50 tried and tested tips for hard-gainers and skinny guys who want to put on body mass and bulk up!
1. Limit your cardiovascular/aerobic activities. Some cardio exercise will help you maintain your aerobic ability during the bulking phrase, but moderate to high level cardiovascular exercise will expel a high number of much needed calories, limiting weight gain.
2. Train intensely and to near failure. The high calorie environment with a surplus of nutrients allows for maximum effort in the gym, and optimal recovery.
3. Focus on heavy and intense compound exercises. Don’t waste your time on isolation exercises; instead focus on the multi-joint exercises which stimulate a larger number of muscles. Squats, deadlifts, bench pressing, over-head pressing, rows, chins etc. A small number of isolation exercises may be added but focus on the compounds!
4. Eat regularly. Some say every 2 hours, some say every 4 hours – just remember the body is craving nutrients and energy to fuel the growth and recovery process.
5. Eat a lot. Bulking up requires gaining weight. Gaining weight involves a calorie surplus, hence the need for a larger than normal food intake.
6. Eat dirty if necessary. Some “hard gainers” may benefit from adding in some cheat meals into the equation to increase overall calorie intake.
7. But on the whole eat lots of clean food. Gaining quality weight will require quality nutrients. Whilst some cheat meals may aid the “hard gainer”, it is still important to eat foods which will likely aid in adding muscle, not fat.
8. Use negatives reps. This is when the training partner takes the weight during the positive/concentric phase of the repetition, whilst the trainer takes the full load on the negative/eccentric phase. The negative phrase is typically performed in a slow and controlled manner. Be prepared for serious DOMS the next day.
9. Increase protein intake to 1.5g-2g/lb of bodyweight. Protein is vital for muscle building, so ensure a sufficient amount is consumed. Split the intake into regular meals.
10. Increase carbohydrate intake to 2-3g/lb of bodyweight. Lots of energy is needed for heavy and intense training sessions, as well as the repairing process.
11. Eats plenty of nuts, seeds, natural oils, and oily fish. “Good fats” aid in hormonal production and regulation, as well as other important bodily functions. Fat is also very calorie dense.
12. Consume whey in water directly after training. Whey protein is quickly absorbed, making it ideal for the post workout phrase where the body is like a sponge. 40g of whey in water would be suitable for most.
13. Add maltodextrin and dextrose to your post workout shake. 40 grams of each mixed into a post workout shake would ensure rapid replenishment of glycogen stores.
14. Perform “drop sets” to blast through plateaus. Perform a set until near failure with a given weight, decrease the resistance and rep again to near failure without a rest.
15. Stop relying on supplements. Eat lots of real wholesome food to bulk up.
16. Try supplementing with creatine monohydrate or CEE.
17. If you struggle to eat as large breakfast try consuming maltodextrin and/or dextrose upon awakening. After 30-45mins consume breakfast - your appetite will be increased.
18. Be patient. Adding quality body mass takes time, trying to rush the process may lead to excessive gains in body fat.
19. Relax during the day. Decreasing activity and increasing rest will lead to less calorie expenditure, and time for the body to recover from the intense workouts.
20. Sleep well. Aim to sleep for at least 7-8 hours each night. You should feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep.
21. Consume a meal prior to bed to ensure nutrients throughout the night. Many choose to consume a casein protein shake due to its slow absorption rate.
22. Train where you feel most motivated and allows you to train most effectively. Some prefer to train at home alone, for others the gym will mentally prepare them for the workout (plus there is usually a wider choice of exercise equipment available).
23. Consume liquid calories if you are struggling to consume sufficient calories. Smoothies with peanut butter, yogurt, whey protein etc will provide an easy to consume meal, packed full of calories and nutrients.
24. Prepare meals before work/school, so you know you have all the correct meals in place.
25. Do not be afraid to lose your flat stomach or six pack. Bulking up will mean some gain in body fat due to the surplus calories.
26. Take measurements to monitor progression. Not gaining any size on chest, arms and thighs, but gaining around the waist? Adjust calorie intake and change around your training program. Not gaining any size? Do not be afraid to up the calories.
27. Purchase a quality weight gainer or MRP. Weight gainers typically contain maltodextrin as their main carbohydrate source (which may be suitable for those who struggle to gain mass), but it is also possible to purchase a weight gainer which has oats or barley as the main source (Reflex Instant Mass is an example).
28. Leave a glass of casein protein or mass gainer in the fridge, and consume it if you get up during the night for the toilet. This is an easy method of upping calories, and maintaining a positive nitrogen balance.
29. Snack on fruit and nuts in-between meals if needed. Fruit will supply the body with micronutrients and nuts are a good source of fat and protein.
30. If you sometimes need to travel, keep a spare box of protein bars, or sachets of MRPs. If you opt for the later, keep a shaker with you, so you can purchase a bottle of water to mix the powder within the shaker.
31. Lower repetitions are not needed for “mass gaining”. The repetition range which is optimal for muscle hypertrophy should be followed, which is typically between 8-12, although it would be wise to experiment with repetition ranges to find what works best for you.
32. Register to a quality bodybuilding forum. Look for quality bodybuilding forums such as MuscleTalk.co.uk and UK-Muscle.co.uk. Forums are a great place to ask questions and learn from others.
33. Write out a shopping list prior to going shopping (and double check it against a bulking meal plan), so you ensure you buy the quality foods needed for bulking up. Impulsive buying may lead to forgetting a food item, not buying the correct quantities, and filling your basket with rubbish foods.
34. Forget the marketing hype of supplements on the market. Ask on forums if you are thinking of purchasing a new supplement so you can gain information on whether it will be an aid to your bulking plan and other people’s personal experiences from using the supplement.
35. Avoid pro-hormone products and steroids unless you completely understand how they work, the risks, and are prepared for the possible side effects and the post cycle period. Note: We do not endorse the use of illicit substances.
36. For a sample meal plan for a beginner wishing to bulk up, see this bulking meal plan.
37. If the bulking phase causes the stomach to hold excess fat it is not possible to burn away the fat via crunches and other abdominal exercises. Excessive fat gain is avoided by a steady reduction in calories.
38. Go to your local butcher and fishmonger for your shopping. When buying in large quantities many local butchers and fishmongers may end up being cheaper, with a higher quality of product to boot.
39. Be prepared for comments from your partner and family members about “getting fat”.
40. Squat and deadlift, if you are not already doing so. These exercises are often labelled the king of exercises due to the large number of muscles they recruit.
41. Be realistic. Adding 20lbs of muscle takes a lot of time and effort. Realise the bulking phase will likely lead to some fat gain, and the amount of muscle which can be obtained each week is limited.
42. Allow muscles to rest for 72 hours before training them again. Intensive training will lead to muscle breakdown, which needs to be repaired. Allow sufficient time for the muscle to repair and grow before training it again.
43. Train the same muscle two days in a row every once in a while. This may not be a wise idea for the long term, but back to back training can result in greater shock and stress to the muscle fibres, leading to greater hypertrophy if the muscle is allowed to recover.
44. Have a balanced training routine. You should be aiming to add mass all over, and therefore you need a workout plan which stimulates all the muscles of the body. Purely focusing on the smaller muscle groups, such as the arms and shoulders, will lead to an imbalanced physique, as well as massively hindering overall mass gains.
45. Stretch intensely post workout in an attempt to stretch the muscle fascia. The fascia is the sack which holds the muscle in place, and many bodybuilders perform intense stretches and have deep tissue massages to reduce the constrictiveness of the tissue.
46. Perform “forced reps” to train past failure, and shock the muscles. This training method should be used sparingly, but is suited for a bulking plan where calories, energy and nutrients are plentiful.
47. Try a mini training cycle to ensure continuous change to the stimulus. This may involve; week 1 – low repetitions 1-4 reps per set, week 2 – low repetitions 4-8 reps per set, week 3 – moderate repetitions 8-12 reps per set, week 4 – high repetitions 12-16 reps per set.
48. The pump is not an ego trip. Many trainers and members of online communities play down the pump, and label it as a short lived phenomenon. The pump is actually a highly anabolic process, where myofibril hydration is high, and protein synthesis takes place.
49. Remember to invest in some larger clothes!
50. Continue to educate yourself. Follow the top bodybuilding and fitness sites on the web, and continue to research into nutrition, training, rest and supplementation. Knowledge is power, as they say.