7 Rules of Bulking
As bodybuilders, we are faced with the challenge of putting on serious mass. To someone that isn’t experienced, it sounds so easy: move heavy objects, eat, sleep, and grow. That simply isn’t the case. Just as our bodies fight to maintain every ounce of fat, no matter how hard we try to lose it, we fight to keep from adding too much lean muscle tissue as well. Muscle is very metabolically active, meaning it has a significant net caloric cost every day. This can be a bad thing if you were to suddenly run out of food supply for any significant length of time. I’d like to shed a little light on the subject of adding size effectively and a few pointers on what worked for me throughout my own journey.
I just finished up a YouTube Series called The Road to 200 where I put on 200 pounds of mass in 15 weeks. Over the course of the series, I shared my experience but didn’t take the time to write the handful of bulking guidelines or rules that are a must for the serious trainee.
First, a little housekeeping. The rules below are based on the assumption I’m talking to drug free bodybuilders or trainees. Much of what I recommend wouldn’t apply to someone who is “enhanced”.
RULE #1 EAT MORE
You knew I was going to say that right? Of course. It’s what everyone says when they talk about a bulk. The trouble is, I haven’t met anyone that actually understands the amount of food it actually takes to grow. For starters, the laws of thermodynamics aren’t enough to explain what happens in the human body on a daily basis. Therefore, simple caloric calculations can’t account for hormonal output, miscalculated input, digestibility, activity, etc., and will not work for setting calories high enough to put on adequate mass. The ONLY way to do this is to watch the scale, mirror, and tape. If they aren’t moving in the direction you want, then you aren’t eating enough. Period. I wish it were more complicated than that, but it’s not.
If you strictly follow every other rule in this article and you still aren’t gaining size, then I assure you that you aren’t eating enough.
RULE #2 EAT MORE FREQUENTLY
This is as much damage control as anything else. Once you’ve set your calories and macros, break those all down into individual meals where each meal has no less than 40 grams of high quality protein and no higher than 60 grams. To adequately activate muscle protein synthesis, you need to cross the leucine threshold at the feeding, which will take roughly 35 to 40 grams of high quality protein.
The frequent feedings also serve to assist with caloric load without overfilling, stretching your stomach, and stimulating massive fat deposition after a huge meal. You won’t be able to meet your caloric requirements if you eat a massive feeding and aren’t hungry for the rest of the day.
RULE #3 EMBRACE CARBOHYDRATES
You should know by now that carbs have been unfairly criticized in the fitness community. Yes, dropping carbs works wonders for fat loss, but fat has as much to do with lack of actual activity in our culture as it does with the hormonal response to carbs.
If you want to add size, you’ll want to be able to eat, train, and sleep/recover effectively. Carbs aren’t satiating like protein and fats, so it’s a lot easier to bulk when you add something light like rice or breads to your plan as the body burns them quickly and you’re ready to eat again very soon after. Carbs allow you to push your limits in the gym. When training properly, your body is primed for glycogen replenishment after carbohydrate ingestion and that glycogen is what fuels you through what should be a grueling workout the following day. Without sufficient glycogen, many trainees have a difficult time with strength, stamina, and overall training volume. To grow, you have to provide your muscles with a stimulus to adapt to which, in this case, is thicker muscle fiber. Taking sets off or not training to your full capacity because you’re underfed, will simply take away from your progress. Finally, carbs help with restful sleep. Low carbohydrate diets wreak havoc on serotonin levels which make it difficult for dieters to get to sleep, much less stay asleep long enough to get into the deep sleep stages where muscle repair and recovery take place.
RULE #4 REST
This will be the shortest rule. You don’t grow in the gym. Get out of it every once in a while. Don’t skip your rest days and don’t party on them either. Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, in a dark room.
RULE #5 LIFT HEAVIER, HARDER, AND LONGER
If you followed rules 1-4, you’ve given your body the nutrition and rest that it needs for the “punishment” you should be giving it at the gym. When you’re bulking, everything goes up: your calories, your sleep, and your gym time. To do this effectively, increase your total volume through both higher weights on some workouts and higher repetitions on other workouts. Take sets to failure in order to activate as many muscle fibers as possible on each set. Utilize the tools you may be ignoring like forced reps, negatives, drop sets, pause reps, and isometric holds.
RULE #6 GET UNCOMFORTABLE
Bulking can be tough. When you sleep, you’ll notice your arms start to fall asleep, your joints will hurt, and worst of all, nothing will fit like you want and you won’t look like you think you should. Get over it and stay the course. Bulking without assistance isn’t easy. You’re going to have to put on a little bit of fat mass with the muscle if you want to add to it in any short period of time. Too many people cut the process short because of their insecurity that they never approach the size they need to take their physique to the next level.
RULE #7 HAVE FUN
Honestly, if you can’t have fun doing this, then I’m not sure why you’d even try. Take a moment to enjoy the journey, or take someone under your wing and bring them along with you. The more you enjoy this, the faster it’ll seem to go and, ultimately, the more success you’ll find.