One of my lovely readers asked me if I could write about female bulking, and of course I am happy to oblige. Today I will talk about the mental aspect of bulking and how long to expect to do it for. I don’t like using the word ‘bulking’ because I think it turns many people off, so from here on in I will refer to it as ‘gaining’.
Trying to purposely gain weight or size as a woman is tough. Most people seem confused when you tell them your goal is to get bigger. Society pressures women to strive for thinness and frailty – not muscle and strength.
Gaining muscle takes a long time, especially for women. If only it was as easy as some women feared in that you could pick up a dumbbell and turn into the incredible hulk. If you’re a woman, it will take YEARS to gain a decent amount of muscle.
The other day at the gym, I overhead a woman telling her friend that she has been following eight week cycles of gaining muscle, followed by eight weeks of cutting the fat – over and over again. She looks exactly the same as when I first saw her almost a year ago.
Eight weeks is NOT enough time to gain any considerable muscle mass. Not even close. In my opinion, you need to give it a solid year of really trying to build muscle before you even think about leaning out.
While I am all in favour of people following their dreams, when someone tells me they want to compete in a bodybuilding competition in three months when they have been lifting weights for less than that, this is my response:
There are various ways in which you can gain muscle, but it is fundamentally about consuming more calories than you burn. This will take some experimentation (and I would strongly recommend enlisting the help of a coach to do this, just as I did when I started).
In the past two years, I have only spent about three months in total trying to actively get lean. The rest of the time I have been trying to gain size. I am sharing my story so you can see just how long and slow the process is.
Of those 21 odd months, about eight of those involved a hard bulk where I did no cardio at all, consumed upwards of 3000 calories per day and lifted weights five days per week. I did successfully build a decent amount of muscle mass during this time, but I also gained fat.
When I started lifting, I weighed 66kg. For reference, I now weigh 73kg, but after 8 months of gaining I hit 72kg. Since I stopped doing such an intense bulk about a year ago, my weight has stayed within the same 1-2 kg range. I have continued to build muscle but I have also lost fat. My goal remained to build muscle, but at a slower speed. I was happy with the amount of muscle I had gained and I was willing to slow it down if it meant I could be a little bit leaner.
That is a decision you will have to make on your own. Do you want to go balls to the wall and eat until you’re uncomfortable, feel big in your own skin and feel frustrated that none of your clothes fit but be happy in knowing you have built a solid frame in a shorter amount of time? Or do you want to try and remain as lean as possible while gaining muscle, but know that it will take at least twice as long to achieve the body you want?
When I switched to a gradual building approach, my main goal was still to build muscle. I didn’t expect to rock a six pack while I was doing this and neither should you. When you are consuming a caloric surplus, it is natural that you will gain both muscle AND fat. I was hovering around 18 per cent body fat during my gradual bulk, down from about 22 per cent when I was doing an intense bulking cycle.
If you are truly committed to gaining muscle, you have to be ready to feel uncomfortable. You will have fat days and you will question your motivation. You will have to reduce the urge to start eating less and adding “just one” cardio session to your routine.
This wasn’t easy to wrap my head around at first. If I was working out five days per week, shouldn’t I be looking like a fitness model? Why was I fatter than when I started? Were people judging me because I was gaining weight? How am I going to be a personal trainer when I am not shredded? Will my clients judge me for being fat?
For the first time in two years, I have now committed myself to a medium-term cutting phase (at least three months straight). Only now, after two years (seriously can’t emphasise this enough, people!) do I feel as though I have gained enough muscle to warrant stripping away the fat. I have worked hard and deserve to see what’s underneath!
Next time I will talk about why I support ‘clean’ bulking, and how to eat and train to gain muscle.
Do you have any questions about bulking? How long have your gaining cycles lasted?