Most people fail not because of a lack of desire but because of a lack of commitment.
Should you cut or bulk?
A dilemma we’ve all faced at least once.
You may be wondering, “Am I lean enough to bulk? Or should I cut first and bulk later?”
This indecision is holding you back from making any progress at all in either direction.
I’ve been there. Three years ago, I spent six months stagnating because I couldn’t commit to a bulk, but I also didn’t want to cut again because I’d just finished one such phase.
This article is going to spare you all of that and take you through a thought process to help you make the best decision to attain the physique you want.
This thought process includes the following assessments:
If you haven’t already, complete a Kickstart Phase first to prime yourself for either bulking or cutting, then come back to this post and dive in.
What role does each phase play in your long-term plan?
Most people can’t decide between a cut and a bulk because they’re focusing too much on the immediate results. They’re tempted to cut because they want to see more definition, but they also want to bulk to put on some serious mass.
However, you’ll need more than a single cut or bulk in order to achieve your ultimate physique, so you need to look beyond the short-term results of a single phase.
In the long term, these phases will affect your health by changing your ratio of body fat to muscle mass at the same bodyweight.
For example, you could be 80 kg now, with 50 kg of fat and 30 kg of muscle. In two to five years, after going through a series of successful fat loss and muscle-building phases, you could be 80 kg again, but with a meagre 30 kg of fat and a whopping 50 kg of muscle.
This can obviously have a profound effect on your appearance, but also – and most importantly – it can boost your future progress, because a healthier body responds better to any training and nutrition protocol than a less healthy body.
In particular, having overweight or obesity is associated with an increased risk of a number of dangerous health conditions and diseases. On the other end of the spectrum, having underweight also heightens the risks posed to your wellbeing.
Therefore I recommend starting your decision-making process with an assessment of your current body fat levels.
How much body fat are you carrying right now?
To evaluate your body fat levels, you can use two simple tools:
Calculating your BMI is a good starting point because it’s cheap and quick. All you need is your height, your current weight, and a calculator like this to find out your BMI score.
In the UK, according to the National Health Service (NHS), if your BMI is:
However, the BMI doesn’t differentiate between muscle mass and fat mass. As a result, professional athletes, like bodybuilders or rugby players, may be classified as having overweight or even obesity because they carry a lot of muscle mass, but not a lot of body fat.
For most people like you and me, who aren’t professional athletes and don’t have so much muscle (sigh), the BMI is generally a good tool.
Nonetheless, you can take your assessment a step further by also measuring your waist circumference. The reason is that, if you take two people with the same BMI score, the person carrying more fat around their abdomen is usually at a higher health risk.
In fact, the NHS recommends weight loss “regardless of your height or BMI” if your waist circumference is:
To measure your waist circumference, find the narrowest point between your chest and your belly button:
You can take the measurement with a tape that has an auto-lock mechanism, like this one:
As a general rule, if you:
You may want to cut first.
On the other hand, if you:
You may want to bulk first.
What are the pros and cons of cutting versus bulking?
After assessing your body fat levels, the next step is to consider the impact that each of these phases can have on your current lifestyle. Each one has its own requirements, advantages, and disadvantages, so you need to run a cost-benefit analysis.
I’ve outlined the pros and cons of cutting and bulking for you in the following paragraphs. Which phase sounds more realistic for you to commit to right now and for at least the next three months?
The pros of cutting:
The cons of cutting:
The pros of bulking:
The cons of bulking:
What’s my clients’ most common (and successful) experience?
After a Kickstart Phase, the majority of my clients start with a fat loss phase for the following reasons:
What if, after going through this thought process, you realise that you can’t commit to the phase that’ll benefit you the most, but the other phase would actually steer you in the opposite direction to your long-term goals?
For instance, you may want to lose fat, but you’re moving house, getting married, and adopting a dog in the next three weeks. Clearly, this isn’t a good time to focus on your diet, but you also decide that you carry a bit too much body fat to make the most of a bulk.
In any situation like this, don’t forget that you have a third phase at your disposal: maintenance.
Keep your calories around maintenance levels, so that you don’t gain or lose weight; eat enough protein to support muscle-building; and be consistent with a well-structured training program.
Over time, training and nutrition will help you change your ratio of body fat to muscle mass, though this tends to happen over a longer timeframe when you’re at maintenance than if you were to alternate dedicated fat loss and muscle-building phases.
However, if you have other priorities in life right now, then a cut or a bulk is likely to be unsuccessful and frustrating. On the other hand, maintenance may yield slower results, but that’s a lot better than no results.
Last but not least
Whether you choose to cut, bulk, or maintain, commit to that decision.
You need at least eight weeks to lose a decent amount of fat (unless you’re trying to lose it really fast).
You need at least three or four months to build a decent amount of muscle, though the longer, the better.
So don’t cut for three weeks, then bulk for three weeks, or some such nonsense. This isn’t enough time to see any kind of results.
Commit to one process and stick with it for as long as necessary.
Thanks for reading. May you make the best gains.
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An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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