Bulking is a term popularized by the bodybuilding community. It essentially entails a dedicated period of time, usually lasting between 3-6 months, where a man or woman’s focus is purely on maximizing hypertrophy (aka muscle growth). If you’re interested in building strength and improving your physique, here are 9 tips for a clean bulking cycle that maximizes results and minimizes fat gain.
#1 Form Over Ego
Making serious gains in the gym is often associated with the “go heavy or go home” mentality. While it’s admirable to want to lift as heavy as possible, this often leads to “ego lifting” where form is sacrificed for the sake of stacking as much weight on the bar/machine as possible. Yes, lifting heavy (relatively speaking) is helpful for adding muscle and strength, but not if it means your form suffers.
Poor technique reduces time under tension and range of motion while also increasing the likelihood for injury, all of which reduces muscle-building potential. Instead of focusing solely on how much weight you’re lifting, focus more on your technique and the muscle you’re working. Feel the tension in the target muscle group(s), and milk every rep for all it’s got. Lift the weight explosively and slowly lower the weight under control. This both maximized muscle fiber recruitment and time under tension while also supporting joint health.
#2 Don’t Neglect Cardio
When it comes to building muscle, cardio is often thought of as something to be avoided. This is primarily due to the belief/myth that “cardio makes you small.” However, building an impressive physique is as much about optimizing the externals (muscle definition, body fat %, etc.) as it is about your internals (cardiovascular health, organ health, etc.). After all, if you’re heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc. aren’t functioning at a healthy level, what good is it if you have a low body fat percentage and shapely muscles?!
Cardio improves the health and fitness of your cardiovascular system, which can help you to breathe easier during workouts and recover more quickly between sets. Furthermore, incorporating a few sessions of cardio throughout the week (even something as simple as a few 20-minute walks a couple times per week) can help reduce the amount of potential fat gain that is commonly experienced during prolonged bulking phases as well as improve insulin-sensitizing and nutrient partitioning.
#3 Track Your Food
Equally as important as your training is to make sure you’re consuming enough calories and protein each day. Remember, in order to add size and muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus where you consume more energy than you burn each day (calories in vs calories out). If you’re serious about building muscle, then leaving things to chance or guesswork isn’t an option, especially if you’re an individual that has struggled with bulking in the past.
The most efficient way to make sure that you’re consuming enough calories and protein each day is to track your food intake. The 1UP Fitness App makes it quicker and easier than ever to set your macronutrient and calorie goals for the day and track your food intake so that you know that you’re staying on course with your goals. Plus, if you want advice or help with your bulking plan, training, or nutrition, when you sign up for the 1UP Fitness App, you also get access to our exclusive insider group where you can interact with other goal-oriented individuals and receive expert advice from coaches and trainers!
#4 Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the most underrated components to optimizing muscle gain, not to mention daily health, mood, and longevity. With quality sleep comes better recovery, heightened motivation, and improved performance (both mentally and physically), all of which enables you to train more consistently, more frequently, and with greater intensity. This culminates in better results from your training and nutrition plan.
Unfortunately, a significant portion of individuals struggle to get enough sleep each night due to a number of issues, including lifestyle stress, blue light bombardment, and poor sleep hygiene. However, if you want to optimize your training and results, then it’s essential to pay as much attention to your sleep as you do diet and training.
To promote better sleep, try these helpful tips:
- Establish and maintain a consistent bedtime (even on the weekends, if possible)
- Limit/avoid blue light exposure at least two hours before bed
- Take a warm shower/bath before bed
- Read/meditate/stretch or journal
- Avoid alcohol before bed
- Make your room cool (between 60-68℉) and as dark as possible
#5 Intra Workout Nutrition
Consuming enough calories to support a bulking/massing phase is often the toughest part for individuals looking to add muscle (for both women andmen). An easy way to increase your calorie intake is to add more liquid meals or liquid calories to your diet. A primetime to do this is during your workout. Intra-workout nutrition helps deliver a steady stream of essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and other key nutrients that help you train harder, recover faster, and maximize your potential.
#6 Track Your Progress
Akin to tracking your food intake, it’s also critical to track your progress in the gym as well as your body measurements (i.e. sets, reps, weights, bodyweight, arm/thigh circumference, etc.). These “hard metrics” give you an idea of whether your training and nutrition are working in favor of your bulking goals. If your body weight and/or numbers in the gym aren’t increasing steadily over time, then you’re likely not consuming enough calories and/or not pushing yourself hard enough in the gym.
A time-tested amount of weight gain when bulking is 0.5-1 pound per week. If you’re gaining at least 0.5 pound per week, then you may need to increase the amount of food you’re eating each day by 100-250 calories. On the flip side, if you’re gaining over one pound per week, then you may want to dial back how much food you're consuming each day, and/or increase your weekly cardio or daily step count.
#7 Don’t Neglect Micronutrient Intake
In addition to consuming enough daily protein and calories, it’s also important to consume enough vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols -- akamicronutrients. While they don’t impact your daily calorie intake to any substantial degree, micronutrients have a profound impact on total body health, including hormone levels, antioxidant status, and basic function.
Many individuals assume that their micronutrient bases are covered by a well-rounded diet, but various food preparations and farming practices can adversely impact the vitamin and mineral content of the foods you eat. As such, it’s useful to consume a daily multivitamin/multimineral supplement, such as 1UP Multi-Go Men or Multi-Go Women, as added insurance that you're providing your body with all to “micro” building blocks needed to support your bulking journey.
#8 Take Advantage of the Post-Workout Window
Following a tough workout, your muscles are tired and glycogen stores are depleted. This is a perfect time to ingest some fast-digesting protein and carbohydrates, which helps halt muscle breakdown, kickstart muscle recovery, and replenish muscle glycogen.
A quick and delicious post-workout shake, that’s also easy to fix, is to combine a scoop of 1UP Whey protein (or 1UP Vegan protein) with a scoop of Pure Rebuild, which supplies additional EAAs as well as research-backed doses of creatine monohydrate, L-glutamine, and betaine anhydrous to support muscle recovery, glycogen replenishment, and hypertrophy.
#9 Rest & Recovery
Training hard and eating right is paramount for building muscle and increasing strength. However, if you’re looking to maximize muscle growth, it’s also important to focus on what you do outside of your time in the gym and kitchen (i.e. rest, relaxation and recovery).
While you may spend 60-90 minutes in the gym (which are incredibly important), there are 22.5-23 remaining hours in the day when you’re not lifting heavy weights. Yet, this “downtime” is equally important to your results as it is the time when your body replenishes glycogen, repairs damaged muscle fibers, and builds new muscle tissue.
As such, make sure that, in addition to your pre-workouts supplements, protein powders, and post-workout supplements, you’re also taking time to decompress from the stressors of training (and life in general) so that you can sleep soundly and attack each new day with the vitality and zeal required to maximize your potential and results!