- Bulking and Cutting are going to be your best bet to build muscle and lose fat
- Always set a plan that will make things easiest for you to adhere to
- Having one focus for a period of time allows for better progress
In all the conversations I’ve had with guys over the years, not being able to build muscle has always been one of the more common ones.
Just about everyone wants bigger muscles.
They have been killing it in the gym for years but the growth hasn’t been there.
There is an overabundance of information with the internet but yet still nothing.
If it’s not effort and not information so what gives?
- No plan
- No accountability
Without these two the best information and the most balls-to-the-wall effort aren’t going to get you the results you want.
So with this article, I’m going to give you a high level plan so you can mold it to fit your life and needs…while getting you to build lean muscle.
Does Bulking and Cutting Actually Work?
There is a movement online of people who save 50-75% of their income so they can retire in their 30-40’s and aren’t tied down to the 9-5. The movement is called FIRE or Financially Independent Retire Early.
As you might guess this lifestyle requires you to kinda go all in. Cutting expenses, saving like a mofo and not indulging in late night Amazon orders.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin, people that just contribute to their 401k’s. The idea behind this is to put in a little amount of money for decades so it can compound and you can retire in your 60’s.
Both scenarios have you retiring but one does it 30 years earlier. The more focused the effort, the shorter duration it takes to get to the end goal.
Changing your body is the same thing.
The more all-in you are, the faster you’ll see results and this leads to better adherence.
And for you to change your body that means your nutrition needs to match your goal. Workouts for the most part stay the same, but nutrition is the secret key to changing your body.
So yes, bulking and cutting work. They actually work a helluva lot better than trying to do both at the same time. Pick one and go all in.
What is Bulking and Cutting
I’m pretty sure we are on the same page with what is bulking and cutting but just to be sure, let me define what they are and a few more terms you’ll see.
Bulking is when calories are high-ish so you have additional calories for energy in the gym and the fuel to repair your muscles post workout. In the streets you might also hear of a calorie surplus. Goal here is to increase calories to add weight in order to build muscle.
Cutting or dieting is reducing calories with the intent to burn fat to release the sexy jacked beast underneath all the fat. Again, in the streets you’ll hear the term calorie deficit. This is a less aggressive approach which means the time will be longer.
Now some lesser known terms I’ll be using are:
A Mini Cut is an aggressive diet to strip away fat and get you back to bulking again. Since the drop in calories is more aggressive than a diet the timeline is a lot shorter than a diet. There’s also the word “Mini” in it which should be a dead giveaway as to the length of the cut.
Maintenance is where calories are set where you should neither gain or lose weight. It’s aimed at helping you adjust to your new body, habits and let’s your body de-stress from dieting, mini cutting and bulking. Think of Maintenance as your nutritional rest period.
Each of these phases has a purpose in your year of gains ultimately leading to your success. How to use these phases is all about going back to that FIRE approach and having one focus.
Your Bulking Calendar
Before we get into the calendar view of things, let’s revisit how long you should be bulking or cutting for to get good results.
I’m not going to go in depth on why here, but I already did that, I’ll just hit you with the Cliff Notes:
Bulk: 4-6 months
Mini Cut: 4-6 weeks
Diet: 8-12 weeks
Maintenance: as needed
The first thing you want to consider when changing your body is adherence. You want to make this as easy as possible for yourself.
If it’s too hard or too much of a 180 from what you are doing now you’re setting yourself up to quit once life gets in the way…and it always gets in the way.
If you have a beach vacation coming up, going in feeling like a fat ass prob isn’t going to lead to you having the best time. Likewise, dieting through the holidays is a fool’s errand. So you’ll want to account for that when you build out your calendar.
What I’m going to show you is a good starting point. You’ll want to customize it to your life. Just keep in mind the timelines above and what your main goals is…big muscles.
Since it is September at the time of publishing, I’m going to start our year from there.
From Sept to March is bulking season. It’s getting colder, you are wearing layers of clothes and the holidays are here.
If you get a little fluffy, no one can see it since it’s buried under hoodies and jackets.
From an adherence perspective it’s also the easiest. You don’t have to deny yourself around the holidays.
Around March is the 6 month mark of your bulk. At this point you’ll want to assess how you are feeling and how your lifts are progressing.
Some things I look at with myself and my online coaching clients are sleep, recovery and weight/rep increases over the last month.
The main goal of these is to see how much stress you are dealing with. Going hard for 6 months consistently in the gym leads to a lot of built up stress.
The reason I don’t assess stress specifically is because people are often horrible to the amount of stress they actually feel. They have the “if the world isn’t burning, I’m cool” mentality. It’s often easier to look at the side effects of stress to get an answer.
If sleep has been declining or the quality of sleep has been declining then that usually means stress is high. Obviously, life can affect this so at this point I would ask questions to figure out what is causing the stress.
Recovery is another good one to look at. Again with the accumulation of stress the longer you go the harder it is to recover. You’ll notice your body just feels beaten up and motivation might drop too.
In the gym I look at weight/rep increases over the last month or so. If your lifts are starting to stagnate across the board, it’s a very good indicator to back off for a bit.
At this point pushing harder is like banging your head against the door to open it. Sometimes you need to step back to see the handle to get to the other side.
We’ve now gathered enough information to come to a decision on what to do next, which I’ve created this fancy decision tree.
If you feel good – go out one more month (keep doing this until sleep or gym performance suffer or you feel like absolute shit)
If you feel like crap, body feels beaten up, sleeping like shit then jump into a mini cut nutritionally and take an active recovery week.
A mini cut lasts about 6 weeks and you can expect to lose about 8-12% of your body weight.
For active recovery week is when you skip weight lifting and sub in walking. This helps reduce stress considerably while keeping you active. I prefer walks outside for some Vitamin D and getting you out into nature (as a natural destressor) but walking on a treadmill works just as well if it’s too damn cold out.
After the active recovery week, reduce volume in your workouts and start building up again.
Side Note: In the progressive overload article I link to in the next section, this would be starting at Mesocycle 1 again.
So from March, that takes us to the end of April/ beginning of May. You’ll be noticeably leaner (although not long term dieting leaner) so at this point you can either go to Maintenance to gain muscle slowly but limit fat gain or start bulking again to gain muscle quicker but more fluffiness is in your future.
This is where you have to look at what you have coming up in the summer. Again, that damn adherence thing.
My point of view on this is to bite the bullet and spend at least one full year bulking. The reason for that is in the “Should I bulk or cut” article I mentioned that Intermediate to advanced people can build between 0.25-1% per month. By taking the summer off, you could be losing out on 3 months of gainz and elongating your timeline.
Depending on your overall goal, you may never have to devote that much time to bulking again. Sacrifice in the short term for years of not having to do this again and you can just do the Fall-Winter bulk and cut for summer thing which I’ll get to in a second.
If you choose to bulk again, congrats you made the right decision, push until you start feeling like shit again. Don’t base this on how you feel about your fluffiness but on your performance in the gym and sleep.
We are conditioned to want to be lean in summer so mentally this is going to suffer before your body does and you’ll end up short changing your progress.
Bulk from May to October so you can have another 6 weeks of a minicut before the holidays start. Ideally you’ll want to finish your mini cut right before Thanksgiving.
Once you hit Thanksgiving it’s bulking again until March.
At this point you’ll have bulked for just about a full year. HUGE MILESTONE.
And guess what, it’s assessment time. You’ll have to assess your body goals in order to figure out what to do next.
If you are done bulking, go into a sustainable longer term diet so you can show off your hard earned body in the summer. If you want to get bigger because you are a fuckin animal, go back to the decision tree above and follow the path than makes sense for you based on how your body feels.
Your Schedule For This Year and Beyond
Lotta if/then scenarios here so here is a high-level general breakdown:
YEAR OF GAINZ:
Aug/Sep -> March = Bulking
March -> April = Minicut
April -> Oct = Bulking
Oct -> Nov = Minicut
Nov -> March = Bulking
March -> May = Dieting
After the initial year:
Aug/Sep -> March = Bulking
March -> May = Diet
May -> Aug/Sep = Maintenance
Bulking and Cutting Workouts
I could go into detail here on what your workouts should look like here but I’ve already done that in other articles. So I’ll just link to those articles below and you can read them at your leisure.
These articles will outline and give you templates for everything you need workout related.
The Ever Elusive Accountability Piece
I mentioned in the intro that people fail to build muscle don’t have accountability to keep them to a plan.
This is a YUGE problem.
I know in the past for myself once I started getting a little fluffy, I hit the brakes and dieted down. Looking back at it was the entirely wrong move but at the time it felt right. Kinda like masterbating in public.
When devoting a lot of time and effort to changing your body it’s always best to have someone in your corner to help you make the right decisions when you are feeling a little fluffy or when you’re hungry in your 8th week of a diet.
That’s where my online coaching program comes into play. Not only will you have an expert plan customized to your goals and life, but you’ll also have me to keep you accountable to that plan.
THAT’S when you see serious results.
If you’re interested, apply for online coaching and let’s get rolling.