Bulking for an ectomorph can be a difficult thing to comprehend as you need to put such a focus on diet and hitting your macros consistently that it can be compared to someone looking to achieve <8% body fat as an example. It can definitely be done in both cases and there is a pretty straightforward framework that you can follow to get there, the length of time it can take however can vary depending on the individual.
How long should an ectomorph bulk? An ectomorph should bulk until they get to a body fat percentage of around 15%, by this point a considerable amount of mass should have been gained and a body re-composition phase should now be considered.
The issue with bulking is that people don’t really know when they should stop, with a diet once you get to a certain level of leanness you can physically see that you’ve achieved it, with bulking however the more body fat that you accumulate on a bulk the less informed you are of how much is actually muscle!
Determining You Starting Point
The first thing you need to look at when starting a bulk as an ectomorph is your actual starting point in terms of body composition. I don’t believe in setting weight goals specifically as that sort of mentality can drive people to gain unnecessary body fat.
If you currently weigh 140lbs and set a target of 190lbs in 6 months time it’s just an unrealistic target. If you are someone of the mindset that you will achieve this they it’s not impossible but the lengths you would need to go to make it a reality would just mean gaining a significant amount of fat.
Therefore when starting out you want to get as accurate as possible indicator of your current body stats (mainly weight and body fat percentage). A lot of modern scales will actually give you a reading for body fat percentage, whatever the reading just take it with a pinch of salt and use it more as a baseline figure rather than an accurate read.
If you don’t have a scale with this function then you can go to most commercial gyms or pharmacies and they will have a scale that will give you these readings, again I don’t believe them to be accurate however they are just needed to get a baseline reading. If neither of these are an option then just purchase a cheap bathroom scale that will give you a reading for your body weight.
The reason I say the initial figure isn’t accurate and that you shouldn’t set body weight goals based on this is because you are going to use this as a marker to judge progress, you are going to weigh yourself under the same circumstances on a regular basis to track progress. The best way to do this will be to it in the same location at the same time, for an accurate read this should be upon waking fasted and done every morning.
The reason it should be every morning is to allow for random fluctuations (water retention etc..) so you will take the average reading over a 7 day period and then track changes on a weekly basis. If you only weigh yourself once a week then you might have had a particularly large meal before bed (though still within daily macro targets) and therefore be holding water the next day which would make it look like you’ve gained more weight than you actually have.
Instead take weekly readings and track it from week to week to see how successful the bulk is going, 1lb gained every two weeks is a good consistent target to aim for.
Setting A Bulking Goal
Whilst I don’t agree with setting an end body weight goal It is necessary to set short term body weight goals and aiming to bulk up to 15% body fat over time is a very good target for an ectomorph. Once you get to this body fat level you will have been in a bulk long enough to put on some serious muscle mass (depending on your starting point) and will then be ready to diet down and see how much muscle mass has been gained.
A bulk for an ectomorph is a significantly longer time period and commitment then what is needed to lose fat on a cut. Losing 1lb of fat per week is a very much an achievable goal for most of the population regardless of body type, to gain 1lb of muscle however is a much longer process and if done correctly will take around 4 – 6 weeks.
This sounds like very disheartening news, however if you are a complete beginner or in the early stages of training then it is not unrealistic to half the amount of time it takes to build lean muscle mass as your body goes through the initial adaptation period.
Based on this a typical bulking phase should be a minimum of 6 months in length and if it’s your first bulk it wouldn’t be a bad idea to commit a full 12 months to it. The longer you are in a calorie surplus the better physiological state you are in to build muscle, it may be difficult to accept that some fat will be gained and people might get precious about losing the outline of their abs however as a true ectomorph it’s essential that you enter this phase to stand any chance of putting on muscle mass!
The 3 Things To Track On A Bulk
There are 3 things that you will want to track whilst on a bulk and chances are you might have only considered the first point when looking to bulk.
- Weight – This is the main indicator you will use to track how well a bulk is going and as a side note this also includes body fat (though this will be less accurate). I mentioned earlier taking consistent weight readings, the actual weight and body fat reading is not so important to begin with, what you want to be tracking are the changes, or lack of. To know if you are on the right track the scale weight does need to be moving upwards over time.
- Calories – Just because you are on a bulk does not mean you can eat what you want and use ‘intuition’ to make sure you’re in a calorie surplus. You will need to be eating an estimated 200 – 500 calorie surplus over your daily maintenance macros and this will need to be adjusted over time as you gain weight and your maintenance level increases. The initial surplus will only work until your adapts to this calorie amount, you will need to track your macros against the scale weight consistently and make changes when necessary.
- Lifts – To build muscle as an ectomorph you need to get stronger in the multi joint compound movements, pump work and low intensity isolation exercises won’t be enough to put pounds of muscle onto your frame. Keep a logbook of all exercises and try to progress on the key lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, barbell row, lunge) every time you work these movements. You can still include pump work and accessory exercises in your routine however the sole focus should be on getting stronger in the big lifts that will have the biggest impact on your physique.
How To Use A Mini Cut When On A Bulk
Even though I’ve said you need to be in a calorie surplus for an extended period of time to see progress this will eventually take a toll on your metabolism, digestive system and responsiveness to the surplus of calories.
A common approach to combat this and trick your body into being more receptive to macros (in particular carbohydrates) again is to incorporate a mini cut into the bulking phase. This is for a number of reasons including slowing down the rate of fat gain, reducing current levels of body fat, giving your digestive system a break from the constant calorie surplus and lastly making you more receptive to carbohydrates again.
The last one is especially a key point when it comes to bulking, you want to keep your body as receptive to carbohydrates as possible to ensure insulin sensitivity (a key component for muscle hypertrophy) and constantly consuming high levels of carbs on a daily basis will lead to some form of insulin resistance over time.
This is similar to someone who consumes heavy doses of caffeine on a daily basis, over time you get used to a certain amount and constantly need to add more to feel any effects.
A mini cut can therefore be included to assist with a bulk, adding a 2 – 4 week period every 3 – 4 months where you go into a calorie deficit is advised. The point at which you include this will depend on a few factors, energy levels if you are becoming lethargic), mood, accelerated weight gain and especially in the form of body fat. All of these are factors to consider when on a long term bulk and need to be managed.
For a mini cut you simply need to reduce calories and treat it as a diet phase, during this period it will be beneficial to incorporate a deload into your weight training routines and reduce overall volume to give your central nervous system a break. You can also increase energy expenditure in the form of cardio to accelerate the fat burning process.
This is a temporary diet to reset your metabolic system, avoid the temptation to then go on an extended diet phase and stick with the bulk for a sustained period to reap the benefits.
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