Q: How many weeks should you cut or bulk? I'm so confused as to how low and high I should go. How do I figure it out? I still have a lot of body fat on my thighs that I need to get rid of. I want to build my upper body but think I need to get rid of some of my fat first. Help! What do I do first?
A: When you're first starting, your Bulk Cut Cycle length can be shorter, until you become more familiar/trusting in the process. I often suggest trying a month of each to start (alternating). As you become more comfortable with bulking, the longer time you can spend in it, the more progress you'll see. Right now, I do it based on seasons. It's more convenient for me to bulk during the holidays/cooler months, etc.. It's much less “mental” for me then, LOL. So, my bulk runs 3-4 months, minimum, right now.
Cutting should be closely monitored and you should try your best not to undo your efforts from your bulk. That's why I recommend alternating at first. During your cut keep protein levels consistent, cardio moderate (until close to the end), try to let the food do the work, and don't slash the calories all at once. Give yourself wiggle room as you hit plateaus. My cut is usually during spring, never lasting more than my bulk in length (12-16 weeks is typical). I lose as slow as possible (~.5lb/wk), to prevent muscle loss.
During your bulk, take the opportunity to get your cals as high as possible, without overdoing it (200-300 cals over maintenance is a decent starting point). If you bulk for an extended period of time and find your body adapting to the higher calorie level, try raising them a bit higher to see how your body handles it. This will allow for a metabolism reset, allowing you to cut/maintain at higher levels than before. It's a beautiful thing to be able to cut/maintain at more relaxed cal levels. Because you are lifting exceptionally heavy during your bulk (with lower reps) your body will be able to put those cals to proper use (vs having to budget them as when you're in a deficit). A basic way of seeing how much you should eat during your bulk, to start, is to use the EM2WL calculator set to “gain muscle.” Women can gain a max of around .25lbs of muscle each week, so this will supply just the right amount of surplus to make sure minimal fat is gained. You can also use that as a reference for how long to bulk for (i.e. say you're not willing to gain more than 5lbs, plan the bulk for ~10 wks/5lbs, whichever comes first). Even though it seems oxymoronic, because muscle takes up so much less space than fat, you can usually get quite far along in your bulk before the gain is noticeable. More women notice it on the scale before seeing the “gain” on their bodies. But the scale is usually enough to scare us, and make us wanna run, lol.
So, once familiar with the process, you may be better off bulking until you “feel” bulky (aka jeans get too tight, lol), then cutting a bit — and repeating as necessary. You'll notice that the more you bulk, your cut doesn't last as long as you planned, because most of the “weight” is muscle, and looks completely different (which is why the scale can't determine your goals). I'm the same size as my previous “fat” weight, but about 5 sizes smaller, for reference.
Also, it's perfectly acceptable to start your bulk before reaching “goal” weight. I did. I never have figured out what “goal” was. After so many bulk/cut cycles, my weight vs clothing size doesn't even make sense anymore, lol.