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The main problem for the majority of my clients who hire me as their personal trainer, is building muscle and getting rid of stubborn fat areas. Within my 5 years of training, I’ve noticed a consistent trend with hard gainers. In this article I am going to discuss in detail using a former client of mine— Kevin’s transformation journey and how his experience is relatable to why people may face a plateau— unable to gain weight or put on muscle.

If you’re frustrated that you are not making progress like you would like to see and all of your efforts seem like a waste of time, chances are you’re making these 3 common mistakes. I would advise you not to quit, and see where you fit in these 3 common mistakes which covers 99% of the reason you may not be progressing.


Cardio isn’t bad, but doing too much cardio when it comes to building up your frame, is. One important fact to remember: cardio burns calories, but calories build muscle. While doing repetitive cardio, you put your body in a constant calorie deficit, so adding size to your frame will be difficult. With a lot of newcomers, their introduction to physical training is cardio. Cardio is great, but when building muscle structure, a cardio regimen will benefit way more in the long run.

With hard-gainers, such as Kevin, out of 12 sessions for the month, I would allow 6 sessions of light cardio 10 – 15mins max.  Cardio helps repair muscle damage and allows blood flow, which removes waste from the muscle, promoting a faster recovery.


Your body depends on the foods you put into it.

Food fuels workouts and helps muscles recover. Your muscles can’t recover and grow if there is a calorie deficit.  Most men need at least 300kcal/day to build muscle. Slim men with high metabolisms need even more to gain weight.

Let’s break down exactly what strategic eating looks like.

When I meet a client whose goal is to put on muscle, after reviewing their health history and nutrition habits, we talk abut Macronutrients. Macronutrients (macros) are what make up the caloric content of a food. Macros are carbohydrates, fat, and protein; this is where the total number of calories comes from.

Client 24-session transformation

How many calories should one eat to gain weight?  

First point of action is to figure how how many calories you will need to consume. For example, Kevin’s weight was 160lbs. Multiply your current wight in pounds by 15 – 17 calories. With this equation, Kevin’s daily calorie intake is 2,400 – 2,720.

Kevin’s body type is ectomorph (read below about body types. An Ectomorph has a fast metabolism, and are normally hard gainers. Because of his fast metabolism, we agreed to increase calorie consumption by 10%.

I recommend an app that helps with your macros and helps you manage what your percentage for each category based on your fitness goals. The app is called, Myfitnesspal.


If you train hard but don’t eat right, your broken down muscles will not get the nutrients they need to repair and grow.

This means using a workout plan that allows good recovery periods and an eating plan that adequately covers your calorie needs.


Knowing your body type will tell you what sort of training and diet program you should adopt.

It does not make sense to follow fitness plans and influencers if they are not communicating your body type. We all have different body types, knowing this speeds up your transformation, because you’ll be training with knowledge.

I always communicate to my #JCCSoldier (my clients) to focus on building a lifestyle, not just trying to obtain a certain goal. Once a client reaches their fitness goal with me, they go on to live healthy fit lives. My goal is to focus on training the body type and what behaviors are detrimental to their fitness lifestyle.

American Psychologist Dr. William Sheldon was recognized for somatotype theory, which states body types (somatotypes) are associated with certain personality characteristics.

Since published 1942 it has become widely recognized that most people have these body types:

  1. Ectomorph: Lean and long, with difficulty building muscle
  1. Endomorph: Big, high body fat, and often pear-shaped, with a high tendency to store body fat
  1. Mesomorph: Muscular and well-built, with a high metabolism and responsive muscle cells

Out of my years of training, these 3 body types are the foundation when assessing someones fitness goals. Some people can even have two body types.

For example, you could be a mix of mesomorph and endomorph where you gain muscle quickly but also put on weight easily if you relax your diet.

I want to focus on ectomorph since they have more trouble putting on weight and muscle than any other body type.

Ectomorphs have super fast metabolism that burn calories almost too effectively. This can prevent them from gaining weight.

Ectomorphs need to train briefly, intensely but frequently. An ectomorph cannot handle high volume workouts so his/her volume should be spread across the week. Three times a week is best.

I recommend pyramid training. Pyramid training is a number of sets of the same exercise. You should start with a lighter weight with higher reps, building up heavier weight and fewer sets.

A pyramid set is designed to give you a high volume workout. When you are following an ascending-pyramid schedule and increasing the weight set by set, you will end up doing a lot of sets and this will give you a high volume of work, which is great for achieving muscle growth, or hypertrophy.

If you have been struggling to put on muscle, and need a step-by-step regime, check out my e-Book. The Skinny Man Diet is specifically for people who have a hard time gaining weight and putting in muscle. The Skinny Man Diet will give you an inclusive blueprint on how to gain lean mass.

Get health and fitness tips including workouts by following SOULE’s weekly Fitness Friday column. Join the conversation on our social media for videos and additional content.

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