Sports Magazine

5 Best Exercises for Bulking Up and Packing on Muscle

By Jessicashaw

Looking for some essential exercises for bulking and bulking quickly? Here are the best exercises every lifter should use when bulking.

Best Exercises for Bulking

If you’re not one of those people who are born genetically blessed with the ability to pack on the pounds of muscle, then bulking up can be a HUGE challenge.

You may spend hours lifting at the gym and still only see muscle definition, not huge size growth.

You’ll have to put in the effort to bulk up—not just working harder, but smarter, too.

And that’s what this post is all about!

In this post, we’ll share with you what you need to know about how to bulk fast, which exercises are most effective for bulking up, how to improve your workouts to max out muscle growth, and even give you specifics on the exact number of reps to include in each set to encourage gains.

By the end of this page, you’ll be ready to take your muscle-building efforts to the next level!

Bulking Up – Overview

The term “bulking up” means packing on the muscle. 

You do that through a multi-step process:

Step 1: Eat more calories. Your goal is to consume significantly more than your body needs—at least 500 calories extra. And make sure that at least 40% of your daily calories comes from protein, the nutrient your body needs to build more muscle.

Step 2: Lift heavy. Lifting less weight for lots of reps builds lean muscles and muscular endurance, but lifting very heavy weight for fewer reps is how you pack on the muscle mass and power. You’ll have to put in extra time at the gym, pushing your muscles to the point of failure.

Step 3: Reduce cardio. Cardio burns fat but also catabolizes (breaks down) muscle. Focusing entirely on muscle-building and excluding cardio is a critical component of the bulking up process.

Step 4: Repeat. Typically, it will take anywhere from 3-6 months to seriously put on the weight and transform the bulk into muscle through your intense, ultra-heavy weightlifting. Give it time, be patient, and put in the work. You’ll see the results soon enough!

You might be wondering, “Why would anyone go through this process? What’s the point of bulking up?”

Simple: it’s all about the pounds of muscle.

A significant percentage of the world’s population are categorized as “ectomorphs”, which means they’re prone to being slimmer and have a harder time putting on muscle mass.

For many of them, the only way they can combat their accelerated metabolism and fat-burning mechanisms is to go through the bulking process, which helps them to first put on actual pounds of weight, then turn it into muscle.

Bodybuilders often use bulking up as part of their training regimen in preparation for competitions.

They start off by bulking up, then train hard to cut down (I’ve got a great post on bulking vs. cutting that will explain things more clearly) and ensure the optimum definition of the muscles they’ve just built.

Best Exercises for Bulking Up Fast

Below, I’m going to share with you the five exercises most effective for bulking up.

These are compound, multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscles/muscle groups and cause the maximum amount of micro-damage to your muscles (which triggers hypertrophy and the formation of new/larger muscle fibers).

You’ll want to add other exercises into your training regimen alongside these (as “finishers” or “add-ons” to improve overall strength and muscle development), but these should be the primary focus of your training session because of how effective they are at bulking up fast. 

To the bench!

Exercise #1: Bench Press

Nothing builds solid chest and triceps muscles like the good ol’fashioned bench press!

It’s a classic for a reason.

(Well, it’s a classic for LOTS of reasons, but we will keep it simple today…)

It engages your “push muscles” through a full range of motion, with all of the focus concentrated squarely on the pectoral muscles (with your triceps and shoulders as backup).

Bench presses are the ultra-effective exercise for shredding your chest muscles and building all-around upper body power and muscle.

To perform this exercise:

  • Lie on your back on a flat weight bench, with your knees bent and feet planted flat on the floor.
  • Grab the barbell at roughly shoulder width apart (or slightly beyond, if that feels more comfortable) and push it up off the cradle. Bring it to just above your chest.
  • Bend your elbows and lower the weight slowly toward your chest. Control the descent, and inhale as you lower.
  • Stop when the barbell is an inch above your chest, pause for a 1-count, then press.
  • Push the weight back up until your arms are fully extended, but stop before your elbows lock out.
  • Pause at the top for a 1-count, and repeat.

Exercise #2: Deadlift

Deadlifts are amazing for building core power, which is crucial for developing a thick, solid, well-defined trunk with musculature capable of protecting against back injuries.

Deadlifts are one of the more dangerous exercises, likely to increase your risk of injury if done incorrectly.

Make sure to work with a trainer to get the form right before you start lifting heavy!

To perform this exercise:

  • Stand with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart, your knees slightly bench, and back upright.
  • Grip a barbell in a comfortable grip, palms facing your body, hands roughly shoulder width apart.
  • Keeping your spine perfectly straight, hinge at the hips and bend your upper body forward to lower the weight toward the floor.
  • Control your descent, inhaling as you lower the weight. Make sure your eyes are looking forward, not at the weight or the floor.
  • Stop just before the weight touches the floor.
  • In a single, controlled, fluid motion, stand straight up, pulling the weight up with you. Keep your arms extended and let your back do all the work of lifting.
  • Pause at the top for a 1-count.
  • Repeat as desired

Exercise #3: Bent Over Row

The bent over row is an amazing upper back exercise, guaranteed to build definition and size both.

You can do it with dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, even the cable machine, but there’s nothing that works quite as effectively as a barbell to pack on the muscle.

To perform this exercise:

  • Stand with your feet slightly broader than shoulder width apart, knees bent, and back straight.
  • Grip a barbell in your hands spread roughly shoulder width apart, palms facing your body.
  • Using the strength in your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, hinge forward at the hips until you are bent almost parallel to the floor.
  • Engage your core and use only your back and arm muscles to row the weight to your chest.
  • Control the descent and avoid swinging or jerking in each rep. Smooth movements are crucial to avoiding back injuries.
  • Repeat as desired.  

Exercise #4: Military Press

Nothing builds shoulder muscles quite like the military press!

With this exercise, the load of the barbell is placed entirely on your shoulders, with only a little bit of help from your upper back, upper chest, and triceps.

Looking for a guide to help you navigate the cutting phase once you’ve completed bulking? We’ve put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to cut after bulking here.

You can sculpt huge, powerful shoulders with this exercise, and its many variations (behind-the-neck press, one-handed press, etc.) allow you to target the same muscle group in multiple ways.

To perform this exercise.

  • Grip a barbell at roughly the same width you’d hold it for bench press, your hands beyond shoulder width apart.
  • Stand with your knees slightly bent, back straight, and head up.
  • Bring the weight up to your shoulders for the starting position.
  • Engage your core and use your shoulder and arm muscles to push the barbell upward. Exhale explosively with the push.
  • Push until your arms are fully extended, but DO NOT lock out your elbows.
  • Hold the weight at the peak for a 1-count, then lower slowly and under control back down to the starting position.
  • Again, pause for a 1-count, then push.
  • Repeat as desired.

Exercise #5: Squat

No muscle-building workout is complete without the squat!

Getting into a squat rack and banging out squats are hands down, the most effective exercise for bulking up because they engage all of your leg muscles—quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

They’re also the most natural leg movement, easier on your joints than lunges or jumps, and allow you to lift a max amount of weight (bodyweight + barbell load).

Best Exercises for Bulking Up - Squats

Few exercises have as many variations as squats, and it’s an absolute winner for packing on the muscle.

To perform this exercise:

  • Start with your feet spread shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward, spine straight, and head up.
  • Cradle a loaded barbell across the front of your shoulders/upper arms (for a front squat).
  • Bend your knees to lower into the squat. Inhale as you lower under control, and make sure to keep your back straight.
  • Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Drive through your heels and press up to stand straight.
  • As you stand straight, thrust your hips forward to engage your glutes and avoid locking out your knees.
  • Pause at the top for a 1-count, then repeat.

Tips for Maximizing Your Bulking Workouts

If your goal is to bulk up, here are some tips to help you make the most of every workout:

Take more supplements for better lifts.

Ideally, you’ll get a lot more protein in your daily diet, which means you’ll want to eat a few more servings of protein powder every day (it’s easily digestible and quick-acting to replenish depleted energy).

Consider Omega-3 and Omega-6, creatine, BCAAs, essential fatty acids, and multivitamins—all crucial for maintaining optimal body function during this period of intense exercise.

There are some excellent bulking stacks out there, too, made by reputable supplement companies. Crazy Bulk’s Bulking Stack is one of my faves.

Find one that combines muscle mass and strength benefits and you will hit the gym like it owes you money.

Scale up slowly.

When bulking, don’t double your calorie intake overnight—your body can’t handle that, and you’ll build more fat than muscle.

Instead, start off by increasing your daily food intake by 200-300 calories above your normal amount. Stay there for a week or two, then add another 200-300 calories.

Give yourself 4-6 weeks to finally reach your target calorie intake, increasing in increments to let your body adapt.

Eat smart.

Your body needs more protein to build muscle, but it also needs more carbs in order to produce the energy required to power through your workouts.

Aim for a nutrient balance of 40% protein, 20-25% fats, and 35-40% carbohydrates. That way, you’re eating a lot, but still eating right.

Planning and tracking your meals and macros can be a HUGE help at this stage.

Using a food journal, food scale, and a meal planning app of some sort are essentials for maximizing your muscle growth when bulking.

Double up.

Your muscles can only take so much before they run out of energy and hit “failure”. That’s not a bad thing—it’s just the way your body is—but you’ll have to take a different approach if you want to bulk up.

Instead of doing a single marathon workout every day, aim for two workouts, with plenty of time to rest, recover, and refuel in between.

Work out one muscle/muscle group in the morning, eat a hefty meal and give your body time to replenish, then hit a different muscle group in the afternoon/evening.

Spreading out the work can help you perform at a higher level more frequently.

Best Rep Ranges for Bulking Up

With bulking up, you should be working in the low-rep ranges—typically between 2 and 6 reps per set—using a lot of weight (from 80-95% 1-Rep Max).

This is the key to building serious muscle mass, power, and strength during your bulk phase.

How often should I work out when trying to bulk up?

Daily! Bulking up requires daily training, sometimes twice a day.

It’s the only way you’ll fire up your metabolism enough to keep the extra calories from being turned into fat (rather than the muscle you want), and it’s necessary for building serious muscle power.

Trainer’s Note: It’s for this reason that bulking up is sometimes considered “dangerous” or “unhealthy”. The vigorous, demanding workouts with no rest days can be incredibly demanding on the body.  

The Bottom Line

Bulking up can be done if you approach it correctly—meaning, you’ve got the right meal plan, the right balance of nutrients, and, of course, the right exercises to complete your workout.

If your goal is to bulk up, use the exercises we shared above as the foundation of your training sessions, and add others that will complement your efforts and give you the results you want.

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