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The Best Hardgainer Workout Program & Detailed Guide

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN-L1

hardgainer workout

The best workout routine for hardgainers is going to be a program that fits your experience level, will have proper exercise selection, implements progressive overload and mechanical tension, and is something you enjoy.

Confused by any of those terms?

No problem, I’ve got you.  

As a former skinny dude myself, I know what kind of hardgainer workout you need and I’m going to break it all down for you below, provide you with a free 3 day per week hardgainer workout routine, and answer the most frequently asked questions.

What Is A Hardgainer?

Before we get into your hardgainer workout advice, it’s important to know if you are actually a true hardgainer.  From the 3 different body types there are, a hardgainer will fall under the ectomorph body type.


Common characteristics of a hardgainer include:

  • Naturally thin with long limbs, usually arms and legs.
  • Minimal body fat and little to no muscle.
  • Have a hard time gaining weight.  
  • Have a fast metabolism which allows them to eat large amounts of food without gaining.
  • Tend to fidget and not be able to sit still.  This makes them burn more calories at rest compared to other people.


Want to know someone that had those characteristics described perfectly? Me!  As you can see below, I was a typical hardgainer.  I ate whatever I wanted, had no muscle, and was constantly tapping my leg while I was sitting.  Heck, I still do that!

It doesn’t matter if you are a male or female advanced or beginner hardgainer, all the workout advice below applies to both sexes.

Hardgainer workout transformation

Breaking Down What Makes A Workout Routine For Hardgainers Successful

How Many Times Per Week Should A Hardgainer Workout Out?

how many times a week should a hardgainer workout

A typical hardgainer will benefit from 3 - 5 strength training workouts per week in order to gain muscle and start putting on size.  This will allow them to get the proper amount of volume help your muscles grow.

As for how many you should do, take into account your experience, schedule, and currently lifestyle.  If you are new to the gym and have never lifted weights before, start with 3 - 4 days.  If you are more experienced and have a lot of time on your hands, do more.

The best splits for hardgainers based on the number of days a week they can lift weights are:

3x/week - Option 1

Lower body

Upper body

Full body


3x/week - Option 2

Full body

Full body

Full body


3x/week - Option 3





4x/week - Option 1

Lower body

Upper body

Lower body

Upper body


4x/week - Option 2




Full body


5/x week - Option 1

Upper body

Lower body

Upper body

Lower body

Accessory work (or lagging body part)


5x/week - Option 2




Lower body

Upper body


For most of my clients, the sweet spot seems to be the 3 - 4 workouts a week.  The 3x/week full body is convenient because if you tend to miss workouts, you’re never going to miss a body part. 

For the 4x/week I love the push, lower, pull, full body split that I learned from Joe Defranco, and is how I have been programming a lot of my current programs.

The 5x/week is for more advanced lifters.  The extra accessory day can be for lagging muscles like skinny arms or other areas of your body you want to get extra work on.

A Hardgainer Workout Needs To Have Progressive Overload & Mechanical Tension

Regardless of the exercises in your hardgainer workout program (which we’ll talk about next), they all need to implement two things to help you build muscle.

  • Progresive overload
  • Mechanical tension
Progressive overload is when you are constantly putting new stresses on your body in order for it to learn to adapt and build muscle.  Most people associate progressive overload with increasing the weight but it can come from many factors including:
  • Heavier weight
  • More reps
  • More sets
  • Better form
  • Increased range of motion
  • More control on the lowering portion of the lift
  • Decrease rest times (but still keeping good form and intensity)
Progressive Overload For Workout Routine For Hardgainers
Mechanical tension is important in workouts for hardgainers. This is where you put enough stress on your muscles to make them grow!

Mechanical tension is making sure you pick a heavy enough weight where you are getting close to technical failure.  Technical failure is when your form starts to break and you start using other muscles to help with the lift.  Ideally you want to pick a weight that gets you within 1 - 2 reps of technical failure.

For example, say you are doing a dumbbell chest press and do 35 pounds for 10 reps.  If you get done with your 10 reps and think that you could have easily done 16, 17, or 18 reps, you didn’t create any mechanical tension.  You HAVE to increase the weight and get close to technical failure for a hardgainer workout to be effective.

Workouts For Hardgainers Need To Prioritize Compound Lifts

A compound lift is when you recruit multiple muscles in order to perform an exercise.

In a hardgainer workout routine, this is going to help you build muscle faster.

Let’s take a chin-up versus bicep curl example. A chin-up is a compound exercise and will work your back, biceps, forearms, and shoulders. A bicep curl works your biceps.

See the difference?

There’s nothing wrong with bicep curls and they SHOULD be included in your program, but the bulk of your hardgainer workout should revolve around compound exercise variations of:

  • Pressing movements
  • Rows
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Lunges

Mix in your isolation exercises with those compound lifts and train the movements in a variety of rep ranges from 6 - 12.  On certain isolation exercise, you can even push the reps up to 15 - 25 on certain exercises.  You’ll see how I break this down in the free workout for hardgainers.

How Many Rest Days Should A Hardgainer Have?

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and start thinking more is better, but that’s not the case when building muscle.  Recovery is a big piece of the puzzle for a hardgainer to put on weight and they should have at least 2 days of rest, but 3 - 4 can be beneficial as well.

Does this rest day mean you are sitting on your couch watching Stranger Things all day?

That sounds great and is a fantastic show, but you can do active recovery on your rest days.  Things like stretching, foam rolling, walking, biking, or swimming all can be done on your rest days.

Should A Hardgainer Do Cardio?

Yes a hardgainer should be doing cardio each week to improve cardiovascular health and improve endurance for their strength training workouts.  Since getting bigger and putting on muscle is the primary goal, keep the cardio to lower intensity and only do it 1 - 2 days a week for 30 - 60 minutes.

I used to be in the camp of zero cardio anytime you want to gain weight, but doing 1 - 2 days a week of light cardio isn’t going to ruin your gains in the gym.  Find a form of cardio you enjoy and reap the health benefits.

3 Free Full Body Hardgainer Workouts

Best split for hardgainers

To get you started on your weight gain journey, I want to give you a free 3 day per week full body hardgainer workout program.  This will allow you hit every body part each workout and get enough volume for your entire body to grow.  

Feel free to click the link for each exercise to see a video of yours truly performing it.


Workout A:


Superset 1: Rest 2 minutes after second exercise

Low incline dumbbell chest press: 3 x 6 - 8

Split stance goblet squats: 3 x 6 - 8/leg


Superset 2: Rest 2 minutes after second exercise

Lat pulldowns: 3 x 8 - 10

Dumbbell deadlifts: 3 x 8 - 10


Triple Set 1: Rest 90 minutes after third exercise

Cable machine bicep curls: 3 x 10 - 12

Cable machine rope pushdowns: 3 x 10 - 12

Lateral raises: 3 x 10 -12



Workout B:


Superset 1: Rest 2- 3 minutes after second exercise

Pull-ups (Use assisted if needed): 3 x 4 - 8

Walking lunges: 3 x 8 - 10/leg


Superset 2: Rest 2 minutes after second exercise

Barbell bench press: 3 x 8 - 10

Goblet squats: 3 x 8 - 10


Triple Set 1: Rest 90 seconds after third exercise

Chest supported rear delt fly: 3 x 10 - 15

One leg hip thrust: 3 x 8 - 10

Plank: 3 x 30 - 45 seconds



Workout C:


Superset 1: Rest 2 - 3 minutes after second exercise

Barbell overhead shoulder press: 3 x 6 - 8

Romanian deadlifts: 3 x 6 - 8


Superset 2: Rest 2 minutes after second exercise

Seated row machine: 3 x 8 - 10

Goblet alternating reverse lunges: 3 x 8 - 10/side


Triple Set 3: Rest 90 seconds after third exercise

Band pull aparts: 3 x 20 - 25

Barbell skullcrushers: 3 x 10 - 12

Pallof Press (with band): 3 x 20 sec hold per side

Finally A Hardgainer Workout Routine That Works!

Finally A hardgainer workout routine that works

Finally a hardgainer workout routine that works!  If you include the following things below, you’re going to be in a great spot:

  • Consistency with your workouts
  • Implementing progressive overload and mechanical tension
  • Getting proper rest
  • Prioritizing compound lifts and sprinkling in isolation exercises
  • Eating enough calories and protein


You now have all the tools to build effective workouts.  In order to maximize your muscle growth, you need to be eating enough calories and protein.  I’ll leave you with my best guides to help you on the nutrition side of gaining weight as hardgainer.


The Best Ectomorph Diet [Overcome Your Skinny Genetics]

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