Last updated on September 15th, 2022 at 04:46 pm
It’s a question I see asked all the time, “How Long Should Bulking Last?”
So, you’re looking to add some serious mass to your frame.
And of course the aim is to add as much muscle mass as possible.
Therefore, you’re literally eating everything in sight, while training with some seriously heavy weights or high volume.
However, there seems to be so much conflicting information about the perfect bulking phase that it’s difficult to know what to believe.
So, allow me to explain the ins-and-outs of a proper bulking phase.
How Long Should Bulking Last?
There should never be a specific time limit to a bulking phase. A person’s bulking phase will depend on exactly how much muscle they’re looking to pack on, as well as the type of physique they’re aiming for. Plus, genetics play a role, as one person may need to bulk for 5-6 months, whereas someone else can be on a constant bulk due to low body fat levels. Bulking should either be done until you’re happy with your level of muscular development or you’re no longer comfortable with your body fat levels.
1. Your Bulking Phase Will Depend on Genetics
If you’re looking for an exact number, say 5 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
And if anyone gives you an exact number of weeks or months that you should be bulking then they’re potentially leading you astray.
In fact, they’re probably providing you with a bulking phase that is tailored to THEIR needs and not YOURS.
And that’s the whole point, what works for one person may not work for another.
We are genetically all different from each other.
If I’m naturally muscular and athletic then the length of my bulk will differ from yours if you’re naturally skinny.
The same can be said if another person is naturally broad and thick, and predisposed to gaining body fat.
So, if ever you do find a pre-written bulking plan that has an exact number of weeks, just be aware that the program hasn’t been tailored to your specific needs.
I will also say that the perfect bulk also depends on how much muscle an individual wants to carry.
Therefore, one person may want to add as much muscle as humanly possible to their frame.
Basically, they just want to be huge.
Then again, another person prefers to have a lean, athletic, yet muscular frame.
This again shows why there is no “perfect” bulking phase.
It’s YOUR Bulking Phase
We all have our own individual goals when it comes to bulking, so don’t allow someone else’s plan or program to influence you
Additionally, if you’re following a specific bulking time-frame then you’re just asking for trouble.
I’ve already mentioned genetics, but the rate at which you bulk also depends on other factors.
How good is the program that you’re following?
Are you going to be able to stick to it?
How well does your body respond to particular exercises or certain foods?
There’s just too many variables when it comes to an ideal time frame for bulking.
2. What’s Your Starting Point?
Something else to consider is the starting point of your bulk.
By this I mean what are your current body fat levels?
I find that some lifters are far too eager to start bulking when in fact they’re already carrying too much of the wrong kind of “bulk”.
Realistically, you want to be around 12-15% body fat (as a man) before you even think about going near a bulk.
Some lifters are simply carrying too much body fat to begin with.
They seem to think that if they start eating more and training bigger and harder that somehow this excess body fat will disappear.
Okay, this may be the case for someone very new to resistance training.
But, I would hazard a guess that if you’re thinking about bulking then you already have a good few months to years of training experience behind you.
So, my advice is to not even think about a bulking phase if you’re over 15% body fat.
In fact, you’d be far better off if you’re closer to 12%.
I know some would disagree with me, so this is just a personal opinion.
Should You Lose Body Fat Before Bulking?
3. Your Weekly Mass Increase
Many lifters think that bulking is simply about adding as much mass to their frame as quickly as possible.
We all think that adding an equal amount of body fat as muscle is just part-and-parcel of bulking.
While it’s true that if you’re eating an excess of calories that some of these will be stored as fat.
You certainly shouldn’t be unrecognisable as your body takes on vast amounts of blubber.
I think this comes down to many people looking at a set amount of additional daily calories.
You’ll often hear people talk about taking on an additional 500 or 1,000 calories a day while bulking.
However, this will vary based on your size (and genetics again) when you start out.
A person weighing 140lbs adding 1,000 calories to their daily food intake is going to get fat.
They will probably be looking at an increase of around 60-70% of calories every day.
That’s far too much.
Then again, someone currently eating 3,000 calories a day will probably find that an additional 500 calories is just about perfect.
Basically, it’s all relative.
I will also say that you shouldn’t be looking to increase your weight by much more than 0.5lb a week.
This probably sounds ridiculous and it will be hardly noticeable.
But, trust me, a 25lb increase in lean muscle mass over a year will completely transform your physique.
I feel that most people aim far too high in terms of weekly weight gain when bulking.
If you’re adding 1.5-2lbs a week I can guarantee that this is mainly fat.
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4. You’ll Know When it’s Time to Cut
I’ve already spoken of how bulking will differ for one person to another based on their end goal.
However, in the vast majority of cases we’ll individually know when it’s time to end the bulk and start to cut.
For the more sensible bulker it will be when they’re happy with their level of muscular development.
However, in truth, this is few and far between.
Most of us are unable to decide whether we’re happy, as we simply want as much muscle as possible.
So, the prime reason that many of us decide it’s time to stop bulking is because we no longer feel comfortable with our body fat levels.
Basically, you’re sick of being fat, can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, and you decide it’s time to do something about it.
But, realistically this is far too long to be on a bulk.
Plus, it also says that you’ve either been trying to bulk at too fast a rate, or that you’ve gone past the point of satisfactory muscular development.
Proper bulking when done slowly at a rate of no more than 0.5lb mass gain per week can be a thankless task in the early days.
You tend to notice absolutely no difference to your frame or muscular development for many weeks.
Trust me, stick with it, remain sensible, and eventually you’ll be happy with the outcome.
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5. Are You Yo-Yo Bulking & Cutting?
When I researched this subject further I was quite surprised by the information I found on various online fitness forums.
In fact, most lifters stated that they were in a constant lifelong cycle of bulking and cutting.
Many of these guys were bulking for around 6-7 weeks at a time and then cutting for 1-2 weeks, and then the cycle continued.
Now, there probably isn’t anything wrong with this if you’re a competitive bodybuilder.
However, most of the respondents were simply your Average Joe lifter who wanted to get bigger.
Basically, what they were doing was trying to add as much mass as possible (mainly fat) and then being forced to go into a cutting phase to drop the excess pounds.
Unfortunately, if you’re someone who constantly alternates between the two every few weeks your results will typically stagnate.
In fact, you’ll get a year or two down the line and notice that you haven’t made any appreciable changes to your body in terms of muscle mass or fat loss.
So, always take your bulk slowly and continue until you have made noticeable progress.
Bulking & Cutting – The Truth
So, as you can see, there is no definitive answer to how long bulking should last.
And anyone who does give you a precise time frame doesn’t have your specific individual goals in mind.
We are all genetically different and we typically want varying things from a bulk.
So, the best advice I can offer is to bulk until you’re happy with your muscular development or you feel it’s time to cut some body fat.
You should aim to add no more than 0.5lb in weight on a weekly basis, as this can save you the constant cycle of bulking and cutting every few weeks.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.