Bulking Workout: Your Program to Help Build Muscle

Winter's coming, which means it’s time to find a bulking workout.

“Cutting” — focusing on burning body fat — is the counterpart to bulking. Fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders often obsess over in hopes of getting a chiseled physique — but you can't cut year-round. Instead, you need to strike a balance between bulking (weight gain) and cutting (weight/fat loss) to build lean muscle.

While it may sound counterintuitive, bulking can actually aid with cutting. Here's why: When you bulk, you add a significant amount of muscle mass by eating more calories than you burn. This adds muscle and fat to your frame. When it comes time to cut, you burn that fat and expose muscle underneath. 

In addition, muscle tissue is more metabolically demanding than fat tissue. By bulking up, you will set the foundation for a cutting phase by increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Bulking requires three things: supplements, nutrition, and a bulking workout. Below, we explain how to design a bulking workout, what to eat, and which supplements to take during a bulking season.

How to Design a Bulking Workout: Tips for Beginners 

If you want to successfully bulk up and add a considerable amount of muscle mass, focus on the following goals when designing a bulking workout

  • Limit cardio: Cardio workouts (including HIIT and steady-state cardio) are fine in moderation when bulking, but they can make it harder to achieve a calorie surplus and detract you from resistance training (which is priority number one). Try to limit your cardio sessions to 20-30 minutes, 3-5 times per week.  
  • Focus on large muscle groups: In each workout, focus on hitting several large muscle groups, such as your back, chest, core muscles, glutes and hamstrings, and quads.
  • Maximize rest time: Don't feel as though you need to jump straight from one set to the next. Instead, rest 1-2 minutes between sets. This preps you for the goals below.
  • Lift heavy: Rather than focusing on a high volume of reps with little weight, focus on lifting heavy weights with proper form, especially on compound exercises like the barbell squat and bench press. Lengthening your rest time between heavier sets will allow you to keep up with your workouts.
  • Use a balance of strength and hypertrophy rep ranges: Begin each workout with two or three exercises in strength-focus rep ranges, such as 3-6 reps per set. As the workout progresses and your muscles fatigue, transition to a muscle-hypertrophy (muscle growth) focus, keeping your rep range at a moderate level of roughly 8-12 reps per set. 
  • Be cautious about super-sets: You can do super-sets (i.e. alternating between exercises) if you give yourself adequate rest. Otherwise, focus on straight sets (completing all sets of one exercise before moving to the next). 
  • Don't do two-a-days: Have you completed your workout for the day? Good. Now go home. Performing two-a-days is completely unnecessary for bulking up and may even hinder muscle gain.

Bulking Workout Routine: How to Design Your Program

Bulking workout: Woman lifting a barbell

The best bulking program is the one that works for your lifestyle, schedule, and fitness goals

How you set up your workouts throughout the week will depend on several factors, including:

  • How many days you have to work out 
  • How much time you have to work out (per workout)
  • How much mass you want to gain

For example, let's say you plan to workout four days per week for roughly 50 minutes each (including a dynamic warm-up and cool-down stretches).To ensure your muscles get enough rest and recovery, you might want to train Monday and Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, train Thursday and Friday, then take the weekends off. In addition, you don't want to train the same muscle group on back-to-back days. Therefore, you can implement a four-day split in a number of ways:

  • Body-part splits: You can divide your workouts between chest (pecs) and back, legs, arms and shoulders, and glutes and hamstrings
  • Push vs. pull splits: You can alternate between "push days" and "pull days," working muscles that pull weights (e.g. lats, biceps, and hamstrings) one day and muscles that push weights (e.g. chest, triceps, and quads) the next.
  • Upper body vs. lower body splits: You can alternate between upper- and lower-body workouts. For example, you would train your glutes, hamstrings, and quads on Monday, then work your chest, back, and shoulders on Tuesday. 

Put It All Together: A Sample Push-Pull Bulking Workout Program

Now that you understand how to design a program to gain muscle mass, it's time to piece together a bulking routine. Below, we outline a push-pull workout program divided into four workouts per week as follows: 

  • Monday: Push day
  • Tuesday: Pull day
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Push day
  • Friday: Pull day
  • Saturday and Sunday: Rest

Monday: Push Day 

Warm up for a minimum of five minutes with plyometric movements such as high knees, butt kicks, and toy soldiers.

Heavy Compound Lifts 

Rest for 90-120 seconds between sets (up to three minutes may be necessary for your last few heavy sets).

  • Barbell back squats: Perform five sets, beginning with 12 reps on your first set and decreasing to 4–6 reps on your fifth as you add weight each set.
  • Flat Barbell bench press: Follow the same protocol as back squats.

Rest two minutes before moving on to your first circuit.

Superset 1

Perform one set of the first exercise, then quickly move onto the next exercise; completing one set of both exercises in succession counts as one round/superset. Rest no more than 15 seconds between exercises and one minute between rounds. Perform four rounds (supersets) of each exercise., 

After completing four supersets, rest two minutes and move on to the circuit below.

Circuit 1 

Follow the same protocol as with the above superset, performing one set of each exercise before moving onto the next (and minimal rest between exercises). Completing one set of all four exercises in succession counts as one round. Perform two rounds, resting one minute between each.

Cool down with some dynamic stretching of the muscles you worked.

Tuesday: Pull-Day 

Warm up for a minimum of five minutes with plyometric movements such as high knees, butt kicks, and toy soldiers.

Heavy Compound Lifts 

Give yourself at least one minute between sets, and. 

  • Barbell deadlifts: Follow the same pyramid progression scheme as you did for back squats the day before, gradually increasing the weight on the bar and reducing the reps as you go up. Perform five sets total, starting with 10 to 12 reps on the first set and working up to a top set of 3 to 4 reps. 
  • Barbell bent-over rows: Follow the same protocol as deadlifts.

Rest two minutes before moving on to your first circuit. 

Circuit 1

As with the push-day circuit, perform one set of each exercise before moving onto the next, with minimal rest until you complete all three movements. Perform four rounds total, resting one minute between each.

Rest two minutes before moving on to the next circuit. 

Circuit 2 

Follow the same protocol as the previous circuit.

Don’t forget to stretch afterward.

Bulking Nutrition: How to Eat to Gain Lean Muscle

Man making a protein shake

To build muscle, you need to increase your calorie intake by consuming a balance of carbohydrates, high-quality protein, and healthy fats

One of the biggest mistakes people make when bulking is simply not eating enough. To avoid that, keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Increase your caloric intake: We can't say this enough — your body needs to consume more calories than it burns through weightlifting to build muscle. Focus on calorie-dense foods, like nuts, whole-milk dairy, whole eggs, and lean meat.
  • Eat enough protein, fat, and carbs: During your bulking phase, you should not follow a low-carb or low-fat diet. Instead, keep a healthy balance of your macros
  • Consume a protein shake within 30 minutes of working out: After strength training, your body needs protein to build muscle in a process called protein synthesis. To maximize muscle gains, consume whey protein powder within half an hour of finishing your workout.
  • Increase the frequency of your meals: You don't need to eat until you're painfully full to achieve a caloric surplus. Instead, try to eat a complete meal every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day.

Bulking Season Musts: Eat, Train, and Rest

Athletes and bodybuilders often fixate on cutting season to cut weight and body fat. However, in order to achieve the best results, you should balance cutting and bulking (muscle-building) phases.

Bulking workouts require adequate rest, heavy lifting, and a low-to-moderate amount of reps per set. Emphasize weight training and perform cardio workouts (such as interval training) sparingly to conserve energy for muscle growth. 

Remember, you will need to be in a caloric surplus to gain muscle mass. Increase your fat, carb, and protein intake when bulking. If you’re struggling to consume enough through whole foods, supplement with Protein Series Mass Gainer within 30 to 60 minutes post-workout. You may also benefit by taking Transparent Labs Bulk Pre-Workout before you hit the gym.

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