So, you have landed at this article with the ultimate goal to bulk up and build muscle!
Maybe you’re a beginner, just starting out and looking to pack on muscle – or perhaps consider yourself an intermediate or even advanced gym-goer. Regardless of experience and how long you have been lifting, this article is a true “one-stop guide” that includes tips, best practices, and procedures to bulk up and gain slabs of lean muscle mass to help you take your weight training to the next level.
With my real-world experience and scientifically-backed studies, you will learn how to plan your strength training program, learn what and how you should eat, and establish whether you eat enough so you can start to gain muscle with limited fat gain and stop spinning your wheels.
What is Bulking?
Whether you have just started weight training or been at it for donkey’s years, you will have heard the terms bulking and cutting thrown around by fellow gym-goers.
In short, the term bulking is a building muscle phase that requires keeping your daily caloric food intake above what your body burns per day – we call this a “caloric surplus.”
While cutting, on the other hand, the goal is to lose fat while retaining muscle. We consume fewer calories during a cut than what our body burns per day – a caloric deficit.
The formula of a successful bulk for muscle mass
Three major factors create the formula of a successful bulking program. Caloric surplus, progressive overload, and finally, Rest! – yep, getting that all-important beauty sleep is crucial.
We will delve more deeply into each of these factors in this article. But in summary, if you strive to incorporate all three aspects of the formula in your bulking program – You will essentially create the perfect anabolic environment for your body to gain weight, pack on muscle mass and most importantly, not waste time.
Suppose you have fallen victim to following some elaborate guide to “add 20lbs of muscle in just eight weeks” by a fitness guru online, selling his “secrets” in the form of an e-book. It is this that is the perfect recipe for wasting time and your hard-earned money.
Can you build muscle without bulking?
As with the formula above – To build muscle, the body requires surplus energy. This energy comes from the food we eat, and as we know, the term “bulk” means to consume more calories than our body uses each day.
An individual who has been hitting the gym for more than a year (and assuming there are following a well-planned routine for hypertrophy) will find that they need to increase their calories to continue progression with muscle growth.
This additional requirement of food does not mean stuff your face until you feel physically sick – this is a surefire way to failure.
But with calories being one of the three crucial parts of the formula for muscle hypertrophy – if done right, even with a conservative surplus of 500 to 1000 calories per week – will flick the “anabolic switch” back on.
Combined with a suitable hypertrophy training program, consuming these extra calories keep the anabolic switch “on.”
Is bulking the best way to build muscle?
While better suited for the more advanced individuals who can dedicate all their efforts to their training, diet, and lifestyle – an alternative to bulking is to follow a body recomposition style plan instead. Which, in summary, is an approach to lose fat while gaining muscle at the same time.
Note that there is nothing magic about a body recomp – it still follows the laws of building muscle combining the formula to lose fat, but instead “cutting” on X and bulking on Y days per week.
If we compare the two, a bulk will be your best shot at netting maximum muscle growth during the time set out in your goals.
With that said, if you are an untrained individual just starting lifting, you are in a unique position. Beginners can gain muscle mass while reducing fat much more efficiently (body recomposition).
However, regardless of your position, you will experience more remarkable progress by committing to a bulk. This will better take advantage of your position after having started your new fitness venture.
For someone who has just started weight training
For beginners who have just started to hit the gym, cleaned up their diet, and increased their protein intake – regardless of their starting body fat percentage, will usually gain muscle and lose body fat simultaneously without much fuss.
In the bodybuilding world, this is known as “newbie gains.”
It boils down to that, once the person starts resistance training, the body is thrown into a new regime it is not used to. The body must quickly adapt and repair the micro tears caused by weight training, which subsequently stimulates the muscle to become both bigger and stronger.
Research has shown that someone who has never lifted weights before will experience a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis post-workout for a more extended period of time and their bodies being more sensitive to this new stimulus.
Furthermore, untrained individuals will usually be well below the natural limit of skeletal muscle their body can carry.
How much can a newbie expect to gain?
With the proper diet and weight training plan, it’s not unreasonable to expect an untrained individual to gain anywhere from 10 to 20 lbs of lean muscle tissue in their first year – The higher end of the scale being those more “genetically gifted” and/or following a strict bulking diet and weight training approach.
As you would expect, these muscle growth gains start to taper off over time, and as our body approaches its genetic limit of the amount of muscle it can hold, which varies from person to person.
For instance, a natural athlete who has been lifting religiously, following a strict plan, after 2 or 3 years, might expect to gain only 2 or 3 lbs of lean tissue per year. Compare this to a more experienced lifter with 5+ years under his belt might consider a 0.5 to 1lbs increase of lean muscle tissue per year an acceptable achievement.
Should you bulk now or cut first?
There is no literature to say muscle growth won’t occur for people above X body fat – Remember the three rules of the formula we have spoken about above?
Yep, don’t matter if you are 10% or even 35% body fat – you will still gain muscle mass by following all three key points of the formula. With that said, it doesn’t make it’s the best and the most optimal choice.
It all comes down to your goals in what you are looking to achieve – just look at powerlifters.
These guys spend most of their day (when not in the gym) shoveling calories into their bodies with the primary goal to build muscle to get stronger. Powerlifters seldom care too much about how much body fat they are gaining, especially when they are training for an event they are competing in.
Typically a powerlifter will consume more than 10,000 calories per day when prepping for a competition. They will typically consume 23 calories per pound of body weight during the off-season to maintain their body weight.
So, for fun, let’s take Brian Shaw as an example weighing approx 440lbs. His bodyweight x 23 calories equate to a total of 10,102 calories per day.
Anyway, back on the subject, should you bulk or cut… I will assume most people have landed here intending to build muscle mass while keeping aesthetics in mind. An optimal body fat percentage to consider starting a bulking phase is between 8 and 12% – This for two key reasons.
The first reason
The most obvious (and in my opinion the most important). With starting at a higher body fat percentage, the muscle gains you make during your bulking phase will be challenging to see when masked behind a thicker layer of fat.
While there is no doubt this muscle gain exists and will have been added to your frame, you may feel underwhelmed with the result you see in the mirror. What’s more, once you meet your desired weight set out when you started your bulk – you will be spending many more weeks (if not months), battling with losing the extra fat accumulated during the bulk, before you finally see the results of muscle mass gained.
Note that the longer time spent cutting will increase the chances of eating into your hard-earned lean muscle tissue gained with your bulking phase.
Longer lean bulks and shorter cuts are the most significant way to succeed in achieving your goals.
And the second
Starting with a higher than optimal body fat percentage of 12% and above becomes counterproductive as it increases chronic inflammation levels as well as lowing testosterone and growth hormone.
With this in mind, choosing to pursue a bulk while starting with a higher than favored body fat percentage will result in a higher fat to muscle gain than if you started in the lower, more optimal range.
Typically, natural testosterone and growth hormone levels are higher in people with lower body fat percentages than those with a higher. The higher levels of these hormones will help your body store less fat and build more muscle during your bulk.
The key take-away point here – Starting with a higher than optimal body fat percentage will more likely result in a lower muscle to fat ratio. You will later spend extra time burning off to reveal the muscle gained during your bulking phase.
how much muscle can you expect to gain each month when bulking?
If you have been following a guide from a “fitness guru” or taking a supplement that “promises” quick results by adding slabs of meat to your frame naturally, in an unrealistic time scale, then think again.
Are you one of these guys?… start an amazing new program that promises you the world; weeks later, such results are not achieved, so therefore, go back to the drawing board looking for yet another fad diet/workout plan.
If you are… STOP!
The critical point of a successful bulking program is to manage expectations and not to get ahead of yourself – there is a limit to building muscle naturally, which should be respected and understood.
With the proper nutrition and hypertrophy training plan – your average male athlete should expect to gain between 1 and 2 lbs of muscle per month, with a woman being approximately half of that (0.5 to 1 lbs per month).
The figures above, bear in mind, I am quoting lean muscle tissue here and not the inevitable additional weight from extra water weight, glycogen, and body fat accumulated.
We could all jump on the “see food and eat” it wagon and gain 10lbs in a month… but trust me, you will be regretting it. Those extra calories are not improving your chances of what is needed to build muscle.
Will my body type influence my progress?
Ah, “body types”… something people (especially new/inexperienced lifters get hung up on).
To learn more let’s quickly touch on each of the three body types (somatotypes), what they are, and their characteristics.
Skinny usually taller people who find it hard to add weight and muscle to their frame.
Known to have a fast metabolism and usually have little visual body fat.
Don’t have much in the way of muscle mass.
In terms of skeletal frame, their body is long with narrow hips and shoulders.
Usually have more muscle than fat on their body
Find it easy to build muscle mass
Tend to have a medium frame with a longer torso and shorter limbs
They are usually strong with a solid muscle density.
Said to have more body fat than muscle
Usually overweight and rounder but not necessarily obese.
Find it hard to manage their weight and find it easy to gain body fat.
Store the majority of their weight in their lower abdomen.
Medium to large bone structure
So, where does all the fuss of somatotypes come from?
This all stems from a study that a scientist by the name of William Sheldon led in 1940. At this time, Sheldon released his book detailing the research and his findings – the book was named “The varieties of human physique.”
The book explained how all people on earth could be categorised into three main body types (also known as somatotypes). In the years following its release, the book and theory were heavily discredited and criticised by other expert scientists… and for a good reason!
Nevertheless, somatotypes are still strongly referenced by so-called “experts” in the fitness world to influence or manipulate one’s training and/or diet regime to meet their goals.. which is absurd.
Will my body type affect my goals?
Planning your goals by determining your somatotype is a surefire way to failure.
People who place themselves into one of these groups (usually Ectomorph or Endomorph) before they have even started tend to have a defeatists attitude, and they think they are a “hard-gainer”.
With this mindset, they are adamant it won’t be possible for them to build the muscle and/or lose the fat to reach the desired physique.
Sure, some people have better genetics than others which allows them to build muscle faster, and for some, they can lose fat more efficiently.
However, I can’t stress enough:
“A body type should not take charge to determine your potential for what you can achieve!”
Don’t listen to these so-called experts who strongly reference and demonstrate ways to diet and train based on sametotypes in order to put on muscle!
You must base your training and diet on your goal, NOT your body type.
If you want to build muscle, you must eat in a caloric surplus and train efficiently.
If you want to lose fat you must diet and eat in a caloric deficit.
In summary, the idea of 3 main body types that each person can be categorised into should be disregarded. Just concentrate on the three fundamental rules with building muscle to progress with your training, and don’t obsess over somatotypes.
I’m Skinny Fat How Should I Bulk?
Unlike somatotypes, skinny fat does exist and should be considered. Often individuals in this position will debate whether they should first cut before bulking or just jump to the bulk off the bat.
What is a skinny fat physique?
Someone with a “skinny fat” physique tends to appear slim or even skinny when clothed. However, under clothing show to carry a higher percentage of body fat.
Such individuals typically have skinny arms and legs with low muscle mass while usually accumulating fat around their belly and waistline.
Usually, their body mass index (BMI) will be normal, although they could be holding a little more fat than what might be considered “healthy”.
See also: What size arms are considered big?
Should I bulk or cut first?
This is probably the most significant dilemma for skinny fat people with how they should best proceed to reach their goals.
Such individuals are usually worried about gaining extra fat by choosing to bulk – on the other hand, with choose to cut, becoming skinny with very little muscle mass to show for.
If you recall, as discussed in the newbie gains section of this article. We demonstrated how typically an untrained athlete could exploit this position, despite maybe being a little overweight. They have a much greater chance to build muscle and lose weight simultaneously.
The same holds true for someone who is skinny fat, because, usually, these individuals have never set foot in the gym. With this, they will likely have a poor diet consisting of little protein and more carbs/sugars.
If you are skinny fat, in my honest opinion – DON’T CUT.
First, get on a lean bulk with a conservative surplus of 5 to 10%. Ensure you are getting plenty of quality protein, good clean carbs, and essential fats. Train hard, incorporating compound exercises and a progressive overload into your training program.
Follow all of this, and you will gain muscle mass fast (in contrast to an experienced lifter).
We will delve deeper with regards to nutrition and training later in this article to better learn how to apply this to your bulk to reach your goal.
See also: Lean bulking Macros with more info on how to minimise fat gain while bulking.
Now we are at an exciting point within the article – as we know, we are never going to bulk efficiently without putting ample energy into our bodies.
Simply put, if you have hit a roadblock and now struggling to progress – you are likely not eating enough!
You might have heard of the old saying, “Building muscle starts in the kitchen” – yea, a little cliché, but mostly resonates true, especially in more experienced lifters.
Should I lean bulk or dirty bulk?
Again, as we have said already – we need to put our bodies into a caloric surplus if we wish to add extra lean muscle mass to our bodies. However, there is a “point of diminishing returns” where too much will not help build muscle but, instead, stored as body fat.
Before we delve too deep into this, let’s first explore two approaches. “Dirty bulk” and “lean bulk”.
Dirty Bulking – with dirty bulking, you’re not concerned with the types of calories you are consuming and whether you’re going over the optimal caloric surplus.
Lean bulk – most of the calories you eat will come from clean, whole foods usually lower in sugar and saturated fats. Typically, when on a lean bulk you will consume a 200 to 500 calorie surplus.
So what method should you go with?
I will always recommend a lean bulk – It’s the more sensible option that will lead to better lean muscle gains while mitigating fat accumulation throughout the bulking period.
With that said, a dirty bulk has its place – “horses for courses” and all that…
If you are looking to gain size and strength fast, not caring too much about gaining excess fat and counting calories (taking a “powerlifting approach”) – then yes, a dirty bulk will work for you.
Will you gain more lean muscle tissue if following good nutrition with a lean bulk vs dirty bulk? – Yes, probably.
Will you gain more unwanted body fat you will later have to spend extra time cutting to lose with the dirty bulk approach vs lean bulking? – Yes, pretty much a given!
There you have it, make your decision based on your goals and these facts.
Determine starting weight
To work out the calories needed to build muscle, we need to determine your starting body weight. Ensure you have some reliable digital weighing scales!
Our body weight fluctuates day to day, depending on how much we eat, drink, and the amount of water our body stores. So, the best way to get an accurate starting weight is to weigh yourself in the morning, after using the toilet for five consecutive days. Note your weight each morning.
We now need to obtain an average body weight for the recordings of these five days. To do this, add together each reading for the 5 days, divide this total by 5 (the number of consecutive days you logged weighing yourself). Below is an example:
Monday – 202 lbs
Tuesday – 200 lbs
Wednesday – 198 lbs
Thursday – 203 lbs
Friday – 197lbs
TOTAL: 1000 lbs
Divided by 5: 200lbs average
So, with the example illustrated, we have 200 lbs as our starting weight.
how to calculate calories needed for bulking (TDEE)
Now that we have our starting weight, we need to determine our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). In layman’s terms, the TDEE is the number of calories our body burns each day to function and keep us alive.
When we breathe, our hearts beat or even digest food. The body is burning calories – Look at it like you would a car. Without fuel (food we eat in this analogy) the engine would not run—the engine in this case representing the organs and anatomy which make up the human body.
People’s TDEE will vary depending on how active their job is, how often they exercise, age and gender, to name a few.
For instance, an individual with a desk job who does not take part in recreational sports might have a TDEE of 2500 or less – on the other hand, someone who works on their feet all day with an active lifestyle may have a TDEE of 3500 or above.
Now that we understand what the TDEE is and why it’s essential – Use the calculator below to determine your TDEE.
how many calories needed to bulk?
With a lean bulk view – To establish how many calories you should shoot for each day, take your TDEE calculated in the last step and start by adding 200 calories.
If you are not already, I strongly suggest using an app like MyFitnessPal to track your calories and macros. It’s free and will save bundles of time having to keep track manually.
While the TDEE calculation is an excellent ballpark to obtain an average – person to person, it could vary.
For this reason, after around 2 weeks, weigh yourself again (1 week is too little time to determine an accurate direction).
If you have gained an average of 0.5 to 1lb of total bodyweight per week – great, you are doing just fine. Continue as you are.
If you have not gained any weight, then add another 200 calories each day to your diet. Rinse repeat until the scale starts to move, ideally keeping between 0.5 and 1 lbs of body weight per week gained.
If you gain to fast, do the opposite, drop 200 calories, and re-evaluate till you hit that all so important 0.5 to 1 lbs sweet spot.
Once you do find your sweet spot – in time, you will need to increase your calories again as you add mass to your body. When this happens, and the weight gain slows, add another 200 calories per day to your meal plan.
This method will allow you to bulk for months – yes, the muscle gained will come slow, but remember what we said above about the point of diminishing returns?
Not that just because you are force-feeding surplus calories into your body, It does not mean this energy is exclusively shuttled into your muscles. The further maintenance calories are exceeded, the more excess energy will be stored as body fat.
Calculate my macros for bulking
Now that we know how many calories are required to consume per day for lean bulking, we need to determine the breakdown of daily macronutrients.
These three macronutrients are, of course – protein, carbohydrate and fat.
I have helpfully included a calculator below to provide you with the totals you need to shoot for each day, but let’s first explore the formula used to calculate macros distribution.
For this illustration, let’s assume a 200 lbs person’s weight, lean bulking on a 250 calorie surplus on top of their BMR (3100 calories). So, in this instance, this person will be aiming for 3350 calories per day (BMR of 3100 + their surplus of 250 calories).
First, we need to know how many calories are in 1g of each macronutrient.
1g Protein = 4 calories
1g Carbohydrate = 4 calories
1g Fat = 9 calories
Next, we need to know how many grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat we should aim for each day.
The optimal amount of protein required per day to promote muscle growth is 1 gram per 1 lb of body weight.
So, with a 200 lbs individual, they will require 200 grams of protein per day.
200 g of protein equates to 800 calories (200g protein x 4 calories)
The optimal amount of carbohydrates per day is between 1.5 to 2 grams per lbs of bodyweight – this depends on how active you are, how often you train, and your lifestyle.
For our illustrative example, let’s take 1.75 grams of carbs per 1 lb of bodyweight – so, for our 200 lbs person, they will need 350g of carbs per day.
350g of carbohydrates equates to 1400 calories (350g carbs x 4 calories)
Now that we have calculated both protein and carb requirements, we need to use the remaining calories to determine our fat intake.
To do this, take the total calories we aim for each day for our lean bulk – 3350.
Subtract from this total the calories of protein (800) and carbs (1400) as calculated previously – 3350 – 800 – 1400 = 1150
So, we now have our number of 1100 calories per day that should be consumed from fats.
To calculate how many grams of fat we need to consume, we must divide 1150 by 9 (as there is 9 calories in 1 gram of fat). 1150 divided by 9 equals 128g of fat.
To summarise, we have now calculated the breakdown of the macros required for a 200lbs individual requiring 3350 calories each day as:
Protein: 200 grams
Carbs: 350 grams
Fat: 128 grams
Note that these numbers are starting points, and in most cases, will be sufficient. However, you can adjust carbs and fats as you see fit for your training and lifestyle – just ensure you keep your protein intake at 1 gram per 1lbs of body weight and adjust as you gain weight.
What should I eat to bulk up?
Now that we have determined the total protein, carbohydrates and fat we should be aiming for each day, it would only be sensible to establish from what foods sources the majority should come from.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for building and preserving a multitude of body tissues, not limited to just muscle. It consists of amino acids, which are the vital ingredients for building muscle mass.
Carbohydrate dense foods are vital for feeding your muscles. Carbs will be converted to glycogen which is stored within your muscles. Glycogen essentially is a type of energy stored in muscles you will need to fuel your workouts efficiently.
Fat is essential for maintaining good testosterone and growth hormone levels and regulating blood glucose levels.
Protein sources for bulking
The optimal dietary protein consumption to aim for each day is, as we said already, 1g/lb of body weight.
Like with surplus calories when bulking, going overboard on protein starts to become overkill.
There becomes a point of diminishing returns in that the extra protein is wasted and no longer promotes an increase in protein synthesis.
With that said, there is no harm with erring on the side of caution. Just note that overeating protein will not turn you into the hulk.
The table below lists some good clean sources of protein and the amount of protein they contain.
Carbohydrate sources for bulking
When bulking, we want to consume most carbs from high-quality, nutritious sources (complex) and limit simple carbs. From those found in oats, brown rice, and vegetables, complex carbs are slower digesting, leading to lower and more stable blood glucose levels and a less significant insulin release.
That is not to say you must eliminate simple carbohydrates; you should predominantly time your simple carbs around pre and post-workout.
In addition to this, for someone who has a high TDEE above 3500 calories and/or an active job, they may find it hard to “stomach” an abundance of complex carbs – which inherently “keep you fuller for longer”. Which, when bulking, can become an issue.
However, consider white rice, white pasta, or white bread, for example, rather than a candy bar or can of coke!
And here are some excellent complex carb sources you should include in your bulking meal plan.
Fat sources for bulking
For the most part, we are looking to eat “good fats” – it’s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it, especially when your goal is to “lean” bulk! But it’s true, fat food sources are vital for your bulking diet and key to maintaining good hormone levels such as testosterone… and I’m sure I don’t need to go into more detail about how important this hormone is with building muscle mass.
And a list of these all so healthy fats you should be incorporating into your diet:
what vegetables are good for bulking
You should include a portion of veggies or fruit in at least 3 of your daily meals. Good leafy vegetables contain an abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, and micronutrients known to help release muscle soreness after a workout.
What supplements to take for bulking
There are hundreds if of “bulking supplements for muscle growth” available across the health industry—a multi-billion dollar industry (easily excess of $100 billion per year globally).
With those facts aside, what supplement to gain muscle mass should we use? The answer… strictly speaking, is none!
That’s right; you don’t need to spend any cash on supplements – in fact, a well-thought-out diet and meal plan should have you covered for all the vitals you need.
The caveat here is that most people reading this article, like me, have a full-time job and lifestyle that makes it hard to hit daily protein targets every day of the week – not to mention the lack of time to cook up healthy protein-packed meals 4 to 5 times per day.
This is where supplementing can shine – now, I’m a believer with practicing what I preach. For this reason, I will detail the only 2 supplements I use when bulking that are scientifically studied, proven to help with attaining muscle growth combined with weight training.
There is just too much “snake oil” on the market and thrown around the internet that does absolutely nothing, other than burn a hole in your wallet.
The first and most apparent supplement used by just about every gym-goer is whey protein.
Contrary to popular belief, Whey protein powder does not harm the liver or kidneys (unless pre-existing damage to these organs is present).
As discussed in the article already, it’s optimal to consume 1g protein per every 1 lb body weight each day.
For these reasons, Whey protein is a quick, convenient, and cost-effective approach to make up any shortfall with daily protein requirements.
In summary, if you are struggling to hit your daily protein goals, then for you, whey protein is the best supplement for building muscle mass.
Our bodies produce creatine naturally but is also found in meat, namely chicken, red meat, and fish. However, eating enough to experience the equivalent advantages you would with supplementing creatine through diet alone is difficult due to the volumes of creatine-rich foods required.
Creatine is scientifically proven (Study) to increase strength and power in athletes by ramping ATP production – which is perfect for individuals who weight train.
ATP is stored in our muscles and used as a source of energy. So, the more ATP in your muscles, the more energy is present to better fuel your workouts, hopefully enabling you to squeeze that extra rep which might not have been possible without supplementation.
Its worth mentioning that once your body is saturated with creatine, there are no additional benefits with using more, so a typical dose of 3 to 5 grams is ample. Don’t bother with a “loading phase”, its pointless and has been debunked.
A final note on Creatine… its pretty cheap as well as beneficial for strength training – If you do decide to try creatine, ensure you are using Creatine monohydrates. Don’t fall victim to some overpriced “stack” containing a cocktail of unnecessary extra ingredients.
how to get more calories when bulking
For the average Joe, starting out or wanting to take their training to the next level, should not find it too challenging to hit their all-important daily calorie target.
However, it’s essential to recognise that not everyone has a manageable ~3000 calorie target.
For those who have an active job, working on their feet along with a busy, active lifestyle might require 4000+ calories each day.
Now let’s also assume this same person has been training and dieting properly for a year or more; they could require an excess of 4500 calories each day to continue to progress.
In these circumstances, we need quick, easy techniques to get these essential calories into our body without going overboard with “junk food”.
Note I said “overboard” – when bulking, if you find yourself particularly low on your calorie target towards the end of the day, there is no issue with knocking back some Ben and Jerries ice cream once in a while to make up for those “missing” calories you so need.
This does not mean chug down a tub of Phish food every day! But in circumstances where someone requires quite a substantial daily target, the next best way to get these calories in is to knock up your very own protein-packed, weight gainer shake (while keeping junk to a minimum).
For those who are regularly on the move and might struggle to eat regularly – Unsalted nuts are a great option to get those calories in quickly.
Nuts are high in healthy fats as well as protein – for instance, 50 grams of almonds contains 310 calories and 15 grams of protein – for this reason, they are a perfect fit to use to reach your target.
how should you train when bulking
Should you use compound lifts, isolation, time under tension? How often should you train each muscle group per week and what splits are the best?
These are just some of the questions asked when someone wants to make the best possible gains during a bulk.
Well, you will find all answers to these questions in this section below.
There are countless ways to train during a bulk; however, the key objective is to train to create enough stress to your muscles to create microtears as a stimulus for them to repair and grow bigger and stronger. As progression is achieved, you must add weight to the bar to retain the same level of stress to the muscles to keep them in this growth state.
This is known as a “progressive overload” and is the fundamental reason we exert our bodies by lifting heavy weights in order to build muscle.
So as long as you are adding weight to your lifts, increasing intensity, and reputations to your sets – you are doing everything right to keep your body in an environment to build muscle and strength!
Let’s look at this another way, take a runner training for a marathon. If they were to run just 1 mile per day, every day in the months leading up to the date, they are to run the marathon.
Do we think they will start to struggle after the first mile or two into the race? Yes, most likely.
Why? Because they have not pushed their training leading up to the race beyond the 1 mile per session mark, and their bodies are not prepared to run much further.
If, on the other hand, they were to have trained by running 1 mile on the first training day, then add half-mile to each subsequent running session, the runner would have had a much greater chance of reaching the finishing line for his marathon on the day.
This is the same principle as a progressive overload we adopt in strength training.
Stick to a progressive overload approach, eat moderate surplus calories, and you will build muscle.
What are the best training splits
You know you need to keep your training regime in a progressive overload to continue building muscle and not stagnating. But, what are the best training splits to work each muscle group per week?
Well, the answer to this predominantly is: whatever works best for you and your lifestyle.
With each person having different work and family commitments, you need to determine what will best suit your goals.
Below is a summary of the most common splits
Training 1 muscle group per day (the bro-split)
This training plan would usually consist of 5 days in gym with 2 days off. Each day in the gym, you would concentrate on training only one muscle group on that given day.
Given that there are 7 days until the same muscle group is trained again, this split usually involves a higher volume in terms of sets worked for a single muscle group on any given day.
Below is an example of a typical bro-split:
Monday – Shoulders
Tuesday – Back
Wednesday – Chest
Thursday – Legs
Friday – Arms
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
You would throw in some abdominal work in one of the working days to perform at the end of a training session. In terms of off days, these do not need to be consecutive or at the end of the week. You can place the rest days anywhere.
An example of a bro-split including ab workouts with spread out rest days:
Monday – Shoulders
Tuesday – Back
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Chest
Friday – Arms + Abs
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Legs
Overall, the bro-split is a good routine to follow, especially for those who have just started lifting.
Sometimes, having to hit more than one muscle group in one gym session, especially compound lifts can be challenging, which you will see to be the case with other splits.
This routine will provide the simplicity to focus just on one muscle group per session
Upper and Lower split
This split is comprised of 4 lifting days with three rest days in a given week.
As the name suggests, and I am sure you have assumed. On one gym day, you work all of your upper body muscles, and on the next, a full-blown leg session (not a favorable routing for those who like to skip leg days!).
So, this training split would look like the below example:
Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
The rest days can be moved to suit your lifestyle; however, two consecutive days can be beneficial, especially as the upper/lower routine is typically heavy in compound lifts.
For each upper and lower gym session, you should devise a workout routine for each rather than having the same upper and lower workout routine.
This is to target different sections of the same muscles on each of the two days each week, mix it up slightly, and keep it a bit more exciting.
For example, on one of the upper lifting days, use a barbel for the key compound lifts, then on the other day, use dumbells.
For the lower, you could do conventional back squats on one day, then front the other. Standing calf raises on one session, then seated calf raises on the next.
On each upper and lower, you can mix up and use different isolation movements for one day to another.
Push, Pull, Legs (PPL)
Not for the faint-hearted, this split consists of 6 gym days with one rest day.
It’s similar to that of the upper/lower split, but instead with an extra day dedicated for legs, with the added benefit of grouping similar working muscles together in the upper body.
Below is an example of a PPL split
Monday – Push
Tuesday – Pull
Wednesday – Legs
Thursday – Push
Friday – Pull
Saturday – Legs
Sunday – Rest
As you can see, quite an involved routine but perfect for those who are looking to gain muscle and strength as fast as humanly possible.
While “on paper,” this split is made up of six lifting days per week with one day of rest. You can always consider modifying it slightly to better suit your schedule.
For example, rather than assigning each push/pull/leg session to a specific day of the week, take rest days where necessary and keep track of what session is next while keeping the order of push, pull, and legs in mind.
The Full Body Split
As the title goes, it typically consists of 3 gym sessions per week to target the whole body for each of the three training days.
Monday – Whole body
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – Whole body
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Whole body
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
This is a perfect split for those who can’t hit the gym frequently enough to warrant the use of some of the other splits already detailed above.
Even for people who can only make the gym twice or even once per week, this would be the routine to follow to better ensure you hit all muscles.
It’s worth mentioning, given the fact you will be hitting all muscles in your body in one single session, to effectively enable this split to work, you need to spend longer in the gym per lifting day.
Given a typical lifting session in the gym with the other routines might last 45 minutes to 1 hour, you should expect a full-body training session to last around 90 minutes.
With this in mind, and because we should aim to be no longer in the gym than we have to be, each full-body lifting session should consist primarily of compound movements which will result in a “better bang for the buck” in the given time.
Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises
Compound exercises, like bench press, bent-over row, deadlifts, overhead press, and squats, are examples of compound exercises.
These compound movements work several muscle groups in one reputation.
Compound lifts can be performed with either barbell or dumbbells, although you should find it easier to lift a heavier weight with a barbell than the same lift with dumbbells.
This is mainly due to barbell movements engaging fewer stabilizing muscles, thus eliminating the requirement to balance and control a dumbell in each arm theirfore, you should expect to lift around 20% more weight with a barbell compared to a dumbbell.
Isolation exercise, when performed correctly, will isolate a single muscle, usually by moving only one joint.
A perfect example of an isolation exercise is a bicep curl. With this exercise, the only joint that moves on the body is the elbows, assuming strict form is adhered to, and that appropriate weight is selected, eliminating the need to swing from your hips.
A well-designed workout program will include all major compound lifts, using both barbell and dumbells along with isolation exercises.
There is no scientific number; however, I usually shoot for 60/40 compound/isolation exercises per muscle group worked on any given day.
For example, below are two alternating chest day workout routines keeping these splits in mind:
Flat barbell bench press – 3 sets
Decline barbell bench press – 3 sets
Incline cable flyes – 4 sets
Incline dumbell bench press – 3 sets
Flat dumbell bench press – 3 sets
bent-forward cable pec flys – 4 sets
wait, what about time under tension (TUT)?
Hell yeah, this is an effective method that can significantly stimulate muscle growth when done right.
In short, it’s the practice of slowing down repetitions resulting in your targeted muscles staying contracted during that given window. So, for instance, where one repetition of a bench press might take 1 second to complete, you might slow each rep down to 5 or more seconds using TUT.
The slower the reputation, the more TUT, resulting in more stimulus to muscle growth
TUT can be performed on the concentric and/or eccentric part of the lift. For example, some people like to be “explosive” on the concentric part of the lift with a slow 5 seconds or more on eccentric.
If you are going to use TUT in your workouts, you should use it sparingly, in the last set(s) of your lifts, and not with every single exercise.
For example, on chest days, I might use slow concentric reps on the last set of flat benchpress and the same slow concentric movements on the last set of cable pec flys.
Rest and days off the Gym
Finally, we have come towards the end of the article to discuss the third and final rule of building muscle: REST!
Would you have thought it? Muscles predominantly grow when you are doing absolutely nothing.
That’s right, hitting the gym 7 days a week is counterproductive and will likely result in cannibalization (breakdown) of your muscles from not providing ample rest to allow the muscles to repair.
Ensuring enough rest from weight training is paramount to allow the rest required for your muscles to repair microtears from your training sessions and prevent injury.
Overuse or overtraining in any given sport, especially strenuous hypertrophy training exercises like we perform in the gym, is one of the main factors that lead to injury.
Having at least one rest day per week is required; however, two or even three is a more preferred number, especially for athletes, like myself who are no longer as young as they once were, also nursing some niggling injuries.
What to do on rest days from lifting
Strictly speaking, you don’t need to do anything, just sit back and binge-watch your favorite series on Netflix all day (just without the tub of Ben and Jerry’s).
Well, while that is fine, maybe every once in a while, you might find it more beneficial and better for morale doing something a little more productive.
These days are perfect for low-impact activities like going out for a walk, swimming, stretching, prehab exercises (such as light core strength and rotator cuff exercises), and using a foam roller to iron out any knotted or tight muscles you might have.
Consider taking advantage of these rest days to meal prep your week ahead – dedicating 1 or 2 days per week to cook up all your main meals, ready for you to take out the fridge/freezer, pop in the microwave, will save time with cooking overall throughout the week. Furthermore, it will prevent temptation with eating a junk alternative.
how sleep affects muscle growth
As the highest release of growth hormone and testosterone to our bloodstream happens while we sleep, there is no wonder why you should ensure your getting the recommended 8 hours sleep per day.
With these essential “muscle building” hormones at their peak, while you sleep, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the body’s superior state to repair micro tears from weight training.
If you can only hit the gym in the mornings, it goes without saying the importance of getting enough rest the night before to ensure that you feel 100% while working out.
Poor sleep affects your performance
Are you one of these people who stay up till late in bed binge-watching Netflix?
Or maybe you have a mattress that makes you feel like you are lying on sandbags?
You should address these issues, fork out the cash for a good quality comfortable mattress and if you are a TV series streamer, be strict to hot the power off button on the remote at a good time to ensure you get your 8 hours sleep!
There is nothing worse than walking into the gym to face five working sets of heavy squats feeling lethargic like you have just got out of bed.
Every time you walk into the gym
Get your sleep, eat big, lift hard, and you will succeed!