There comes a point in every lifter’s journey when it’s time to bulk up and add some quality lean mass. The question isn’t so much should you bulk up, but how do you successfully bulk up and how big do you really want to get?
Sure, you could adopt the old bodybuilding bulking strategy of eating everything in sight, or perhaps following the GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) diet, but all that really does is add A LOT of fat to the little bit of muscle you’ll build following those eating protocols.
No, we’re not interested in those “dirty” bulking methods, we’re interested in lean bulking, the kind of weight gaining venture that adds only muscle with minimal fat gain, if any at all. So, if you’re looking to get huge, but not fat in the process, then avoid these common bulking mistakes!
Top 10 Bulking Mistakes
Eating Too Much
When it comes to building muscle and strength, the proverbial saying was that:
“You gotta eat big, to get big.”
Many a lifter followed this paradigm when starting their life of lifting. And, while it certainly helped lifters of yesteryear add a decent bit of muscle, they also accumulated a lot of unwanted body fat, too.
Inevitably after these long bulking cycles, a lifter would have to cut for months just to burn off the ridiculous amount of fat they put on while bulking. To make matters worse, by the end of their cut they lose muscle along with fat and up with more or less the same physique they had way back at the beginning of their bulk.The era of eating big to get big is over. Today’s bulk is a smarter, leaner bulk.
While it’s true you need a caloric surplus to gain size, the surplus isn’t as big as you probably think. In reality, most lifters only need to eat about 250-300 calories above maintenance to add size while limiting fat accumulation.
Eating Too Little
This common bulking mistake is more frequently committed by female lifters than their male counterparts, as they’re afraid eating more calories than they are used to leads to automatic fat gain. As a result, they don’t consume enough calories, reducing their performance in the gym as well as their recovery from training. In the end, lifters that undereat don’t gain any size or much strength. They’re left spinning their wheels and wondering why all of their hard training hasn’t produced the results they envisioned.
Yet, they never stop consider the fact that they’re not eating to fuel the goals.
Without a sufficient amount of fuel your body doesn’t have enough “raw materials” to complete mass construction.
And, if you’re worried about gaining body fat from eating a surplus of calories, remember, so long as you’re training hard and eating at a moderate surplus, fat gain will be minimal.
Too Much Cardio
The main reason lifters perform cardio is to burn calories and losing weight leading up to a contest. This is the exact opposite of what you want when trying to add lean muscle mass. Doing endless hours of slow, steady-state cardio burns all of the extra calories that you were consuming, meaning that you’re jogging, rowing, and pedaling your gains away.You can still perform some cardio during phases of massing, but you don’t need to perform it every day for hours on end. Most lifters will be well served to perform 3-4 low intensity cardio sessions lasting 20-30 minutes each. Another option is to perform a couple brief HIIT sessions during the week after lifting.
Either of these will help keep your metabolism churning, your heart in good working order, and help limit fat gain..
Not Enough Rest
We all love training, otherwise while would we subject ourselves to the rigors of lifting heavy ass weights day after day. Training can become addictive, and in fact, many people use it as their daily form of therapy to help alleviate stress. Even experienced lifters find it hard to stay away from the gym from time to time.
But, as great as training is for relieving stress and kickstarting the muscle building process, weight lifting doesn’t actually build muscle. In fact, intense training actually damages muscle fibers.
Many novice lifters don’t realize that only when you leave the gym does the recovery and growth process start. Your body needs time to recover, and if you’re hitting the gym everyday for 2 hours, you’re not giving your body a chance to fully repair all the damage you do to it.
To build muscle and strength, you really only need to hit the gym 3 to 4 days per week. That’s it. Dedicate the rest of the week to recovering and allowing your body to grow bigger, stronger and faster.
Failing to allow your body adequate time to rest and recover is a recipe for disaster. One that often leads to injury and/or burnout, neither of which are we interested in having happen.Skipping Sleep
Following up on our previous point, in addition to allowing your muscles enough time to rest and recover from training is making sure you get enough sleep.
Sleep is an essential variable in the muscle building equation that really isn’t stressed heavily enough. It’s during sleep that our body’s hormonal activity is at its highest, and it’s also the time when the greatest amount of recovery, repair, and growth occurs.
Yet, too many lifters skip sleep with the belief that sleep is only for the very old and very young. They’d rather spend the night “crushing it” with work or, more likely, binge-watching another crappy series on Netflix.
If you’re serious about building muscle and strength, you need to sleep. Aim to get 7-9 hours each night, and if you need help getting to sleep each night, try an all-natural sleep aid that quietly soothes your body and mind to sleep without leaving you feeling groggy in the morning.
The humble carbohydrate is everyone’s favorite whipping boy these days, getting the blame for every disease, catastrophe, and misfortune that happens. The truth is that carbohydrates will not inherently make you fat or slow or stupid or anything else the fad diet industry charlatans are trying to make you believe. An excess of energy intake (i.e. eating too much) will make you fat. That means eating too much protein, fat, or carbohydrate can make you fat.
Carbohydrates absolutely should be in your diet if you’re serious about gaining size. Carbs are the rocket fuel your muscles need to perform at their highest output. They also help replenish muscle glycogen, accelerate recovery, and spare muscle protein from breakdown. Having a high carb meal can even help you sleep better at night due to carbs’ ability to enhance serotonin release.
When gaining mass, you should be trying to consume as much carbohydrate as possible while avoiding spillover and fat gain. So, once you have your protein (1 gram per pound) and fat (0.3-0.5 grams per pound) set, devote the rest of your calories to carbohydrates. Doing so will give you ample energy to tackle your training sessions and support the recovery and growth processes.Lack of Heavy Lifting
Fitness is more popular than ever these days. One of the benefits of the surge in popularity fitness has experienced is that finding a gym to train at that’s within a reasonable distance of your domicile has never been easier.
However, the drawback to all of these newer, fancier gyms is that they are bloated with all sorts of fancy gadget, gizmos, and machines that help isolate very specific muscles on the body — seated lateral raise machine, hip abductor machine, etc.
Now, don’t get us wrong, machines can and should be used in any weightlifter’s routine, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you use, nor should they make up the majority of your training program.
When it comes to building lean, dense muscle mass, and bulking the right way, you need to be doing compound exercises using free weights. This entails exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, and barbell row.
Again, machines do have benefits, when used properly. And, they can be a great way to supplement your heavy weight lifting. But real muscle is built with barbells and dumbbells. Heavy compound exercises recruit the most muscle fibers, which leads to maximum growth.
Lack of Intensity
Building on the last point, when you are performing your free weight compound exercises, you should be performing them with intensity.
What does that mean?
Training with intensity means that you are dialed-in and focused on every repetition of every exercise of every workout. You are committed to executing each rep as perfectly as possible, stimulating the target muscles to their fullest extent possible.Training with intensity also means following the principles of progressive overload. Each workout you should be striving to perform more reps, lift more weight, or complete more sets than the previous workout.Muscles only grow when they are challenged. If you’re not constantly pushing for progression in some way, shape, or form, your muscles have no reason to grow, which means that those excess calories you’re eating could very well end up in your fat cells instead of your muscle cells.
This common bulking mistake doesn’t just affect those looking to bulk up, it impacts damn near every person at the gym who’s never made any real progress building muscle or burning fat.
Tracking is paramount to success, regardless of whatever fitness or life goals you have set for yourself. When it comes to bulking, tracking means recording your workouts — how much weight you lifted, what exercises you performed, how many sets and reps you completed, and how long you rest. Tracking also means monitoring your body measurements, weight, and food intake.
If you’re not tracking your progress, either with pictures or the scale, you have no idea if you’re gaining weight, losing it, or staying the same. And, if you’re not tracking how much food you’re eating, you really have no idea how many calories you’re consuming and if you need to increase or decrease the amount of food you’re eating.
Tracking helps you stay focused on your goal so that you can assure success in your bulking venture. This way, the next time you workout, you know what numbers you have to beat in order to make progress and keep growing.
If you don’t track your progress, you’ll end up like all of those other people at the gym who still look the same and are lifting the same amount of weight even though they’ve been going to the gym for years on end.Being Impatient
When you decide to start bulking, you probably have grand visions of one day looking like Arnold, Ronnie, or Phil Heath. After a couple weeks of hard training, you start to feel a bit deflated on account of not seeing tremendous growth.
But here’s the thing — Building muscle is a long, arduous process.
To forge the physique of a Mr. Olympia champion requires years, and often decades, or diligent training, nutrition, and sleep. Just because you haven’t put on 10 pounds of muscle in a few weeks time doesn’t mean you’re a hardgainer or non-responder. It also doesn’t mean you need to jump onto the latest fitness trend.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Neither is your body. It can take months, and even years, to build the amount of muscle you want for yourself. You might never be fully satisfied with where your physique is, but remember fitness is a journey, it’s not a destination. Keep on grinding with your workouts and diet plan, and you will get the results you seek.
Building muscle requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and patience. Don’t get caught up in the gimmicks and fads of the time or fall prey to these common bulking mistakes we just discussed.