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 1Chest & Triceps, 20 mins of CardioBiceps, Calves, Abs, 20 min of cardio
Day 2QuadsHams and Abs
Day 3Delts and Calves, 20 Min of CardioBack and Abs, 15-20 Min of Cardio
Day 4Off, 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-up1.5 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)
Cardio20 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”:

6:30amWhey Protein Shake
7:00am14oz chicken breast, 12oz.Sweet Potato
9:00am12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
11:0014oz chicken breast, 12oz.Sweet Potato
1:00pm12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
3:00pm12oz Tilapia, 12oz Sweet Potato
5:00pm12oz Steak, 12 oz White Potato
8pm12oz chicken breast, 10oz Sweet Potato
11:00pm12oz 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.