Does Bulking Build Muscle and Strength?

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 2,2024|14 min| 3800

A Comprehensive Guide to Bulking for Fitness Enthusiasts

The concept of “bulking” has been a focal point in the fitness world for decades, as bodybuilders and strength athletes like powerlifters and weightlifters often associate a bulk with the pursuit of muscle and strength gains. But does bulking really deliver on these promises, or is it just another fitness myth? In this in-depth guide, we will explore the relationship between bulking and muscle and strength development. We will take a deep dive into the scientific principles, the pros and cons, and provide actionable advice for individuals looking to harness the power of bulking to build muscle and strength effectively.

Let’s break it down.

Understanding Bulking

Bulking, in the context of fitness, refers to a strategic phase in which individuals intentionally consume a surplus of calories to facilitate muscle and strength gains. Let it be known that there is typically a little bit of a gain in body fat during a bulk, so you may not have those beach-ready abs during a bulk. Lifters will follow a different training regimen that typically will have them lifting heavier weight with a bit less volume and cardio, but they will be gaining some strength and size.

This bulking phase is typically followed by either a maingaining phase, where the lifter will train at the new weight and try to recomp their body; or a cutting phase, aimed at shedding excess body fat while preserving the newly gained muscle mass.

The Science Behind Bulking

Many think that bulking is just eating as much as possible and gaining a large amount of weight, and with that will come muscle mass and strength. Unfortunately, it is a much deeper topic than that!

Let’s take a look at the different aspects of bulking and what truly goes into it.

Muscle Hypertrophy: Before exploring whether bulking builds muscle and strength, it's crucial to understand muscle hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle fibers increase in size due to resistance training, combined with proper nutrition. Bulking is designed to increase muscular hypertrophy.

Caloric Surplus: Bulking necessitates maintaining a caloric surplus, where daily caloric intake surpasses maintenance calories. This surplus provides the energy needed for muscle repair and growth. However, do not let this surplus be filled with cheat meals and junk calories that will only make you fat. Eating a cheat meal here and there is good for the mind and body, but too much junk will have some detrimental effects. 

Supplementation: Diet is a great way to get in some extra calories, but turning to supplements can really help put on the size, as supplements help to make sure you are getting the proper amount of nutrients into your system to aid in muscle growth and recovery. Supplements such as creatine and meal replacements are good to help add some size and strength during your bulking phase!

The Pros and Cons of Bulking

Let's take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of the bulking approach.

Pros of Bulking

Muscle Growth: Bulking serves as an effective strategy for individuals seeking substantial muscle gains, creating an optimal environment for muscle development.

Strength Gains: Alongside muscle growth, bulking often results in increased strength, enhancing overall athletic performance.

Nutrition Focus: Bulking compels individuals to pay meticulous attention to their nutritional intake, fostering healthier eating habits and improved overall health.

Psychological Benefits: Achieving noticeable muscle gains can boost self-confidence and body image, leading to improved mental well-being.

Cons of Bulking:

Fat Accumulation: The primary drawback of bulking is the potential for concurrent fat gain, which may not align with aesthetic goals. Slight increases in body fat are almost inevitable, but making sure to eat quality foods and counting macros can help keep you earning quality mass.

Unhealthy Eating Habits: Some individuals resort to unhealthy eating habits during bulking, indulging in excessive junk food to meet calorie requirements. This is referred to as a “dirty bulk”, where people eat anything and everything to put on as much size as possible. 

Time-Consuming: Bulking and cutting cycles are time-consuming and demand dedication, which may not be feasible for everyone.

Is Bulking Right for You?

The suitability of bulking depends on various factors, including individual goals, body type, and commitment level. Here are key considerations:

Goals: If your primary objective is significant muscle and strength gains, and you can accept some fat gain in the process, bulking may be a suitable strategy.

Body Type: Those with a naturally lean physique may benefit from bulking, as they have a lower risk of excessive fat gain. However, individuals who easily accumulate fat should approach bulking cautiously, as a bulking phase can not only affect their physical appearance but also their health.

Commitment: Bulking demands unwavering dedication to both training and nutrition. If you're not prepared to meticulously track your calories and adhere to a structured workout program, whether you are looking to be a powerlifter or a bodybuilder, you may struggle to achieve desired results.

Patience: Recognize that bulking is a gradual process, and results may not be immediately visible. Patience is essential for long-term success.

Practical Tips for Effective Bulking

If you decide that bulking aligns with your fitness goals, follow these practical tips to maximize your muscle and strength-building potential:

For one, you need to determine your maintenance calories and add a modest surplus (typically 250-500 calories per day) to support muscle growth without excessive fat gain. Ensuring that you are consuming ample high-quality protein to facilitate muscle protein synthesis, aiming for at least 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Another thing you need to do is embrace a well-structured resistance training program that emphasizes compound exercises like barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, and bench presses. You can find plenty of programs that will help add strength and size right on the Boostcamp App! This goes hand in hand with monitoring your body composition changes, strength gains, and overall progress, as a well structured program can help you do these things. Adjust your calorie intake and training program as needed.

As stated above, when it comes to your diet for bulking, you do not want to overdo it on the junk foods. While maintaining a calorie surplus, prioritize nutrient-dense foods such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over empty calories from junk food. With that, you need to stay hydrated. Proper hydration is critical for muscle function and recovery. Stay adequately hydrated throughout the day.

Where to Find Good Programs

When it comes to finding proper programs to use while bulking, it may be difficult to do so. There are a lot of programs out there that do not cater to everyone, do not use progressive overload properly, and just overall are not ideal. If you are a lifter or a beginner to the gym, check out Boostcamp, the lasting lifting app you'll ever need. With the Boostcamp App you can find tons of different workout routines that will truly push you to the limit, and they are made by renowned evidence-based coaches. Boostcamp also lets you create your own custom routines and log your progress, which is great for tracking your progress and making linear progression.

To maximize your gains and simplify your fitness journey, consider using Boostcamp, the last lifting app you'll ever need. Boostcamp helps you track your progress, offers customizable training programs, and provides expert guidance to ensure you get the most out of your chosen workout program whether it's linear
push pull legs or upper lower or whatever you choose. There are also plenty of different program styles to choose from such as push pull legs or upper lower splits. Start making the most of your workouts and download Boostcamp today!

Bulking Wrap Up

In conclusion, bulking can effectively build both muscle and strength when executed correctly. This approach combines the principles of a caloric surplus, resistance training, and adequate protein intake to create an ideal environment for muscle and strength development.

However, it's crucial to acknowledge the potential for concurrent fat gain during bulking and to carefully monitor your progress throughout the process. 

Whether bulking is the right strategy for you depends on your unique fitness goals, body type, and commitment level. Remember that there are various paths to fitness success, and consistency, dedication, and patience remain the cornerstones of achieving your muscle and strength-building objectives. The bottom line is you need to have a proper diet, supplementation routine, and training regimen in place to reap the size and strength benefits of a bulk!

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