The Hard Gainer’s Solution
The gym owner was in tilted back in his chair with his feet on the desk, a piece of fried chicken in one hand and a copy of ‘Immortal Poems of the English Language’ in the other, when someone knocked on the office door. He bit off the last of the meat, threw the bone into the fast-food bucket on the desk, and yelled, “Come in” through a mouthful of chicken.
The door opened and a tall, bony young man walked in.
The gym owner wiped his hands with a paper napkin and got to his feet. He put on his most endearing smile and held out his hand.
The bony young man looked at the gym owner’s hand.
“Sorry,” the gym owner said. He pulled shreds of the napkin off with his other hand and tried to shake them into the waste basket.
“Sticky little devils.”
The bony young man stared at him.
The gym owner pulled the paper off with his teeth, rolled it into a crumpled ball, and dropped it into the basket. He cleared his throat loudly.
“Sit down, my boy,” he said. “Sit down.”
The gym owner straightened his note pad and flicked a mound of crumbs onto the floor.
“Normally,” he said, “the cleaning lady is here first thing every morning. Today, unfortunately, the poor old soul couldn’t make it. A train wreck of a flood or a dead aunt or something.”
He took six old MuscleMags off the desk and threw them into a drawer.
“We will, of course, honor her collective agreement. Full bereavement leave entitlement, shift differentials, accumulative seniority benefits and so on.”
The young man looked over his shoulder at the door.
The gym owner sat down again and put on his most interested look.
“But enough of that,” he said. “The important thing is what can I do for you?”
The bony young man looked at the door again.
“I can see that you’re busy. Maybe if I came back in a month or two . . .”
He started to his feet.
The gym owner waved him back down again.
“My boy,” he said, “men of dedication and devotion are always busy. But,” he placed a hand over his heart, “never too busy to comfort a fellow traveler.” He cleared his throat. “Make that a weary traveler.”
He put his elbow on the desk, cupped his chin in his hand, and looked the young man in the eye.
“Tell me, my son, what is it you need?”
The young man stared back at the gym owner.
“I need to gain weight,” he said plaintively. “I need muscles.”
The gym owner stared at the bony young man for a long time.
“Exactly,” he said. “Muscles.”
There was a long silence. The young man and the gym owner stared into each other’s eyes. Gradually the gym owner’s eyes glazed over and his chin slid off his hand.
The young man coughed slightly.
The gym owner jumped and gave a strangled gasp.
“Tell me about it.” he said.
“All my life I have been skinny,” the young man said.
The gym owner nodded sympathetically.
“Have you ever known the pain of that?” the young man asked him.
The gym owner gazed reminiscently at the ceiling.
“I used to weigh ninety-eight pounds,” he said.
The young man brightened. “Really?”
“Really,” the gym owner said. “Mind you, I was only five years of age at the time.
The young man’s face fell.
“Is there any hope for me?
The gym owner put on his most encouraging smile.
“Of course there is, my boy. Of course there is.”
He pushed the bucket across the desk.
“Have a piece of chicken.”
The young man leaned over the bucket and probed around in it.
“There’s none left,” he said.
The gym owner raised his eyebrows.
He rummaged around in the bucket and pulled out a bone.
“There’s a little chicken left on this one.”
The young man closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.
“Or, if you have any money we could send out for another bucket.”
“Listen,” the young man said. “Never mind the chicken. What about my problem?”
“Exactly,” the gym owner said. “Your problem.”
He thought for a moment.
“What was it again?”
“Muscles,” the young man snapped. “And gaining weight.”
“Right,” the gym owner said. “And gaining weight.”
He leaned forward and put on his most scholarly look.
“Let me see your wrist.”
The gym owner took the young man’s wrist and rolled it in his fingers.
“Very small boned,” he said. “Relax your hand.”
He jiggled the wrist so that the young man’s hand flopped loosely.
“I think we’ve discovered part of your problem,” he said. He dropped the young man’s hand in the chicken bucket.
The young man jerked his hand back and looked at the door again.
The gym owner leaned forward.
“Tell me about your training so far.”
The bony young man closed his eyes. “It’s been a nightmare,” he said. “I’ve done every program in the book and nothing works. I work my buns into the ground and I just don’t gain weight.”
He looked plaintively at the gym owner. “What am I doing wrong?”
“Are you eating enough?’ the gym owner asked him.
The bony young man closed his eyes again. “Enough?” he muttered. “I go through the kitchen like a horde of locusts. I eat anything that doesn’t bite back. Last week my cat hired a Doberman to guard her food dish.” He opened his eyes. “And still I can’t gain an ounce.”
The gym owner nodded. “I think I know the answer,” he said, “but how do you feel all day long?”
“Tired,” the young man said. “Totally exhausted. I wouldn’t walk a block to watch an earthquake.”
“Okay,” the gym owner said. He leaned back in his chair. “We’ve solved your problem.”
“Really?’ the bony young man said, “It didn’t take long.”
“It’s the most common problem in bodybuilding,” the gym owner said. “You’re working too hard for your type of metabolism and growth potential.”
He leaned forward and spoke seriously to the young man. “You won’t be hearing this, but I’m going to be very honest with you. You’re one of a rare type of individual for whom gains are almost impossible.”
The young man’s face fell.
“You need a special approach to training,” the gym owner told him. “At least for the time being. And you need an awful lot of patience. Regular programs just won’t work for you at this stage of your development. You’ve gotta do it differently or kiss the whole thing goodbye.”
He paused for a moment and looked at the young man. You don’t have the genetic metabolism for heavy training at this point. All the heavy training in the world isn’t going to put an ounce on you. You’re the forgotten man of bodybuilding.”
The gym owner put on his most encouraging smile. “But,” he said, “there is, fortunately, a way to solve your problem. A special approach for guys like you.”
The young bony man stared thoughtfully at the chicken bucket.
The gym owner leaned forward.
“Did you understand what I said?”
“Tell me,” the young man said, “did you eat the whole bucketful?”
The gym owner took the bucket and peered into it.
“Not really,” he said. “Once the lid comes off there’s a tremendously high evaporative phenomenon. Something to do with the thermal convergence or background radiation or whatever.”
The young man pursed his lips and nodded his head. “I see,” he said vaguely.
The gym owner put the bucket back on the desk. “Never mind the chicken,” he said. “I want to give you a full explanation of your dilemma and how to overcome it. I want you to understand why regular programs don’t work for you at this point. And finally,” he beamed, “I want to give you a training program that’ll put some meat on your bones.
The young man looked sadly at the chicken bucket.
The gym owner sat up in amazement. “Meat on your bones, he said. “A Freudian slip if I ever heard one.”
He took the bucket and put it on the floor. “Now listen up,” he said.
“You are the forgotten man of bodybuilding,” the gym owner said to the bony young man. “Regular programs don’t work for you at this stage of your career. You need a specially tailored program and, unfortunately, that approach isn’t popular with the business interests in the field. It isn’t viable for them. They can’t spend too much time on guys like you and you can’t really blame them.”
“So what does that make me?” the young man snarled . . . “a leper?”
“No,” the gym owner said. “But you’re the kiss of death to anyone trying to earn a living in the muscle business.”
He leaned forward and gripped the young man’s upper arm. “No bodybuilding magazine is going to run an issue with you on the cover. They couldn’t afford to. They’d never publish another issue if they did. They couldn’t even hide you in the back pages. They’d be toes up in a week. People buy muscle magazines because they want to look like the bodybuilders in them. Nobody would buy a magazine with pictures of guys like you in it because nobody wants to look like you.”
The young man’s face got long and gloomy. “Nobody?” he asked.
The gym owner thought for a minute. “Perhaps my father-in-law.”
“Really?” said the bony young man. “What does he look like?”
“It’s hard to tell,” the gym owner said. “He’s been dead for nine years.”
The young man’s face got longer and his head dropped.
“It’s the same with the gyms,” the gym owner said. “They like to have the big guys for members because it’s good for business. If they can get a Mr. Universe or a Mr. Olympia to train there, then they fill the place with dues-paying members. Guys like you just don’t attract the paying customers. You could train for ten years and gain twenty-five pounds and you’d never be as valuable to the gym as some Mr. Winner who looked almost as good the first time he picked up a weight.”
The bony young man sagged in his chair. “I feel like an abandoned child.”
“Don’t,” the gym owner said. “It’s just that most of the professionals in the business don’t have the time to devote to guys like you.”
“Do you?’ the young man asked him.
The gym owner cleared his throat and scuffed his feet on the rug. “Actually,” he said, “you couldn’t have caught me at a worse time. My plate is filled right up.” He thought about it for a moment and then pushed the chicken bucket under the desk with his foot.
The young man looked at him forlornly. “Then what can I do?”
“Do?” the gym owner said. “Do? Train at home for one thing. Or, better yet,” he smiled a wicked smile, “go see this guy.” He rummaged around in a desk drawer and brought out a competitor’s business card. He handed the card to the young man. “This guy’s great. He claims he’s trained every man since Hercules. Tell him you came to train at his place.”
The bony young man studied the card. “What if he won’t let me in?”
“No problem,” the gym owner said. “Stand outside his gym in your bathing suit and tell everyone you train there. Tell them he’s your father and he won’t give you enough to eat. I’ll have the TV crew there in half an hour.”
The young man thought about it. “I’d much rather train here. You’re the first person that’s been kind to me.”
The gym owner coughed and looked away. “That’s very nice of you,” he stammered. “Very nice, indeed. And perhaps some other time we might be . . .”
The bony young man looked at him with sheepdog eyes. “Please.”
The gym owner looked at the floor and weighed the prospect of imminent fiscal disaster against what his mother had told him about being kind to passing strangers. He heaved a sigh. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll try it. Be here at six o’clock Monday morning and bring a full sweat suit. We’ll work out before the gym opens to the regular customers.”
“Six o’clock in the morning?” the young man asked.
“Right,” the gym owner said. “It’s very important.”
“For me to gain weight:”
“No, For me to stay in business. I don’t want anyone to see you.”
At six a.m. the following Monday, the bony young man put on his sweat suit and followed the gym owner into the weight room.
“Now” the gym owner said. He leaned against an incline board and the whole thing fell over sideways. He crawled out of the ruins and muttered, “Cleaning lady. Silly old fool was supposed to bolt that thing to the floor.”
He sat on a bench. “Now,” he said, “pay attention. This is the most important part of the whole workout. You’ll be doing a very, very light program until you develop the ability to gain weight. It’s a special program designed for that one purpose. It wouldn’t do a thing for a normal bodybuilder. It’d be a complete waste of time if you could gain weight any other way. If you think this program is going to change you into a Lee Haney in three months or something, then do yourself a favor and forget it. Take up chess and you’ll be a lot happier in the long run.”
He pointed his finger at the bony young man. “But,” he said, “if you’ll realize how difficult your case is, if you’re wise enough to do exactly what I tell you, if you’ve got the patience to persevere through very trying times, then you will eventually change your metabolism and your ability to grow. Then, and only then, will you start gaining on regular and more advanced programs.”
“I’m ready,” the young man said. “Lay it on me.”
“You’ll work out three times a week,” the gym owner said. “No more than that. And if you don’t gain on three workouts a week, then you drop it down to two. The whole idea is to stimulate you, not wear you out. Your type has to conserve energy to grow on, not waste it on long workouts. Working out like the average bodybuilder would simply exhaust you and guarantee your failure.
“The first exercise you do is one set of light puff-and-pant squats for twenty reps. You’ll start off real light and then add weight to the bar every workout until you get up to the equivalent of your bodyweight as soon as you can.
“Bodyweight squats are supposed to feel light,” he said. “If you don’t get to that point you’ll never make any substantial gains.”
“You make it sound hopeless” the young man said. “Isn’t there anything else I can do?”
”No,” said the gym owner. “There’s not. But it’s not hopeless. Not at all. Every hard gainer I ever heard of who followed this program gained a lot of bulk and power and eventually got to the point where he could gain weight virtually on any kind of program.
“What’s giving you a problem at the moment is that I’m not selling anything. I’m telling you the cold truth because I have no commercial interest in you at all
He looked at his watch. “And if we don’t get you finished and out of here before the early shift shows up I won’t have any commercial interest in anything.
“The next exercise,” he said, “is bench presses. Two sets of twelve reps with a medium grip.
“Next,” he said, “is bent-over rowing. Two sets of fifteen reps with about a six inch grip.
“And, finally, one set of the stiff-legged deadlifts for fifteen reps. Use the same weight for the dead lifts that you do for the squats.”
“And that’s it?” the young man asked.
“Lee Haney trains a lot harder than that.”
The gym owner closed his eyes and made a mental note to start reading the want ads more carefully. “We’ve been through this fifty times,” he said patiently. “I know Lee Haney trains a lot harder than that. This program wouldn’t warm up Lee Haney’s grandmother. That’s the point of the whole thing.”
The bony young man considered it. “I didn’t know Lee Haney’s grandmother worked out.”
“I don’t even know if he’s got a grandmother,” the gym owner snarled. “Forget about her and do the workout. Next time I’m going to explain everything to you in detail”
Hard Gainer’s Solution, Part II
At quarter to six on Friday morning, the bony young man stumbled into the gym owner’s office and slumped into a chair.
“Something wrong?” the gym owner asked him.
“No, no,” the young man said. “Just that the chickens won’t be up for two more hours.”
The gym owner got up off the couch and threw a travelogue magazine onto the desk.
The young man picked it up. “Do you do much traveling?” he asked.
“My boy,” the gym owner said, “you are talking with an extensive and sophisticated traveler, a man who has voyaged to the four corners of the earth.” He dragged himself into an erect, military posture reminiscent of the late Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and braced his feet apart to combat the surge of the open sea. He gazed distantly out the window until he realized it was still pitch black outside and he couldn’t see a thing.
“Yes, my boy,” he rumbled in his best Gregory Peck voice. “From a long and brilliant naval career as a younger man, supplemented as I grew older by danger-filled treks to far-flung exotic regions, I stand today as the epitome of the handsome, well-seasoned, global adventurer.”
The bony young man stared at him with wide eyes and an open mouth.
In truth, the gym owner had once served two years in the navy as a clever ploy to stay out of the army, and had risen to the lofty height of able seaman. On one occasion, when his ship was anchored in the Mediterranean, he had stood with a large half-eaten pepperoni sausage in his hand, gazed at the statue of David and reflected the glory that once was Rome until the tour guide told them they were in Florence.
Another time, he had sat on a bench in the city of Pisa with a half of a three-pound chunk of roast pork in his mouth and gawked at the principle tourist attraction under the impression it was the Eiffel Tower falling over.
“But enough of me,” he said modestly.” “Let’s get back to things of lesser importance. Come.”
He led the young man into the weight room. They stopped at the incline bench, which had recently been repaired. The gym owner slapped the leather incline.
“What does that remind you of, my boy?”
The young man thought for a moment. “An ironing board?” he said.
The gym owner stared at him. “An ironing board?”
“An inclined ironing board?” the young man said. “An inclined ironing board leaning against something?
The gym owner slapped the board again. “Have you no romance in your soul?” His voice got soft and his eyes took on a faraway look. “The high slopes of Kilimanjaro,” he whispered, “where I once hunted the savage white elephant.”
The young man looked at him nervously. “I don’t think there are any elephants on Kilimanjaro.”
The gym owner looked at him. “No?” Well, maybe it was the savage rhinoceros.” He rubbed his hand across his eyes. One’s memory tends to fade with age. “Anyway, it was savage, white, and awful big.”
The young man coughed slightly. “Speaking of big, you were going to explain the program to me.”
“Right,” the gym owner said. “I knew that.” He sat down on a flat bench and spoke to the young man.
“Squats are the most important exercise in any bulking program. The squats are done for twenty or more reps with three to six huge breaths between repetitions. There is no other effective way. You can go into any gym and see top guys doing squats for lower reps and without all the puffing and panting. But these are guys who have learned how to gain weight almost at will. They’re not just packing on raw bulk. They’re looking for isolated muscle gains. You’re not there yet.
“For guys like you, guys who can’t gain easily, twenty-rep, puff-and-pant squats are the only way.
“The only variation in twenty-rep squats is the amount of weight you use. Either squat with all the weight you can handle, or squat with the equivalent of your bodyweight on the bar. For 99% of the adult male population, squatting with all the weight you can handle is far and away the best. There is no other exercise to compare with it.
“In the beginning, however, there are some men who simply can’t gain on heavy squats. They have such limited growth potential that heavy programs just deplete them further. The y just won’t grow on regular programs and that’s the truth of the matter.
“For guys like that, the answer is bodyweight breathing squats. Bodyweight squats means loading the bar to the equivalent of your bodyweight . Breathing means to take three to six huge breaths between repetitions.
“You stand erect with the bar across your shoulders and take three to six huge breaths and then squat until the tops of your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Don’t go any lower than that.
“Don’t stay in the low position. When you hit parallel, rebound right back up, take three to six more huge breaths, and then squat again.
“Do twenty reps. When you finish you should be puffing and gasping like a floundered fish. Go immediately to a flat bench and do twenty pullovers with about twenty pounds. The light pullovers aren’t designed to build muscle; they’re designed to stretch your rib box. Take a deep breath as the weight is going back and exhale on the way up. Get a good stretch every rep.”
The gym owner peered at the bony young man. “Are you listening to me?”
The young man jumped and opened his eyes. “Yes. The great white mountain goat. Fascinating.
The gym owner glared at him. “Your nest exercise is the bench press. It’s one of the two most effective upper body exercises.
“Don’t try anything fancy. Just plain old-fashioned flat bench presses. Take a grip a little wider than shoulder width and do the presses smooth and even. Bounce the bar a little bit when it hits bottom and drive it right back attain. Don’t linger in the low position.
“Take three deep breaths when the bar is on the top. Hold the last breath, drop the bar and then press it up. Exhale just as you reach the top position. Start with a light weight and gradually build it up.
Remember – squats are the major exercise for you.
“The next exercise is bent-over rowing. It’s the second basic upper body exercise. Bend forward to about parallel with the floor and grab the bar with a close grip. Pull the bar up to where your abdomen and thighs meet. Arch your back a little at the top.
“Don’t set the bar down between reps. Take a couple of quick gasping breaths when the bar is in the low position and then pull it up again.
“Start low and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.
“Last of all is stiff-legged deadlifts. This is a fantastic, very underrated exercise. Do the deadlifts standing on a block and lower the bar to the tops of your feet. Don’t set it down between reps.
“Stand erect with the bar and take three big breaths. Lower the weight and come right back up again. Lean back slightly and take three more deep breaths. Take three breaths after each rep.
“Use the same weight you’re squatting with or about ten pounds more. Don’t try anything heavier at this point.
“And that’s it,” the gym owner said. “Can you do it?”
“Can do,” said the bony young man. “Can do.”
The gym owner’s mouth dropped open.
“Katmandu.” He closed his eyes and extended an arm dramatically.
“There’s a little yellow island to the north of Katmandu,” he said in his best Richard Burton voice. “There’s a marble cross beneath the town. And a broken-hearted women tends . . .”
The bony young man got up.
“Katmandu,” the gym owner whispered intensely.
“The hordes of savage pygmies with their scout knives and blowguns pouring across the hot white sand.”
The young man started for the door.
“And you killed them all with your bare hands. Right?”
“Marvelous,” the young man said.
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