T Nation

Do I Bulk or Cut?



I've been lifting weights recreationaly for a couple of years. I never really took my diet seriously, but I am starting to now. I just wanted to get stronger.

The thing is, my body is really here nor there. I am 23, 5'11", 172lbs, and about 16% BF accordfing to my accu-measure calipers and the 3-site method at rustyiron.net. That could be totally wrong as I just started using them, however. At the beginning of may I was about 185, at god knows what BF%. I have been focusing on losing weight. I've been lifting and cut back on cals. I try to get lots of protein but often fall short of the goal.

I realise that 16% is probably high for a bulking routine. (How low should it be before bulking anyways?) But if I cut to a low BF level there will be barely anything of me left!!

I should mention that I don't really consider myself a bodybuilder. I don't want to be shredded, necessarily. I'd say my goals were 1. Health 2. Strength and 3. Looks. Basically, I don't want to be flabby, but being veiny shredded is not the goal.

So the question is, should I be bulking or cutting???



I should have mentioned my routine lately. Its just one simple workout, as I only have an oly set in the basement.

I do 2x10 of the following 2 or 3 times a week:

Military Press
Bent Rows or CHins at the park.

Also, sometimes I'll do some dumbell clean and press on other days when I want a quick small workout.


I am in roughly the same boat as you right now. I have decided to "cut" for a few reasons. There was an article here, I think by Berardi, that mentioned that if you are over 12-15%(?) bodyfat that more of the weight gain would be fat.

Basically, the more lean you are to start "bulking", the more the muscle/fat ratio is in your favour. Also, for your goals, since health is a big concern, which it should be, then losing excess fat should be a priority. You can always train for strength without necessarily getting "bulky". You didn't mention cardio in your workout so why not add in some sprints when you're at the park working your back? Hope this helps.


Hey, nice to have you around.

I say in your situation you are set up to gaion in both resepects. That of cutting fat and adding LBM. How just by nailing a solid diet. Starting to eat correct and your baody will make changes that you didnt know would happen.

I say focus on nailing your food choices. Not even the amount you eat right now, Just eat what is comfortable but make GOOD choices and you will see results. After you nail that and make it habit then go another step.

As for training while what you are doing is great to a point I say you have this site all the experts and coaches at your finger tips. Use then Pick a program that fits your time and catches your interest and go for it.

Good luck and if you have any questions dont hesitate.

Hope that Helps


While going off of current body fat percentages for deciding to bulk or cut is a good starting point, I don't think it covers the whole story. I think absolute bodyfat measures (total pounds) and BMI are also necessary tools. In the above example he has about 28lbs of fat and around a 24 BMI. For weight lifters I would say those are both fairly low. He just doesn't have enough lean mass to really make a cut very effective. You can't tell me that a typical skinny-fat person (not that this person is) should cut before they bulk just because their bodyfat is high. They have no mass!!

I was in a similar boat and started bulking at 14% and put on 50lbs going up to 18%. I could have minimized the fat gain better (I did zero cardio/gpp) - but that's 15lbs of fat and 35lbs of muscle. 70% of my weight gain was muscle, that's pretty good. However, if I were to continue bulking it would get a lot worse since my total lean mass is higher and my total fat as well.

Anyway, my point is that even if your percent bodyfat may be a bit high, if your total lean mass and total fat mass are somewhat low, it's more worthwhile to bulk first. However, the tell all for this strategy is to try it out far a few weeks and monitor progress. If you put on too much fat then maybe you should cut. But there are many things to try when bulking to minimize fat gain before doing a cut. So don't go back and forth too much. Give some hardcore bulking a shot and then maybe tone it down depending on results.


Thanks for the replies.

My plan at the beginning of the summer was to cut from 185 to 170, and then bring the food intake back up a bit. I've almost completed that. I hadn't checked my bodyfat yet though. Now that I'm almost there I realise that my BF% is pretty high.

I have cleaned up my eating significantly, far from perfect, but its much better. I know what to eat, the problem is the execution of it. I'm still getting better tho, so I think my diet, in terms of quality, should take care of itself.

I'm still confused. Should I drop to 165 or 170, or should I bring the quality cals back up a bit now and shoot for maintenance?

Being skinny-fat sucks :wink:


Not to stir the pot too much (even though that what this site is suppose to do) I will say this... the only one who can decide if you should bulk or cut is you. If you feel that to be healthy, fit, attractive, whatever you have to be leaner then there is your answer. If you would feel better bigger, then by all means look around this site and find a suitable work out/ diet for that. And to reply to goldin, I put my 40 or so pounds on about ten years ago and am now trying to fine tune this aging body. As for telling a "skinny-fat" guy that they need mass before they cut my question is why? If it doesn't fit into your image or requirements you would be better off spending time building strength/muscle and sculpting your "perfect" body. So for now I'll sum it up with this: I know I feel a lot better about myself when my abs are fully "cut" then when I'm getting up to 190-200 in the winter months.


Dude, 28lb of fat is in no way "low".

It's not low for a "skinny fat" guy and it's not low for a muscle-monster.

Look at it like this, if you've got 145lb LBM and 28lb fat, that's 16%bf. Even if you increase LBM by 30lb, your bf% only drops to 14%. Reread that a few times.

(And note, not many people increase their LBM by 30lb, even over a lifetime of lifting (naturally).)

To the original poster, I would highly recommend you begin with cutting. Doesn't matter if you're "skinny fat". Fuck all these deadbeats that scream "you gotta eat". Like they fucking know anything.

Cutting will teach you discipline far better than bulking will. When bulking, you can easily lie to yourself that you're "getting bigger", that the gains are "muscle". Yeah, right. Like it's just that easy. Go and ask someone that's been lifting 10 years how "easy" it is.

Go and tell him you "put on 40lb lean mass in 12 months". So much fucking bullshit gets posted on muscle boards by fucking teenage dreamers that don't know - and refuse to know - a damn fucking thing about this game.

But when you're cutting, there's no lying to yourself. Either that waist line starts coming in, those fat pinch tests start getting smaller and smaller and those abs start showing, or they don't. Simple. Plus you will look great naked, not like these "200lb" fat fucks.

Then, when you start "bulking" you will really notice the added muscle mass. At very low body fats, even a 2lb muscle gain is very noticable.

I don't know how new you are to working out, but if you are a beginner, you will be able to make great strength gains even while losing weight, which will be a great help to you when you do start to bulk.

In the end, it's your choice, and I don't care if you don't listen to me at all. But for your own good, make sure whatever choice you make is backed up with facts and rational, realistic thinking (which is, sadly, uncommon in the muscle world).

Good luck.


Couldn't have said it better myself Spectator. Very insightful and bang on accurate.


tough love from spect8or. just what i needed!

yeah, i had a rough long-term goal in my head of 10% BF. i would have to bulk to over 250lbs, gaining PURELY muscle, or i could cut to the low 160s. i know which is more realistic.

going to clean up diet further, keep cals low and bust my balls in the gym.

i do actually do some cardio. i play bball,squash and do sprints/jogging. i'm going to turn that up a little more though.

thank you all.