T Nation

Bulk or Cut - The Debate

Practically every other day there is a new post asking, “I’m skinny-fat. Should I bulk or cut first.”

And of course, everyone has there own opinion, each with valid arguments. There are lots of people on both sides of the fence.

Lots of people now advise that one should first cut to around 10% or so, then bulk after that. Others say to focus on building muscle, then concentrate on the fat loss after.

However, I wonder why there are not recommendations to alternate in short cycles. That is, cut for a short time, then bulk for a short time, then repeat. This way the person would still put on some muscle, and they would also get rid of fat. Were they to cut first to 10%, this could take quite a while, and thus result in all the nasties associated with chronic dieting.

By interspersing short bulk periods, this will largely be prevented from happening. Further, the zig zag pattern would allow the person to feel like they are working on both at the same time (though they actually aren’t), and keep the training fresh, resulting in greater enthusiasm and therefore effort (and as we all know, effort is the mother of all results).

The only thing I’d wonder about is this: it is generally accepted that one should spend some time doing maintenance cals before switching from bulk to cut to get the body to “accept” the newly acquired muscle. Would this be a real issue with the above?

That is, if someone put on a few pounds of muscle over 6 weeks (or whatever), would they be in a real danger of losing it if they switched to a 6 week cut cycle (or with proper weight training for maintenance, would they likely not lose too much)?

It seems like this above approach is not utilized too much anymore. Though of course, Waterbury has released his ebook which is on a 3 week cut, 3 week bulk alternating cycle.


There are theories out like this, however I’ve yet to see the evidence(ie real life people not theories) to support it to be effective.

If someone gains 1-2 lbs of muscle in a month after their first year or so of lifting they are doing a very good job. If they end that month and then reduce calories for a cut they run the risk of losing some of that muscle they just earned. It’s two steps forward and one step back and that is certainely not worth it to me. If people learned to control their fat gain with cardio and diet manipulations we wouldn’t be having these problems.

In general(and this doesn’t apply to the 250+ lb obese person) most people are sorely lacking in size and if they want to look like a muscular individual that should be their top priority I have turned the rate my physique off and don’t care to look but when I did it was many skinny beginners(this isn’t an insult) not a lot of thick guys who needed to be leaner but had 200+ lbs LBM. How can I gain muscle and stay lean enough to be happy should be the question and experiment with ways to get it done.

Bulking and cutting are some of the worst terms in this hobby of ours. A lot of people seem to be stuck in neutral from the get go flip flopping back and forth over what they should do, bulk cut bulk cut, over and over. Or worse they don’t even get started since they aren’t sure. If people just set out the goal of I’m going to try to get strong in the gym and eat enough to support growth and maybe limit my carbs here or not combine a lot of fat with a lot of carbs or do 30 minutes of cardio everyday then they’d be going in the general direction they needed.

Gained 2 lbs this month and you like your look? Keep doing exactly what you are doing(until you don’t get the desired result). Gained 5 lbs and feel a little soft? Subtract something out(food wise) or add something in(cardio). Stayed the same? Add some more protein in most likely. If we could get people to make minor changes on a 2-4 week basis and not expect to wake up like the fitness model on the cover of Men’s Health or NPC level bodybuilder after 3 weeks of training we’d have a lot happier people on these boards and walking around everyday. It’s a very long term battle unless you are geneticaly gifted, which if you are you likely didn’t click on this thread because you don’t need any help. I have a 3 year plan to do nothing(in terms of training) but gain muscle mass at the quickest rate possible for me while keeping happy with my leanness. After those three years I should be in a fairly advanced state of muscular size, but most people aren’t willing to put in the time to get there and want it now now now.

So those are my thoughts haha, I need to go eat.

I agree, leave the bulking and cutting for bodybuilders. Train hard and smart, eat clean, and monitor your progress closely so you can make intelligent adjustments when needed.

I’m a big fan of eat right and lift hard. That is pretty much where most people screw up. If I’m talking to someone who already eats right and lifts hard then I’ll consider talking about bulking and cutting, but that doesnt usually need to be considered.

I consider any calorie excess a bulk, and any deficit a cut, which may not match everyone’s definitions. I’d say if you’re a fat bastard at the beginning then cut down to 10% BF before doing anything else. If you’re a skinny bastard to start (even skinny-fat) then putting on muscle needs to be the primary goal.