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If you’ve been into fitness or bodybuilding for any time, you’ve undoubtedly had to face one of the ultimate questions: bulk or cut?
There are many ways to do both, and one guy who has seemingly tried them all is Jeff Nippard. In recent times, one of his more famous bulking attempts has been dubbed ‘bear mode’ and is gaining popularity as a novel fitness philosophy.
This article looks at the bear mode approach to training and nutrition.
I’ll explain the thinking behind bear mode, how it works, and the essential tips you’ll need to get started.
Who is Jeff Nippard?
Jeff Nippard is a professional bodybuilder and powerlifter.
Through his YouTube channel (with over two million subscribers), Jeff shares informative, entertaining, and (most importantly) evidence-based fitness content.
What is Bear Mode physique?
Bear mode is a training and nutrition methodology that prioritizes fast, maximal muscle size and strength gains.
At the same time, it allows a moderate amount of weight gain to come from non-lean mass.
Bear mode is a happy medium between lean bulking and dirty bulking.
It achieves a faster rate of weight gain than lean bulking, with less risk of becoming overfat than a traditional dirty bulk.
Don’t mistake bear mode for the strongman type of build. After a bear mode cycle, body fat percentage should fall somewhere between 15-20%, avoiding becoming overweight.
This technique still requires discipline and consistency, but it does allow a bit more fun along the way!
The philosophy behind bear mode body is that we spend 99% of our time with our clothes on.
While looking shredded for a couple of hours at the beach or on the bodybuilding stage is great, the fact is that no one can see your six-pack through your shirt (unless it’s way too tight).
What people will notice, however, is the guy in the room with wide shoulders, a thick neck, and vascular forearms.
Bear mode aims to achieve a strong, muscular look – with or without a pump from the gym.
So what does bear mode look like?
Think Henry Cavill in Man of Steel (you know the scene).
Or, a personal favorite of mine – Tom Hardy’s Bane in The Dark Knight Returns:
As another example, take a look at Jeff Nippard’s results after his own bear mode journey:
Impressive stuff! Now that you’re undoubtedly inspired to charge forward into bear mode yourself, read on!
This guide covers everything you need to know about bear mode. I’ve got training and nutrition advice, for example, bear mode workouts, and the pros and cons of using the bear mode approach.
10 Essential Tips to Unleash Bear Mode physique
Related: Greek God Physique
1. Eat big – but not too big.
As mentioned, bear mode is a balancing act. It requires eating enough to stimulate the maximum rate of muscle growth and further increasing calorie intake to increase total weight gain by the desired amount.
Your rate of muscle growth will be affected by individual factors – age, sex, and training experience – so figure out what works best for you.
2. Prioritize protein.
The next key in optimizing muscle growth while bulking bear mode style is ensuring a sufficient protein intake.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein of 0.8g/kg/day (0.36g/lb/day) is based on sedentary individuals. It doesn’t accurately reflect the needs of lifters looking to add mass.
According to a review on energy consumption for optimizing muscle growth, a daily protein intake of 1.6-2.2g/kg (0.7-1g/lb) is optimal for drug-free, weight-training individuals.
While carbs and fat also contribute, protein needs to come first.
3. Concentrate on compound Exercises.
Related: 3 Day Workout Split
All the calories and protein in the world won’t help build significant muscle unless you also provide the proper training stimulus.
The foundation of any bulking or strength program involves large muscle groups and compound exercises. Think deadlifts, squats, bench press – all the fun stuff!
While isolation exercises will absolutely be used here as important accessory movements, most of your strength and size will come from the big lifts.
In addition, further research found that when total work volume was equal, multi-joint exercises are more efficient for improving strength and peak oxygen consumption.
4. Trial and track.
Like any health and fitness goal, results come much faster to those who consistently document their progress.
Studies on resistance training program compliance found that those who used self-designed exercise diaries stuck to their plans significantly better than non-trackers.
In sports psychology circles, this phenomenon is called self-regulation theory. Self-tracking supports goal achievement by helping you identify issues that can change or improve.
You can use traditional pen-and-paper methods, or one of the many gym diary apps. Just pick something that works for you, and stick with it!
5. Keep your conditioning.
Jeff mentions that he would sometimes feel sluggish during his training sessions.
He explains that he will incorporate more aerobic work next time he goes bear mode. This will keep his cardiovascular fitness at a sufficient level to meet the metabolic demands of training heavy.
This has to be done strategically, however. Specific concurrent aerobic and resistance training methods can cause what’s known as the interference phenomenon – where aerobic power training can compromise strength gains.
Avoiding this is by using different training intensities between your weight training and cardio workouts.
In the case of bear mode training – which involves a mix of higher-intensity strength and hypertrophy work – steady-state cardio at a low to moderate intensity will have minimal interference on your gains.
If you’re not sure how to best get your aerobic training in during a bear mode program, check out this article on the highest calorie-burning cardio machines.
6. Turn your neck from twig to tree trunk.
Since bear mode is all about looking big in clothes, there are a couple of areas that are nearly always visible – and that makes them a top priority for training.
The neck is one of those forgotten body parts that rarely gets much attention in the gym. In bear mode, however, increasing the size and strength of the neck is a key goal.
One study followed two groups who both trained all major muscle groups, with one group also performing specific neck exercises three days per week.
Only the neck training group achieved an increase in neck cross-sectional area.
Jeff Nippard refers to this as looking ‘yoked’, and has some good training tips to improve these areas.
7. Supersize your shoulders.
Related: Arnold Split
Another target muscle group in bear mode is the shoulders. Broad shoulders are an unmistakable sign of being strong and athletic.
To achieve that extra ‘capped’ look, it’s necessary to give the middle delts some extra attention.
8. Don’t forget your forearms!
Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt in The Witcher is the epitome of the bear mode philosophy. Even before the inevitable shirtless scenes in the show pop up, he looks completely jacked with only his forearms exposed.
Consider adding some forearm training into your program to achieve a similar effect.
A study similar to the neck training example above found that specific forearm work resulted in significant wrist and forearm strength improvements.
Another showed its ability to increase forearm vascularity.
9. Consider creatine.
So far in our mission to achieve bear mode, we’ve covered a solid foundation of compound lifts and a calorie surplus. There’s an additional focus on protein and targeting certain muscle groups.
The next step may be to consider supplementation with a well-researched ergogenic aid like creatine.
While the other steps in this guide will undoubtedly produce results, bear mode might be the best time to look at adding creatine for an extra boost.
10. Is this your final form?
Once you’ve completed your bear mode phase, you have a few options.
You might want to maintain your new, solid physique for a while or cut down the body fat a little if you went slightly overboard with the calories.
When you want to try a leaner physique, check out our article on ottermode. If bear mode is an ideal winter program, ottermode is undoubtedly its warm-weather counterpart.
Bear Mode Benefits
Fill out your shirt: Let’s face it, the bigger you are, the more impressive you look with layers on.
No pump needed: With the extra mass, you won’t need to sneak to the gym before every date to try and pump some extra size into your guns.
Food freedom: Jeff Nippard mentions that one of the best things about bear mode was that he never had to worry about cravings, hunger, or food restrictions.
Longer cut: You have to be careful when going bear mode to avoid excessive fat mass amounts. This could require a longer (or more aggressive) cutting period afterward.
The longer the cut, the bigger the potential for losing some of that hard-earned muscle!
Shirtless selfies: The slightly higher body fat percentages you’ll end up in bear mode will negatively make you look somewhat less muscular when the shirt comes off.
Take a look at this example from Jeff’s video:
Bear Mode Workout
We’ve got you covered if you’re ready for your first bear mode workout but don’t know where to start.
The following is an example program that you can test and modify to suit your specific needs.
This bear mode program embodies all of the tips discussed in this guide. Many studies inspire it with significant results in various observed outcomes.
You’ll notice the program is a modified, four-day, push-pull split. It includes the most bang-for-your-buck compound lifts and effective accessory exercises for your neck, traps, forearms, and calves.
|Squat 3×5-8||Deadlift 3×5-8||Split Squat 3×8-12||RDL 3×8-12|
|Bench 3×5-8||Bent Row 3×5-8||OH Press 3×8-12||Chin-up 3xMAX|
|Lateral Raise 3×15-20||Neck Flexion/Extension 3×8-12||Cable Lateral Raise 3×15-20||Neck Lateral Flexion 3×8-12|
|Calf Raise 3×8-12||Dumbbell Shrug 3×8-12||Seated Calf Raise 3×8-12||Farmer’s Carry 3×50 steps|
|Wrist flexion 3×8-12||Forearm Deviations 3×8-12||Wrist Extension 3×8-12||Forearm Pro/Supination 3×8-12|
This table identifies the resistance training portion of the program. Please incorporate appropriate warm-ups, cool-downs, and any additional mobility or skill-based work you require.
You can add progression to this program however you like. Personally, I recommend gradually increasing load for the big lifts, and volume for the isolation movements (more sets).
To stick to tip #5 – keep your conditioning, it is recommended that you aim to include 150 minutes of moderate aerobic work per week.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be on rest days. It’s good to spread that allotment over at least three separate days.
Related: Cable Chest Workout
Bear Mode vs Lean: Which should you aim for?
This depends on your personal preference and goals. You could boil it down to choosing between a bulk or a cut or looking your best clothed or shirtless.
Consider a cut if you are over 20% body fat and decently strong.
If you’re 10% body fat and your arms are swimming in your sleeves, it’s time to go bear mode.
Grin and Bear it!
So, what are your thoughts on the bear mode approach?
We hope this article helped provide valuable tips for implementing bear mode into your bulking routine.
Let us know what you think about bear mode in the comments!
If you liked the article and know someone who might be interested in going bear mode, feel free to share it.
Jesse is an Australian Accredited Exercise Physiologist currently based in Prague, Czech Republic. He has been working in the Allied Health and fitness industries since 2011, helping personal training clients, athletes, and clinical exercise patients achieve their goals. Jesse is a contributor for Exercise with Style.