This article is not for those of you who want the skinny, 160 pound six pack look. If that's your goal you might as well click away because you won't find help here.
Let's get something straight...food is anabolic. It should be used to your benefit. If you are training your cajones off in the gym but not eating enough, guess what? Right, you get it: you will cut your gains short.
So many bulks fail. You see it time and time again on forums. There are only a few reasons this occurs:
Not eating enough food. This is the most common reason bulks fail. These types of bulks are not generally called "bulks." The lifter usual has some unusually fear of fat gain, so he walks a tight line with his food intake and gains no weight at all.
This wasn't a real bulk attempt. It was more of a personal fairy tale; an attempt to find some amazingly quick way of packing on 30 pounds of muscle while also losing fat. This won't happen unless you're a muscle building freak of nature who can gain arm size by simply rolling dumbbells around on the floor.
Not progressing in weight. You can eat all the food you want, but if you're not aggressively pursuing strength increases in common hypertrophy (muscle building) rep ranges, all you're going to do is gain fat. Simply stated, a bulk without progression is a fat gain program.
Don't Fear The Bulk
A properly structure bulk isn't going to turn you into a sumo wrestler. Yes, you might see a weight spike the first week or two, but this generally isn't fat gain, so stop panicking. When you start bulking, and eating more calories, a few things occur:
Carb Intake Increases Water Weight
Bulking generally involves eating more daily carbs. Extra carb intake increases bodyweight in several ways. First, your bloodstream with carry more water on average, due to the fact that it is trying to dilute the sugar running through your system.
Second, extra water in the bloodstream leads to increased sodium retention. You are also eating more sodium than you did pre-bulk, due to increased food intake. This combination leads to more fluid in your kidneys, and more overall water retention.
Lastly, increased carb intake leads to more intra-cellular water. This extra water retention can cause some nice dramatic swings on the scale, especially if you are moving from a cut to a bulk.
More Food Equals More Waste
Eating more food means you are processing more waste. Bottom line...at any given moment you have a greater degree of raw materials in your system.
The Bottom Line
Don't panic. When you start a bulk you are probably going to gain weight the first week or two. This is not fat. Relax. Most of it is water and waste.
The Importance Of Strength Gains
Before we get into tips on how to properly bulk, let's take a moment to reiterate what was stated earlier:
A bulk without rapid strength gains is merely a fat gaining plan. End of story.
You must attempt to maximize every set. Never waste a set! Keeping good form, perform as many reps as possible on each set. Stop a set when either your form starts to slip, or you feel you might fail on the next rep.
There is no need to train to failure. Progression is important, not failure. When you reach the top rep range for your set, add weight. Easy.
Rinse and repeat this pattern in conventional hypertrophy rep ranges, generally 5-12 reps per set, and you will build muscle during your bulk. Waste sets and don't focus on progression, and you will simply waste your bulk.
How Strong Is Strong?
You don't need to get as strong as an elite powerlifter to build muscle, but you also can't mess around with slow progress. The following are first year goals.
- Bench Press - 225 pounds
- Squat - 300 pounds
- Deadlift - 400 pounds
If you are well short of these strength levels, something is seriously broken. Either you aren't trying hard enough, eating enough food to encourage strength gains, doing 20 hours of cardio a week, or a combination of one of the three.
In any case, if it's broken you need to take a long look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about what is wrong. These are not Herculean strength levels. Beyond year one, your next mission is to progress as hard and fast as you can until you reach the following:
- Bench Press - 300 pounds
- Squat - 400 pounds
- Deadlift - 500 pounds
Nearly everyone - and I do mean everyone - who lifts for size should be able to hit these strength levels. It might take 2 years, and it might take 5 years, but if you are not experiencing consistent monthly strength gains and making good strides towards these numbers, then something is (once again) broken.
But, But, But!
No "buts" allowed. I've been in the lifting game for over two decades. I've seen the work habits, drive and determination of those that are successful - they get the job done. They don't make excuses, progress consistently, eat what they need to eat, and build muscle at a (seemingly) alarming rate.
On the other hand, for every lifter like this who packs on muscle at a fast rate, there are also 500 frustrated forum members who continue to maintain mediocre physiques.
Oh, they say all the right things and have all the right programs. They might even rarely miss workouts. But at the end of the day their lack of results simply boils down to wet noodle drive.
4 years in and they are squatting 225 pounds, have not reached 200 on the bench press, and have alternated between 22 cycles of bulking and cutting. These types of lifters deload every time they have an average workout, which is frequently, and switch workout programs more than they change pairs of underwear.
Here's a simple rule to remember:
If you're not making consistent progress, something is broken.
People who are stalling, or experiencing a period of sub-par progress almost always have something broken. It might be their eating plan, it might be a wimpy approach to progression, it might be too many missed workouts - but something is ALWAYS broken.
It's easy to find what's broken for beginners in no time. When someone states they aren't making gains, ask the following questions:
- How many calories and grams of protein are you eating per day? If they waffle before providing an answer, they are guessing. If they say I am eating healthy, they have no clue. Even if they do know, 9 times out of 10 they aren't over 3000 calories per day. Not many young lifters can come close to gaining weight with this paltry amount of food intake.
- What does your progression scheme look like? People love to create unique workout plans. It's like picking and choosing from a buffet - a little of this on chest day, a little of that on leg day. Guess what? A list of exercises is not a muscle building program. Progression is key, and without knowing HOW you will progress, all you've made is a ineffective list of your favorite exercises. Believe it or not, 95% of people asked this question have no concrete, rigid progression plan. They just kind of add weight here and there - on occasion. When they feel like it. If they feel like it.
- How often are you missing workouts? Um, um, um...not often. Don't lie. Let's be honest. You've missed at least one workout every week for the last 9 months. You deload every third week, take a few extra days off here and there to change programs, and take long weekends every time you feel a minor ache or pain.
There are other things common wrong, such as avoidance of the most effective exercises (squats, deadlifts, etc), trying to add endless amounts of volume and training sessions, especially for biceps and chest, and focusing too much on advanced training protocols when they should just be focused on getting stupid strong.
So enough blather. Here's how to bulk to build muscle as quickly as possible.
Bulking Plan Tips For Muscle Building
1) Eat enough food. Stop trying to eating like a stage-shredded bodybuilder. Can't eat enough? Consume calorie dense foods and drinks. Avoid low fat this and that. Eat the egg yolks, and drink your whole milk. Add butter and olive oil, cheese and sour cream.
2) Stop trying to micromanage ratios and macros. Just get your protein and calories in. Carbs and fats will take care of themselves.
3) Structure your eating around your habits and needs! If you are hungry, eat. If you need large meals post-workout, eat. Listen to your body and eat when you feel hungry. This is a far better option than sticking to someone's random eating plan.
4) Choose a good program. Pick a workout plan with a track record; something that is popular and has worked for many lifters. By choosing a proven plan you will know that if something's broken, it's either lack of a focus on progression on your part, or lack of proper food intake.
5) Gain weight at a proper rate. Natural lifters should aim to gain about 1.5 to 2 pounds per month during their first year, 1 to 1.5 pounds per month during their second year, and 0.5 to 1 pound per month during year three.
On average. It's OK to add SOME fat. A good bulk will not turn you into a sumo wrestler. A good bulk will not result in a 50 pound fat gain per year. If you add fat too quickly, cut your calories by 300 per day and reassess.
6) Supplements are not evil. Some members of the lifting community like to lump all food supplements into a big pile called snake oil. This is a ridiculous practice, and helps no one. There are plenty of helpful supplements, from creatine to pre-workout formulas to sleep aids. Do research, ask questions and ignore generalizations.
7) Focus on one goal at a time. Why not try to lose fat AND build muscle at the same time? Good question: because it's inefficient for most. You might gain a little muscle while losing some fat, or if you're young, hormonal and training hard, you might gain more muscle while losing fat, but you're still cutting your gains short.
Build, build, build. When people start asking what your secrets are, then it may be time to cut. Until that point, keep bulking!