Facing the Challenge of Being a Hardgainer

I was reading an article at Flex.com called 12 Concepts Bodybuilders Should Use Every Day and it seemed like the advice given could apply to just about anyone at the gym, including senior weight trainers. The article mentioned courtesy, humility, and respect, and I’ve touched on the same topics a time or two before.

But there were also other concepts addressed such as limitation, perseverance, perspective, and realism that especially speak to the older denizen of the gym. Given my own struggles in realizing gains at a painfully slow rate, I began to consider the problem of being a Hardgainer.

A hardgainer in the world of bodybuilding, is a person who, usually due to genetics or nutrition, experiences a great deal of difficulty in building muscle mass as compared to his or her peers. However, as I said just yesterday, older weight trainers have additional “built-in” reasons why it’s harder for us to gain muscle than someone 20, 30, or even 40 years old. The conventional wisdom about hardgainers doesn’t really apply to us for the most part. While some of the advice can be useful, we really need to approach hard gains from the perspective of our current physical condition.

That’s where an article written by a fellow named Bill Starr for issue 50 of Hardgainer Magazine called Strength Training and the Older Athlete (Part 1) comes in (looks like you have to buy the print copy of issue 51 to get Part 2).

Starr wrote his article for men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, which only somewhat overlaps my own target audience, but I think it applies to us anyway.

Starr has a lot of good things to say, but the following really goes to the heart of the point I’m trying to make today:

The beforementioned points are the down side for the older athlete, but he also has many things in his favor. Three huge factors: discipline, patience, and knowledge of how his body works and feels. Discipline is much easier for older people simply because they have had to learn and utilize this attribute throughout their lives.

Patience is another factor in which the older individual comes out ahead over his younger counterparts. An older person can look down the road much easier and not be adversely affected by the time it will take to gain some degree of strength fitness. Tell an older man that it’s going to take him a full year to get his lower back as strong as it needs to be, and he will not flinch.

An older person has a more thorough understanding of what he can and cannot do with his body. He has learned this usually at the school of hard knocks. It can only be achieved through time. There are no texts on the subject. This knowledge is invaluable when it comes to formulating a strength training program. The older individual knows his limitations and his strengths.

older weight trainerAlthough older weight and strength trainers face more challenges than our younger counterparts, we also have a number of advantages we gained with the passage of time. We know the value of a good work ethic, whether it be on the job or in the gym. We know that what we want takes time to achieve, so we’re not going to give up just because our goals are set out one or more years.

We can’t allow age to take from us more than what we’ve already lost, and we need to approach age as something we take by the throat and wring out some of what we want to get back. Starr’s parting two paragraphs should be an inspiration to us all:

While I do believe that caution is necessary when an older individual does any form of strength training, I do not believe he should become so cautious that he keeps himself from progressing. My philosophy for the older athlete is exactly the same as it is for the younger one. Once you have selected the correct exercises, formulated your plan for number of days a week, and fixed your goals, then attack the weights.

It is important to understand that the exact same principles of gaining strength apply to the older athlete as they do to his younger counterpart. This means that the strength training routine must include some overloading and take into consideration concepts like proportionate strength, the heavy, light and medium system, and all the other tried and true precepts.

Being a “hardgainer” because we’re older doesn’t mean an “impossible gainer”. In fact, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect to get back some of what we’ve lost and who knows, for some of us, discover that we can be stronger and feel better than we have in years.

The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.

Tommy Lasorda

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