5 Best Mass-Building Exercises For Hardgainers (And What The Experts Say)

by Nader Qudimat
Updated October 25, 2023

Building muscle can be challenging, especially for those who struggle to gain weight.

This guide is here to help you break through those barriers with the best exercises for muscle gain, specifically designed for guys who've struggled to bulk up.

What The Experts Say

We've scoured advice from top fitness publications and professionals to reach a consensus on the most effective exercises for muscle gain.

The focus is on compound exercises, structured workout plans, and the importance of nutrition and recovery.

Key Takeaways

  • Compound Exercises: The cornerstone of any effective muscle-building routine, exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are highly recommended.
  • Structured Workouts: Consistency is key. Following a well-planned routine can make all the difference.
  • Nutrition and Recovery: Don't underestimate the power of good nutrition and adequate rest; they're crucial for muscle growth.

Differing Opinions

  • Free Weights vs. Machines: Some experts prefer free weights for a more natural range of motion, while others argue that machines can be more beginner-friendly.
  • Workout Frequency: Recommendations vary, but most agree that 2-3 times a week is a good starting point.

Our Recommendations

For natural lifters, it's best to stick to the basics: compound exercises, a well-structured workout plan, and proper nutrition.

If you're a hardgainer, check out this workout plan designed just for you.

The 5x5 Program

One of the most effective programs for rapid muscle gain is the 5x5 program.

It involves performing 5 sets of 5 reps of compound exercises like squats or deadlifts, making it excellent for strength and size.

What To Do Next

Armed with this information, your next steps should be to:

  1. Pick a workout plan that aligns with your goals.
  2. Incorporate these top-recommended exercises.
  3. Focus on nutrition and recovery to complement your workouts.

The Best Exercises For Muscle Gain: A Deep Dive

You're in the right place if you've struggled to put on size and muscle.

This comprehensive guide dives deep into the best exercises proven to help you gain muscle effectively.

We'll break down each exercise from squats to pull-ups, explain how to perform it, and discuss why it's a crucial addition to your muscle-building regimen.

Whether you're a hardgainer or simply looking to level up your fitness game, these exercises are the cornerstone of a successful muscle-gaining strategy.

So, let's get started and turn you into a muscle-building machine.


Squats are often referred to as the king of all exercises.

They work multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

How To Perform Squats:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back.
  • Keep your chest up and your back straight.
  • Go down until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Push back up to the starting position.

Why Squats Are Effective:

  • They engage multiple muscle groups.
  • They are excellent for building leg strength.
  • They also improve your core stability.


Deadlifts are another compound exercise that targets the back, glutes, hamstrings, and forearms.

How To Perform Deadlifts:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to grab the barbell.
  • Keep your back straight and chest up.
  • Lift the barbell by straightening your hips and knees.
  • Lower the barbell back to the ground.

Why Deadlifts Are Effective:

  • They work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
  • They are excellent for building a strong back and legs.
  • They improve grip strength.

Bench Press

The bench press is the go-to exercise for building a strong, muscular chest.

It also works the shoulders and triceps.

How To Perform Bench Press:

  • Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower the barbell to your chest.
  • Push the barbell back up to the starting position.

Why Bench Press Is Effective:

  • It primarily targets the chest muscles.
  • It also engages the shoulders and triceps.
  • It's a staple for upper body strength.

Overhead Press

The overhead press is excellent for building strong and muscular shoulders. It also engages the triceps and upper chest.

How To Perform Overhead Press:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold a barbell at shoulder height.
  • Press the barbell overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Why Overhead Press Is Effective:

  • It targets the shoulder muscles.
  • It engages the upper chest and triceps.
  • It improves upper body strength.


Pull-ups are a fantastic exercise for building a wide and muscular back. They also work the biceps and shoulders.

How To Perform Pull-Ups:

  • Grip a pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Hang with your arms fully extended.
  • Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position.

Why Pull-Ups Are Effective:

  • They target the back muscles.
  • They engage the biceps and shoulders.
  • They are excellent for improving grip strength.

What To Do Next

Now that you're familiar with these exercises, the next step is to incorporate them into your workout routine.

Make sure to also focus on nutrition and recovery to maximize your gains.


What are the best exercises for muscle gain?

Squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and pull-ups are some of the best exercises for muscle gain.

How many sets and reps should I do?

For muscle gain, aim for 3-5 sets of 5-12 reps depending on the exercise and your fitness level.

How often should I work out for muscle gain?

Aim for at least 3-4 days a week, focusing on different muscle groups each session.

Do I need to take supplements?

Supplements like creatine and protein powder can help, but they are unnecessary if you get adequate nutrition from whole foods.

How important is pre and post-workout nutrition?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in muscle recovery and growth. Eating balanced meals before and after workouts can significantly impact your gains.

How long does it take to see results?

You may start to see results in as little as 4-6 weeks, but significant muscle gain will take months of consistent training and proper nutrition.

Is it necessary to lift heavy weights?

Lifting heavy is essential for muscle gain, but proper form and technique are equally important to prevent injury.

Can I gain muscle with bodyweight exercises?

Yes, bodyweight exercises can be effective for muscle gain with high intensity and volume.

Do I need to do cardio?

While the focus is on strength training, incorporating some cardio can help with overall fitness and fat loss.

What if I'm not gaining muscle?

If you're not gaining muscle, you may need to increase your caloric intake, adjust your workout routine, or consult a fitness professional for personalized advice.

How To Implement These Exercises

Following a structured workout plan is crucial to get the most out of these exercises.

You can find a comprehensive guide tailored for hardgainers in our Hardgainer Workout Plan.

This plan incorporates all the essential exercises and provides a detailed schedule.

Additional Resources

By following these guidelines and resources, you'll be well on your way to gaining muscle effectively.


The expertise of renowned fitness professionals backs the information in this article:

  • Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.: Specializes in Exercise Physiology and is a well-known researcher and author.
  • Bret Contreras, Ph.D.: Holds a Ph.D. in Sports Science and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
  • Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D.: An expert in Exercise Science, he is also an author and researcher.
  • Jeff Nippard: A professional bodybuilder and fitness coach with a strong following.
  • Layne Norton, Ph.D.: Specializes in Nutritional Sciences and is a professional powerlifter.
  • Eric Helms: Holds an M.S. in Exercise Science and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
  • Mike Israetel, Ph.D.: Co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, he holds a Ph.D. in Sport Physiology.
  • Charles Poliquin: A late strength coach and author who contributed significantly to the field.
  • Mark Rippetoe: A strength training coach and author known for his expertise.
  • Menno Henselmans: Holds an MSc in Business Administration and is a fitness researcher and coach.

These experts have contributed to the understanding of muscle gain and strength training, and their insights have been considered in the formulation of this guide.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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