Introduction: How to Bulk Up

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In this Instructable, I take you through one of the processes of gaining muscle mass (there are many). This method involves resistance (weight) training and nutrition. This style is termed "Natural Bodybuilding" because of the fact that it doesn't involve supplements of any kind (i.e. anything recommended in the nutrition section can be found at any normal grocery store).

First and foremost I'd like to stress the importance of safety for people ready to begin a training program. As with any form of exercise, it is greatly advised to consult with a doctor in order to ensure your safety while putting your body under new (and tougher) conditions.

With that said, congratulations on having this much drive to begin a training regimen, and let's begin.

Step 1: Knowledge Is Power

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This is by far the most important information in this Instructable:

You know your body better than anyone else


Every body is different

I would recommend strongly against taking any one source of information as truth (including this Instructable!). What works for some other people may not work for you. Self-knowledge is VERY valuable when you are working out. Much of the time that building muscle and strength is used figuring what works for you. As you advance in your training, you will learn more and more about your body, its strengths and weaknesses and how it will respond to different exercises, weights, rest periods, and other variables.

I would recommend having (or acquiring) some knowledge on nutrition, anatomy, and resistance training in general. These can be found in workout manuals (big books which look like telephone books). These are good for reference and getting new ideas for different workouts and exercises to put in your routine.

Step 2: The Basics

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So the basics of weight gain are summed up as follows: You have INs and OUTs of your body. INs consist of all of the things you take into your body (food water etc). OUTs consist of the amount of these things you use up doing daily things (burning calories). We burn calories doing everything: eating, breathing, even sleeping (and obviously physically exerting our bodies). If a person has more INs than OUTs, they will gain weight.

As a simplified example: If a person eats 2000 calories in a day and burns 1800, they will gain weight.

Conversely, if a person consumes fewer calories than burned, they will lose weight. (If the INs equal the OUTs, the weight will be steady).

There are (in the real world) many more factors in the real world, however, including metabolism and genetics but those are really more of asides.

The important thing that you need to know is that in order to get bigger, you must have more INs than OUTs. If you are at a stable weight now, you will need to eat more (good) food. If you don't work out now and are at a stable weight, you will need to eat even more (because you will be burning more calories now).

So lets look at some of the things to have in our diet...

Step 3: Nutrition

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In your diet, you will need more carbohydrates, protein and calories. Carbohydrates give the body energy, proteins enable muscle growth after a workout, and more calories in general means (more energy as calorie is a unit of heat) your body will gain weight (and if you do it properly, it will be mostly muscle).

Don't be tempted to think that this means gain weight in any way (through fast food and other fatty foods). If anything, you must be even more conscious about your diet than before you started working out. Your increased carb intake should come from breads, pasta, rice etc (preferably whole grain, whole wheat, and wild rice where possible as these carry other benefits as well (fiber, vitamins etc.) )

Proteins should come from (if possible) from lean animals in one form or another. If not, though beans and nuts also have a lot of protein.

Fish - Very high protein to fat ratio
Chicken - Similarly high
Lean meats - Where possible eat the leanest meats to avoid putting on fat

Egg - High in protein (if your family has a history of high cholesterol avoid the yolk)
Milk - Quintessential. If you don't love it, you should learn to love it. High protein and almost no fat.
Yogurt - Similar to milk, though slightly more fatty
Cheese - VERY fatty although there are leaner cheeses with a lot of protein and little fat

Soy Beans - Probably the best thing for vegans to eat, enormous amounts of protein
Beans - Likewise
Nuts - In moderation, because like cheese they are VERY fatty

Your calorie intake should increase as you increase consumption of these good proteins and carbs. Don't ignore the fruits and veggies either, they have a lot of vitamins and fiber as well.

I'll expand from this overview in the next update.

Step 4: Body Weight - Push Ups

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We'll start with the standard push up.

These are to be done with hands shoulder width apart, and back straight with your core (abs and lower back muscles) tight. Lower yourself in a controlled manner until your chest just makes contact with the floor and then press through the chest, triceps and shoulders back to the first position (as demonstrated in the first five repetitions).

To diversify this staple exercise, I have included a recommended workout (one that I do as well). The first set consists of standard push ups. In the second set, called Triangle Push ups, the grip is much closer (forming a triangle with the hands). This variation puts more emphasis on the triceps. The third and final set consists of wide grip push ups to put emphasis back on the pectorals. The form of the standard and wide grip push up are identical, but when doing the triangle push ups, you may need to shift your hands down (so that you are pressing closer to your stomach) and separate your feet in order to keep balanced.

I do these three in succession with no rest between. I would recommend doing a set (five of so) of each to get the hang of them then doing successive sets. Start with few reps in each of the three sets, then as you begin getting stronger in the days and weeks, increase your reps. Doing about four sets of the three exercises should be enough, but like I said every body is different. Remember to keep your back straight throughout the workouts (form is more important than number of reps!).

A note: If you feel like doing push ups in this way puts too much stress on your shoulders, stop the repetition when your chest is about 5 cm (2 in) above the ground.

Step 5: Body Weight - Dips

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Another fantastic body weight exercise for the triceps and (lower) chest. This is done on two parallel bars slightly more than shoulder width apart. Gripping the bars as shown in the video, lower yourself slowly until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Then push through the triceps and chest back to the first position (elbows straight).

Note: If you cannot yet complete a dip, try a modified dip which is the same form, but you put your feet up on something approximately the same height as your hands. Then in a "sitting" position preform the dips. This can be done outside of a gym if you have a bench and a chair: put your palms on the bench (fingers outward) and your feet on the chair. (Video coming soon)

Step 6: Body Weight - Overgrip Pull Ups

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For this exercise, grip the bar about shoulder width (or slightly more, depending on where you feel most comfortable), and pull through the upper latissimus dorsi (back) and biceps in a controlled motion until your chin is level with or slightly above the bar. Then lower yourself down again slowly.

This is a very good exercise for the latissimus dorsi (or back muscles), biceps and forearms. Different grip positions work different parts on the back. This exercise at the (wide) grip I use focuses on the upper back.

Note: "Kipping" or kicking up your legs to help thrust you up is not advisable (at this stage, at least) because it makes the exercise less concentrated to the latissimus dorsi. A more advisable solution if you have trouble completing repetitions is to have a spotter (someone helping you) hold your feet (with your knees bent 90 degrees). This way, you keep the focus on your back but can keep your form through the desired number of reps (remember, form is more important than number of reps or amount of weight!)

Step 7: Body Weight - Under Grip Pull Ups

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The only difference between Under and Over grip pull ups is (obviously) the grip. In this exercise, the bar is gripped in an underhand fashion (and, in my case, the grip is closer together). More commonly known as a "chin up", this exercise focuses more on the biceps and lower lats (back).

This exercise is meant to be done in addition to the over grip pull ups.

I usually start with over grips for a few (about 3) sets and then do the same number of under grips. The same spotting method from the last exercise is very valuable in this exercise as well.

Step 8: Next Steps...

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Coming soon -

After your body has had some chance to get used to the new diet and workout schedule (around two weeks should be sufficient), it will be time to move onto additional resistance lifting techniques (like training with weights and machines). Although this is not necessary, lifting with body weight exercises is one of the safest ways to resistance training and it is possible to get substantial results through using only your body as resistance.

Remember; form of reps is much more important than number of reps or weight! Doing the correct form from the beginning will give you more results faster.

For all of those who are curious about lifting with free weights, my next instructable will be covering some free weight lifting techniques. Stay tuned and good luck with your workouts!


JP8468 (author)2013-11-14 is a great source to find all the question you have.

JP8468 (author)2013-11-14

Good intentions, but to bulk up and gain muscle and weight you would do hardly any cardio. All your doing is burning calories your body needs. Diet makes up the majority of anything whether it's slimming down, building lean muscle or mass gaining. I do recommend taking in quite a bit of complex carbs like sweet potatoes. It's also important you do the right amount of repetitions with the right amount of weight. I do 80% of my max for 8 reps and five to six sets.

jshsmith (author)2011-07-31

Cardio first, then weights.

Lions in the wild sprint before they kill their prey, then eat a huge meal of protein, followed of course by a nap.

Any health report you read will say this, just using more words and science jargon.

MyEyezHurt (author)jshsmith2011-08-19

I've read the contrary to your method of "cardio first, then weights." Doing both is of course going to be great for your health but there are a lot of critics towards this order because your body needs its energy stores most when doing weights and by doing cardio first you are burning off this "short burst" energy (think creatine and glucose stores).

I also would consider switching the fat free and whole milk so that you are not blunting the insulin surge brought on by the sugar in the milk with the fat from the whole milk on days you train. This is in theory, because the insulin surge helps push nutrients/protein into your starving/broken down muscles and aids in protein synthesis.

Also, it is a mistake to directly apply the habits of animals to human beings. Animals can be a great reference point for the study of behavior but don't forget the complexity man.

snozzcumbers (author)2011-08-17

I like your good intentions, however this is an ineffective guide. Bodyweight exercises lack the ability to add weight (assuming most people will be doing them at home), this means linear progression is impossible. Linear progression is the most effective way for a novice to, 'bulk up' and it takes advantage of their ability to adapt quickly.

snowluck2345 (author)2011-06-09

Do you have any other harder workouts you recommend? I can do sets of 50 pushups without much problems, 20 pullups, v-ups, and 25 dip sets. Any added suggestions? I've been doing weighted pullups and dips recently.

Qsam (author)snowluck23452011-08-02

btw remember to train ur back. its done doing bridges test it out

snowluck2345 (author)Qsam2011-08-02

bridges are easy

Qsam (author)snowluck23452011-08-03

well then go from handstand to bridge to standing that aint easy :P

snowluck2345 (author)Qsam2011-08-03

still no problem, I can do those easily. Try planche pushups,now those are hard.

Qsam (author)snowluck23452011-08-02

do one arm push ups. if u cant do knee one armed pushups and go from that. with pullups (chinups whateva) its the same thing grip the bar with one hand and then grip ur arm with ur other hand then pull urself up. sholders i recommend handstand pushups start with a wall thou

Robnelson (author)2011-06-09

It takes 4000 calories to gain a pound. You have to eat a dramatically larger amount of food if you want to put on pounds and "bulk up". If you are working out as well (using the exercises in the next steps), you can be burning more calories than you think (3000 calories a day), and then you can have a tough time gaining weight.

That's why many weight lifters drink protein shakes or eat lots of egg whites. An easy way to get more calories without buying nutritional supplements is to drink milk. You can buy a gallon of milk for $3-4. A gallon of milk is 16 servings at 120 calories each = 2000 calories. If you drink 2 additional gallons of milk a week, you can gain about 1 pound a week.

jshsmith (author)Robnelson2011-07-31

Excellent information! I recommend 1 gallon of fat free milk and 1 gallon of whole milk a week, the fat free for days in which you are not working any major muscles, the whole milk for days with vigorous workouts.

borges0105 (author)2009-07-19

hello, i want to start working out but i have no clue in how many of each exercise i should do?

When you workout you want to focus on 2 or 3 body parts a day. Do 3 sets of 10 reps with a some what heavy weight. Rep to failure. More than 15 reps and the weight is too light. Do cardio after you hit the weights. Drink whey protein often. Even walmart has a good cheap protein. U want to take in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Stay consistent and watch the muscles grow.

I don't have any way to add weight, any suggestions?

Yerboogieman (author)borges01052009-08-17

Until you feel it, hard.

vandal1138 (author)Yerboogieman2010-09-20

that's what she said

vandal1138 (author)borges01052009-08-24

Try what we call "pyramids". Do 30. Then 30 crunches. then 25 push ups. then 25 crunches. decrease by 5 for each until you get down to 5, then work your way back up to 30. I do that with my soldiers every morning (along with a lot of other stuff). Army PT works!

borges0105 (author)vandal11382010-06-23

could u tell me some of those other stuff?

cowgomoo (author)borges01052009-08-17

talk to a trainer at a gym! they usually give you advice based on you without charge. if your serious about this invest in one.

milamber (author)2009-10-25

hay im 16 and curently way about 50 kg and do light work outs at home with a weekly 4 hour continuas session of rockclimbing as well as running at least 2km per day and have gained over 4kg since 1/august 2009 and i have found that coconut milk/cream is great for protein and i take a bottle of coconut milk and a 2ltr camel pack fool of water this keeps me well hydrated and nutrient levels at a prime (i can now lift easily 2x waht i could befor i started this workout scheem

snowluck2345 (author)milamber2011-06-09

Nice job, I've been gaining around 2.5lbs a month for the 6 months, I'm 15 and weigh 160 now. I used to rockclimb alot but haven't recently. What workout do you do? I do gymnastics and basic conditioning.

stephenniall (author)milamber2010-02-07

Thats about 8 stone ! jeez im 13 and 48 kg already ! Although much of thats a chocolate belly!

Tom Buckey (author)2010-03-29

Which, in your opinion, is the hardest between under grip pull ups or just normal pull ups?

burticvs (author)Tom Buckey2010-04-27

Under hand pull ups recruit your biceps and latissimus dorsi  which make them easier. Wide grip overhand pull ups isolate the latissimus dorsi more so, making them do the majority of the work.

AustralLord (author)burticvs2011-01-22

Yeah, the different grips at different locations work your back in different ways. Like wide grip works out your lats especially your lower lats while closer grip focuses on upper lats and also more on the rotary cuff (back of shoulder) and rhombius (maybe I named it wrong but they're the muscles between your shoulder blades). My workout is 12 reps of chinups, then 12 pullups, then finish with a burnout of chinups. And sometimes on "in between" days or days where my lats burn too much but I want to work my biceps and upper back I do those alternating pullups that you grip your hands close along the bar and you pull your head up alternatively on each side of the bar.

AustralLord (author)Tom Buckey2010-10-23

Yeah overhand are a bit harder, it flexes your bicep differently

snowluck2345 (author)AustralLord2011-01-16

They are different. Chinups use your biceps more, overhand uses your back and lats more.

Visit_Homemadegymstuff (author)2010-11-14

Under hand pullups? - that'd be a chin wouldn't it?

AustralLord (author)2010-10-23

It also works your pecs, back of shoulders, and the muscles in between your shoulder blades (rhombi I think); and like pushups, you can variate the grip width for different targeting (close grip for for pecs and wider for "rhombi" an shoulders)

slashragnarok (author)2010-08-01

for legs try doing bodyweight squats and step ups on a box..

ged1 (author)2010-07-07

Hi there - just joined Instructables today - and I couldn't agree more with you - there is a lot of really bad instruction on line, in forums and in the mainstream bodybuilding press. I read a copy of Flex recently, and I counted over 300 ads for bodybuilding supplements in a 350 page magazine! This proves that they don't have your best interests at heart. They often recommend dangerous exercises as safe too....... (EG upright row, pressing behind the neck and so on. Just mu 2 cents worth! Ged

borges0105 (author)2010-06-27

Can any body tell me what I should be doing cause, I really want to have a better body now, I am 6'2 168lbs skinny looking, but I just dont know where to start from, the article gave alot of tips and I wanted to find out what I could do more(like exercises, and how many per set)...THX

cheezwhiz (author)2010-04-28

I see it mentioned here, but it bears reiteration - you need to incorporate leg work unless you don't have the use of your legs.

burticvs (author)cheezwhiz2010-04-28

Completely agree. Not just for the hormonal increase but, legs help stabilize your body for many other lifts you wouldn't think. Especially if you are doing any sort of dead-lifting or chest work.

One thing of utmost importance is form. Maintaining good form not only prevents injury but prevents other muscle groups being pulled in other than the one you are focusing on.

surfreak (author)2008-08-27

Ehh... Incomplete at best. Any body building or strength program will fall far below par without leg work. Heavy squats and lots of calories are synonymous with muscle gain, as they increase hormonal response and work MASSIVE muscle groups. Also, it doesn't matter how much protein you take in past a certain point. It's calories you're really after when you're gaining, not solely protein. Squat heavy and drink a gallon of whole milk a day and I promise you'll get huge. Google and buy or torrent 'Starting Strength' by Mark Rippetoe. Just get ready to drink the SS kool aid.

firemanez (author)surfreak2010-03-09

I don't recommend drinking that much milk.  It raises your chances of developing prostate cancer.  Check the studies.  But I also agree that the intake of protein, (whey) while very benificial, should be calculated depending on your weight and long term goals.  Generally, your caloric intake must be a lot but only from whole natural foods.  Supplements can help, but remember that your body will respond best to real foods.  I speak from experience.  Determine what you need, and find real foods to achieve your nutritional requirements.  This means giving up the beers on the weekends, and getting rid of the chips and processed foods.  A little change in your shopping list will go a long way! :)

mo5 (author)2009-09-08

i hate dips soooo much

cterry511 (author)2009-08-20

Thanks nice incite.

duck-lemon (author)2008-05-01

when you are doing your push ups keep your body straight i see there that you have your body on an angle from you pelvis to your head, in other words your pelvis is too low and your head too high. P.S edit you video so it doesn't show the bits when you crack up.

06Alpha (author)duck-lemon2008-05-12

Why is it that when someone tries to workout and get fit, someone else is always there to criticize? You are one of those guys at the gym that thinks they have a free ticket to tell other people what to do. LOOK AT THE GUY IN THE VIDEO, clearly he is building muscle -- lay off! To sum up 'constructively,' if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

duck-lemon (author)06Alpha2008-05-12

dude don't get agro i'm just trying to improve his technique.

dunnos (author)duck-lemon2008-05-31

is agro a term off a game or an everyday word?

duck-lemon (author)dunnos2008-05-31

agro= aggrevated

Genetastic (author)duck-lemon2008-06-17

aggro = aggressive/beatdown style when constructing trading card game decks.

WHY do I know these things?

dunnos (author)Genetastic2008-06-18

ok, i always used aggro in a game when a monster had a red name and was going to attack without a reason

awatson2006 (author)dunnos2008-08-27

haha aggro=many varriations of definiton from games...
WoW=Red monster who will attack no matter what
Runescape=a monster more than your level divided by two that will attack you without pause
Lineage&most other games=same as wow lol

cowgomoo (author)awatson20062009-08-17

i like these games in my downtime but lots of money to buy some... you spend alot on these things? any free games you would suggest?

cowgomoo (author)06Alpha2009-08-17

in this kind of stuff its extremely important to have good form. sure you build muscle from doing things improperly but if you have bad form you have a good chance of getting hurt, especially when weights are being used.

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