T Nation

Psychological Barriers to Bulking


I've discovered something about myself that may help others who can't bring themselves to accept gaining a little fat in order to increase their lean mass.

According to recent caliper measurements I'm ~10% BF. However, right after Christmas I bought one of those inexpensive electronic body fat scales at huge-mart, even though everything I've read said they're not accurate. But I like gadgets, and figured that even if it wasn't accurate, if it was consistent I could use it to monitor trends.

Well, it's been consistent, showing small increases in BF% as the caliper readings increased and vice-versa. However, it's also been telling me I'm ~15%BF, when the caliper measurements were telling me I was 9%. Seeing the number go from 14.9% to 15.1%, combined with seeing the caliper measurements go up, I believe was wreaking psychological havoc. I'd think "crap, I'm going to end up just being fat if I don't get down to a good starting point (10%) before I try to bulk".

Which of the two measurements is correct doesn't really matter at this point. At 6'0", 170 lbs with a 32" waist, I'm not "fat" by any definition, and am unlikely to get fat by eating a relatively clean 500-1000 cals over maintenance while following solid lifting routines. What does matter is the psychological difference between the two numbers. I'm more likely to continue eating at a surplus if objective data tells me I'm 10% than if objective data tells me I'm at 15%.

I've stopped using the BF function of the scale and have been eating at a surplus since taking those measurements. I'm seeing the pounds slowly inch upward. Even though my abdominal skinfold measurement has gone up to a "whopping" 9mm from a low of 7.5mm, the psychological difference of seeing the numbers at 10% BF vs 15% BF has me not even worrying about gaining a few pounds of fat.

I'm not saying to lie to yourself and do something stupid (like telling yourself you're 10% BF when you're really 30% and trying to bulk), but I am saying that having realistic, objective information in front of you every day might get you past your "manorexia", regardless of what you "know" to be correct.

My goal is 1.0-1.5 lbs/week with at least half of that being lean mass. Let's see if I can reach somewhere between 190-200 by Christmas.


I think for most, well maybe some people it's accepted that you're going to gain fat on a bulk. And by gain fat, I do not mean become obese.


being 6'0 and 170 I think you need to worry more about how much you are eating, or aren't eating and your intensity in the gym.
if you start gaining what you think is too much fat do some form of cardio. this shit is not complicated, what happened to just going to the gym and busting ass and going home and busting ass at the dinner table?


Herein lies the problem - You can't expect that kind of gains, else you would gain 40 of LBM each year. You should aim 1 pound per week on a clean bulk, whatever it is - fat or muscle. Just keep the same caloric intake for a while, assuming you workout hard enough you will gain quality weight. And by the way, if you stay at the same weight and lose 2-3lbs of fat, you're growing - so stop weighing yourself, it doesn't tell you anything except how much space you occupy on earth.


Actually, for some people it may be more complicated. Regardless, if you're going to display arrogance, at least be able to justify it by your physique. Responses like this, from people who have accomplished jack shit in terms of physique or strength development, disgust me.

To the OP - there are definitely psychological barriers to bulking and anything that helps you overcome those is valuable. Interesting post. DaFreak has a good point too about realistic gains.


To the OP, you say you knew it was inaccurate, but still acted like the reading was accurate, Im guessing your old boy slapped you upside the head a lot growing up.

I know psychology is a large part of body transformation. Thats why I gave away all the clothes that were tight on me, it seemed like I was trying to put on size, whilst still being able to fit into my favourite jeans lol, Also half!!! the time (not all the time) I ate, I would think "yeah this is how much I need" rather than "yeah this is how much I need to grow"

It would be good to see an article addressing the psychological factors to weight gain, I have read plenty of tricks for people trying to lose weight, so there must be some tricks for people trying to gain weight.


I've always had a strong interest in understanding why people behave the way they do. As a former military officer and current business leader, that understanding is absolutely critical in order to produce results through the people you lead.

I suspect that many of the people who come here whining (myself included) that they can't gain lean mass either don't have enough commitment or self-discipline to do what it takes, or they have a psychological barrier to doing what's needed. FFB's (or people like me who only "think" they're FFB's) are probably the worst, because they're afraid they'll be labelled a failure if they gain back even an ounce of the fat they've shed. Others are constantly bombarded with Abercrombie ads or magazine cover models and have come to believe that anybody who doesn't look like that (relatively low mass but with "hawt abz"), is fat. Really no different than anorexic/bulemic women who look in the mirror and see a fattie, even though they're skin and bones.

I know at my current level of development the formula for increasing size is pretty straightforward (because I read it here, every day, over and over): Eat right, lift right, sleep right. Accept that you'll gain some fat in the process (not to be confused with "you'll get fat"), that you can burn off after you've made some decent gains. The discipline's there; I get up at 5:00 every morning to work out. Unfortunately the fear of looking like a bowling pin has to be battled down every day in order to keep myself on track to accomplishing my goals.

Even though many members of this community get irritated with people coming here whining, others are incredibly helpful when they continue to reaffirm what needs to be done. Some people need this, others need something else.

To the accomplished members who serve as mentors: Thank you. Your continued guidance to those of us who seek it is much appreciated, even though we may need to be told several times, and sometime smacked upside the head with a 2x4.


Amen to that.


We could have an endless discussion about why people behave the way they do. Motivational theories, goal setting strategies, etc etc, could lead to an endless discussion with no real outcomes.

But, for my short and sweet take on this, people are generally soft and would rather have the quick fix solution than put in the hard yards. This relates to the discipline of training heavy, hard, and often, as well as eating sufficiently to gain the desired mass.

I just ripped some skin off my hands the other night doing rack pulls. It seeped a bit....but still managed to wrap my hands up today and get straight back into a straight leg deadlift workout.

Who really wants to put themselves through shit like this?

For me, this, just like gaining a bit of fat, is just an inconsequential by-product of doing what I need to do to get where I want to go.

Fuck barriers and fuck excuses. Make it happen, whatever it takes.


I was just reading something about this in an old Muscle & Fitness surprise surprise.

I believe it was Chris Aceto saying that if you're working out hard and if you gain say 3 lbs of muscle over a period of time, but also 1 lb of fat then you actually became leaner, percentage wise.

Makes sense.


Yep, I think that's what I'm getting at. If someone's not making the progress they realistically should be, they need to figure out what's preventing it. In my case, and I suspect many others, the barrier is that they either think they're fat, or they think 13% bodyfat is obese, and they are having trouble overcoming that.

A T-Nation article I read recently referred to "panic dieting"; when a person's bulking and "thinks" they've gotten "fat", when in reality they've only gained the little bit of fat necessary to achieve overall gains.


If this is the interview with Jay Cutler's nutritionist from ~1 year ago, I just reread it also.

Unfortunately, being in Finance and having the compelling need to scrutinize numbers, I couldn't get this statement to hold up, not at my level anyway.

At 170lbs, 10% bodyfat, you'd have to limit your fat gains to .11 lbs for every 1 lb of lean mass just to maintain 10% BF, a 9:1 ratio. I don't think that's realistic.

However, if I gain 1 lb of fat for every lb of muscle, I'd only be at 16% BF by the time I reach 200 lbs. To get back to 10% I'd only need to drop 13 lbs of fat (assuming I can keep the 168 lbs of lean mass). I can live with that.


I think the only people who worry about getting fat when bulking are those who have always been naturally lean, through genetics or not being fed yo BEANS AND CORNBREAD as a child. Get big and strong, diet and cardio to remove the excess fat (which shouldn't be too much if you didn't eat crap) bam.


XB-C has been going through some changes lately...really getting hardcore on his all-out eating and gaining weight at a pretty decent pace finally. I also think he's on test or something because he's become pretty cocky recently as well - either that or he got in a fight and then ripped a stop sign out of the ground...he just seems to be feeling "ALPHA!"

Just pokin fun XB =P


Call the NASA, they might have job openings for you.


Yes, there comes a point where you just finish the workout. I always wear long songs and pants when I DL because I rip my shins to pieces and don't want to bleed on the bar. My DL pants are nice and stained on the inside now. I've seen stars, got my breather and went back under the bar for 3 more sets. At that point it isn't fun, you aren't chasing some hottie around the track in college anymore, it's work plain and simple and like work it just needs to get done. To gain strength you have to eat more. To finish gruelling workouts you need to eat more. Like GG said, you just need to do whatever it takes to hit your goals.


Stop looking in the mirror (at least not your abs). Focus on the appearance of your arms, shoulders, and thighs.

Stop measuring your waist.

Stop looking at competition photos of the champs for inspiration. Instead look at pics of off-season dudes. Your mind will adapt and accept them as ideal over time.

Buy larger size pants so your gut feels less restricted. Do this at the start of your bulk.

Remember, you can't build a mansion from a bucketful of bricks.

If you STILL can't accept a layer of fat, start bulking in late summer. The public won't see your abs through fall and winter, but will definitely notice your larger arms, shoulders and back as you grow.


Why are guys so worried about this shit lately? Like gaining some body fat is the end of life. You would have to be a complete moron to somehow become OBESE without noticing it happen and you would think more guys would be more focused on getting really big and really strong first before they started worrying about how much like a supermodel they looked.

You are focused on the wrong shit if your goal is to be super ripped BEFORE any real muscle has been built. What are the goals now? Is Brad Pitt in Fight club still the fucking ideal?

At 6 feet tall and only 170lbs, why not work on getting to 200lbs before worrying about how super lean you are?


Actually, it's common among FFBs (former fat boys). Having been fat, they are scared to death of it happening again.


Yeah, but every single kid who grew up not going outside and playing videogames all day long now qualifies as a "FORMER FAT BOY" making the distinction null and void since the only reason they were fat IS BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T FUCKING MOVE BEFORE.

To get big requires eating big and lifting big. If they can't handle that, they are in the wrong forum.