HOW LONG TO BULK BEFORE CUTTING? (PROPER BULKING PHASE LENGTH)
Regardless of what some “experts” out there might tell you, or what the advertisement for that over-hyped fitness system says, it’s just not realistic that an average trainee is going to build muscle and lose fat at the same time to any significant degree.
Both goals have opposing caloric requirements, and unless you have elite genetics or have some “chemical assistance” on your side, traditional cycles of bulking and cutting are still the most efficient path to your ultimate body.
If you’re reading this right now, then chances are that you’ve decided to start out with a bulking phase and are placing your focus on gaining overall muscle size and strength for the time being.
But, you might be wondering how long this specific phase should last before you decide to shift into cutting mode to strip off the excess fat…
How Long Should You Bulk Before You Cut?
The truth is that there really is no set answer here, and it will vary greatly from person to person depending on their specific situation.
Some trainees may be best off bulking for 6 months before aiming to lose fat, while others can bulk for years on end without ever worrying about a cutting phase at all.
The first thing to consider is how much muscle you ultimately want to carry.
Some lifters want to be as huge and muscular as they can possibly get… others prefer to have a leaner and more athletic build… while others aim to be somewhere in the middle. The length of your bulking phase really depends on your own personal goals, and no one can decide that but you.
On top of this, there’s really no use in applying a set time frame to your bulking phase, as it’s not going to be possible for you to predict exactly how fast you’ll ultimately make gains in the first place. Your individual rate of muscle growth will depend on your genetics, how well your program is structured, and how closely you adhere to it.
Around half a pound of lean body weight per week is a reasonable guideline for most average beginners, but this is just a rough estimate.
Not only that, but you won’t even be able to predict how those resulting gains will appear on your individual frame once you make them. For example, 15 pounds of muscle on a 5’7 frame with shorter limbs will not appear the same as 15 pounds of muscle on a 6’4 frame with longer limbs. You’ll only know how it looks and whether or not you’re actually satisfied with it once you actually get there.
The second thing to consider are your body fat levels.
Any time you try to gain a significant amount of muscle, you’re always going to gain some body fat with it. This is just the nature of remaining in a calorie surplus over time, and your goal during a bulking phase is to simply keep those fat gains to an absolute minimum.
This is best accomplished by maintaining only a small, well controlled calorie surplus of around 15% above your calorie maintenance level… ensuring that you’re employing a properly structured weight training routine… and including some additional cardio exercise to keep fat gains at bay.
Since I usually only recommend that you set out on a serious bulking phase if your body fat is somewhere around 12% to begin with, and since your bulking phase should be implemented in a careful, gradual way, having your body fat levels get out of control during your bulk simply should not occur if you’re doing things properly.
That said, if things do happen to go off course, or if you simply end up with an amount of body fat that you’re really not comfortable with, that’s probably a cue that it’s time to shift out of bulking and into a fat loss phase. (However, you still won’t be able to predict this from the get go.)
The Bottom Line On Bulking Cycle Length
Your best bet is to simply take it week by week, monitor your progress and then simply shift into fat loss mode when/if it becomes necessary.
To set out from the get go and explicitly say that you are going to “bulk for 4 months and then cut for 2 months” or “bulk for 1 year and then cut for 3 months” probably isn’t going to do you any real good, as there are too many unpredictable factors at play.
Just continue bulking until you reach a level of muscular development that you’re happy with, or until your body fat levels reach a level that you aren’t comfortable with and want to reduce.
Just make sure that you stay in your bulking phase long enough to truly make some solid, measurable progress first before shifting gears. Don’t be the guy who constantly goes back and forth every few weeks, and after a year or two still hasn’t made any real noticeable progress in either direction.
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