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Bulking Up - Part 1 of A Beginner's Guide to Gaining Muscle Mass by Steve Thorne
Bulking Up -Part 2 of A Beginner's Guide to Gaining Muscle Mass by Steve Thorne
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Top Resources



BULKING  - Part 1 of A beginner's guide

By Steve Thorne

Since I have been on this forum, I have seen the same sort of initial questions from beginners looking for info on getting started with a bulking program.

here is a compilation of my research that got me started bulking:
- it is a culmination of probably 40-50 hours of research over a couple months.


- By no means treat this as gospel; think of it as a starting point to direct your own research.
Everyone is different and will need a slightly different approach to suit their needs and goals.

Anyway, a bit about me:
I am a 29 year old male, ectomorph, 6 feet and 155 lbs
I have never really weight lifted seriously before.
(I was 150 two months ago when I started training!)

I have learned ALOT since I started (all natural) bulking 2 months ago.
Using the following info, I've seen great gains already!

To give you an idea, here are some of my size gains:

I've added an inch to each bicep,
an inch and a quarter to my chest,
and over an inch and a half to my shoulders!!

In terms of strength gains, I was able to add 5-10% more weight each week on most things, so I am now lifting double the weight I started at for some exercises!

(you can always expect to make some quick gains when you first start lifting, then your body starts to get used to the stress and doesn't change as quickly - so get started properly and take full advantage of your "newbie gains"!)

I owe a HUGE thanks to people on forums like this.
The least I can do is pass along what I have learned so far.
I still do about an hour of "body building" research per day if I can
- there is so much to know, and I am always trying to learn something!

OK - lets get down to it...


take a soft tape measure and record your "girth" in several places.
biceps, chest, quads, waist, shoulders, etc...

try and take a "before picture", and then try and take a "progress picture" at least once a week. (also keep track of your weekly average weight)
- use the SAME lighting and ideally the same camera lens at the same distance to avoid any optical anomalies between your photos; the only thing that you want changing in your photos should be YOUR BODY!

- it may sound cheesy to take pictures, but this combined with the numerical values of your measurements are great ways to track your gains, keep you motivated and see what is working for you.

You'll also want to keep a "work-out journal" to track specific info at each work-out, I'll get into that when we discuss the routine further down.


Plan to build your WHOLE body regardless of what "show muscles" you want to aim for...
training the whole body (including legs which most people find boring) is important as it promotes growth hormone release systemically, and that will enhance ALL areas of training and muscle development...


Be sure to understand that you will not get a "six pack" or much enhanced muscle definition while bulking.
You can work your abs all day, but the only way to reveal your six pack and other muscle definition, is to reduce the layer of fat hiding it.
That is a whole other part of body building called "cutting" where you reduce your body fat to 10% or less.
- it is near impossible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time - so don't try to.
You can do a "cutting" phase after you bulk, to show off your new body, and all of your hard work.

Don't blindly say something like "I wanna gain 25 pounds by new years", or "I wanna be benching 250 before the summer."
people post crap like that all the time - they have no idea what is or isn't possible, and set themselves up for disappointment or injuries when they push themselves too hard.

Look at your progress and be happy with small gains as they come.
As far as weight gain goes, I think 0.5 to 1 pound a week of lean muscle mass is a pretty great rate of growth.
I don't think it is possible to do much better then that with out "roids", so be happy if you can achieve that.

Your THREE main concerns are:

1) Diet

2) Routine

3) Supplements

1) DIET:

If you don't already know your body type and "basal calorie burn" you need to determine that.
here are a couple links to help with that:

Body Type

basal calculator

Generally for bulking, you want to try to get at least 18 calories/pound of lean body weight.

Try to get 1.5 or 2 grams of protein/pound of lean body weight.

- I am aiming for 30% protein, 50% carbs and 20% fat.
(some people suggest 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat)
but I can't eat that much protein to save my life, so for now, I am sticking with 30%

As for Carbs; try for complex carbs instead of simple sugars.
Have sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat bread, etc.

With fats, avoid saturated fats. Things to look for are Fish, natural peanut butter, olive oil and flax seed - they have the "good fats".

You also want to drink 4 to 6 litres of water a day!
(that's a gallon for you Americans)

Since I am an ectomorph and not worried much about fat gain, I rounded up and my target daily calorie total to 3000 (I weight 155)
As long as the ratios are good, I would rather error on the side of too many calories.
If I notice obvious fat gains, I will scale it back, but so far no issues with that.

At first I couldn't imagine how I would eat that much.
My usual day before was probably 2 crappy meals, making up a total of aprox 1800 calories.
I always used to skip breakfast...

The way to do it is to plan to have 6 small meals a day (500 calories or so)
- it isn't very hard now that I am used to it and NO SKIPPING breakfast!

Anyway - back to the ratio:

30% of 3000 = about 220 grams of protein.
Here is a good formula to know:
4 cals/gram of protein, 4 cals/gram of carbs and 9 cals/gram of fat.

Ideally, You'll want to track your diet; that can be a real chore, but unless you are actually getting your proper calories and correct amounts of protein, all your work is for nothing.
Even the best gym routine will have minimal gains if you don't feed your body well enough to gain lean muscle mass. The way the body looks at it, having extra muscle is a liability; it takes more calories to sustain additional muscle even at rest.
If memory serves, each additional pound of muscle burns 13-20 calories a day, AT REST!
So you really need to convince your body that you are going to feed it well enough that it can afford to use the extra resources and actually build muscle.

I thought that it would be impossible to accurately track my diet, who has time to do it having a busy life style?
But then I was introduced to an awesome site that makes it easy. check it out:


Train each muscle group hard ONCE per week, and try to keep gym time under an hour.
- don't do cardio within 8 hours of a workout.

I could go into detail about the reasons why, but thats a long story.
- it is mainly to do with mental intensity and biochemical factors; there is an optimal window of about 45-55 minutes for making gains, and then it fades into exhaustion and is counter productive to go any longer.
(look up "catabolic" for more info on why not to combine cardio and lifting, and why gym time should be relatively short.)

A lot of people say they are sore for a day or two, but then feel fine so they should be able to work those same muscles again 2-3 days later.
This is believed to be WRONG by the majority of the community.
Just because you aren't feeling "DOMS" (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness) doesn't mean you are "healed" and ready to train again.
I have read a lot about this lately, and from what I have found, the muscles only really begin to grow and heal AFTER the pain stops.

The idea is that YOU DON'T GROW AT THE GYM, so give your body time AWAY from the gym to grow and repair itself.

Most of what I have read says to work a muscle group ONCE per week. or even less
- some sources even say work a group once in 8-10 days!

With body building LESS is MORE
- I hear that a lot; don't try and rush it.
Eat properly and work hard on each workout then REST between them, and the gains WILL come.

You'll want to plan to take a FULL WEEK OFF from lifting about every eight weeks or so.
Take that time to let your body rest, and maybe tweak your gym routine and come back with some minor changes.
(examples of things to change: order of exercises, different exercises, numbers of sets/reps, etc...)
The idea with weight training is to keep your body guessing; as long as you are "shocking" your muscles, they WILL GROW!

This is my current split:
- it is pretty basic, but I have had good gains.

Day 1: Chest/Triceps

Day 2: Legs/calves

Day 3: OFF or cardio/abs

Day 4: Back/Biceps/forearms

Day 5: OFF or cardio/abs

Day 6: Shoulders/traps

Day 7: OFF or cardio/abs

Be sure to stretch the specific muscles during or after a workout for a few minutes. I used to think stretching before was ideal, but lately I have found many sources that say stretching before lifting may actually increase risk of injury. Warm-up sets (as described below) will prepare muscles for load bearing.

Take a full 90-120 second BREAK between sets! this may seem long, but it works.

FORM is very important, heavy weight with bad form will only hinder your gains (or worse - you could get injured).
Do your homework, LEARN how to do each exercise properly.
This is a good place to start:

great info about exercises and muscles

Start each workout with compound movements, then move into the isolation work toward the end.
Let's use legs as an example :
"Squats" are a great compound leg exercise, and "seated calf raises" are isolation.

Use light weight and build up slowly for the first couple weeks while you get used to how everything feels, and what weight you can handle.
There is no shame in lifting light to learn form; but it is pretty embarrassing (or much worse) to drop a bar on your face trying to be a tough guy.
you could also end up pulling something or tearing a ligament, and that kind of injury can haunt you for years. So don't mess with weight you can't handle.

You may have heard of "pyramid sets", or "super sets" with short breaks between sets...
personally, I don't think these are very good, they can lead to exhaustion before you get a chance to really work the muscle.

The idea that I believe in is a basic version of the "MAX-OT" philosophy, based on warming up with light weight, building toward the heavy weight without exhaustion, then going heavy for 3 sets to failure.
(as a beginner, there is no point in trying something as advanced as MAX-OT, but later, look into it)

So for now, try something like this:

Warm-up on each muscle group as follows:
NOTE: if you are failing on these sets - you are lifting too heavy for warm-up

1 set at 50% for 10-12 reps,
1 set at 70% for 8 reps,
1 set at 90% for 3 reps,

Now go heavy (100%) for 3 sets aiming to fail between 6-8 reps.
if you can lift more then 8 reps it is not heavy enough.
(advanced body builders will aim for failure between 4-6 reps)

*NOTE: These warm-up sets are only for the first exercise in each muscle group...
example - if "Flat Bench press" is your first "chest day" exercise (as it should be since it is a great compound movement), then warm up on it, but don't warm up again for incline bench, since your chest is already good to go.
Triceps are a small muscle group often paired with "chest day".
Since your Tri's were used in all your "push movements" while working your chest, they are already more a less warmed up.
I wouldn't do the full 3 or 4 warm up sets for Tri's, maybe just do one warm-up set at 70% and then go to your heavy sets.

- you don't want to be exhausted, just warmed up.


Make a "work-out journal".
This is an important way to find out what is working, and notice plateaus.
Use your journal for each work-out and track what weight you lifted and how many reps you did for each exercise.
If you are doing things correctly, each progressive week you should be able to do more reps with the same weight, or add 5-10% more weight and do the same number of reps as the previous week.

A journal is a critical part of your plan to make gains, as it will help keep you on track.
It is also great for motivation to be able to look back a few weeks and see how much stronger you are now!

do 3-4 exercises per muscle group
- try and use free weights instead of machines.
When lifting heavy with intentions to go to failure, always try to work out with a spotter...
(use dumbbells as opposed to barbell for things like bench press if you don't have a spotter, so you can drop them to your side safely if you have trouble.)

3) Supplements:

You'll want to have a good multi-vitamin, and maybe additional vitamin C.
Also look into creatine, glutamine, and ZMA.

Of course "whey protein" is a must to meet your daily protein needs.
(but don't do more then 2 or 3 shakes a day - you want to get more then half of your protein from REAL food sources..

As most weight trainers put their joints and tendons through the ringer, it is a good idea to look into a "connective tissue maintenance" supplement as well.

most of my research points to these three elements:
Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM
- you can buy them individually, but it makes more sense to look for a tablet that contains all three.

There is a start to get you on the road to natural, safe and healthy bulking!

Part 2 -An Initial Bulking Weight Routine

See more of Steve Thorne in the DiscussBodybuilding forum under the screen name of Schteevie


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