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May 09, 2021 9 min read

Jeff Nippard has been a sensation in the bodybuilding community for several years. It’s no surprise, his training and nutrition methods that lead him to achieve super-strength are backed by science. 

If it is about time for you to start bulking, or perhaps you're just looking for good alternative ways to build muscle, look no further. Nippard embarked on the “Bear Mode” journey just a few years ago, yet it is still a highly discussed topic to this day. Why? Because the Bear Mode method encompasses eating a lot of food to fuel massive gains, which sounds pretty awesome.

Who Is Jeff Nippard? 

With a Youtube fan base of nearly 2.5 million, as well as numerous degrees, awards, and certifications, Jeff Nippard has a reputable place in the bodybuilding and powerlifting community. 

At just 160 pounds, Nippard’s max squat of 502 pounds and massive 518-pound deadlift has won him a lot of credibility with strength athletes and hobbyists alike. His performance is backed by his academic background, which focuses on building the body to its optimum level through proper nutrition and efficient training.

muscular man in a city park on a nice summer day

What Exactly Is “Bear Mode”? 

“You got a super wide neck, mountainous traps, boulder shoulders… you look massive in a t-shirt, it’s the upper back that’s popping out…” exclaims Alex Leonidas in Nippard’s Youtube video that outlines his Bear Mode experience. We’ve established if you’re looking to get absolutely jacked, Bear Mode may be the solution. But what exactly does Bear Mode mean?

Nippard defines Bear Mode as a method of weight gain meant to maximize muscle growth and lift potential while focusing on both increased performance, and perhaps even more important for some, looking as big as possible while still being clothed. 

According to Nippard, those who may be ripped and lean might often appear smaller when clothed, and Bear Mode really aims to combat this by achieving a look that is often complemented by clothing. Completing a Bear Mode bulk will leave you in a 15-20% body fat percentage range, which is just on the higher end of a healthier body fat percentage for most people. 

While previously being compared to “dirty bulking”, a method that combines complete disregard for health and diet with intense training in an attempt to gain muscle mass, Bear Mode is really about maxing out lifts, promoting muscle hypertrophy, and looking big without going completely crazy and running the risk of developing obesity.

Nippard says you might not have that aesthetic look of being lean, but you’ll definitely end the program appearing ginormous and strong at a level that is sustainable. Despite all the potential Bear Mode has to offer, one study showed eating in a huge caloric surplus does not increase muscle mass as much as one might think.

In this study, two groups of elite athletes were observed, one group given a six-hundred calorie surplus while the other had no surplus. The results were that muscle mass gain between the two groups were not significantly different, but the surplus group actually tripled the fat gain of the non-surplus group. 

Nippard talks about this study in one of his many videos dedicated to Bear Mode, saying we should take into account this is just one study of a small group and, moreover, only took place over two to four months.

7 Tips for Going Bear Mode

While the basic principles may seem simple: eat a lot and work out a lot, getting the maximum benefits going Bear Mode has to offer will require a bit more attention to detail. Here are our top tips for going Bear Mode like Jeff Nippard:

1. Eat in a Caloric Surplus but Maintain a Structured Diet 

Bear Mode is not a method of dirty bulking in which you go completely haywire and disregard your diet. Instead, it is a slow and methodical way to gain weight while focusing on strength performance rather than body image. Nippard’s Bear Mode took place over eight months, which likely helped to minimize fat gain. Still, any bulk is about staying in surplus and will result in fat gain. 

If you’re unsure about how to figure out what your surplus should be, take a few weeks prior to bulking to track your normal macronutrients if you’re not already. If what you’re currently doing does not result in muscle growth, then you know you could probably benefit from bulking. This may mean adding anywhere from 300 to 500 calories. 

Having a hard time reaching a caloric surplus? Don’t worry, a lot of people have been there. Typically your appetite patterns have to do with your body type as well as your specific bodily functions.

There are many ways to get those extra calories in if you're really struggling, especially when you incorporate supplements such as mass gainers and protein powders.

Furthermore, don’t restrict to keeping your meals between certain hours of the day, Nippard says he loved being able to wake up for a midnight snack.  

For maximum muscle growth, be sure to get sufficient protein. But don’t slack on your carb or fat intake, either. You’ll need both for fueling max-effort training sessions and it will be much easier to reach your calorie goal when you give importance to these macros as well.

2. Gain About Two Percent of Your Body Weight Per Month 

To prevent going off the rails and gaining too much fat, closely monitor your mass increase. While a two percent mass increase per month may seem very minimal, slowly gaining weight is much healthier for your body.

Furthermore, a slow and strategic gain will hopefully promote muscle growth rather than fat. If you’re looking to gain a lot of weight, spreading Bear Mode over many months is better than rushing progress and jeopardizing maximum strength and muscle hypertrophy potential. 

Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, watch your body fat percentage closely.

While it may be exhilarating to watch the scale go up, you need to be sure you’re not gaining too much fat and making your next fat loss program much harder. Remember, the goal of Bear Mode is to end the program around 15-20% body fat.

3. Make Sure You Are Actually Lifting Weights!

You cannot pair a mostly unrestricted diet with no training and expect muscle gain. This is probably obvious, but perhaps you do need to be sure you are pushing hard in every gym session. At the same time, be sure to incorporate a rest period into your routine since rest days are important to muscle recovery and, therefore, hypertrophy.

man doing deadlift in a gym

4. Focus on Strengthening Your Compound Lifts

Sure you need to push hard in the gym, but what exactly should you be doing? Nippard recommends targeting compound movements or movements which target multiple muscle groups, including: 

  • Deadlift 
  • Squat 
  • Bench press 
  • Row
  • Overhead press

There are many others, so which you prefer are really up to you. The idea is efficiency in your movements, using one exercise to build several muscles, leading to ultimate muscle-building sessions.

5. Focus on Neck, Traps, Shoulders, Glutes, and Forearms

While you can always choose to strengthen your choice of lifts, Nippard says he worked on training specific muscles in order to look as stacked as possible, like neck, traps, shoulders, and glutes. Gaining mass in these muscles will seriously make someone look huge, even if they aren’t really. 

Your neck is vital in supporting your head and a strong neck will often give you great posture. Furthermore, it is an important area to build for Bear Mode since your neck is pretty much always visible. For the neck, dumbbell shrugs and neck extensions are always good choices. Before neck exercises, it is important to warm up this area since it is prone to injury.  

Traps are a popular muscle group for training. Not just because having big traps will make you look stacked, but because traps are also vital in having good posture and for ease of movement in the shoulders. There are dozens of movements for targeting your traps, but popular ones include face pulls and farmer’s walks. 

For shoulders, also called “delts”, try these 8 compound shoulder exercises, which include classic movements like the Arnold press. Many of these will also engage other important muscles, like your traps, making your workouts efficient and maximizing potential results.

Having large, rounded shoulders will contribute to an overall large appearance, especially since they will fill out your shirt well. Glutes are incredibly important muscles and allow for hip movement and overall balance. Glute workouts are plentiful, but squats are perhaps the single most useful compound movement when looking to grow your butt.

However, doing the same movement at every lower body day can get boring and might even stunt growth, so try mixing up your routine by adding movements like hip thrusts, deadlifts, glute bridges, or Bulgarian split squats. 

Since your forearms are typically visible when wearing clothing items like tank tops and t-shirts, growing them can be imperative to getting that ultimate jacked look. The good news is, you’re already likely building your forearms through other upper body movements. If you need ideas, try dumbbell reverse curls or wrist extensions. 

For any exercise, do sets and reps that promote hypertrophy. This is typically around three to six sets of eight to twelve repetitions. The repetitions should also be around 70% of your one-rep-max, which is the maximum weight you can possibly pull or push in a movement, but just once.

6. Do Cardio Sometimes 

In an attempt to combat sluggishness due to weight gain, especially during training sessions, try fitting cardio into your routine. This will keep your heart healthy while maintaining or maybe even improving lung capacity. 

However, cardio does not need to be your main goal. Usually, just a few cardio workouts per week should do it. On days you do cardio, you will likely need to supplement lost calories, which may prove difficult for some people.

7. Try Incorporating High-Quality Sources of Energy

Bear Mode does not mean gorging yourself on pizza daily as you’ll still need to properly fuel your body for performance in training sessions. However, with Bear Mode, there is still a lot of room for satisfying your maybe not-so-healthy cravings. This is especially true if you’re having trouble reaching your daily intake goal. Just remember, what you eat will affect your training sessions and the main component of Bear Mode is going hard in the gym.

Muscular bodybuilder holding a pizza

Pros and Cons of Bear Mode

Nippard says there are many benefits to the Bear Mode method, and he’ll likely do it again. Some benefits include: 

  • Gaining massive strength: If you do the Bear Mode method right, you’ll likely increase your lifts. While it is not determined if this is purely due to muscle gain or because of increased weight overall (any form of weight, muscle or fat, pushes weight!), your muscle recovering will be more efficient and you’ll more than likely have muscular growth. This is especially true when incorporating progressive overload into your training, as this will lead to muscle hypertrophy in most cases. 
  • Freedom in food: For the most part, you really get to eat whatever and whenever. Don’t categorize Bear Mode as dirty bulking, since there is still some structure, but weightlifters and bodybuilders find Bear Mode to be much less rigorous and strict than, for example, a purely clean bulk. Nippard says during Bear Mode, he felt no moodiness from hunger cravings and overall felt very satisfied. 
  • Freedom of mind: For Nippard, one of the biggest benefits was the psychological aspect. He felt “reset” not worrying greatly about his aesthetic look and focusing purely on performance in training sessions. For many athletes, poor body image can be damaging mentally, but those in Bear Mode need not worry about maintaining washboard abs or muscle definition.  
  • Appearing larger in clothes: As previously discussed, most lean men tend to have a difficult time making their hard work show through clothing. Often, leaner men will appear smaller when clothed and will only appear big when wearing minimal clothing. This is mostly because lean muscle takes on a different, more separated shape and does not fill out clothing well. Bear Mode aims to increase the size of your muscles to fill out clothing better as well as pumping muscles not covered by clothes. 

While there are not many cons Nippard could think of, there are a few that might be a deal-breaker for some athletes: 

  • Lost aesthetic: You’ll likely look smaller or less aesthetic when not clothed due to less muscle definition. While your muscles will no doubt appear more filled out due to glycogen and water storage, muscle separation and vascularity will severely decrease. You may also lose the appearance of abs, which will largely contribute to that shredded look. 
  • Discouraging training sessions: Training sessions may feel sluggish at times, which can be both psychologically difficult as well as physically damaging. This is due to the spike in blood sugar levels then the severe dip after consuming large amounts of food, known as “postprandial somnolence” or “food coma”.  As previously said, this can partially be combating by doing some cardio sessions. 
  • You will gain fat: There is absolutely no way to avoid fat gain. However, keep in mind the Bear Mode approach does not promise a lean build. With Bear Mode, you’re really signing on to a plan that maximizes strength potential, not looks or aesthetics.

What Were Nippard’s Results?

Nippard gained a massive 23 pounds while doing Bear Mode, spread over eight months. He was also able to successfully lose weight, particularly fat mass, and look great after in his post-Bear Mode cut. Whether you're a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, Bear Mode is really a great natural method when craving some serious gains.

However, due to the nature of the fat gain you'll experience during Bear Mode, it is a good idea to embark on this journey from a lower body fat percentage if you're heavily image-focused or don’t want to potentially compromise gym sessions with excess fat.

The more muscle you have when starting Bear Mode will ultimately have an impact on how massive you'll appear at your post-Bear Mode higher body fat percentage.