How We Can Tell When We Should Bulk or Cut

Bulking and cutting are the two main diet approaches made by bodybuilders and muscle building goal-oriented weightlifters. Choosing to bulk or cut at the wrong time can ruin progress.

It’s not easy to know when to bulk or cut. As humans, we have a tendency to look at exterior factors such as our physical image for the summer and even the cost of groceries when bulking vs. cutting. But it’s important to set aside the outside variables and look purely at what our goals are from a bodybuilding standpoint.


What Do We Want to Accomplish?

Do we want to get big or just shape up from where we are? If we want to put on mass, bulking at some point is inevitable. If we want to get more ripped looking with our current physique, we still need to cut to lean down. If the latter is our intention, we also have to consider the possibility of losing muscle mass while getting lean which can trigger the need for another bulking phase.

Long story short, there are many different things that come into play when deciding whether to bulk or cut. It is easy to say that bulking is what we want to do when we want to put on size, cutting is what we want to do when we want to get definition. However, those principals only go so far when the outside variables overwhelm us.


Here’s a Trick!

Let’s try to really forget about the summer beach body we want and focus more on the permanent body we will have. Does this require us putting on more size? If so, bulk. But not so fast! Seriously, start a slow bulk phase to prevent too much fat accumulation.

But wait!

Don’t just start bulking yet. We are going to prep our bodies for the bulk period. To do this, we must first make sure our body fat percentage is no more than 10%. We can test our body fat percentage with calipers for this purpose. Get a reading on a few separate occasions to increase the accuracy.

If our body fat percentage is under 10%, we can start our slow bulk. If our body fat percentage is above 10%, we will continue cutting or begin cutting until we reach this number. From 10% or less, we can start a slow bulk. We can decide to cut when our body fat percentage reaches 15% or 17%. Its fine to use the mirror to gauge whether there is room for a little extra body fat accumulation.


Here’s Another Method!

That’s not the only way we can go about deciding whether we want to bulk or cut. We can also decide purely based on the way our body looks. This is akin to the idea of slimming down for the beach body look. However, we are going to focus on a combination of definition and size when assessing our physique in the mirror.

We want to look and see if anywhere is lacking in muscularity. Maybe our chest or biceps are running a little small. If we are lacking, we will want to bulk.

But how do we decide if our body is at the right size to bulk without doing the body fat test?

A common method of gauging this involves looking at our abdominal muscles. The more defined we are, the more ready we are to bulk. If the abs aren’t visible, we will want to try and increase visibility before bulking (lose some body fat). If we only see two, we will probably want to still lean down a bit before bulking.


Clean vs. Dirty Bulk

There is a lot of debate over whether the clean or dirty bulk is the best. Hard gainers can surely go with the dirty bulk method, it definitely helps to stop the need to force feed. However, the vast majority of people should avoid dirty bulking as it’s really just putting the body at risk of excessive body fat accumulation.

Instead, we want to undergo a slow bulk. If we do this from a lean base, we will be able to bulk for as long as we want. We also avoid getting that fat look as our muscle mass increases along with our body fat. This can continue on for years if we want it to and the end result will be a constantly increasing muscle mass with a level of definition. When we reach our maximum growth potential, at least on this run up, we can then cut down and reveal our ripped body!