I was growing increasingly disappointed with my results in the gym, with little to show after 4 years of consistent work. I began to wonder why I wasn’t gaining any muscle when my friends were getting huge.
I knew the term ‘hardgainer was used to describe someone like me, (and I definitely was a hardgainer) but it was years before I actually understood why I found it almost impossible to put on size.
You see, something really got my mind running when I, by chance, heard about a particular study to do with building muscle. Let me break it down for you:
A study recruited 40 men, splitting them in two four groups. The aim of the experiment was to measure what happened to the muscle mass of the participants when the researchers varied whether the men did weight training and / or had testosterone injections over the course of 10 weeks.
The four groups were:
- No training and no testosterone
- Training and no testosterone
- No training and testosterone
- Training and testosterone
Unsurprisingly, the men who both trained and took testosterone built the most muscle, and the men who had neither experienced no changes.
But what shocked me was that, on average, the men who did no exercise, but had testosterone injections put on 50% more muscle than the men who took no testosterone but were doing weight training.
Let that sink in for a second…
They did nothing. No gym, weights, no exercise. Yet they put on 50% more muscle than those who went to the gym consistently over the course of the study. And this isn’t an insignificant amount. 3 kilograms on average.
I couldn’t believe it.
That’s when I started to question whether hitting the gym should be my priority if my goal was to put on size.
After months and months of research I began to realise that the majority of how one looks and feels isn’t determined by how hard they train in gym (although it definitely helps).
Instead, the degree to which you can put on size in the first place is all down to the underlying hormones, like testosterone.
It’s these anabolic hormones which are predominantly responsible for making us look and feel like men. Without them, then a stimulus like weight training has barely any effect. Your hormones haven’t created the right environment on your body to build muscle, so the training barely does anything.
So I came to the conclusion that my lack of progress in the gym was down to low testosterone. Ok, but how could I know for sure?
I decided to spend a bit of money and get a hormone check test.
Quick biology lesson: We all have testosterone floating around our bodies. However, the majority of this testosterone is tied up and bound to another hormone, called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). The testosterone that is not bound to SHBG is called Free Testosterone, and it is this which is actually responsible for anabolic effects in the body.
With that in mind we can move on.
A couple of days after the test I had my results. My testosterone was actually fairly high, at 700ng/dl. However, my SHBG was outside the normal range (actually above it) at 100ng/dl. This in turn meant my Free Testosterone was a measly 0.5, which was also outside the normal range, in fact well below it.
I had finally discovered why I was a hardgainer. Although my actual testosterone was quite high, my SHBG levels were even higher, which meant my free testosterone was abysmal. The same as what you’d expect in a 70 year old man.
It started to make sense.
Your hormones determine how easy it is to put on muscle mass. So if you have phenomenal T-levels then you can do no training (like the third group in the study) but still put on muscle mass no problem.
On the other hand, if your Free Testosterone levels are practically non-existent (like mine) then you’ll find it almost impossible to build muscle mass no matter how much training you do.
So now I knew the problem. But how could I fix it? There was plenty of information on increasing testosterone levels, with literally hundreds of things I could be doing, and hundreds of supplements I could be taking, but how could I know what worked? What was actually having an effect on my testosterone, my SHBG and therefore my free testosterone levels?
That’s when I realised that I could solve this problem by getting regular hormone checks. Then can provide quantitative, exact data on my hormone levels so that I can see what actually works, and what doesn’t.
Each month I pick one variable that research suggests will boost my free testosterone, whether that’s by boosting normal T, or reducing SHBG.
I then check back a month later with the test to see if there has been any change.
This allows me to see what actually works, and what is a waste of time and money.