Unlocking the Secrets of Bulking Season- 3 Biggest Bulking Mistakes to Avoid

Unlocking the Secrets of Bulking Season: 3 Biggest Bulking Mistakes to Avoid

Winter is here. And for those in the bodybuilding and fitness world, this signals the start of the bulking season. It’s the perfect time to put those extra holiday calories towards building muscle and gaining strength. 

But without the proper knowledge and strategy, navigating bulking season can be tricky. It’s easy to fall into common traps that can hinder your progress and pose health problems. 

That’s why in this guide, our goal is to empower you with the knowledge you need to have a successful bulking season so that by spring, you’re ready to shed your winter coat and reveal your new physique.  

Note: Fitness Town’s content is meant to be informative and should not take the place of any advice you receive from a medical professional. 

What Is Bulking?

If you’re a bodybuilder, an athlete, or an avid gym-goer, you’re in 1 of 3 seasons: cutting season, maintenance season, or bulking season. During bulking season, your goal is to build muscle without gaining too much fat in the process. You’ll want to eat enough food to be in a calorie surplus (where your calories consumed are greater than calories burned).  But remember, you don’t need to go overboard with your calorie intake – research suggests that a moderate surplus of an extra 300-500 calories a day is plenty to put on some pounds.[1]

There are plenty of benefits to going through a bulking phase, but the two most important are improving your strength and building muscle mass. When you eat more calories (especially those that come from carbs), you’re going to have more energy and endurance to push heavier weights (progressive overload). And when you lift heavier weights, you’re building bigger, stronger, more dense muscles. 

But as we approach bulking season, it’s important to remember that not all bulks are created equal.

Dirty Bulk vs Clean Bulk

Dirty Bulk – a dirty bulk is when your sole focus is on calorie intake and not on your food choices. When someone does a dirty bulk, they fill their diet with high-calorie foods like pizza, burgers, and other junk food. This will make you gain muscle faster, but you’ll also gain a significant amount of fat in the process. 

Clean Bulk – during a clean bulk, you’re equally focused on calorie intake as you are on filling your diet with healthy meals. Your macros are much more balanced between:

  • Lean protein: chicken, turkey, lean beef, and plant-based protein like tempeh or tofu
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olive oil, nuts, salmon
  • Simple & complex carbohydrates: sweet potato, white rice, quinoa, fruits, oats

While you’ll gain muscle faster with a dirty bulk, it’s not worth the excess fat gain and lower energy caused by unhealthy junk food. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. And a clean bulk that offers sustainable energy and healthy muscle growth is the way to go.

Difference Between Cutting and Bulking

Cutting and bulking are two sides of the same coin. While bulking focuses on gaining muscle mass (and inevitably, some fat), cutting is about reducing body fat while maintaining as much of that muscle you built as possible. 

Bulking requires a caloric surplus, whereas cutting requires a caloric deficit (calories consumed are less than calories burned). The training focus also shifts, with strength training being more important when bulking and cardio playing a bigger part of your cutting phase. A cutting phase should always follow a bulk. (How else are you going to uncover those gains?!) 

Nutritional and Supplement Strategies for Bulking

Now that we’ve established a clean bulk is the way to go, what should your macros look like? 

Macros–short for macronutrients–are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up your diet. You can estimate your current daily macros and calories by using a macro calculator and a food planner (like My FitnessPal) to track your daily intake. 

Once you’ve established your maintenance calorie level (how much you eat day to day), researchers recommend increasing your daily calorie consumption by about 10-20% to gain around 0.25-0.5% of your body weight per week.[2] For example, if the average person consumes 2,000 calories per day, during a bulking phase you would increase that to about 2,200-2,400 calories per day. Increasing your carbs and protein intake is crucial for bulking because they help provide energy and build muscle. So make sure they take up a good chunk of your daily calorie limit. 

Supplements That Can Help With Your Bulk

  • Whey Protein – protein powder is a convenient and effective way to sneak in some extra protein (which is crucial for building muscle and muscle recovery) and hit your daily goals. 
  • Creatine Monohydrate – there are two types of creatine supplements: 1) creatine HCL and 2) creatine monohydrate. Studies suggest that creatine monohydrate is more effective for improving strength, increasing lean muscle mass, and helping your muscles recover quicker during strength training (building muscular endurance).[3
  • Mass Gainer – if you’re not used to consuming an extra 200-500 calories a day, it can be tough. But hitting your calorie goal is essential during a bulk, which is where mass gainers come in. They contain a blend of carbs, proteins, and fats that can fill any gaps you have between meals. 
  • Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – BCAAs are made up of 3 amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re the building blocks of protein that help with muscle repair and recovery. 

How Should You Work Out During Your Bulk?

During bulking season, your workouts are going to revolve around strength training. Compound exercises like bench presses, squats, and deadlifts will be your muscle-building best friends. If you’re an athlete who focuses mostly on cardio, like a marathon runner, this can feel a little scary. But don’t worry, contrary to popular belief, you don’t give up all your cardio training just because it’s #bulkingszn. 

Lift Heavy Weights For Strength and Muscle Growth

Bulking to build the size and strength of your muscles requires a mix of heavy lifting and high reps. When you lift heavy weights for low reps (anywhere between 3-5 reps per set), you are building muscular strength and density. When you lift a moderate weight for a moderate amount of reps (somewhere between 8-12) you’re achieving muscle hypertrophy which is responsible for muscle growth.

Some of our favourite strength training tools are:

  • The NUObell 550 adjustable dumbbells: Adjustable from 5-80lbs, they’re perfect for any training phase from your bulk to your cut. 
  • The Fitness Town Olympic Barbell and Fitness Town Rubber Bumper Plates: A good Olympic barbell and bumper plates are great for compound exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, plus you can throw in some Snatches and Clean & Jerks. 
  • The Fitness Town Super Bench: When you’re benching heavy weights, you want a sturdy bench that’s going to be stable during the lift. And the Fitness Town F.I.D. adjustable bench is perfect for upper body training plus it makes a solid base for things like step-ups and box jumps on leg days. 
  • HOIST HF-5970 Multi-Purpose Squat Rack: Like your bench, a stable squat rack helps you push your limits with safety. It’s the perfect partner for exercises like squats and overhead shoulder presses. Plus the attached pull-up bar lets you build your back through exercises like weighted pull-ups. 

Don’t Neglect Cardio

A common misconception with bulking season is that you cut out all cardio. After all, you want to be in a calorie surplus, and doesn’t cardio burn calories? Well, yes, it does – but cardio is also crucial for keeping your heart and lungs healthy, especially with higher calories. You don’t have to go crazy, but a few 15-30 minute sessions a week on these tools will maintain your overall health and can even help with recovery:

  • Keiser M3i Indoor Spin Bike: A quick ride on this spin bike after a heavy leg day can help flush the lactic acid from your legs which helps you avoid painful soreness.
  • Assault Air Bike: This dual-purpose bike counts as your cardio but can also help you achieve a full-body workout. The air fan creates unlimited resistance, so if you want a challenge, just pedal faster!
  • LifeSpan TR1200i Folding Treadmill: Since you won’t be running a full 42km marathon during bulking season, you’ll want a treadmill with adjustable resistance and incline levels that are good for flat and incline walks and light jogs.

Prioritize Rest & Recovery

Heavy strength training puts extra stress on your joints and causes microtears in your muscles (don’t worry, it’s all part of the hypertrophy process). But your muscles need time to repair themselves, so prioritizing rest and recovery sessions is crucial during bulking season. Recovery tools can even help massage out knots and flush out lactic acid (because if you’re sore, it’s going to be harder to train the next day).

  • GRID Foam Roller: You can get a professional-level massage right from home with this foam roller. There are multiple elevation levels for different massage pressures so you can roll away soreness and melt away deep knots and scar tissue. 
  • Hyperice Hypervolt Massage Gun: Sometimes pesky knots need a more precise massage. This massage gun is super lightweight and portable so you can keep it in your gym bag for a pre or post-workout recovery session. 

3 Biggest Mistakes Made When Bulking

When done correctly, a bulking phase can be a useful tool in your bodybuilding journey for building muscle size and strength. But it can quickly become out of control if you don’t take the proper approach. Let’s take a look at the 3 biggest mistakes that can impact the results of your bulking season. 

Eating Whatever You Want

The bulking season might make you think you have a free pass to eat whatever you want when you want. While you do need to consume a large amount of food to reach a calorie surplus and promote muscle growth, it can’t all be through highly processed junk food. You need a structured diet plan with specific macros and a caloric ceiling, plus balanced food choices to keep your fat gain and overall health under control. 

Doing Too Much Cardio

Whether you’re cutting or bulking, cardio is an important part of any training program. It helps keep your heart and lungs healthy and can even help lower your blood pressure. But during a bulk, too much cardio can be counterproductive to your muscle-building goals if you’re offsetting your caloric surplus by burning too many calories and constantly breaking down muscle. The key is to incorporate moderate, low-impact cardio that supports heart health without jeopardizing your bulking goals.

Bulking for Too Long

If your goal is to pack on a ton of muscle, you might think you need an extra long bulking season. But an extended bulking phase can have health risks like increased insulin resistance[3], on top of gaining excessive fat. Your bulk should only last about 3-6 months before you cycle back to a cutting and maintenance phase. But don’t worry, if you don’t hit your muscle goal in the first bulk, you can always cycle back through to a bulking season! 

The Bottom Line on Bulking

When used correctly, bulking season is a tool that can help you build the body of your dreams. A controlled, structured approach–balanced meals, heavy strength training, strategic cardio–will give you the best results and allow you to build muscle size and strength without unnecessary fat.

The winter months are the perfect time to start your bulk. And with the right techniques and tools from Fitness Town, you’ll be ready to reveal your new physique come springtime. Shop our collection of cardio, strength, and recovery tools on our website. Or stop by 1 of our 6 locations to talk to get advice from a fitness expert on the best tools for your bulk. 


Photo credit Li Sun from Pexels

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