g plates required to do it) I would have been expected to go in jumps of 2.5kg, since the smallest weight at the gym was 1.25kg, and you need one on each end of the bar. Going from 30kg to 32.5kg was manageable, but the jump from 37.5 to 40 was just too much, and I could never do it.
When the increment is only 200g, you can't feel it, and your muscles get time to adjust. Since you spend 10 weeks out of 18 setting a new personal best, it's much easier to motivate yourself, too. The Hardgainer method has absolutely no glamour or magazine recognition, and your gym won't have the small weights required, so you'll need to buy them. I got mine from the UK and the postage cost more than the weights, but it has been worth it. The FAQ has all the details.

Excel Spreadsheet download 37kb: no macros or viruses, just a graph and calculations. Please scan for viruses to make sure.


Rick said...

Hi Donn.

As always, I love your blog and recommend it to all. I was quite surprised to see your update on strength training. I knew you enjoyed swimming for exercise, but this is some new information.

As a classic "hardgainer" myself ( 6'3" with a previously natural body weight of around 175 lbs. at 30 years of age ) I thought I was one of the few of the less "genetically endowed" involved in strength training that was aware that we require a different approach to increasing muscle mass. I fought for years to break the 200lb body weight mark and to simultaneously be able to bench press my own body weight for at least one to three reps. Every time I even came remotely close to my goal, I fell back.

Eventually I got my hands on a book called "Brawn" written by a gentleman named Stuart McRobert. He also wrote a column for Ironman magazine called "Hardgainer" for many years. Your comments about training brought to mind many of the things I learned and applied from his thoughts on training for us who don't profess to be "genetic supermen".

More specifically, the concept you refer to is called the "long cycle". Adding the smallest amount of weight possible, but more frequently to maintain momentum toward the next goal. As you mentioned, "When the increment is only 200g, you can't feel it, and your muscles get time to adjust."

He's into a lot of other good stuff too, like the "anabolic effect" of leg training, abbreviated workouts, the use of compound movements ( squat, deadlift, bench press, dip, pull-up, curl, etc ) and several other useful tools for us "hardgainers".

I'm proud to say that following his advice, combined with my own ingenuity has permitted me to achieve a body weight of 225 lbs, usually between 6 and 8 percent body fat. With my long arms, the bench press is still a weak exercise for me, but on a good day I can usually knock out at least 5 or 6 reps with my body weight ( 225 lbs. ) At my best I've actually been able to deadlift 505 lbs. without the use of lifting straps for a single rep! All this at the ripe old age of 49 years old!

Anyway, I thought I might drop McRobert's name to you and maybe you'll find some of his stuff interesting. In the meantime, keep up the good work, be safe, train hard, and remember........the race is not always to the fastest, but to he who keeps on running!


Rick said...


Upon the 2nd reading of "Hardgainer FAQ" I discovered the references to Stuart McRobert's material so your obviously aware of that. My apologies for stating the obvious but I will give his work a very high recommendation! Thanks again!


Donn Edwards said...

@Rick: thanks for the kind words.

I haven't used the HG method for weight training for some time, because I am concentrating on my swimming just to keep fit.

But I plan to start doing weights as well once my fitness improves. My level of strength is way below average, to the point where I am scared to do pushups because I might not be strong enough and injure my shoulder again.

I have lost my copy of 'Brawn', but I'll probably buy another copy when I get MacRobert's new book.

The FAQ is actually pretty detailed for my needs. I did the spreadsheet as an experiment, and I have updated it with another column that makes it easier to grasp.

At some stage I'm going to start doing the squat, bench and deadlift again, and the spreadsheet is going to make the weights simpler to calculate.

James Lund said...

A very interesting article, no BS just a simple method that has a solid foundation. I have downloaded your spreadsheet and I'm going to give it a shot.