• Bulk Cut Cycle Length – How long to bulk? When to cut?


    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 3bulk cut cycle length-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.




5 Responsesso far.

  1. Nicki says:

    I’m at about 43% BF. I did my first local powerlifting meet and preformed well (best overall and first in my class)for being so new to the sport only spending about a 2 month training cycle. I was planning my next meet for December ( 30 or so weeks out) this gives me plenty of time. I want to make sure I am getting the best start. I feel like being so overweight it may be better to do a cut to a weight that is pretty close to the weight class I want to compete in, having no less than a 15-16 week strength training block with more specificity. or would it be better to gain the strength/muscle to help me in my cutting endeavor. if I convert some of this fat to muscle of course it will be a positive on my metabolism… I currently am very uncomfortable in my skin but love that I lift heavy so my emotions are telling me to cut but my brain is telling me to use my weight to my advantage and build muscle while I’m on the newby gains train. please some help from the more experienced would be great!

    • Hey Nicki,
      This is a tough one to answer, as I know nothing about your previous dieting background. Considering you are doing powerlifting comps, I’ll have to assume you have been lifting for a while, and know that feeding your body properly and with enough calories will help your lifts immensely. If you are coming from a restrictive eating background and have not spent time at TDEE, I would encourage you to do so. Sitting at maintenance,(TDEE) will allow you to build more muscle and lift stronger. doing a cut can make your lifts suffer. So its a balance. Since you are 7 months away from comp, you can cycle your phases.. do a cut for 4-6 weeks, then back at TDEE for 1-2 weeks, and again. This can help you to shed some fat away, helping you reach your class, and the TDEE breaks will remind your body that you aren’t starving it. I hope this helps you out!

  2. Reese says:

    Perfect, yes….pretty much what I thought I might try. Kind of like a wave. I accidentally waved myself into a bulk ;) so I figured I’d roll with it and wave down to a cut by getting there through maintenance first. Thanks! :)

  3. Reese says:

    Thanks for this write up :)

    I kmow for your longer cycles, you come down from bulk gradually (down to maintenance, then cut) to,ease your body into things.

    For shorter cycles like one month bulk, one month cut, there’s less room for easing. Wouldn’t it potentially negatively shock your body to go from 4 weeks cut calories to 4 weeks bulk, then back again?

    Any suggestions on how to ease these shorter transitions better? :)

    • EM2WL says:

      I never go (or take clients) straight from cut to bulk. I always have a time of maintenance in the mix. So with clients that want to test the waters with just a monthly bulk/cut, I will have them take a month of maintenance after cut, easing into it). So bulk/cut/maintain.

      Even if maintenance is shorter–like a few weeks– it’s better than going from a deficit to a surplus (which is not recommended).

      Going from bulk to cut isn’t as horrible, if the body hasn’t had time to adjust to the surplus (which is why you’d usually lower slowly), but you still may want to do a week at maintenance just to be safe (and to see if you have progress there, in which case you could stay there if you do).