Q: I recently read this article here related to hardgainers and muscle gain. It says that some hardgainers are easy hardgainers and gain weight easy if they train heavy and eat right. They just have a high protein turnover level, fast metabolism, lots of fast twitch muscle and high thyroid. Most athletes like sprinters are in this category. The other group of hardgainers has less fast twitch muscle fiber and don't grow easily no matter what they do.

I have thin wrists and ankles. I have always been lean and strong, and have been able to jump and run. I am often nervous and pretty energetic. I always thought I was a classic hardgainer but since I started eating well I have added quite a bit of lean mass, just not a bunch of overall mass. What do you think of this? Do you customize a program according to ones somatotype.

I like that article because it relates closely to a lot of the things I've been researching the past several years. In the past, researchers have come up with the somatotype chart, which relegates people to one of three groups depending upon their body structure. Skinny people were called "ectomorphs". Musclar people were called "mesomorphs", and fat people were called "endomorphs". In truth though there are huge variances and combinations between the 3 types. For example, you can have the bone structure of an ectomorph, the muscular characteristics of a mesomorph, and the fat characteristics of an endomorph or any combination thereof.

I always look at training and prescribing training programs as a process of working from the inside out. What is it exactly that gives one a "fast" or a "slow" metabolism? What is it that makes an individual an easy or a hard gainer?

People used to always ask me how they could lose weight or how they could be more athletic, they'd give me examples of people they wanted to be like. For example, overweight women would ask me how they can have the body of Cindy Crawford. Young athletes would ask me how they can have the muscularity and athletic ability of their favorite athlete and what supplements and training regiment they should take to accomplish that objective. I would tell the fat woman, "well how much dieting do you think Cindy Crawford really does?' She'd say..."oh she probably eats whatever she wants". And I'd reply "so if you could get your body to function like hers then you'd be able to melt off the fat and eat whatever you want to right?" Everyone seems to have that friend who eats fast food everyday, yet he/she is still shredded. On the other hand, most of us know people who work out hard and always seem to be on a diet, yet they don’t look as good as they should.

Those who are around upper level sports much will often tell you that the best athletes are that way and their training approach has little to do with it. The elite athlete often didn't do much training to get either his muscularity or athletic ability. So again, if we can get our body to function from the inside out more like that of the elite athletes then we can help realize the expression of our athletic ability. Or if you're skinny...if we can get your physiology set up to function like the guy who grows just looking at a weight then you'll get big and muscular too.

In the future I have planned a series of articles on this topic where I will explore how to truly identify and train according to internal physiology, but to answer your question and give a quick overview, yes, the myth of all hardgainers having the same set of problems is hogwash. There is a big difference between being "lean" and "skinny".

The true hardgainers tend to be skinny, unathletic, weak, have low sex hormone levels and an elevated stress response so they don't tolerate a lot of stress. They also tend to have a small overall number of muscle cells so traditionally the only way they can gain weight is by force feeding it on which allows them to naturally increase their anabolic hormones and provide excessive amounts of fuel for muscle growth.

The "easy" hardgainers you speak of have a very sensitive nervous system and have very good hormone "sensitivity" and often have lots of dormant muscle cells. This allows them to recruit a lot of muscle and also gives them a fast metabolism so they grow easily as long as they eat enough. They are sensitive to everything but particularly testosterone and stimulatory neurochemicals like epinephrine and nor-epinephrine..this makes it nearly impossible for them to gain fat. They will have an abundance of androgen (testosterone) receptors in the central nervous system....their thyroid won't be elevated aove normal but normal thyroid levels are important because it increases the sensitivty of the body to the bodies natural stimulants like nor-epinephrine.

The same things that make one lean also tend to make one quick and potentially strong. Testosterone will increase the density of beta adrenoreceptors (receptors that adrenaline docks to). So you get an individual who's "wired" to be lean and often wired for athletic success with enhanced speed and muscular recruitment due to the sensitivity of their nervous system to the stimulants that our body naturally produces.

Now when it comes to muscle fiber type, fast twitch vs slow twitch, I believe total # of muscle cells is more important for muscle size. When it comes to performance, some of the factors I mentioned above like the sensitivity of the body to natural stimulants are more important then fast twitch muscle fiber number. To illustrate the first point, many champion bodybuilders were very small and lean as children. However, as adults, scientific evidence tells us that bodybuilders muscle cells aren't any bigger then an average persons, they just have more of them. So 2 individuals can have a 10 inch arm but one might have twice the number of muscle cells then the othe guy so the guy with twice the number of cells will grow easier.

We also know that the muscle cell physiology of a bodybuilder resembles that of an endurance athlete more then it does that of a sprinter. So the total # of muscle cells is probably more important then fast twitch muscle fiber number.

To prove the 2nd point, that muscle fiber is less important then other internal factors for performance, you can look at the hand speed, reaction time, and general alertness of a champion Kenyan distance runner, who's muscle physiology has been proven to be 70% or more slow twitch fiber. Put one of these guys on the proper training plan and I'd be willing to bet you could turn him into an explosive athlete - with lots of food and a lot of hard training someone like this could also pack on some decent muscle; In short because most of the important things from the inside out are already optimized for that task except for the muscle fiber number. The alertness, the nervous system sensitivity, the androgen receptor density, ability to tolerate stress etc. are all there.

If one doesn't have many muscle cells they can make up for this with the increased ability to recruit them (nervous system sensitivity) or with elevated levels of sex hormones combined with a decrease in catabolic hormones, which in conjunction with a proper training program can create more muscle cells. The good thing is that most of the important factors are manipulative to a decent extent.

There are quite a few "manipulative" factors that predict how the body expresses itself. Some are manipulative and some are static (can't be changed.) A change in any given factor will affect athletic expression and trainability. This is how I look at somatotyping. Some of these factors are:

Bone Structure and muscular attachments (can't be changed)

muscle cell # (fairly static)

fat cell # (fairly static)

sympathetic vs parasympathetic sensitivity and dominance (manipulative)

Sex hormone levels and sensitivity (manipulative)

Stress response- high vs low (manipulative)

positive stress stimulation (catecholamine or vacation type stress) vs negative stimulation (glucocorticoid or overwork, overworry type stress) - manipulative

DHEA/testosterone vs cortisol ratio (manipulative)

Mentality - Dopamine vs Serotonin (manipulative)

These factors can be identified through observation, questionnaires, and blood test results. With this information we can then identify both the weak and strong point of ones physiology and train and supplement accordingly.

Q: I have been always wondering how do you go about training the taller athelete. Alot of us are basketball players, and we're trying to increase our vertical leap, strength, speed, and power. For example myself im a basketball player and im 6'7" tall i weight about 215 lbs really on the skinny side, and my weight room numbers arent the greatest probably something like 215 squat, 200 bench for a 1 max rep. I was wondering becuase im always training to increase my vertical leap but i never see the type gains i want to and now i got about 12 weeks till the season and im hoping to get a good 5-6 inches on my vertical leap (currently 24 inches), what would you reccomend? Also how do you go about doing conditioning work? becuase when i just lift and dont do conditioning i always come out really out of shape. Thanks

A: The only thing I change with taller athletes is more of a focus on unilateral exercise variations in the gym and more of a focus on basic reactive movement efficiency exercises. Many taller athletes have trouble performing movements like the squat so I use a lot of split squats in conjunction with the regular hip extension work.

Interestingly enough, a tall person will gain a disproportionate amount of power for a given increase in strength because of their longer limbs. Or in other words, if you're 6'6, all things being equal, a 20 lb increase in your full squat will translate into more sports improvement then someone who's 5 foot tall because of the leverage differences. So I make sure that the tall athlete realizes that getting strong down low pays off.

I've been told by colleagues that the rate of back problems for talldivision I and NBA basketball players is astronomical. Whether this is from exercise design or inherent structure I don't know but for some reason tall athletes have a huge incidence of not only back problems but injuries in general so it's better to be safe then sorry and err on the side of caution when using high loading or high force exercises like depth jump variations. Always make sure you can perform every set of every exercise with perfect form.

Also keep in mind that whenever you see a great athlete who is also tall often the main reason they're great is because they move like a smaller person. Blaming a lack of footwork, coordination, or whatever on being tall is an excuse that will get you nowhere and the bad thing is that it's an accepted excuse by coaches and athletes everywhere. "Oh he doesn't move well but he doesn't need to because he's so big and tall". Or "Oh I don't need to be as quick and light on my feet as the smaller guys because I make up for it in height" Bullshit! The further up you go the more you see the big guys move like the smaller guys so don't wait until it's too late to get light on your feet. There is huge potential for most tall athletes to improve their basic movement efficiency so take advantage of it. Jump rope, single leg hops, dot drills, low squat bounces etc. in combination with a properly designed strength training program will pay off.

As for conditioning I think if you read through some of my past q&a's you'll find some good info there but as a basketball player the best thing you can do is get out on the court once or twice per week. Two full court sessions per week will be enough to keep you within easy striking distance of where you need to be. Even one session per week will maintain most of your conditioning. Any more then 2 full court sessions weekly though and you're venturing over into territory where you're probably gonna compromise some potential gains.

I have a couple questions that i've been pondering on:

what do you think of jumpsoles? i've heard that walking in them around the house is good. is this true?

what do you think of the "50 rhythmic squats" like on tempo, other exercises in that session, or maybe not even to do them.

Eccentric overload. should i work up to this? slower and slower eccentrics until i don't get sore first? is it dangerous to do overloads?

I was in high school attending a sports camp at Texas A&M University one summer when jumpsoles or strength shoes were first being introduced. A salesman showed up at the camp and picked one of the campers randomly and had him jump up and put a piece of tape on the backboard. He then had the camper put on this funky looking pair of shoes and had him do a few random drills for about 5 minutes. Remember these shoes were just being introduced so nobody really knew what they were for. Anyway, the salesman then had the athlete take the funky shoes off and put his regular shoes back on. He (the salesman) told the guy to go jump up again and put another piece of tape on the backboard. He did and it was amazing because his vertical jump had increased by a good 4 inches! I'm sure everyone at that camp, including yours truly, ended up purchasing a pair of those damn shoes.

Ok now sort've on the same story during that same camp a couple of days later we had the opportunity to check out A&M's sports training facility and got to sit in on a seminar with their strength and conditioning coach. Someone asked him about "strength shoes" and he said he'd never heard of them but felt pretty confident that what they could do with sound training methods could surpass any gimmicks. He then brought out one of their linebackers, John Roper, who would later play for the Raiders, to demonstrate. He had Roper jump from a standstill effortlessly on to a 48 inch box. Simple and hard training with no gimmicks. Nothing has really changed (except maybe the level of athletes on A&M's football team!).

The reason that guy increased his vertical jump within minutes so dramatically is because of a neurological phenomenon where his nervous system was "tricked" into recruiting more fiber by the weight of the shoes and the dynamic stretching he was putting on his achilles. If you're gonna use them they can be useful for helping you emphasize the feel of proper positioning on the balls of your feet and develop calf flexibility but studies haven't shown they do anything that regular training won't do. In fact one study showed the platform shoe group actually gained less then a group who did the same routine without the shoes and they had a lot more injuries. If you're gonna get a pair anyway I recommend you just use them during your initial warm-ups and go ahead and wear them around the house if you want to. There's just no need to train with them on because you're just risking injury.

50 rep rhythmic squats- I can't comment because I've never used them.

Eccentric overloads- For sports performance you generally only want to do eccentric focused training in sets of 1 rep preferably in combination with weight releasers. Generally you want to take about 6 seconds per rep. Anybody can do eccentric focused training but you need a good training background before you start doing supramaximal eccentric training with loads over your 1rm because the risk of injury can be fairly high particularly if you're already strong but not used to handling near limit loads.