There are few things in life that are more satisfying than going on a bulk.
You get to eat more ice cream than normal.
You have a good excuse to go to bed early.
You get to buy new t-shirts with bigger sleeves.
People start squeezing your arms more than they normally do.
That being said, I have seen my fair share of bulks go awry and people end up spending months spinning their wheels and adding zero inches on their biceps or their quads.
The mistakes that people make fall into these 5 simple things and addressing them will guarantee you that your bulk will be successful.
1. You Aren’t Eating as Much as You Think You Are
To quote the soon to be immortal Donny Shankle, “You gotta eat”.
The number one reason most people fail a bulk is they just don’t eat enough over the entirety of their bulk. They do well for a few days, then fall off and often under eat for a few days.
If you need to eat a 350-500 calorie a day surplus to really push your growth that means you have to stay on top of this type of eating, day after day, after day.
For many people, consistently eating 3500-4000 calories a day can be a huge challenge and a lot of people will eat in a surplus for 3-4 days a week and then under eat for the next few days and end up spinning their wheels.
If your goal is to maximize your bulk, you need to be diligent and eat in a small surplus (5-10%) every day for the entire period of your bulking phase. If you eat in a small surplus 4-5 days a week, but then eat in a deficit 2-3 days a week you may be washing out the entirety of the surplus you built.
Like one of my good friends said to me once, “there are a few ways to do this right, and about a million ways to screw it up”.
Eat in a surplus, every single day.
2. You Are Too Worried About Your Abs
A bulk is about building muscle tissue, not about making sure your abs look perfect every single day. If you are in a bulk and the first thing you do in the morning is look in the mirror and analyze the striations in your abs you are focused on the wrong thing.
Now don’t get it twisted this isn’t a time where you can just say “body fat doesn’t matter” but you also shouldn’t be obsessing over every striation and line, it becomes distracting.
Being in a caloric surplus for an extended period of time will undoubtedly increase your body fat a small bit but the short term increase from 8% to 9% body fat is negligible.
The other issue is if you spend most of your bulk playing it cute and trying to keep that increase from happening at all, you are going to end up gaining almost zero muscle tissue and it you will have effectively spent 4-6 months training like a maniac only to spin your wheels.
3. Your Training Isn’t Focused on the Right Thing
Maximizing muscle growth requires focused training around the key principles of what dictates muscle growth.
What are those key principles? Well, there is one main principle: training volume1. Everything else outside of training volume is small details, yet everyone focuses on those things.
Rep speed, exact number of reps, exercise type, blood flow restriction, perfect form, etc. are all pieces of your training, but if you are placing these ahead of training volume in your hierarchy of importance you are focused on the wrong things.
Most of the time people who are bulking don’t fully grasp the training style required and the amount of volume required to maximize growth.
People either go too heavy and don’t get enough solid reps in to accumulate a large training volume; or they go too light and don’t get enough weight in their sets to accumulate a large training volumes. Volume is key in any loading strategy when it comes to maximizing your gains2.
Finding the sweet spot of training load to maximize volume is a key aspect of training. For most people, this usually falls into loading their heavy sets in rep ranges of 4-8 and their lighter sets in the ranges of 8-20.
The other nuance to this is the progression of your volume. During a bulk you need to consistently make systematic advances in the volume of your training. For example, if your training load for your leg days is 50,000 pounds during your working sets in week one, your volume during week 6 needs to be higher than 50,000 pounds.
You need to continue increasing the stimulus (i.e. volume) so you can keep driving the adaptation. When you quit adapting, you stop growing.
4. You Aren’t Taking Rest Days
You don’t grow during training, you grow when you are recovering from training. Rest time is more important during a bulk than it is at any other time. You can get away with training too much during a cut, but if you don’t maximize recovery and your growth time during a bulk you are going to be missing out on a lot of gains.
Maximizing each session and accumulating volume in spurts and then recovering maximally between training days will accelerate your gains compared to getting more frequent, mediocre training sessions.
If you are really trying to maximize your muscle growth train hard, then recover hard. If you don’t allow for adequate recovery then you aren’t going to maximize your recovery capacity.
5. Your Sleep is a Joke
You know what dictates virtually all of your recovery? Your sleep.
Most people who are in a bulk aren’t taking their sleep seriously enough.
Impaired sleep and building up a sleep debt decreases your ability to repair muscle tissue, even at the molecular level3. It also impairs your ability to train hard and maximize your training capacity4.
While the old “you need 8 hours of sleep a night” is a good rule of thumb, the truth is some people need more like 9 or 10 hours and some people need 6 or 7. The key is that you maximize your sleep and take it as seriously as your training.
The Wrap Up
Going through a bulk is a beautiful thing, but you have to do it right or else it is time wasted.
Make sure you are eating in a surplus, every single day. Focus on training volume as your primary training variable and systematically increase the volume over time.
You shouldn’t be aiming to gain body fat, but you shouldn’t be super focused on staying as lean as possible during your bulk.
Your rest days are critical to your recovery, take them seriously. If you aren’t sleeping, you aren’t growing; shut the TV off an hour early and get some extra sleep.
- Effects of Different Volume-Equated Resistance Training Loading Strategies on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men
- Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men
- Sleep and muscle recovery: Endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis
- Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Performance: A Meta-Analysis