23 Dec Bulking Workouts 101: How to Add Muscle Mass
Every winter, the weightlifting area of gyms everywhere is abuzz with chatter about bulking season. You’ll hear people talk about doing a bulking workout, nutrition, clean bulking and dirty bulking, 2-pound gains and 20-pound gains, and more. And we’re here to help if you’re thinking about participating in this year’s bulking season.
However, if you jump into bulking with the idea that you just need to eat more and lift some weights, you likely won’t get the results you want. A good bulk needs a well-planned workout program and diet to encourage muscle growth and healthy weight gain.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics. We’ve included everything from who can benefit from bulking workouts to how to eat to support your bulk, complete with tips to make it easier. So keep reading to learn how to build muscle mass and use bulking to your advantage.
Bulking Is for Everyone
Bulking is a term from bodybuilding that refers to a phase of training intended to facilitate muscle growth (i.e., bulking up). You’ll eat a high-protein diet with an increased calorie intake to gain muscle and weight during this phase.
Bulking isn’t just for bodybuilders. It’s for everyone. Women, men, competitive bodybuilders, casual weightlifters, older adults, and almost anyone else can benefit from a bulking routine.
Bulking is one phase of a bulking and cutting cycle. Bulking season usually occurs in the winter, when the days are shorter and we all generally put on a few pounds anyway. Cutting is generally done in the summer, when we’re moving more, eating less, and enjoying longer, warmer days.
You bulk up in the winter by following a bulking workout and nutrition plan that encourages muscle growth. Then, in the summer, your cutting phase promotes fat loss to show off more muscle definition. And if you’re a woman, don’t worry about looking “huge” or “bulky;” you’ll simply look more toned and defined.
Clean Bulk vs. Dirty Bulk
If you know much about bulking, you’ve probably heard about clean and dirty bulks. Clean bulking aims for minimal fat gain while you build muscle. Dirty bulking is all about eating whatever you want to gain muscle and size quickly while disregarding fat gain.
Between the two, a clean bulking diet is the better option for healthy muscle gain. While some fat gain is inevitable when you bulk, you can keep it to a minimum with a clean bulking diet.
Your Guide to Bulking Workouts
A bulking workout should work your whole body to add strength and size. Building strength allows you to lift more weight for future exercises while adding lean muscle mass. More lean muscle mass means a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR). With a higher RMR, you’ll burn more calories while resting, which comes with the perk of eating more without gaining weight.
Standard bulking workout plans cut back on the cardio and focus more on weightlifting. In this sample bulking workout program, you’ll train every muscle group twice per week. Twice-weekly workouts are more effective at adding strength and size than the traditional approach of training each muscle once a week.
Sample Bulking Workout Routine
This bulking workout program will hit your entire body in two days and train every muscle twice weekly. You’ll exercise four times per week on whatever days work for you.
Ideally, you’ll do days 1 and 2 back-to-back, followed by a rest day. Then you’ll do days 3 and 4 back-to-back, followed by two rest days. So, for example, you could schedule this training program on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Note: For all exercises involving weights, aim to use the maximum weight you can lift for the given rep range. Always rest for 1-2 minutes between sets.
- Lying leg curls – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Barbell shrugs – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Lat pull-downs – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Chest dips – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Barbell squats – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Chin-ups – 4 sets of 5 reps
For the chin-ups and chest dips, you’ll rely on your body weight unless you can do them with ease. If they’re too easy, add a weight vest or belt, and if they’re too tough, do assisted chin-ups and chest dips.
- Barbell bicep curls – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Standing barbell calf raises – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Close-grip bench presses – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Standing military presses – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Smith machine reverse calf raises – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Side lateral raises – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Barbell rear delt bent-over rows – 4 sets of 5 reps
Every exercise in this routine requires weights or machines. However, you can skip the weight for the calf raises and reverse calf raises if you need to.
- Preacher curls – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Standing barbell calf raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Seated calf raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Alternating dumbbell front raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Side lateral raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell rear delt bent-over rows – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Standing overhead triceps extensions – 3 sets of 10 reps
The exercises in this workout include twice as many reps with one less set. When you’re doing 10 reps, you’ll need to step the weight back from what you’d use if you were doing five reps.
- Push-ups – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Bent over barbell rows – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell incline bench presses – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell stiff-leg deadlifts – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Pull-ups – 4 sets of 5 reps
- Barbell stepping lunges – 3 sets of 10 reps
- Barbell shrugs – 3 sets of 10 reps
For the pull-ups and push-ups, you’ll rely on your body weight only, unless the three sets of 10 are too easy for you. Try wearing a weight vest or belt if you need to increase the difficulty of pull-ups, or opt for assisted pull-ups if you need to decrease the difficulty. And for push-ups, you can add a band to up the intensity or do knee push-ups to lower it.
Rest days are essential for a good lifting routine. Don’t skip your rest days or sneak in gym workouts. Respect them and give your body time to recover between workouts. The benefits of rest days include:
- Muscle recovery
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved performance
- Healthy sleep
During each rest day, give your body some gentle exercise. Suitable activities include walking, gentle hiking, gentle yoga, foam rolling, leisurely bike rides, and playing with your pets or children.
Bulking Workout Tips
If you’re putting in the hard work of exercising four times a week and lifting near your max, you’ll start to see results. The following tips will help you get more from your bulking workouts:
- Don’t be afraid to change it up when you’re bored or don’t have access to the gym — you’ll find a range of bulking workouts online, and the sample we’ve provided is just one option.
- Do isolation exercises first and compound exercises second to avoid decreased muscle activation. Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups, whereas isolation exercises involve just one joint and muscle group.
- Keep a workout and diet log to track your efforts.
- Sip cool water between each set to stay hydrated instead of downing a bunch before or after your workout.
- Stop your workout if you experience sharp pain at any point, and give yourself a day or two before you exercise again. If the pain persists, talk to your doctor.
- Take monthly measurements of your upper arms, chest/pecs, waist, glutes, thighs, and calves to track your progress by the numbers.
- Take monthly progress pictures to track your progress visually.
- Talk to your doctor before you begin bulking to ensure your body is healthy enough for this routine.
- Use adaptations instead of performing exercises that are too difficult (i.e., assisted chin-ups, pull-ups, and chest dips).
- Use mirrors to check your form multiple times during each workout.
- Warm up for at least 10 minutes before you start lifting by foam rolling or doing some light body weight exercises to raise your heart rate and core temperature.
- Watch the tutorial videos linked to each exercise to ensure you’re using proper form.
If you follow these tips and exercise regularly, all that’s left is to dial in your diet and supplement routine. And remember, you’ll want to work with weights near your maximum ability for the number of reps during a bulking workout.
Diet for Bulking Workouts
A good diet for bulking workouts will typically include protein supplements and healthy, protein-rich foods. Getting enough protein is vital because your body can’t build muscle without the amino acids it contains. And you’ll need to eat at a calorie surplus so that your body has the energy to grow.
However, you can’t just eat any food; you’ll need to track your macronutrient ratios. Macronutrients include protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and it’s easiest to track them using a calorie counter. In addition, you’ll make it easier to build muscle instead of body fat during your bulk by tracking your macros.
Calories and Macronutrient Suggestions
To calculate healthy macro goals, we’ll look at how much protein, fat, and carbs will help support your bulk. For reference, protein and carbs contain four calories per gram, and fat contains nine calories per gram.
Start by using a basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator to find how many calories your body needs to maintain your current weight. Then add 500 calories to that number, which is an ideal surplus for clean bulking.
So, if your BMR is 2,000 calories, a 500-calorie surplus means you’ll be eating 2,500 calories per day.
Ideally, you’ll want to eat between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to ensure you have enough protein for muscle growth. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, that’s 144 to 180 grams of protein per day.
Calculate how many calories you’re eating from protein per day by multiplying the grams per day by four (the number of calories per gram of protein). Assuming you opt for 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, the above example of 144 grams of protein per day is 576 calories from protein each day.
Aim to consume about 25% of your daily calories from healthy fats. First, divide your calorie goal by four, then divide the result by nine to determine how many grams of fat you need per day.
For example, 2,500 calories divided by 4 equals 625 calories. Divide 625 by nine (the calories per gram of fat), and you get 69 after rounding down. This would mean you’d be eating 69 grams of fat, or 625 calories from fat per day.
The rest of your calories come from carbs. So to determine how many grams you need per day, subtract the calories from the fat and protein goals you calculated above.
Using our above example, you’d subtract 576 from 2,500 for the calories from protein in your diet, for a result of 1,924. Then you’d subtract 625 from 1,924 for the calories from fat per day, getting a result of 1,299.
Divide the result by four to determine how many grams of carbs you need daily. For example, if you divide 1,299 by 4, you get 325 after rounding up. So you’ll eat 325 grams of carbs per day.
Putting It All Together
Enter your macronutrient numbers into your calorie counter goals to track them. For this sample diet, you’d enter 2,500 calories, 144 grams of protein, 69 grams of fat, and 325 grams of carbs for your daily goals.
From there, you’ll want to choose foods that help you stay as close to these numbers as possible. You might work with a nutritionist or simply experiment with different meals as you go. By experimenting, you’ll find meals and supplements that help you reach your goals and gradually dial in your nutrition.
Aim to fill your meals with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid foods high in sugar, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and simple carbs.
Supplements: Getting Enough Protein
Getting enough protein isn’t easy without supplements. During strength training, protein powder and other supplements encourage muscle hypertrophy, also known as muscle growth. Protein shakes can also help you meet your protein intake and calorie goals while working around a busy workout schedule.
If you’re struggling to meet your calorie intake needs, you might consider a gainer protein supplement. However, gainers are often high in calories and fats, so it’s best to check with your doctor or nutritionist before starting one.
And before going to your doctor about gainers, try increasing your meal frequency to make it easier to reach your macro goals. In addition, it can help to use a higher-quality protein supplement and learn more about how long it takes to see results from exercise.
Here are a couple of examples of supplements to start with:
- Whey protein: Products like Ingredient Optimized ioWhey Protein can help if you’re struggling to meet your protein goals. And if you’re plant-based, Ingredient Optimized ioPlant Protein works just as well. For example, ioWhey has 100 calories and 22 grams of protein per serving, and ioPlant has 110 calories and 21 grams of protein per serving.
- Meal replacers: For those struggling to hit their calorie goals, meal replacers like Clean Meal or Plantein for plant-based dieters can help you hit your macros. Clean Meal has between 240 calories per serving with 28 grams of protein and Plantein has 160 calories and 26 grams of protein per serving.
The better you understand protein supplements and what your options are, the easier it’ll be to fine-tune your diet. It’s best to work with a nutritionist, especially if you’re new to counting your macronutrients.
Don’t Bulk Alone
Regular bulking workouts and a healthy bulking diet can help you build muscle and strength to change your body. And you don’t want to bulk alone. Instead, use protein supplements to make it easier to hit your macros, and consider working with a nutritionist.
And if you’re looking for protein powder you can count on, Ingredient Optimized products are an excellent choice. They’re designed for high bioavailability, which means that your body can absorb protein from these supplements more easily than a supplement with low bioavailability.
With a quality supplement on your side, you’ll never be alone on your bulking journey.