Lyle McDonald’s Bulking Routine

By JC Deen



For a full, comprehensive guide on building muscle, check out my Bulking Guide

Lyle McDonald of BodyRecomposition is very well known for his in-depth and no BS approach when discussing nutrition and fat loss. He has published a total of seven books, all of which are incredible resources, especially when learning about proper dieting. To date, he has not published any books on training, but I suspect that day may come eventually.

Speaking of training, he has developed his own generic bulking routine which has its own sticky in the bodybuilding section on his infamous discussion forum. The program has been hashed out ad nauseam by the forum members and Lyle has referenced it in one of his training articles in which he discusses a few popular hypertrophy training programs such as DC Training and HST Training.

Lyles Bulking Routine is a combination of strength training and higher rep hypertrophy training. Here is an excerpt of the training article in which Lyle explains his bulking routine.

My generic bulking program is stock in the middle because I’m a middle of the road kind of guy. I generically like to see a body part hit about 2X/week with slightly lowered intensity (relative to DC) although higher than Bryan’s HST. I recommend about a rep short of failure so that the volume (which is higher per workout than either DC or HST) can be accomplished. I’m trying to strike a volume between the issues of frequency (for gene expression and protein synthesis), recovery (failure training can burn people out) and progression (I want to see the poundages going up consistently over the cycle).

Who is Lyle McDonald’s Bulking Routine for?

Bodybuilders, intermediate trainees, and your basic gym rats who train to look good naked. I cannot recommend such a program for beginners as they are more likely to benefit from more a beginner workout routine.

The Bulking Routine

As presented directly on the forums.

Mon: Lower
Squat: 3-4X6-8/3′ (3-4 sets of 6-8 with a 3′ rest)
SLDL or leg curl: 3-4X6-8/3′
Leg press: 2-3X10-12/2′
Another leg curl: 2-3X10-12/2′
Calf raise: 3-4X6-8/3′
Seated calf: 2-3X10-12/2′

Tue: Upper
Flat bench: 3-4X6-8/3′
Row: 3-4X6-8/3′
Incline bench or shoulder press: 2-3X10-12/2′
Pulldown/chin: 2-3X10-12/2′
Triceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5′
Biceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5′

For the Thu/Fri workouts either repeat the first two or make some slight exercise substitutions. Can do deadlift/leg press combo on Thu, switch incline/pulldown to first exercises on upper body day. A lot depends on volume tolerance, if the above is too much, go to 2-3X6-8 and 1-2X10-12

This is a four-day training program and could possibly be converted into a three-day program alternating upper and lower workouts every other day. As Lyle suggests, if the routine as laid out is a bit much, start conservatively with the volume and subtract a set on each exercise.

If you struggle with SLDL’s or want another option for a hamstring/glute movement, check my back extension tutorial.

I highly recommend this programming to trainees who are beyond the beginner phase. I usually have them start out on the lower end of the spectrum regarding volume, and ask that they slowly ease into more volume as their work capacity improves.

If you’re interested in learning which training program is right for you, check out this workout plan article. I’ve put together TONS of good info on which programs are beneficial based on your training preferences and availability.

Ever wondered how much protein is necessary to change your body? We’ve got it covered here in ‘how much protein do you need?’ article.

72 thoughts on “Lyle McDonald’s Bulking Routine”

  1. Can you do cardio on off days ? On the 2nd upper body workout you recommend substituting the exercises but 3 sets for incline not 4 , right ? I mean same amount of sets for all exercises no matter what order. JC I started following you recently and you are brilliant.

    • you could — just be mindful of your recovery.

      Nope — more so if you have 4 sets on the first movement, you’d do one less set on the following. But you could do equal amounts. It’s not a huge issue.

  2. hey man can i shoulder press on tuesday 3sets of 10-12 and on thurday 3sets of 5 cause i want to gain stregnth on my shoulders?thanks.

  3. Hey JC,

    I was on Starting Strength for the past 10 months or so, and am thinking of transitioning to this bulking routine. However, what is the progress for adding weight to the lifts? On SS, you add weight basically every time you lift… but I get the impression that that is not the case with this program.

    Any advice on how often/when to add more weight to each lift?

  4. Hey JC, been reading your articles for some time now – love it!

    Quick question: how would this program turn out if I only did upper body days?

    The reason being is that my legs are f***ing huge from starting strength. I think my legs are genetically gifted but upper body is mad soft, relatively speaking.

    Thanks in advance dude!

    p.s. I tried tweeting one of your articles but it doesn’t work.

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  6. For more chest work on upper days what should I add? Also, is there any shoulder muscle I’m missing by not hitting them as directly as I am currently? And shrugs on lower days would be ok or..? Thanks in advance

  7. What can I substitute for leg press? and what exercise would you recommend for biceps, triceps, and pulldown/chin? Also, you recommended 1-2 sets of biceps/triceps, do both sets have to be the same? for example I can do bicep curls on 1 set and preacher curls on the other set for biceps, is that okay?

  8. Hi Jc, great article! I’ve been looking for a bulking routine for my next cycle, but I wanted to ask you something. How do you transfer from dieting to bulking as far as intensity goes? I know I shouldn’t start eating above maintenance right away so I’m hitting maint for 2 weeks before upping calories. But what about weight on the bar? Should I deload as Lyle recommends? Or can I start with the same weight?
    Thank you for your time, and once again great article!

  9. Is it okay to substitute squats for front squats? I am a tall guy so I cant do really deep squats without putting a lot of stress on my lower back. If I do atg squats I have to work very hard to keep my torso upright. But when doing front squats I can go very deep and still have great form.

  10. I got a lagging chest and shoulders, so i have added dumbell press on both upper days, but where should i add shoulders and traps, also i got a bad posture, so i need to strengthen my rear delts.

    How could i split it up and add in those.

  11. I did not understand when you add weight?

    “For the next 4-6 weeks, the goal should be to make improvements as much as possible. When you get to the top end of the rep range on the first set with at least a rep or two to spare set add weight. Some may find it better getting all sets at the same weight before going up at the next workout.”

  12. for the flat bench it says 6-8 reps, do you think it will be alright if i do 3 sets of 12 for the flat bench press?

      • just curious, because i read that if you do at least 12 reps it works 100 percent for muscle hypertrophy. If i do the bench on monday for 165 3×8 and then do the bench again on thursday do i move up to 170 3×8 or scale back and do more reps?

  13. On this program do you go heavy every workout, also og my back is a little sore, would it be bad to work my back?

    • reduce volume by about half for best results and possibly vary the frequency – maybe every other day instead of 4 days per week.

  14. JC, great summary and discussion of, Lyle’s Bulking Routine. I also find it quite enjoyable that you posted a link to a pdf guide version of the program, personally whenever I looked for it, it proved to be elusive. Thanks!

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JC Deen is a nationally published fitness coach and writer from Nashville, TN. Currently living in the blistering Northeast. Follow me on X/Twitter