As a hardgainer and natural lightweight bodybuilder, the only thing more frustrating than experiencing slow muscle gains, is seeing hyped up headlines about blasting through your genetic potential, while packing on insane amounts of muscle in a short period of time.
The muscle building industry has a way of making us hardgainers feel inferior… especially us lightweight natural bodybuilders. It’s their business to create insecurities about our scale weight… so they can prey on us.
It’s a VERY competitive market… and in order to sell product… whether it be a new secret supplement formula or a workout dvd from a top pro bodybuilder… they need to come up with bigger and bolder promises… putting the sale before the truth…
…setting us natural bodybuilders up for nothing but disappointment.
What’s a hardgainer to do? How do we overcome these lies and deceit?
With the truth of course!
How To Determine If You Are In Fact… a Hardgainer
Subjectivity: Labeling yourself as a hardgainer can be somewhat subjective. Anyone who is struggling to gain muscle mass could label themselves as a hardgainer. But this subjective view has a couple problems…
1) What you and I consider “struggling” can be drastically different. I’ve seen 200+ pound BEASTS label themselves as hardgainers, simply because they didn’t gain 10 pounds of muscle this month.
2) Some people struggle to gain muscle not because they are hardgainers… but simply because their workout, nutrition, and effort suck.
Body type (somatotype): The ectomorph physique has been tied into the hardgainer status… and rightfully so. It can be a real struggle for an ectomorph to gain body weight, let alone muscle mass. They can stuff their face day in and day out with little movement on the scale. On the bright side, most of their gains will come in the form of muscle mass… and even if they do gain a tiny bit of fat, they can burn it off with ease.
Although I was a scrawny little kid and teenager who could eat a tub of ice cream every day without getting fat, I wouldn’t label myself as an ectomorph. This was mostly a result of my INSANELY active lifestyle. When I hit my mid 20’s and became less active, I packed on fat with the greatest of ease.
Hardgainers don’t necessarily have a hard time gaining fat… it’s gaining muscle that’s their challenge. There is much more to being a hardgainer than your somatotype.
Bone Structure: For over half a century, bodybuilding books have used bone structure to help predict your muscular potential.
The first one I read (back in the day), was Steve Reeves Building The Classic Physique The Natural Way.
Shortly after, I read Stuart McRobert’s book Brawn, which included John McCallum’s ideal physique measurements.
Most recently I read Casey Butt’s book Your Muscular Potential How To Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements.
Casey uses both wrist and ankle circumference in comparison to your height to help predict your muscular potential… and to determine whether you are a hardgainer or not.
Here’s Casey’s hardgainer definitions:
wrist <= 0.1045 x height
ankle <= 0.1296 x height
Sha-BAM! Confirmation that I’m a small-boned hardgainer. My wrists and ankles both measured below average.
Steve Reeves used wrist, ankle, pelvis, and knee circumference to help predict the muscular potential of your chest, arms, waist, thighs, and calves…
Steve Reeves Classic Physique Proportions
Arm size= 252% of wrist size
Calf size= 192% of ankle size
Neck Size= 79% of head size
Chest Size= 148% of pelvis size
Waist size= 86% of pelvis size
Thigh size= 175% of knee size
John McCallum used chest circumference (which was obtained from wrist circumference), to predict your muscular potential…
John McCallum’s Realistic Proportions For Hardgainers
6.5 times your wrist gives chest girth
85% of the chest girth produces the hips
Take 70% of the chest girth for the waist
53% of the chest gives the thigh girth
The neck size is 37% of the chest
36% of the chest produces the upper arm girth
The calves come out a little less at 34%
The forearms get 29% of the chest measurement
Casey Butt did a fantastic job of re-writing John McCallum’s formula in a more convenient format…
chest = 6.500 x Wrist circumference
biceps = 2.340 x Wrist circumference
forearms = 1.885 x Wrist circumference
neck = 2.405 x Wrist circumference
thighs = 3.445 x Wrist circumference
calves = 2.21 x Wrist circumference
waist = 4.55 x Wrist circumference
Casey also derived his own formula based on wrist and ankle circumference.
Casey Butt’s Hardgainer Muscular Measurements
chest = 3.15W + 2.54A
biceps = 2.28W
forearms = 1.83W
neck = 2.30W
thighs = 2.65A
calves = 1.80A
I’m 5′ 6.5″ tall… my wrist circumference is 6.75″ and my ankle circumference is 8.1″
According to Casey’s formula, here’s the breakdown of my muscular potential by body part… as a hardgainer…
My Potential at 10% body fat:
My Current Measurements at approximately 10% body fat (need to confirm via DEXA):
Chest = 38″
Shoulder width = 20″
Biceps = 15.5″
Forearms = 12.1″
Neck = 15″
Thighs = 21.2″
Calves = 14.1″
Size Of Muscle Belly: In addition to bone structure… the size of your muscle bellies can provide a good indicator of your hardgainer status.
If you compare my current measurements to my muscular potential, you’ll see that my biceps exceed Casey’s hardgainer predictions. But if you check out my personal anatomy, you’ll see that I have long biceps muscle bellies.
You’ll also notice that my shoulders exceed Casey’s hardgainer predictions… and although I have slabbed on some serious muscle to my delts, I have received great assistance from long clavicle bones.
So, although I have been genetically cursed with small bones, I have been blessed in some areas… (and no I’m not talking about that!)
Just about every hardgainer has at least one strong body part… and just about every genetic freak has at least one weak body part. We’re all unique and we all face our own personal struggles.
My chest is by far my weakest body part. According to Casey’s formula, I have to add 3″ of muscle to my chest in order to achieve my muscular potential. This has been obvious from all of my photo shoots. Even my judging report from the last natural bodybuilding contest pointed it out as the body part I need to improve upon.
Funny… it used to be my thighs and calves that I needed to bring up to par with the rest of my body. I spent a great deal of time bringing them up… but it appears my chest has suffered in the process.
In addition to providing formulas to help predict your muscular potential, Steve Reeves also provided us natural bodybuilders with a weight chart based on our height…
According to Steve, my ideal weight would be around 165lbs.
According to Casey Butt’s formula, my bodyweight as a hardgainer at 10% body fat would be 164lbs.
My current weight at approximately 10% body fat is 153lbs… so that gives me approximately 11-12lbs of muscle to gain before I hit my potential.
What I Love About These Measurements: They provide me with a challenge. Gaining 11-12 pounds of muscle is no easy feat for a 38 year old veteran of the gym. But it’s also a realistic expectation… and based upon Casey’s formula, I know exactly where that 11-12 pounds of muscle is going to pack onto my frame.
The sad thing is… even when I reach my potential and gain that muscle (which will look visually impressive on my frame), I’ll still get ridiculed and my authority will come into question because I only weigh a buck sixty-five… and that’s just ridiculous… something that needs to change in our industry.
Lightweight natural bodybuilders are under-represented in our industry. It’s something I want to change. I’m passionate about giving us ‘smaller’ guys a voice… to take pride in our size…
…after all, small-boned guys tend to have the most aesthetic physiques… and we often appear to weigh much more than what the scale reveals.
So, if you’re a lightweight natural bodybuilder like me… stand tall… make the most out of what you’ve got… rise to the occasion… everyone loves the underdog!
Once again, I hope you have found great value in this article. If you enjoy this topic, I highly recommend you find yourself a copy of Steve Reeves, Stuart McRobert’s, and Casey Butt’s books.
Casey Butt’s book can be found in pdf format here: Your Muscular Potential How To Predict Your Maximum Muscular Bodyweight and Measurements. (I am not affiliated, nor do I receive any type of compensation for this referral.)
NOTE: These measurements are geared toward men. I haven’t yet come across similar formulas for females, which I would guess is because the concept of women gaining muscle has been somewhat taboo up until recent years.
Sculpt a Masterpiece,
About The Author
Scott Tousignant, BHK is a Physique Coach and Elite Natural Bodybuilder with the UFE.
Scott specializes in helping regular men and women sculpt their body into a chiseled work of art.
Viewing training as an art form and your body as a sculpture is a simple shift in mindset that brings out the beauty in your ongoing body transformation.
The art of molding and chiseling an aesthetically pleasing physique with spectacular symmetry, proportions, and carved out detail is one of life’s most rewarding and fulfilling experiences…
…It’s an opportunity for self growth and self discovery that will impact every area of your life.
Learn more about Scott’s physique-focused training programs:
AMPlify Aesthetic Muscle Gains and Strip Away Stubborn Sacks Of Fat with AMP – Aesthetic Muscle Plan
Get a taste of Scott’s hardcore physique training programs with Physique Phreak
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