T Nation

19 Yo College Student, Cut or Bulk?


Sorry for shitty lighting. Anyway, I’m a college student weighing in around 158lbs at 5’9".

Do you guys think I should bulk more or cut more? I went on a hardcore cut and dropped to 150lbs about 6 months ago, but I lost too much muscle. Or I didn’t have as much muscle under my fat as I had thought. I’m bulking now, but I may start getting into modeling (apparently fit gingers are rare) and I cannot afford this belly fat and lower back fat. I’m considering hopping on gear, but I know I’m pretty young so that might cause problems down the road. Any insight as to whether I should bulk or cut would be great.

Currently, my TDEE is ~3000 (at least that’s what sites are saying, seems off to me tho), I lift everyday (my routine is 6 sets of 4reps, high weight, 10s breaks between each set, very tasking so far and it has been working great) and run sprints in the morning when my legs do not hurt.

Not a troll, would greatly appreciate some advice on the gear situation or whether to stay natty and the best way to approach my situation. Thanks guys.


If you guys need better photos, I can try and find a place with better lighting. Let me know, thanks.


If it’s modeling you want to do, I’d say focus your training on bodybuilding and keep your calories on maintenance levels and try if you can burn fat while gaining or at least maintaining muscle mass. I’ve found using small amounts of BCAA’s throughout the day in between meals to be the second coming of Jesus when it comes to maintaining muscle mass on a cut.

No point in bulking if you seriously think you have to lose that last bit of fat.


Thank you for the response, I appreciate the help. My concern is that I’m not sure how accurate my TDEE is, because I really don’t think I’m burning 3000kcals a day. However, I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t realize how easy it is to burn calories, or whether I’m not providing accurate information on the websites. Like when it says “How active are you?” I try to be as cautious as I can and put things like “moderately active” or “somewhat active” and it still states I must be burning near 3000kcal with the amount I workout. Any insight on this? Should I trust the website or go with my gut feeling?


No calculator can give you your exact TDEE. The only way to be sure is to pick a point and monitor your weight. If it drops, too little. If it goes up too fast, too much. If it stays intact, that’s your TDEE. If it goes up slowly and you see no noticeable fat gain or even seem to get leaner, you are golden.


When I work with someone on diet, I have them record everything they eat for at least 2 weeks, along with their bodyweight every day during that period. Calculators are going to be wildly inaccurate. Did the calculator ask you for bloodwork? Did it ask you for your thyroid hormone levels? Your testosterone/estrogen numbers? Of course not. For all you know, the calculator could be 1000kcals wrong for you.

Macronutrient breakdown should be tracked along with total kcals as well. You need to figure out the ratios that work best for you to achieve your goal. Carbs and fats can be manipulated based on results, but protein should be around 150g per day for you. If you can’t hit this number exactly, it’s better to be higher than lower.

As far as the modeling thing goes… I have no idea what aesthetic would be desirable for what you want to do. Some models are really fucking skinny, others have an appreciable amount of muscle on their frame. Maybe you could give us a name of a model, or a picture of a physique you think would be along the lines of your goal. Without something like that, I’m going to have trouble giving advice as far as the bulk/cut thing is concerned.

I will say that adding muscle makes it easier to shed fat when you need to. I have very little trouble maintaining a very lean physique right now.

One final note: your workout routine is garbage. I can tell that based on the very limited info you provided. You can pretend it’s ‘working great for you’, but I’m going to give you some honesty. You don’t look like you lift weights. You look like a skinny kid who maybe ran track in high school or played baseball or something. If you actually want to get somewhere with your physique, it will require this level of honesty with yourself. It seems you have a higher opinion of your looks than I do, and I would be willing to bet a talent agent would be more likely to side with me on this opinion than you.

And don’t take steroids. Bad idea.


I thank you for your honesty, but the insulting is a little childish and irritating. Two things: first, I have a very low opinion of myself, and that’s exactly why I came here considering steroids. Secondly, I don’t think it’s very wise or accurate of you to take one photo and consider it what I genuinely look like. I could provide a photo with a much better camera and much better lighting if I wanted to impress people on the internet.

As for my routine, you can say I’m pretending if you want but I must be mentally insane to actually think that my body is not sore after my workouts. I’m pushing myself to my limits, physically and mentally. You seem to have a tendency here to jump to conclusions, and if you continue to then I will have a hard time taking your advice as credible.

The only advice you told me was to count my calories and to eat 150g of protein per day. I know both of these things, as they are very basic to bodybuilding 101. Please do not waste my time with insults, assumptions, and rudimentary advice. Thanks.


Being sore has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not your routine works or not. You could do 400 bicep curls with 2kg each hand and be sore as hell but does that make it a good routine? No.

What kind of a routine you are doing and how long have you been doing it?


4-day split, working out 7days a week. Chest/Tris, Back/Bis, Shoulders, Legs.


  • 6 sets of 4reps Flat dumbbell bench @ 80lbs in e/a hand, then a burnout set of 40lbs in e/a hand. Repeat this 1-2 more times depending on stamina.

  • 6 sets of 4reps Incline Dumbbell Bench @ 60lbs in e/a hand, then a burnout set of 30lbs in e/a hand. Repeat 1 more time.

  • 6 sets of 4reps of Cable Crossovers, usually play the weight by how bad my chest hurts. Then 1 burnout set of half the weight. Repeat 1-2 times.

  • 10sets of 20pushups

  • 6sets of 4reps of Tricep Rope Pulldown @ ~120lbs, burnout set of 60lbs.

  • 6sets of 4reps of Tricep Rope OTH Pull @ ~100lbs, burnout set of 50lbs.


  • 5 sets of 10 Wide Grip Pullups, 5 sets of 10 Close Grip Pullups

  • 6sets of 4reps of Dumbbell Curls @ 40lbs in e/a hand, then 1 burnout set of 20lbs in e/a hand. Repeat 2 times.

  • 6sets of 4reps of Hanging Barbell Curls @ 60lbs, then 1 burnout set of 30lbs. Repeat 1 more time.

  • (Hard to explain my back routine, as I don’t know the proper names of the machines. But as you can tell I follow a trend where I find a weight that I can rep 6 times, then lift it 6sets of 4reps of it w/ a burnout set after. There’s 4 back machines I do this once on.)


  • 6sets of 4reps of Lateral Raises @ 25lbs in e/a hand, then 1 burnout set of 15lbs in e/a hand. Repeat 3-4 times.

  • 6sets of 4reps of OHP @ 85lbs, then 1 burnout set of 45lbs. Repeat 2 more times.

  • 6 sets of 4 reps of Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs @ 80lbs in e/a hand. No burnout set. Repeat 2 times.


  • 6sets of 4reps of Squats @ 275lbs, then 1 burnout set @ 185lbs. Repeat 3 more times.

  • 6sets of 4reps of Leg Extensions @ 250lbs, then 1 burnout set @ 130lbs. Repeat 1 more time.

  • 6sets of 4 reps of Hamstring Curls @ 90lbs, then 1 burnout set @ 45lbs. Repeat 1 more time.

  • 6sets of 15reps of Calf Raises @ 315lbs, then 1 burnout set @ 185lbs. Repeat 1 more time.

Ontop of this, I do abs everyday for 15min. I do sprints every other day (although recently it’s been hard with this new routine, I started it a week ago. My legs tend to stay sore for the full 4 days) and I’m a university student that walks ~5mi per day @ ~3mph (I’ve tested the rate that I walk on campus).

All through my life (I’ll be 20 in a month, started lifting when I was 18) I’ve been overweight and suffered with mild depression. Recently it’s been worse. I’ve never played sports, and I have a hard time finding the mentality to push myself. I personally believe I’ve really been pushing myself recently, but it’s hard. I’m going to get my bloodwork tested to see if my overweight and sedentary throughout most of my teenager years has damaged my testosterone levels. I honestly hope they say it has, because I’m tired of making so little progress and working so hard. I started lifting 2 years ago, and have been counting calories and eating only “clean” foods for about 1 year now. I’m just looking for genuine help as to how I can break this plateau. I’m not looking for insults (that’s not directed towards you, but another person in this thread) because I already hate myself and have for awhile. Thanks for the read.


Give me a break. I was being honest with you. You don’t like honesty? that’s a YOU problem, not a me problem.

You weigh 160 lbs. I doubt a different camera angle or better lighting will change my opinion. You look small because you are small.

Why would you post your photos on a RATE MY PHYSIQUE forum, and then get all bent out of shape when someone doesn’t rate you well? Isn’t that the sort of criticism you’re opening yourself up to when you post photographs of your body on an open internet forum? Not only that, you said you want to be a model. If you think I’m being hard on you, you’re in for a very rude awakening. You’re clearly not mentally suited to be in an industry that is based ENTIRELY on appearance. It’s a harsh world out there buddy.

If you’re so smart, then you would know that soreness is not a reasonably good indicator of the quality of a workout. I fully believe your workouts are leaving you sore. I do NOT believe that you’re effectively building muscle with them.

Finally, I’ll address the steroid issue. I didn’t go much into this because I wasn’t sure how serious you were about it. If you already suffer from depression, then steroids are a very bad way to go. Steroid use can make depression worse, not better. The highs and lows can be very difficult for a person in a bad mental state to deal with. That’s just how it is.

Doctor-prescribed TRT and/or HTPA restart, however, is a very different thing. I do believe getting bloodwork is a very good idea. I can promise you, you DON’T want to find out you have low testosterone. There are many other problems that are easier to deal with. But that being said, if low T is the case, then you will be well served by fixing the problem with the assistance of a physician.

Congratulations on losing weight. That was a great first step, and I hope that you continue to move in the right direction. The picture below is the difference from when I was 18 until I was 30. Bodyweight difference was from 125 to 190. You’ve been at this for 1 year trying to get in better shape. It takes much more time than that, and you need to have some level of patience.

I know what I’m doing, and I’ve been doing it for quite literally more than half of your entire life. Maybe a little humility would open you up to accepting feedback more positively, rather than telling me my advice is ‘bodybuilding 101.’


Also, you must not have read the pinned post for the rate my physique forum. It states this:

"Post your before and afters to get an honest, brutally honest, assessment of how you’ve done building your physique and what still needs work. "

If you do not want brutal honesty, I’m sure your mother would love to sit down with you and tell you how happy she is for you, and how great you are, and how you’re her perfect snowflake-angel-kitten-snookums.


Flip’s advice is exactly the stuff I would’ve needed to hear at 19.

I also know I wouldn’t have listened to it, because I was an idiot when I was 19.

sprizon: If you’re looking for routine advice, were I in your position, I’d start with 5/3/1. Do the BBB assistance work to start, go for 6 weeks with no changes (you can skip the deload at week 4 to make it a 6 week cycle, the author advocates for it). This will give you a great idea of how a productive and intense program works.

You could even run this specific variation of it

If I had spent my time at your age training like that versus the idiot I trained as, I’d be much further ahead today.


Honestly, if you have been lifting for 2 years, you should be bigger. Your program is not the best nor the worst but you could do hell of a lot better in that area. I believe your biggest problem is that you are afraid of eating “too much” which leads you to either eat too little which robs you of your gains or you alternate between bulking and cutting so often your results are nowhere near they could be.


I tend to talk about how programs are overrated and all that matters is intensity and consistency, but honestly his program stood out as pretty bad to me. The biggest thing was working in sets of 4 for things like curls, lateral raises, cable crossovers, and pushdowns. That to me demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of movements.

Seeing him say that he can repeat a burnout set of squats 3 times as the first movement on leg day shows me that there is definitely a lacking of intensity, as a real set of burnout squats should result in you having to be peeled off the floor.

It looks like the kind of routine that is developed when one reads a handful of different ideas and Frankenstein’s them together to try to make the best routine. At least, that’s how it looked like when I did that.


It is pretty bad but it’s better what most people with similar problems are doing. The majority of programs I’ve seen in situations like this have ridiculous amounts of volume and way too little eating. This doesn’t have enough volume, frequency, intensity and most likely the guy isn’t eating enough.

The boring but big 3 month challenge is a very good idea to try.


I wasn’t irritated about the fact that you were insulting me, I was irritated about the fact that you took those jabs at me without giving me any real advice. I understand being brutally honest, but I don’t think it’s being “brutally honest” when you don’t give me anything to gain from your statements. That being said, thank you for giving me actual advice now. You mentioned that higher muscle usually makes it easier to shed fat. Do you believe that I should increase my weight then if I desire to be more aesthetically pleasing? I’m not trying to get bodybuilder big, I’m just going for aesthetics here. My main problem is convincing myself to bulk, because my fear of being fat again is overbearing (just as your fear of being skinny again might have been pretty scary once upon a time).


I push myself very hard, and most of my burnout sets don’t go very long because of it. If you are questioning my intensity, I assure you that I’m motivated and very intense in my workouts (at least I have been more recently). If there’s any doubt on my routine, I would not direct it towards my intensity rather than the routine itself.


That’s what I’ve heard on other forums too. My progress is not where it should be for how long I’ve been lifting. I also highly doubt it’s my calorie counting, because I count everything I take in as accurately as possible. There’s a possibility that I’ve gotten in worse shape because of some dangerous cutting I did more recently.


What is your opinion on the supplements listed in the article? Specifically ZMA and Flameout


Sorry for the separate responses, I am new here after all. I would like to address my misguided and misunderstood anger earlier towards @flipcollar. I was not mad about his insults, and I didn’t take them personally. I just did not see enough advice to warrant the amount of rudeness. He has given me strong advice now, and I am thankful for it. I hope we can move past that part and focus more around the main question: Should I cut or bulk? Thank you for everyone responding and helping, and sorry for the photos as they are not very good and make it hard to give accurate advice.

Adding an edit here to give a recount of information that may be vital in helping determine a good course of action.


  • 5’9", 158lbs, Squat Max 300lbs, Bench Max 200lbs
  • Taking 5g creatine everyday, never did a loading phase, drinking 3gal water per day
  • Bulked to 170 awhile ago, weight stagnated for awhile, cut from 160 -> 150 in maybe 6 months.
  • Scared of bulking as I do not want to get fat again, but I am willing to do it with enough reason
  • Intensity in my workout is very high, just assume that to be 100% truth
  • Count my calories and hit 150g of protein everyday
  • Working out 1h30m per day, walking 5mi per day @ 3mph, TDEE averages 2800calories burned
  • I went on a scary hard cut over the summer as a result of being tired of waiting for my slow cut. I ran sprints every 3 days, and filled the rest of the days with 4mi of running. I also lifted 1hr per day. I ate 1300-1600 calories per day and dropped from 157-> 148 in 2months, but jumped back up to 152 once I started eating properly. I am now coming to terms that this may have been the reason I haven’t made “much progress” as I may have lost considerable muscle.