This article will be aimed at beginners that aren’t quite sure if they should cut or bulk. Much more goes into successfully bulking and cutting completely, but these basics will get you started and give you a lot of great advice.
Especially in the bodybuilding and physique community, bulking and cutting are integral for effectively building a good amount of muscle, then burn as much fat as possible and expose what you have built over the past months.
For novice lifters it is easy to know when bulking and cutting should begin as well as how to start a new diet. For beginners to the gym though, it might be confusing to look at yourself and determine if you need to focus on gaining muscle or burning fat first.
When To Bulk:
When you begin lifting weights as a beginner you usually won’t have a large amount of muscle mass to show if you were to cut. This is why, up until a reasonable degree of body fat, bulking is important as a newbie as these are your prime months to gain a huge amount of muscle and strength when done correctly.
The cut off should be around 15-20% body fat for men and around 25-30% for females, anyone who is above these body fat percentages should most likely start with a cut. Because your body will be new to training, simply using proper form, progressive overload and getting in enough volume for the week will give almost immediate results.
To clarify, proper form should be defined as a full range of motion, slow and controlled reps, squeezing and feeling the muscles you should be working. A progressive load is consistently adding weight and reps to your workout in a daily and methodical way.
Starting with a weight that is pretty light for you on the bench press (maybe around 60% of your one rep max) for five sets of five reps(5×5) and adding five pounds the next time you bench press for as long as you can. Hopefully, by the time the weight begins to get difficult, you will be doing 5×5 with a weight you wouldn’t have been able to do when you first began.
How Training Affects Your Bulk:
High reps have their place in a hypertrophy based program, but beginning your workouts with heavy compound lifts (bench press, back squat, deadlift, bent over row, and overhead press) are essential to maximizing your bulking gains.
Of course, bulking is more than proper training, it is mostly what you decide to do with your diet. Unfortunately, you will gain fat when you bulk in about a daily 500 calorie surplus, but there are ways to keep this to a minimum. As a basic rule of thumb, the 80/20 rule (also known as flexible dieting) should be utilized by most to achieve this.
Basically, 80% of your food should come from healthy and high-quality foods such as lean meats, fruits, veggies, complex carbs (rice, grains, legumes, starches etc.), and healthy fats. The other 20% can be from unhealthy, fatty and sugary foods that you wouldn’t usually eat on a “clean” diet.
This ratio should give you enough protein, healthy carbs and fats, as well as a wide spectrum of micronutrients so that when you do have that 20% from candy or some pizza it will have a minimal impact on how much fat you gain over the course of a bulk compared to if the ratio was reversed.
When To Cut:
Whether you begin lifting above the recommended body fat levels to start off bulking or have reached it, a lot of the concepts are exactly the same. The main reason you’d want to begin a cut is that you’ve been building muscle and feel you’ve either gained too much fat, or that you are beginning lifting and have a good amount of fat to lose.
If a bulk is when you have a daily surplus of calories (anywhere from 200-1000), a cut is exactly the opposite with a calorie deficit. Your goal is to lose around 0.5 to 1 pound a week, hopefully mostly from fat. Finding out your daily caloric needs isn’t too difficult for either cutting or bulking, as many online resources can answer this for you.
The scale and mirror will be your best judge of how many calories you need a day though. For example if the calculator says you need to eat 2000 calories a day to lose one pound a week, but you are only losing less than half a pound, you will need to take control of this number and experiment whether you drop 100 calories or add cardio to get back to one pound of weight loss a week.
The same goes for bulking, if you are gaining too much weight too fast, maybe try a different one on another website or lower your calories to where you need as to not gain too much fat to fast. Your training honestly doesn’t have to change from when you’re bulking. As long as you are still using good form, you should try to keep gaining strength for a long as you can.
As for those who are beginning to cut with zero lifting experience, flow the above bulking plan and you will be in the rare situation where you can gain muscle, and lose fat for hopefully a decent amount of time. As for your diet, the 80/20 rule should always apply for those looking to feel and look as good as they can.
Why Calories Are Important:
The only thing that will be different will be how many calories you consume. Counting calories while bulking isn’t always essential when you know how much you are eating, but dieting isn’t the same.
Cutting out a large amount of calories will make it difficult to hit your protein requirements for the day (about one gram per pound of bodyweight). This is when getting familiar with a calorie counter will be important to stay precise and accurate daily.
Once you get used to counting calories and lifting often, bulking and cutting will actually be fun as you watch yourself either get stronger and bigger in all the right areas. Or watching yourself get leaner and more defined to show off what you have worked for.