Getting Bulky: What It Really Takes

So you’ve read the other two posts here and here by me, Max Shippee, about putting your fears aside about lifting heavy weight and getting “all bulky”, but you’re still not convinced. That’s fine. I have one more post for you.

I have a friend/client, Ozzy Salcedo, who’s been into bodybuilding since he was a kid. He walked into my gym in decent shape, but was soon schooled in the difference between working out for being on stage, and being fit for life. He helped me out with the finer points of this article. Actually, for most of it. So I’m giving credit where it’s due: this one’s a team effort. Thanks, Oz!

“I want to enter a body-building competition.”

“Really? Why?”

“I want to get super jacked! All I have to do is eat a bit and workout like crazy right?”

“Um. No. You’ll need a plan, and I really don’t think you understand how much work this is going to be.”

Yes, anyone can build muscle. Your body likes to be strong. However, NO ONE suddenly wakes up looking like Arnold after a week’s worth of training. We wanted a chance to give you a glimpse of the amount of dedication, time, & discipline it takes to put on the kind of size to be awarded the next Mr. Olympia (by the way, that’s Ronnie Coleman, Mr. Olympia 2010 in the photo above). And this post is for GUYS. If you’re a lady, you’re going to have to work even harder cause of that crazy hormone called testosterone. :)


A 58’ chest like the Austrian Oak? Some striated glutes like the Dragon Slayer? This is going to take some life changes. Getting huge does not happen overnight.  It’s actually quite taxing for your body to put on size, so  getting in the required calories and workouts, with proper macronutrient profiles, and just as important, getting adequate rest are going to be the focus of your days, weeks, and yes, years. Say good-bye to your night life, whether that involves the bar scene or the TV screen. You can’t hope to get huge. Getting huge is not left up to fate.  Getting huge requires work: INTENSE WORK.

Working Out

As 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney puts it, “Stimulate, not annihilate.”  Bodybuilders workout to contract the muscles with enough weight to stimulate muscle growth, not maximal weight, just enough to stimulate. Over time, as muscles get stronger, muscles will grow. As the muscle grows, it needs more stimulus, and more weight must be added.  If done properly, in the initial stages,  hitting the same body part twice a week is generally accepted as a good plan.  Here is an example of what a bodybuilder’s basic training week can look like:

Morning (a.m.) Evening (p.m)
Day 1 Chest & Triceps, 20 mins of Cardio Biceps, Calves, Abs, 20 min of cardio
Day 2 Quads Hams and Abs
Day 3 Delts and Calves, 20 Min of Cardio Back and Abs, 15-20 Min of Cardio
Day 4 Off, Repeat starting on Day 5


As you can see, we’re looking at being in the gym for 2 workouts a day. Each workout has a particular body part or two that we’re trying to stimulate. On the low side, this means at least 2 hours in the gym every day, but honestly, it’ll be more like 3 on some days.  If you can only workout once a day, you’d moderate your time to 90mins of working out, not including cardio. For quality size/mass stimulation you’d be doing about 4 movements per bodypart.

This means the Day 1 morning session would look like this

Warm-up 1.5 miles on treadmill easy pace, light stretching
Chest(1) Dumbell Flys – 4 sets of 10 (40 reps total)
Chest(2) Pec Dec Flys – 4 sets of 10 (40 reps total)
Chest(3) & Triceps(1) Incline Dumbbell Press-4 sets of 10 (40 fps total)
Chest(4) & Triceps(2) Decline Bench Press – 4 sets of 10 (40 reps total)
Triceps (3) Dips – 4 sets of 8 (32 reps total)
Triceps (4) Cable Pull Downs – 4 sets of 12 (48 reps total)
Cardio 20 minutes on stairclimber, easy pace

This is the morning. You’re going to do the same thing at night, but with different movements.

Since your lower body is a lot stronger than your upper body, it will take more reps to make some gains.  These reps would all be heavy enough that the last rep or two is a good hard push, so you feel the “pump.” And, as any good body builder will tell you, focusing on the form of the movement is absolutely key for maximal muscle growth.

Does your workout look anything like this?

Keep in mind this is a “basic” body building routine. The guys in the pics above are doing more, way more than this, see the link to the documentary at the bottom of this for a real look at how hard these guys work.


You ready to eat? You’d better be. Even the biggest guys have trouble keeping this up. Jay Cutler, 4 time Mr. Olympia, said “The hardest part about bodybuilding was eating when I wasn’t hungry.”

In order to make gains, protein will become your best friend and burning calories will become your worst enemy.  Being in a calorie-burning– or catabolic–state is a bodybuilder’s worst nightmare. That is why it’s crucial to take in enough protein and carbs throughout the day to remain in an anabolic state, even while sleeping.  Here is what your typical bodybuilder does in order to keep his “anabolic freak on”:

6:30am Whey Protein Shake
7:00am 14oz chicken breast, 12oz.Sweet Potato
9:00am 12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
11:00 14oz chicken breast, 12oz.Sweet Potato
1:00pm 12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
3:00pm 12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
5:00pm 12oz Steak, 12 oz White Potato
8pm 12oz chicken breast, 10oz Sweet Potato
11:00pm 12oz Fish, 8oz asparagus

And, oh yeah, you’re getting two sessions of training in there between meals.

Add all this up and you get well over 5,000 calories a day. This is maintenance nutrition. This isn’t trying to put on size. For size gains, bodybuilders need to be in the 6-7,000 calorie range.

This also gets incredibly tedious and boring. Most bodybuilders don’t eat for taste: they eat for fuel. They must feed their muscles to fight off the catabolic demon.  In order to make quality gains you must eat 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of your own bodyweight.  You will also double the carbs (i.e. 200lb guy will consume 300-400 grams of protein and 600-800 grams of carbs. You can only eat like this if you are just as intense in the gym; otherwise be prepared to see the scale go up, but no muscle gains.

In Conclusion

Do your workouts look anything like this? Does your meal plan?

A bodybuilder’s life completely revolves around training, eating, and sleeping. This is the only way a person will be able to make quality gains and look like an oversized anatomy chart.  So if you’re not taking in 4,000-6,000 calories a day, doing supersets to pre-exhaust, and spending a good 2.5-3 hours in the gym everyday, you’ve got a long way to go before you hit “bulky”.

So, let’s reiterate, once again, all of this above is what it takes for a guy (testosterone) in his 20’s (testosterone) to “get big and bulky.”

And, ladies, this ain’t you. It ain’t even close. Your fear of getting “all bulky” is keeping you from getting some real health benefits by doing a couple of heavy sets per week. The gains you will get will strengthen both your body and mind, and you’ll still look great in a bathing suit, I promise.*

So eat like Paleo Plan says, and pick up some heavy stuff a couple times a week, and get intense a couple days a week; you’ll be feeling great about yourself, but not in a bulky way, real soon. :)


* If you REALLY want to see what it takes, and want to geek out for an hour, there’s a great documentary on YouTube about Kai Greene. He’s incredibly centered and gives some great advice for bodybuilding that is really great advice on life in general.




  1. My understanding is that you have to have the genetic capacity to get huge and that very few people do. Attempting a program like the one described in this blog post would be futile for most of us.

  2. Rob – Thanks!

    MrFreddy – No doubt genetics plays a role here, but I think just as much is the timing. Most of these guys started out when they were really in the prime of puberty, when testosterone is cranked up like a freight train. That helps trremendously in the quest to put on muscle. It’s far more difficult, (without major help) that a person could start this journey in their 40’s. The hormonal profile is so different.

    So yes, genetics play a role, for sure, but I think the timing of the initial training plays a very large role as well.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Howdy Max. My understanding is that most of us dont have the type of muscle fibers required to bulk up. (Type 2 I think?). Doesn’t matter how young you are and how much testosterone you have, though that helps a lot of course,but if you don’t have an abundance of type 2 fibers, no super-bulketude for you!

  4. I really just want to lean out and loose the extra fat I have especially around the belly. So I don’t think that meal plan would work for me. I am two days in on my meal plan and everything is good. I feel full.

  5. Hey,

    I would love to throw on some muscle mass. I’am working out 3 times a week usually. But I find it very hard to gain muscle mass. My wheigt currently is about 146lbs. I’am “a skinny dude”. How is it possibly to eat healthy ( or paleo, clean) and still reach 4000calories ?

    I find it very hard to eat more than 2000calories a day without dairy or oats.

    1. Daniel – It does get a little difficult (and expensive). I think a lot of people like you turn to protein powders to get there. Remember that each tablespoon of any oil provides 100-120 calories, so pile it on. Plus nuts are really calorie dense, veggies are not, but don’t skimp on them, don’t eat just chicken because you want the calories from the fat in other animal meats, and absolutely don’t throw away the egg yolks when you eat them. Avocados, sweet potatoes (lots of ’em), banana tapioca crepes (see recipe on, and coconut milk are all foods you want to be consuming en masse. Hope that helps!

  6. Daniel — I’m gonna echo Neely here. It’s a rough go to put on weight on purpose.

    I would start by asking how many calories you get a day. if you’re trying to put on weight, a good general starting point is around 4000 calories. Does that seem like a lot? It should. If you actually started counting, I suspect you’ll already be far, far lower than that. For me, because of my schedule, I don’t have a LOT of time to get in my calories, so I end up eating a lot on the fat side of things. I usually eat about half a stick of butter a day (I know it’s not Paleo, but it’s super easy).

    If you’re serious about it, and your gut can take it, you can always try the GOMAD approach. That stands for Gallon Of Milk A Day. If you can do that, in addition to what you’re already eating, you will put on weight. It works. For everyone.

    How old are you? What kind of workouts are you doing? These can have a HUGE effect on how you partition nutrients when you consume your calories!

  7. Thank you Neely and Max for your comments. I appreciate it.

    I’am 23. For the last few months I did the 5×5 Strong Lift/ or Power Lift program. I experienced increasing strength but I haven’t put on as much muscle mass. But now I’ve started to use lighter weights and do more reps(8-12)x3.

    Currently I’am consuming 2500 calories on average. ( including, some dairy ( greek yoghurt ), starch ( mostly potatos and rice and sometimes some oats). I don’t have any problem with getting enough protein. I eat eggs ( and the yolks !), red meat, poltry, fish and on the days I workout I drink a protein shake with some fruits.

    I eat plenty of veggies ( and on some days I have a “green shake” in the morning with broccoli, kale, spinach, celery and some fruits with some healthy oils – coconut or olive).

    But I cut back on my fat or better consumption because I got tested a few months ago and had bad cholestrol “numbers”,,. it was simply to high. My doc said that I had to cut back on bacon and butter.
    Because I eat plenty different kind of nuts ( brazil, walnuts, almonds ) and have olive oil in my salad I would say that I get enough of healthy fat in my diet. And I also supplement with 1-2mg of fish oil and take 2000IU of vitamin D daily.

Leave a Reply