Sometimes it feels like both the weight loss and workout industries are just fueled by the Green-Eyed Monster.
If your primary fitness goal is to build muscle mass like a bodybuilder, then we’re here to demystify the process.
Will it be hard work? You betchya!
Worth every minute? Guaranteed.
Let’s get started.
Intensify Your Training
In order to pack on muscle, you’ll need to shift your attitudes about two things: your training and your diet.
Here’s how you can up the ante when you’re busting out reps in the weight room:
1. Go for intensity, not volume
If you’re still trying to zip through as many reps as you can in the hopes of building bigger muscles, it’s time to re-think your training program.
By using heavier weights, slowing down your reps, and decreasing your rest time, you’ll be able to increase the intensity of your workouts, advises trainer Brock Cunico, founder of BMC Fitness.
“Research has shown that high-intensity exercise is a powerful method to increase your body's ability to rely on stored fat for fuel, which...can have a positive impact on your body composition,” Cunico writes.
If you want to bulk up, lift using a weight that fatigues your muscles within 12 reps, suggests Cunico. “If you can get to 15 reps easily, then those dumbbells are too light!”
2. Going up?
The best way to build muscle is to push yourself to lift progressively heavier weights. If you’re re-treading the same ground every time you head to the gym, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
You can also increase your rep range to gain muscle mass, suggests Joey Vallaincourt at Bodybuilding.com. “Changing the rep range will make your body adapt to the new stress causing you to gain weight in the form of muscle,” he writes.
How often should you increase your range? Vallaincourt suggests changing it up every four to six weeks - this should give you enough time to develop skill at your current level and be ready to take the next step.
3. Hate that exercise? Put it on your list.
We all have our weaknesses.
And whether you wish you could do twenty pull ups without batting an eye or bench press 400 pounds without breaking a sweat, you won’t be able to tackle areas of growth without facing them head on.
That’s why, health and fitness writer Shannon Clark explains, it’s important to include difficult exercises in your training program - even ones you’d pay someone to never have to do again.
No matter which exercise pushes your button, add it to your list the next time you head to the gym. Re-engage with that muscle group and watch yourself grow.
4. Stop boredom in its tracks
Building muscle mass takes hard work and dedication. But if you’re depending on the same core set of exercises every time you head to the gym, your muscles will never be challenged to truly build mass.
Not sure how to switch it up? Clark has some ideas:
“For instance, do a wide-grip lat pull-down one session and a reverse-grip pull-down the next time. Play around with different lunge variations or even different push-up hand positions. Little changes can quickly add up and contribute to faster results,” she writes.
This tactic has the added benefit of keeping you engaged in your training program every step of the way.
Once you start tracking your progress against the variations you tackle in the weight room, you’ll never be bored on your path to getting bulky.
5. Quit it with the cardio already
Watch What You Eat
When you’re trying to bulk up, your diet has to change right along with your training program.
Here’s the skinny (er, figuratively speaking, that is!):
1. Stop leaning so hard on supplements
Don’t get us wrong - meal supplements, like protein shakes and other nutrient blocks, can work wonders.
The number one mistake we see folks make? Depending on supplements to do the work for them.
Remember, supplements are supposed to help you offset the calories that you burned in the gym or give you the extra burst of nutrients you need to get through your day.
All the supplements in the world can’t make up for failing to eat a protein-rich diet or putting in the right amount of work in the weight room.
2. Prioritize your meals
If it’s unrealistic to expect supplements to do the work for you, then you’ve got to put in the effort where it counts: your meals.
At Bodybuilding.com, bodybuilder Hunter Labrada gives us a peek at how he fuels his workouts.
“[I balance] meals around lean protein, [include] nutrient-rich, low-glycemic carbs, [and enjoy] generous portions of healthy fats,” writes Labrada, who eats up to 5,000 calories a day.
By focusing your attention on preparing meals filled with protein, veggies, and healthy fats, you’ll be able to start building up to bulk in no time.
One last tip? While meal prep can certainly help save you time, you’ll start getting bored when you pull out your fourth container of chicken and broccoli out of the fridge.
When you’re trying to bulk up, diet boredom can be a serious roadblock! Take a little pleasure in preparing your meals, then start packing on the calories to offset all your hard work.
3. Time your nutrients
Eating enough calories to help you build muscle mass takes plenty of planning - and an attention to detail.
The best time to consume your calories is in the morning, when your metabolism is humming along, and post-workout. All that hard work means you need to replenish your body with muscle-building protein!
"Your insulin sensitivity is at its peak first thing in the morning and immediately after your workout," athlete Tobias Young, told Bodybuilding.com. "For me, eating more carbs early in the morning and after my workouts has brought optimal results."
4. Embrace fats and carbs
Are we giving you carte blanche to run out and eat a Snickers bar? No way!
But a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, like avocado, olive oil, and peanut butter can help you build bulk the healthy way.
Just like there are plenty of “healthy fats” to choose from, you can also re-think your approach to carbs. Chow down on fruits, pasta, and oatmeal for an extra dose of fiber and fuel.
And because calories count when you’re trying to bulk up, you don’t have to freak about that extra dollop of olive oil on your salad or handful of almonds.
5. Try a mass gainer
When all’s said and done, some people just don’t have the right genetic makeup to gain muscle quickly.
If you’ve been putting in your time in the weight room, progressively challenging yourself by increasing your load, and eating a protein-rich diet, it may be time to try a mass gainer if you haven’t been seeing results.
You don’t have to be Superman (or Superwoman) to bulk up like a bodybuilder.
As you plan your next training session, consider how you can intensify your workout - whether you add weight or add reps as part of a progressive challenge. The harder you focus on challenging your muscles, the more quickly they’ll grow.
Like all integrated diet and training programs, you can’t build mass without the right fuel. But by prioritizing your meals and consuming a protein-rich diet, you should start to see a big difference in the way your body recovers from - and powers through - your workout.
Have you had success gaining muscle mass? Tell us your stories in the comments below: