Illustration showing a skinny guy bulking up and gaining muscle.

Is Bulking the Best Way to Build Muscle?

Depending on who you ask, “bulking” has different connotations attached to it. For some, bulking is the way to gain muscle size and strength. For others, bulking is a foolish way to build muscle that results in needless fat gain. Which is it?

To figure out if bulking is the best way for a skinny guy to build muscle, there are a few different questions we have to answer:

  • Does a calorie surplus allow you to build muscle faster?
  • Can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time?
  • Does bulking cause needless fat gain?
  • Will bulking make skinny guys skinny-fat?
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Illustration of a bodybuilder using a barbell and dumbbells to build muscle.

Should You Build A Dumbbell or Barbell Home Gym?

Let’s say you want to build muscle at home. You’ve got a few different options. You could use your body weight, but bodyweight workouts are painful and difficult. So maybe you decide to get some resistance bands, but they aren’t very good for building muscle. Exercise machines are good for building muscle, but you’d need a different machine for each lift, which is highly impractical. That’s why most people turn to weights: barbells and dumbbells.

Both barbells and dumbbells are great at stimulating muscle growth, both are reasonably affordable, and both can be used to do hundreds of different exercises, allowing you to follow a full hypertrophy training program. Still, barbells and dumbbells aren’t quite the same as one another.

Strength training is known for favouring barbells, bodybuilding is known for favouring dumbbells (and exercise machines). For building muscle, we want to use both strength training and bodybuilding lifts. We want to use aspects of both styles of training. So which should you choose? Barbells or dumbbells?

Let’s go over the pros and cons.

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Illustration showing a skinny guy who gained too much fat while bulking.

How Much Fat Should You Gain While Bulking?

One of the best ways to ruin a bulk is to be so scared of gaining fat that you avoid gaining weight. If you’re 130 pounds, the only way to get up to 180 pounds is to gain weight. There’s no other path there. You have to bulk.

But bulking is a dastardly process. You can just as easily mess it up by gaining too much weight, causing you to gain a disproportionate amount of fat. You can cut the fat away, of course. It still works out in the end. But cutting takes time, and feeling fat can be frustrating.

To make things even trickier, there are a number of factors that can affect the ratio of muscle-to-fat that you gain, including your workout program, your bulking diet, your genetics, and even your sleep habits. It’s possible to bulk at a reasonable pace and still gain a ton of fat.

That brings us to the big question: how much fat should you gain while bulking? And if you notice your body-fat percentage going up, does that mean you’re doing something wrong?

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Illustration of three popular types of adjustable dumbbells you can buy for your home gym.

How to Build a Dumbbell Home Gym

This article covers how to build a dumbbell home gym, which is ideal for people living in smaller apartments or on a tight budget. With two adjustable dumbbells, you can build just as much muscle as you can with a full barbell home gym. Your workouts may not be quite as efficient, but there are actually some interesting advantages to dumbbell training, too—especially for your arms, chest, and shoulders.

There are several different types of adjustable dumbbells, and some are much better than others. When I built my first dumbbell home gym, I made the mistake of buying the wrong type. They were rickety, it was difficult to adjust the weight, and I couldn’t rest them on my legs, making it hard to do the dumbbell bench press. They were such a pain to use that I wound up disliking dumbbell training. But we’ve learned a lot since then. Buying better dumbbells makes all the difference.

Finally, there are some great accessories you can add to your dumbbell home gym, including a workout bench, a chin-up bar, a couple of kettlebells, and maybe even some parallettes or gymnastic rings. These are totally optional, but we’ll go over the advantages they offer.

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What equipment should you buy if you're trying to build a barbell home gym to train for size, strength and aesthetics

How to Build a Barbell Home Gym

Let’s say your goal is to build muscle, and you want to do it at home. If you don’t have a spare room or garage available, you can build a dumbbell home gym, and that’s great. But if you have room for it, a barbell home gym is the ideal way to train. You can do all of the best compound lifts, all of the best accessory lifts, and you can gradually add a little bit of weight to those lifts every workout. Not only that, but barbell training is by far the most efficient way to train. You’ll stimulate a ton of overall muscle mass with every repetition.

The problem is, building a barbell home gym can get confusing. I help people build muscle for a living and I still found it confusing. There are so many different brands, setups, and pieces of equipment. Even when picking a barbell, there are many different types, ranging from power to bars to weightlifting bars. And each type of barbell can have various coatings, ranging from zinc to cerakote.

So what we’ve done in this article is outline a basic setup that’s ideal for building muscle. Then we’ve recommended the best brands and pieces of equipment, going from the most affordable options to the best quality options. I’ll also show you my own barbell home gym and give you links to each piece of equipment I bought.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder building bigger arms.

How to Build Bigger Arms (For Skinny Guys)

I’ve successfully gained 5.5 inches around my upper arms, bringing my biceps circumference from 10 inches up to 15.5 inches. But I got off to a rough start. During my first two years of successful lifting, I gained 40 pounds at 11% body fat, bringing my bench from 65 to 225 pounds and working up to chin-ups with 50 pounds around my waist. And yet, despite all of that progress, I only had 12-inch arms. My arms were still 1.3 inches smaller than the average man’s. And the average man doesn’t even exercise, let alone lift weights.

That was when I realized my mistake. I wasn’t training my arms with the same fervour as the muscles in my torso. I focused on the big compound exercises, yes. But I failed to add in the proper arm exercises. Then, when I finally added those exercises in, my arm training was too haphazard. There was no structure. No plan. You can do much better.

This article will explain how to build bigger arms, starting with a dead-simple overview of the muscles in our arms. Next, we’ll talk about how big the average man’s arms are, how big you should build your arms, and how long it will take. Then we’ll stab into the heart of it: the best arm exercises, the best rep ranges, training volumes, and arm training methods. We’ll even give you some sample arm workouts.

Once I added these arm-training principles to my workout routine, my biceps circumference shot up from 12 inches to 15.5 inches, catching right up to the rest of my muscles. To my surprise, the extra triceps training added fifty pounds to my bench press, too, helping me bench 315 pounds for the first time. My lack of proper arm training had been holding back my overall strength.

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Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder eating a bulking diet.

The Bulking Diet Guide: How to Eat for Muscle Growth

This bulking diet guide will teach you the basics of eating for muscle growth. This is how bodybuilders have traditionally bulked up, how athletes go about gaining lean mass, and what modern science shows us is the most effective way to build muscle.

We aren’t just regurgitating theory, either. I’ve personally used these methods to gain 65 pounds at 11% body fat. Marco has used them to gain over 70 pounds at an even lower body-fat percentage. Marco then gave these recommendations to the college, professional, and Olympic athletes he trained. And since creating Bony to Beastly, it’s the advice we’ve given to our millions of readers and the 10,000 naturally skinny members who’ve done our programs.

There are three parts to this guide:

  • How much to eat. (And how to adjust.)
  • What proportion of protein, carbs, and fat to eat.
  • What actual foods to eat.

Don’t prepare to be shocked or thrilled. There’s nothing edgy or controversial here. And this isn’t the one and only True way to eat for muscle growth. These are indeed the most effective methods, having been refined by both research and tradition over several decades, but you can modify most of them and still pack on slabs of muscle.

What we’re trying to do with this guide is give you the best default bulking diet, the best foundation to build upon. From there, you can then adjust it as you see fit.

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Illustration of several different bulking foods

The Best Macros for Bulking: How Much Protein, Carbs & Fat to Eat

When figuring out our ideal bulking macros—how much protein, carbs, and fat we should eat—there are a few things we need to consider. First, we can look at the research to see which macros allow us to build muscle the fastest. Second, we can see which macros help us avoid gaining fat while bulking. Third, we can look at which macros make it easier to get into a sustainable calorie surplus.

But a lot of us care about more than merely building muscle. We also want to improve our general health as we do it. So we can also look at which macros have the best impact on our health as we bulk up.

So, what are the best macros for bulking?

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The best chest exercises for mass

The Best Chest Exercises for Building Muscle

A few compound lifts have earned a reputation for being the best chest exercises: the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, weighted dip, and push-up. And it’s true, all of these are great lifts. But there’s a bit more to it than that. These are big compound lifts, working several different muscles at once. Depending on how you do them, you can be limited by your chest, shoulders, or triceps, changing which muscles get most of the growth stimulus. And if you’re trying to build a bigger chest, you need to make sure that your chest’s strength is what limits you.

A few isolation lifts are commonly used to bulk up the chest, too: the dumbbell fly, the cable crossover, the chest fly machine, and the pec deck machine. Again, all of these are great exercises. All of them will help you bulk up your chest. But you can speed up your muscle growth by quite a bit if you focus on working your chest under a deeper stretch, and some of these lifts are better at that than others.

Finally, we have the upper chest, which is often treated as a whole separate beast. What are the best lifts for building a bigger upper chest, and what kind of priority should you give them in your workout routine? For example, should the incline bench press be your main chest lift? Or should you favour the flat bench press?

So, what are the best exercises for building a bigger chest? What are the best lifts for building a bigger upper chest? And how should we organize them into a workout routine? Let’s dive in.

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