What does ‘bulking’ mean?

What does the term ‘bulking’ mean in a bodybuilding context?

Although most people would understand the word ‘bulking’ (when discussed in the context of bodybuilding, weight training, gym going and fitness), it is actually viewed in slightly different ways by different people. In this article we will look at the common definitions given to bulking and the variety of ways it is used in the health and fitness industry. (For the purposes of this article, the phrases gaining mass/size, adding mass/size etc…are all interchangeable with bulking and when used should be taken to mean the same thing).

In general terms, bulking is the accrual of over all body mass, which includes muscle mass, fat mass and water. When adding mass these are the three things that you will increase in order to add overall bulk to your frame, i.e. adding weight and seeing the scales increase on a week by week basis. It would be very easy to stop the article here and leave it at that. Most would agree with the definition I have presented I’m sure, but I don’t want to leave my readers with a single definition and nothing else, so let’s have a look at other ways the term is used on bodybuilding circles.

Lean bulking: What is it?

I actually really hate this term as bulking, by its very nature, is not lean. This phrase has been popularised over the last 3/4 year by those who want to stay lean all year round and add quality (but small) amounts of lean muscle mass to their frames. Sure, they’ll be getting bigger, but I’d prefer to simply call this an ‘adding lean mass’ phase. Another reason why I am not a fan of this is because skinny newbie’s who are looking to add mass will gravitate towards this style of adding muscle with the believe that they can add slabs of muscle mass yet stay extremely lean when doing so, which, as we all know is impossible (unless you’re an assisted athlete). The problem is, is that those promoting this style of gaining have been doing their ‘lean bulk’ for several years, yet they will preach to newcomers that this is the best way to add size, when it clearly isn’t. It is these same newbies that will complain of no gains after size months because they simply haven’t been eating enough calories to facilitate growth, and it is this demographic which is the most likely to turn to steroid usage way before they have the need for it.

Dirty bulking: What is it and is it beneficial for adding mass?

This phrase ‘dirty bulking’ goes back many decades and was at one time the most popular way for people to add mass. But what actually is it? In short, it is basically a ‘see food, eat food’ type of approach, i.e. eating every both clean and dirty (junk food) in order to consume enough calories to put on size. Does it work? Yes, you will put on a hell of a lot of mass if you train hard enough and eat this way, however, as you will have probably guess by now, it won’t be all quality muscle gains – there will be fat and water to go with it. How much will be dependent on how your body tolerates and processes excess fat and carbs, but one thing I am sure of (both through personal experience and science) is that if you train extremely hard with high amounts of intensity, it is very hard to actually gain a lot of fat. If you are taking this approach then I would always advise high protein and carbs and moderate fat. Why? Well, the body isn’t very efficient at converting carbohydrates into stored body, so by keeping fats relatively low, it lessens the chances of your adding pounds of blubber onto your frame.

But what is the best way – ‘lean’ or ‘dirty’? There are far too many variables at play for me to give a specific answer to that question! Let’s just say that to bulk up efficiently (i.e. gain as much mass as possible in the shortest amount of time) you need excess calories…and to be comfortable with losing your abs for several months of the year!

The basics of bulking explained…

Unfortunately, due to the influx of social media and youtube ‘gurus’ trying to impress with science and terminology (and probably sell you something!), the explanation of the process by which you can muscle and body mass has become overly complicated. This, of course, is not helpful to a newcomer to bodybuilding as they will not have a clue where to start. In short, (this will sound very oversimplified, but sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to make progress) you need to eat more calories than you require to maintain your body weight; you need to adhere to a progressive weights program with the aim of getting stronger; you need to rest adequately and most importantly of all you must remain consistent. It will take around 2-3 months of continual effort to see any real differences in your physique and many, many more months to achieve your end goal. This is where most people fail as they do not have the patience and give up very quickly (hence why you see a lot of new people in the gym in January and February who then soon disappear).

I like to call it C.A.M.E.S:

  • C – Consistency
  • A – Adequate calories
  • M.E – Maximal Effort
  • S – Sleep

If you stick to that when bulking (or cutting, recomping etc…) then you cannot fail to make progress and get closer to achieving your end goal. Try not to watch too many interent ‘gurus’ as they will be fill your head with overcomplicated nonsense, which benefits nobody. Keep it simple!


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