You might think the secret is genetics or hard training or a proper diet. You might even think it’s some magic supplement or drug. It’s none of the above. The key to bodybuilding success is self-awareness — the ability to properly assess yourself and develop a strategy for improvement. Without this, all other components are hit or miss.

By evaluating both your strengths and your weaknesses, you can best determine how to meet your needs. Everyone has faults and limitations, but, as a hardgainer, yours are undoubtedly different from those of the typical pro. Don’t duplicate what the champs do hoping to replicate their success. To maximize your results, you need to discover exactly what works best for your unique physique.

The following guide will help you accomplish this by explaining the ideal versus the reality in four categories: structure, metabolism, muscle response and symmetry. It also lays out a course of action for each component to help you maximize your potential. Have an open mind, see yourself as you truly are, and always be willing to make changes for the better. Know yourself to grow yourself.


The ideal bodybuilding skeleton has wide clavicles and narrow hips. Muscle bellies should be full with low attachments, and all muscles should be pleasing to the eye. Structural flaws deviate from these ideals. There are tape measure formulas for calculating a so-called “classic physique,” but the best way to pinpoint flaws is to assess your body in a mirror, in photos or on video.

If you have structural defects, you’re in good company. There are few top pro bodybuilders without them. Whether you’re a hardgainer or Mr. Olympia, strive to approximate the ideal physique. There’s not a lot you can do, but do whatever you can. Here’s how to address the most common structural defects.

    • Short of breaking bones, there is no way to alter your skeleton. You can neither lengthen your clavicles nor shrink your hipbones. However, you can either emphasize or de-emphasize the muscles next to these bones. Bulk up your medial deltoids by doing four to six sets of side laterals first during your shoulder routine. If you have especially wide (lean) hips, de-emphasize obliques and hip flexors by avoiding side bends, hip abduction work and wide-stance squats and leg presses.
    • There is little you can do to lengthen a muscle, but you should still perform lifts that emphasize the stretch, such as preacher curls for biceps or low cable rows for lower lats. In addition, you can help to disguise high attachments by filling in gaps with neighboring muscles. Beef up your upper forearms (with reverse curls) if you have high biceps, your spinal erectors (with deadlifts and hyperextensions) if you have high lats, and your soleus muscles (with seated calf raises) if your calves attach high on your lower legs.


Formulas exist for calculating your basal metabolic rate, and a doctor can test a sample  of your hair for your endocrine pattern, but, frankly, unless you have a medical problem, knowing your metabolism stats will do little to assist you in gaining muscle or losing fat. Likewise, knowing your somatotype won’t carry you much further than (ectomorph) “I struggle to gain weight,” (endomorph) “I get fat easily,” or (mesomorph) “I can’t complain.” Not exactly headline news. What’s crucial is how your body responds to various dietary stimuli.

    • In order to gauge changes to your nutritional program, utilize three-week trials. Monitor results in a mirror, on a scale (weighing yourself at the same time each day) and by your energy levels. For example, if your workouts have been dragging, try boosting carbohydrates by 75 grams per day for three weeks. If you don’t see improvements, you may need to boost carbs again (or reduce your training frequency). The same applies to other dietary changes, such as the introduction of a new food staple or pre-workout meal. Give it a three-week trial before your final appraisal. That’s long enough to see a difference, but not so long that it becomes difficult to ascertain what factors caused any changes.



We’re all unique. Our muscles respond to exercise and rest differently. In fact, one of your bodyparts may react differently than another. Some people grow best on low reps and high intensity, some on high reps and high volume. Most people are somewhere in between, which is why we typically recommend eight to 10 reps per set, but you won’t know what level of volume or intensity or what training schedule works best for you until you try diverse methods. Likewise, you need to experiment with exercises, techniques (forced reps, drop sets, supersets, etc.) and bodypart combinations to see which ones boost your growth the most.

This is a never-ending journey. Over a period of months and years, you’ll develop an instinct for how to best stress your muscles for maximum growth, but as long as you’re training, you should continue to experiment.

    • As with alterations to your diet, use three-week trials to evaluate changes to your workouts. For example, if you incorporate a new machine row into your routine, do three or four sets during each back workout for three weeks. Gauge how it’s affecting  stimulus will lead to soreness. If you don’t feel any tightness or see any new back development over those three weeks, you may want to drop the row, or you may want to make another alteration — by upping the intensity, for example.
    • The important thing is that you give each change an adequate chance to succeed. Monitor your physique closely to learn what exercises, techniques and levels of volume and intensity best spur growth. Then, after the trial, decide whether to continue or alter your path again.


In bodybuilding, symmetry is the balance of the various muscles to each other, as well as the upper body to the lower body and the right side to the left. If all areas are in proportion, you have good symmetry. The less muscle you have, the harder it is to spot a single weakness. At this point, you may think your entire physique is underdeveloped. Still, the sooner you can focus on your  slowest growers the better.

Every trainer should endeavor to maintain or improve symmetry. If not, disproportions will only increase, and what may be a barely noticeable fault now will become a glaring weakness in two years. Furthermore, proportional physiques simply look better and bigger.

    • The key to symmetrical growth is to prioritize your weakest parts by training them first, often with greater volume and intensity. If, for example, your shoulders are slow growers but your chest has blown up, train your shoulders alone in their own workout with increased volume while you subsequently cut chest-training volume in half. Rework your program to focus more on your weakest areas and less on your strongest. Such prioritization should get at least a three-week trial, but it should last indefinitely if an area continues to lag behind the others. – FLEX