Let me be the first person to congratulate you if you’re reading this post.
In all honesty, not many people in this country get to the point you’re at, if you’re genuinely interested in bulking……AND you’re doing it right.
Think about what it entails: If you’ve decided it’s time to bulk, and you’re looking at it in the proper manner, you’re at the MOST 10% body fat.
You have visible abs.
And you’ve decided you would like to weigh MORE than you currently do.
Who really can say they actually want to gain weight?
Other than the chronically underweight, the terminally ill, or a 15-year old on the wrestling team?
So, congrats. Seriously. Pretty damn cool.
If there is one thing I know for certain, it’s this: You’re about to find out that bulking is much more difficult than cutting.
Cutting is simple.
Choose your macros, stay under maintenance, lift hard and abbreviated, get ripped.
With dedication, consistency, and discipline, it’s relatively easy.
Bulking? Not so much.
First off, let’s look at the term “slow bulk”. I hate that stupid phrase. “Slow bulk”.
Think of the connotations it has.
“Hey, I have an idea! Let’s build muscle, but let’s do it really, really slowly! That’ll be fun! I mean, I KNOW we could build 50 pounds of muscle in a year, but who wants that? Let’s build 5 pounds of muscle per year instead!”
The actual term “slow bulk” implies that if the lifter was consuming more food, the muscle would be packed on more quickly.
According to Martin Berkhan, the absolute most muscle a natural, consistent lifter with a perfect diet and training routine can hope to put on…….is around 2 pounds per month.
That’s 24 pounds per year.
And that’s for a perfect diet and training, free from injuries, probably around 20-25 years old, when testosterone is naturally at its highest point.
And let’s be honest…….what 20 year olds stay on point with their diet 24/7/365?
When I was 20, my diet was mostly nachos and Budweiser.
So the odds are great that even 2 pounds per month is high for most of my readers.
But you never know. It might be possible. It’s a good starting point. You can adjust later if need be.
Here are some tips and pieces of advice if you’re about to begin down the road of
1. Never start bulking until you are under 10% body fat, at least.
When you are bulking, it’s nearly impossible not to gain any fat.
The more in tune you are with your body, the less fat, potentially, you will gain.
But some fat gain is inevitable.
And if you start bulking at 15% body fat, by the time you’re done, you might be looking at 18-20%.
Not a really good look for most men.
The lower body fat you can start your bulk, the better. If you have the discipline and patience to slowly whittle away the fat until you’re around 6-7% before you start your bulk, then do it.
That way, you can bulk for longer before you need to cut again. And you won’t risk as much muscle loss when you do finally have to cut, since the cut should be much shorter.
Also, theoretically the extra muscle you have gained will make it a snap to lose the fat more quickly.
When you bulk, you’re trying to build muscle.
And the first law of thermodynamics states all energy is somewhere; it’s neither lost nor gained.
So, how does this apply to your bulk? You must eat over maintenance.
Your body will use up all the available energy until it hits its maintenance calories.
Anything over maintenance, if lifting hard, will be turned into muscle.
But only to an extent. Once it hits a certain point, muscle stops being built and the food spills over into fat stores.
Which is bad.
And this also brings me to my next point…….
2. Don’t bulk the way the message boards tell you to.
Every lifter has been on bodybuilding.com. I know I have.
It’s a place where the physique conscious can discuss things like programming, nutrition, techniques, injuries, and clenbuterol.
It CAN be a place to find great information.
And it can also be sort of like Wikipedia – a place where anybody can post anything and there’s no real way of knowing what is legit information and what isn’t.
Notice there’s a whoooole lot of guys who are 230 at 6% body fat……….yeah, right.
Most message boards will tell you to cut down to visible abs, then boost your calories into the stratosphere.
I’ve seen people give advice of 8-10,000 calories per day!
Unless you’re shooting an INSANE amount of anabolics, all that will do is make you fat.
There is no way the body can process that many calories and turn them into muscle.
If your maintenance is 3,000 and you consume 8,000 calories daily, that’s 5,000 above maintenance, daily.
5,000 x 7 = 35,000.
One pound = 3,500 calories.
Sooooo, you’re saying you can gain 10 pounds of muscle per week? Are you freaking insane?
That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.
Even the most ‘roided out freak on the planet thinks you’re a moron.
If Berkhan knows his shit, and I think he really, really knows his shit, the most muscle you can gain is around 2 pounds per month, max. That’s 0.5 pounds per week.
So try to hit that number. And if you don’t, adjust accordingly.
Anything else and you’re just getting fat. Lots of dudes out there gain fat and think it’s muscle. Don’t be a fool.
“Slow bulk”? What a dumb concept. If it was possible to bulk any faster, I would.
But it’s not.
And I didn’t cut for 6 months to be fooled into thinking I’m getting swole when I’m really just getting sloppy.
3. Get DEXA’d to track progress.
Forget those dumb hand held thingies. Or your bathroom scale.
You need to know exactly how much muscle and fat you have on your body.
Even DEXAs have their limitations. But they are the best option out there.
After DEXA’d, you will know (for the most part) exactly how much muscle and fat you have.
You can verify that you are, in fact, under 10% body fat. And you can see your starting point.
You see, bulks, since it does take a while to build muscle, are a long process. And you’re often blind.
Are you really gaining muscle?
Are you actually gaining fat?
What is happening?
It might take 7-8 months before you check again, assuming you’re doing it right.
Once you get DEXA’d and you get your baseline numbers, wait 8 months, get DEXA’d again, and see how much fat and/or muscle you gained.
And adjust your numbers accordingly for your next bulk.
Or decide it wasn’t worth it.
Maybe you’re not gaining any muscle at all.
But you’ll never know unless you get DEXA’d.
4. Be sure your lifts are going up.
So, you’re feeling pretty good.
You’re eating more than you have in a long time.
You’re feeling “filled out”, or “swole” as the broscientists like to say.
You step on the scale. Perfect. Gained 4 pounds in the past 3 weeks.
Smiling, you go work out. Do a “back” workout.
And after the workout, you break out your training log and you realize something: In the past 3 weeks, none of your lifts have gone up.
Guess what, “bro”? You didn’t gain 4 pounds of muscle. You likely gained 4 pounds of fat.
If you’re gaining weight, your lifts need to be going up. At a pretty good clip, too.
Perhaps some exercises more quickly than others.
Pulls tend to increase faster for the long-limbed and pushes tend to go up quicker than the short-limbed.
Personally, I’m more likely to gain 25 pounds on my deadlifts than a simple 5-pound increase on my bench.
I’m 6’8″ and I have monkey arms.
My bench hasn’t moved at all in awhile.
I’m well above body weight on it, so I’m not really worried about it.
But still, the fact remains: Most of your weights need to increase if you’re going to be increasing your muscle mass.
If that’s not the case, you have problems.
Berkhan discusses the ratios of strength gain to weight gain in this article here. Use it as a guide to analyze your progress. I do.
5. You must have the patience of Mother Theresa and the discipline of a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Cutting, as stated, is easy. Consume under maintenance. Work out hard. Go home.
Bulking is a much more refined practice.
You have to eat above maintenance. But not too much or you’ll get fat.
So, you need to eat just a bit above maintenance, no more, daily, for a very, very long time.
Does it mean you’re always going to be full? Not really.
Does it mean you get to eat huge meals? Yeah, pretty much.
But if you’re IFing, you’ll still be hungry at times.
And even if you’re consuming >3,000 calories, you can still be hungry in between meals.
Especially if you’re a ravenous dude with a black hole for a stomach. Like me.
When cutting, the food decisions come much more easy. Such as: Don’t eat that shit.
When bulking, you can easily justify or rationalize eating just a little bit more.
And you’re already at the tipping point. Once you hit a certain point, every additional calorie is fat.
If it was easy to calculate or find your exact tipping point, people would do it.
It would make bodybuilding simple.
Eat exactly this. Lift hard.
Be 4% body fat and at your maximum, muscular, genetic potential.
But it’s not that simple.
So many factors come into play.
Health, lifting experience, current stats, size, body fat percentage, macronutrient ratios, programming style and frequency, sleep, recovery ability, workout intensity, etc, etc, etc.
Too many factors.
The only way to find out what works for you is plain old trial and error. Give it a shot, see what happens, and adjust in the future.
But it’s a long haul. Be prepared, both mentally and physically for it.
Happy bulking, IF’ers!