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How Long Should a Bulk Last? What to Consider When Packing on the Muscle

Bulking is a popular choice of diet when trying to build muscle quickly. However, nothing is ever so clean cut, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself packing on a whole lot more than just muscle. How long should a bulk last though? By bulking too long, you risk putting on some actual body fat on top of your muscle. If you’re someone who is going for that clearly defined, toned look, that’s not something you’re going to want.

How Long Should a Bulk Last

So, the question is: how long should one of these routines last? At what point should you stop loading up on calories and instead return to a normal routine? The answer is actually pretty simple, but as always, there’s a lot of nuance and other little details you should know.

How long should a bulk last? It depends. A bulk should last 4 weeks at minimum. If you’re doing an aggressive bulk (also known as “dirty bulking”), you’re going to want to go for 4 to 6 weeks if you’re okay with adding on a little fat in the process. If you’re a conservative bulker (also known as “lean/clean bulking”), which minimizes any fat gain, you’re going to want at least 12 weeks.

However, before you determine how long you’ll bulk, you need to choose what method of bulking you want, understand your own bulking goals, and decide whether or not these goals are even realistic.


Key Takeaways on Bulking Duration

Bulking Duration takeaways - Idea concept

Here are some takeaways you should know before getting started:

  • Gender does not affect how long you can bulk. A large man and a petite woman both equally into fitness can bulk for the same amount of time. There are instead other factors that take into account how long you should bulk (the type of bulk and how happy you are with your progress being the main ones). So, don’t worry about your frame.
  • Your body fat index matters when it comes to whether or not you should even bulk. If you want to start a healthy bulk with minimal problems, men should have less than 15% body fat, while women should have less than 20% body fat.
  • No matter how long your bulk lasts, it’s highly advised that you eat at maintenance for at least 2 weeks before starting the cutting phase. This will give your body time to adjust to the new weight and to avoid decreasing your calories too much during the cutting phase.


Things to Consider Before Starting a Bulk

Things to Consider Before Starting a Bulk

You can’t just jump straight into bulking. Well, you can, but there are some things you should consider before doing so, all of which work to ensure you’ll have the easiest time possible.

  • Your Mental/Emotional State. Bulking is a method of building muscle that most people don’t really think about. You’re going to gain weight, your clothes are going to get tighter, and you might even accumulate some fat. You need to be mentally and emotionally okay to see the scale tip a little higher than usual. Make sure you’re in a sound state of mind before beginning.
  • Your Relationship with Food. Your relationship with food is important. If you’re constantly trying new diets in order to lose weight, bulking may not be for you. If you want to bulk to justify eating tons of food, you need to stop while you’re ahead. Wait until you’ve come to terms with how you feel about food in general.
  • Your Body Fat Percentage. This is strictly for your own health. If you start bulking while your body fat percentage is high, you’re going to gain more fat than you will muscle. Men and women should have a body fat percentage of less than 15% and 20% respectively.


The 2 Types of Bulks

Bulking sounds like a fairly simple process to many people; just consume a bunch of calories and then work it all off at the gym. It’s everyone’s dream: eat all you want while still gaining muscle. While this may technically be true, it certainly isn’t easy.

If you’re an exercise enthusiast who is trying to bulk for the first time, you’re going to be eating a lot more than you’re used to, and that can be difficult in its own right. If you’re someone who exercises casually and is comfortable with consuming this amount of calories, you may not be prepared for the amount of weightlifting you’re going to be doing.

As you continue to build muscle, you’re going to need to consume even more calories and exercise even more; it’s fairly intense, and it’s certainly not for everyone.

If you’re okay with engaging with this type of regimen, then all you need to do is pick out your bulking plan and then prepare to take on the challenge by some fairly rigorous planning. Make sure you’re financially stable in the process, because you’re going to be consuming far more food than you’re used to.

With that, here are the two types of bulking you can choose from, clean bulking vs dirty bulking. This will give you a good idea on how long a bulking phase should last.


How Long Should an Aggressive Bulk or Dirty Bulk Last

unhealthy foods for dirty bulking

This is known as “dirty bulking” in some cases. This is what most people think of when they first hear about the concept of bulking: eating anything and everything you can to really stack up on those calories.

Does dirty bulking work though? Well, By doing an aggressive bulk, you’re more likely to reach that calorie goal with ease. However, you’re also going to have to deal with fat accumulation, which is a common issue. It’s not guaranteed, but you’re most likely going to see yourself gaining a bit of fat over that muscle. Just so long as it doesn’t get over 15% your body mass, you should be good to go, so keep an eye on that. When dirty bulking, you should be as aggressive as possible, try legal steroid alternatives for bulking for example.

Because of its unhealthier qualities and fat accumulation, aggressive bulking is suggested to last from anywhere between 2 to 3 months.


How Long Should a Lean Bulk or Clean Bulk Last

Healthy foods for clean bulking

Also known as “clean bulking”, a lean bulk is the healthier option when it comes to bulking. That means lean meats, vegetables, rice, chicken; all the greats you would have in a normal exercise-focused diet. With this, you can go fairly long term; far more than you would go with aggressive bulking. A lean bulk can last up to 9 months and have very impressive results. Best of all: if you do it right, it results in very little fat accumulation, so you can enjoy having a toned body and feeling healthy to boot.

You need to be as efficient as possible when doing a clean bulk, try things like MCT oil for example.

The problem of trying to determine how long should a bulk last comes down to calorie consumption. The bonus of aggressive bulking is that many of the foods you’re allowed to eat can be very dense in calories. With lean bulking, you’re going to have a bit more of a difficult time with lean meats. Unless you want to drink straight coconut oil to get your fix (please don’t), you’re going to have to eat a lot more food, and that can be fairly uncomfortable for some people.


When to Stop Bulking

When to Stop Bulking - Stop sign

One of the best ideas is to put a clear start to end date for your bulking. You can’t just go on forever, after all. Of course, nothing is going to stop you from doing several bulks in a row, but we always recommend a tiny break before diving right back in.

For your own sake, there are some key indicators that you need to probably wrap things up and put a lid on it. Here are the four key indicators that you should look out for if you’re considering putting a pin on things.


Do you feel like you need a break?

This is probably the most important indicator. If you mentally, emotionally, or physically don’t want to continue, then you should stop. It’s okay to not follow through with the rest of your planned regimen. Remember that while we’re here to make gains, your mental and emotional health is more important. If you feel like you’re tired of eating so much or that you’re in too bad a place to continue, then stop. No ifs, ands, or buts.


Are you making progress?

We can’t grow bigger forever, though that doesn’t stop people from trying. At some point we just plateau and level out. If you feel as though you’re no longer making any progress or getting the gains you want, you can probably just take a break for a bit.

However, if there’s a problem with bulking near the beginning, you may just be having a problem with how you bulk in general. Keep an eye on calorie count and your exercises to make sure things add up.


Are you accumulating too much fat?

When it comes to bulking, accumulating fat is not only normal, but almost inevitable, especially your first few times going at it. You need to make sure that your fat isn’t accumulating around your organs; AKA, your gut. If you are, make sure to measure your waist circumference at your navel.

If you happen to be approaching 37 inches, you’re approaching troubling territory. There’s a certain point where if you have too much fat (over 15% body fat for men and over 20% body fat for women), your bulking calories are more likely to turn into fat than muscle. If you find yourself accumulating a lot more fat than you should, it’s a good idea to stop bulking.


Are you at your peak?

This is in the same vein as “are you making progress”; this one is more about how you consider yourself mentally, however. Every time we go for a bulk, our aim is to reach that peak and perhaps even surpass it. However, you choose just exactly where that peak is. Do you feel bigger and stronger than ever before? Do you want to reach new heights? By all means, keep going.

However, if you realize you’re beginning to plateau and you’re not making as much progress as you used to, you should consider whether or not you feel like you’ve reached your goal. If you feel like you’re at the level you want to be, it’s okay to cut back. People get stuck in an endless cycle of bulking and cutting that doesn’t add up to anything, so at some point, it stops being about physical capabilities and becomes more about how you feel.


What to Do After Bulking

What to Do After Bulking - Man in the gym in cutting phase

As we get deeper into the bulking process, our caloric needs become even higher than before. If you feel as though your caloric needs are becoming too overwhelming for you, you’re going to want to do what we call a “reverse bulk”. It’s a process in which you listen to your appetite again instead of forcing yourself to gorge or making yourself starve. You let yourself lose a bit of weight, keep your muscle, and reclaim that leanness.

If you don’t feel like you can do some reverse bulking, you can alternatively just go onto a cutting phase where you trim off that fat. Lastly, you can just keep it casual and work on maintaining your gained muscle.

As stated before, there’s nothing really stopping you from just diving into another bulking session, but I will always suggest finding another goal to tackle. A good example would be cardio. Cardio is very important for your health, after all, and you should be doing some cardio even when you are bulking, and it can be embarrassing if someone big and strong can’t jog their way around the block. Goals like these don’t require a calorie surplus, and they can also be knocked out with exercise routines like High-Intensity Exercise.


Final Thoughts

Bulking is a bit of a tricky regimen to pick up, and it may take you a couple tries to actually get the hang of it. Even then, you may even find yourself switching between methods of bulking, trying to grasp what feels best for you. You may even find that bulking isn’t for you, which is totally fine.

Remember to go at your own pace and make sure that you’re in a healthy state of mind when you begin your regimen. Building muscle is meant to take time. No matter what, though, just remember to stay healthy, always do your warm-up exercises, and stay hydrated.