If you’ve been in the fitness or bodybuilding community for a while, you have heard about bulking and cutting, without a doubt. Veteran lifters do not wonder whether they need to bulk or cut. They know various strategies and the best time to bulk or cut.
But if you’re a newbie to lifting, the question “Should I Bulk or Cut?” is extremely common. If you’re wondering what bulking and/or cutting is, or if you’re wondering what is right for you, this article is going to be perfect for you.
Knowing when to cut and when to bulk (and how to do it correctly, obviously) is extremely important to achieve your body goals. So, let’s take a closer look at whether you should bulk or cut first. We would talk about the pros and cons of each.
Bulking vs Cutting
Bulking is the phase when you aim to gain as much muscle and strength as possible. It means you gain weight and size. But often it involves gaining some fat too.
Cutting is the phase when you aim to lose as much fat as possible while preserving as much strength and muscle as possible. It means you develop a hard and defined physique. But often it involves losing some muscle and strength too.
Now you know what you’re aiming for, but it is very important for you to know how to achieve it. When you just start your fitness and bodybuilding game, chances are, you are confused about when to cut, for example, or if you need to cut at all. We all want a hard physique and defined muscles. But we also want to pack on size and gain muscle.
First off, of course, you need to set your goal. Do you want to gain muscle or burn fat? Let’s dig a bit deeper into when to bulk and when to cut.
Should You Bulk? (and when to bulk)
If you’re pretty new to bodybuilding, there’s a high chance that you’re not full of muscles just yet. This is where bulking steps in.
- When you start, bulking is extremely helpful and important to gain a lot of muscle and strength. Of course, you do it with a combination of diet and training (and other factors). Nonetheless, if your body fat percentage is beyond 15% or especially 20%, then you may need to cut first in order to continue your progress.
Mainly because bulking involves eating in a calorie surplus. But eating in calorie surplus often involves an increase in fat, which you need to decrease. But this is not only about cutting excess fat. It’s also about completing workouts with proper form. At the introduction of intense strength training, your muscles will surely go through a state of “shock”. But proper form is everything to yield results. Ask any professional lifter.
But what is “proper form”?
The proper form is “everything”, but what exactly does it mean? And why is it so important? Proper form during strength training is defined as a full range of motion with slow and controlled reps that cause your muscles to really “work out”. When you’re lifting, it should not involve any swinging or momentum motions toward your body.
It is extremely important to have a “proper form” both to see results and to avoid injuries. Including building-up injuries. For example, when talking about “building-up injuries”, I am talking about those who do exercises without proper form and do not get any injuries at the moment, but they slowly “build up” injuries. Such as people completing leg exercises without “proper form” often develop knee and/or ankle issues. There are numerous others such as shoulder issues (often when performing chest exercises incorrectly) or back issues (such as developing hernia).
You also need a progressive workload. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about it too. That’s adding weight, sets, and/or reps to your workout. That’s because it helps you quickly move up in your lifting abilities. Therefore, in developing your physique. However, you should not add weight, sets, and/or reps without proper form. For reasons earlier explained. But, when you continue lifting without a progressive workload, you will not see any improvements.
How to do it? For example, starting light on the bench press with five sets of five reps with lightweight. Add five pounds the next time. There’s another scenario, such as aiming to bench press for as long as you can. There are various other methods as well.
The point is – as the weight becomes more difficult, you are building up strength to lift a weight 5×5 that you wouldn’t have even imagined you could lift at the beginning. So, let’s get back to the original question:
Should I Bulk?
Yes, if you’re ready to lift heavy and eat right. You need to eat more calories than your body needs, and you should train so that surplus is going to create new muscle. But if you eat too much (often called dirty bulking), you often end up gaining way too much fat.
Also, you should consistently add weight and reps to your workout. It is going to both build strength and increase muscle gains. In short, you should aim for a hypertrophy plan. High reps do have their place in hypertrophy, but heavy compound lifts during a bulk is essential!
I would recommend adding the following exercises to your workout: deadlift, bent over row, bench press, overhead press, and back squat. There are almost endless other movements you can and should try, but these compound lifts are key to getting most of your bulking gains. Often called “major bodybuilding exercises”.
Remember that bulking is a tandem of dieting and working out. Both are extremely important for muscle growth and fueling your workout. You should both get heavy in the gym and pay attention to what you eat (and how much). The two main bulking methods are:
To many people, a dirt bulk sounds like a dream come true. That’s because you can eat pretty much whatever you like and as much as you like. This is the main reason why it is still popular. However, it is the plan I definitely do not recommend. Yes, it sounds good, especially because it does help you gain muscle (when coupled with a good workout regimen). The problem is that it is not very healthy and it is very unlikely to lead to the expected results.
You gain lots of strength and muscles, but you gain lots of fat too. Working in a calorie surplus with high sugar and high fat foods isn’t going to do much good for your body in the long run. Additionally, this routine is going to make your cutting cycle even harder if you will change your mind and will try to reduce fat. You may look huge and you may be strong. But you are unlikely to look very good, simply because you are full of fat. Also, as said, it is not very healthy either.
The clean bulk is the one I recommend to everyone. Exactly like a dirty bulk, it involves a calorie surplus. Nevertheless, a clean bulk still shouldn’t involve too many calories and you should watch out for what you eat. The clean bulk focuses on high-quality foods only. Such as lean meat, fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and others. You shouldn’t overeat and you should avoid processed foods and fast foods such as cookies, pizza, processed meats, candies, sugary beverages, and others. Or at least include as little as possible.
A clean bulk gives your body only a slight calorie surplus that it needs in order to gain weight during a bulk. Therefore, you are going to gain as little fast as possible. Moreover, the quality foods ensure that you will remain healthy as well.
Should I Cut? When to Cut
If you know how bulking works and when to bulk up, I guess you’ve already realized when to cut and how it works. Thankfully, the two aren’t so different, after all. Cutting still involves working out and, thankfully, it still involves eating. The difference is that you are now working out to burn as many calories as possible (usually involving exercises that make your heart rate increase) and you’re eating fewer calories than your maintenance. You should create a calorie deficit through your diet. And you keep your hard-earned muscles while boosting calorie expenditure through cardiovascular exercises.
If you are wondering when should you cut, the answer may be one of the two:
- You start your lifting journey and you want to lose a significant amount of fat first.
- You‘ve gained a decent amount of muscle through your bulking cycle, but you may also gain a bit of fat along the way. Now you want to see muscle definition at a lower body fat percentage.
If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, you’re likely to resort to cutting.
Explaining Cutting vs Bulking
When you’re bulking, it’s not unusual to have a daily calorie surplus of about 200-1,000 calories. During a bulking cycle, it is very normal and natural to gain some fat. If you’ve been in a dirt bulk, you surely gained much more fat.
Cutting cycles are also different from just weight loss cycles. I generally don’t really recommend weight loss cycles because they involve losing as much fat as possible. It generally involves eating as few calories as possible. Except for this not being very healthy, individuals following such a plan tend to lose a lot of lean muscle too.
That’s why you need a proper training plan and keeping your diet on point. It should be a calculated amount of calories. During a bulking cycle – slightly more calories than your usual daily intake. But during a cutting cycle – slightly fewer calories than your usual daily intake. You should create a calorie deficit (cutting) and a calorie surplus (bulking). With different workout plans. Both should involve some cardio and strength training. But during cutting you involve more cardiovascular exercises while during bulking you involve more strength training (heavier weights).
Unless you are starting your fitness journey and/or you have a lot of fat that you want to lose, you’re aiming to lose about 0.5 to 1 pound a week. Or you should aim to gain this amount if you’re trying to bulk. Of course, you can see way faster results if you add anabolic steroids and/or other PEDs to your regimen.
So, to start eating in a deficit (or a surplus for your bulking cycle), you need to know your daily calorie needs. You may also calculate your body fat percentage in order to determine your fat loss goals.
It’s also important to calculate your macros. This way, you make sure that you get an adequate amount of fats, carbs, and proteins. It’s important because you remain healthy and strong, sustaining muscle growth or preservation.
If you drop your calorie intake and notice little weight loss, it could be due to improper calories you’re consuming or improper macros ratio. The same goes for bulking. If you are not gaining enough or gain too much fat. Again, in both situations, anabolic steroids can be extremely helpful.
The biggest difference between bulking vs cutting is the diet (calories you eat). As explained earlier, there are some workout differences too, but you can lose fat and gain muscle without much training differences.
Should I Cut?
When to cut and when to bulk entirely depends on you. That’s because we all start weight lifting at different ability levels, with different genetics, and so on. Professionals tend to bulk in winter (off season) and cut in summer (to bring definition). But that’s definitely not a rule that you should follow. Especially if you’re a beginner.
If your aim is to be as big as possible, bulking is most likely what you need. If you aim to shrink as much fat as possible, cutting is what you may need. Needless to mention a really skinny guy may want to bulk first, but if you’re overweight, you may want to cut first. If you’re closer to “normal” body weight and fat, it depends on you. Are you happy with your muscle amount and want to get more muscle definition? Cutting is the way to go. Or maybe you would really love getting an extra amount of muscles? Bulking is what you need.
Keep in mind that it’s common to gain unwanted excess fat during a bulking cycle and it’s common to lose some hard-earned muscle during a cutting cycle. Well, unless you add some anabolic steroids that will help with both of these and will speed up your results.
When to Cut and When to Bulk?
As said, it’s very common to ask “Should I Bulk or Cut First”? To be honest, this argument is still in debate across the world. This proves one thing – there’s not a right or wrong answer. There might be a right answer, but it depends on each person individually.
If you’re starting with a higher body fat percentage, you will likely need to cut first. If you’re a beginner at lifting weights and you’re skinnier, you may need to bulk up first. But regardless of whether you choose to bulk or to cut, there are a few “golden rules”.
- Keep a proper form with your exercises
- Always eat clean and make sure you get your nutrients (proteins, etc.)
- Make sure you’re getting enough rest and sleep
- Have a proper lifestyle and avoid bad habits
As said, the difference between bulking and cutting makes the training type and especially the daily calorie intake. In order to determine whether you need bulking or cutting – take into consideration your current weight, calorie intake, and body fat percentage.
So, now you know the basics. Determine whether you need to cut or bulk based on your goals and current stats.
Here are some key elements for you to remember:
- If you’re below 15-20% body fat, you most likely want to bulk. If you’re above 15-20%, you most likely need to cut. It also depends on your goals.
- Make sure that you always have good form during your training. Lift heavy whenever it is possible.
- Pay close attention to what you’re eating. Regardless if you’re cutting or bulking.
- Pay attention to macros. Ensure you get enough calories and nutrients.
- Calculate your daily intake based on numerous factors and follow that plan.
- Training isn’t drastically different between cutting and bulking, although there are some differences.
- Don’t be too strict with yourself as results do not come overnight. On the other hand, do not be too mild to yourself as results might never come.
Searching For Bulk or Cut Results?
Regardless if you want to bulk or cut, you’re searching for some results. In both situations, you are likely to search for muscle growth, fat burning, muscle definition, and performance enhancement with more strength, endurance, and energy. If you’ve been lifting for a while you know it is not an easy task. Bodybuilding requires a lot of time and dedication. But what if I told you that it doesn’t have to be so hard and time consuming?
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