Q: I've heard you talk a lot about you being in different “phases.” Can you describe how you, personally incorporate the 5 Phases of EM2WL? Especially your bulk/cut cycles?
A: While I'm mostly in maintenance/chill now, it took a while to get here. I spent several years focused on getting my eats up, rebuilding my muscle mass, and increasing my metabolism with bulk cycles. Throughout the course of a year, I rotated mainly through 3-4 of the phases. This is because my “bulk” phases negated the need to “reset.” Here's an example of how I (personally) cycled through the phases in my early years:
Remember: eating above maintenance, is needed in order to add on muscle.
This is typically when I'd do a 3-6 month muscle-based periodized program*, that relied heavily on my 1 rep max being figured in. I did minimal cardio, only as needed for health purposes (0-2xs/week, sessions around 30 min), but I did not focus on losing weight at all during this time.
I'd still weigh in on occasion, as the goal was a controlled, and purposeful gain – not simply a free-for-all with the word “bulk” slapped on it (in the old-school bodybuilding sense, LOL). I'd still keep the eats similar to how they'd be in a cut – just ate more of it. Protein didn't change, but I'd add in a bit more carbs than during my cut and try to keep the protein as high as possible.
During the bulking phase, I kept a close eye on my body fat levels, more-so than the actual weight on the scale. If the weight was going up, but body fat was staying steady, I'd keep going – if it was vice versa, I tighten up the eats, or move on to the cut phase.
I gain fat almost as easily as I gain muscle, so the bulking phase was always an extremely delicate balance for me. I'd usually plan for it to last for 3-5 months OR until my clothes began to get uncomfortable (the clothes often won, LOL). I naturally picked Fall/Winter for this phase, as dressing in looser fitting layers most of the time, and being sensitive (mentally) to scale fluctuations made it easer to stick it out for as long as possible.
Phase 2: Cut – I'd typically start this phase early spring (March/April) in order to deflate a bit (bulking water retention is REAL!) and prepare mentally for the lighter fabrics (and less layers) of the up-coming season.
Depending on how “clean” my bulk phase was, this typically ran pretty smoothly. I'd begin by slowly (and by slow, I mean s.l.o.w) lowering my cals on a week by week basis…IF needed. If I was seeing results, I stayed until I didn't anymore. If I hit my max cal lowering point, and results had come to a halt. I'd go back up to maintenance for a week or two, and then lower them again.
If I was still at a standstill, I'd adjust the workouts using the same strategy. I'd slowly increase the volume, load, or density of my workouts (ex: lifting 5-6 days instead of 3-4, adding sets or reps, reducing rest periods, replacing split workouts with a few full body/circuit workouts in order to invoke the “cardio factor” into every workout, increasing NEAT, etc).
The reason that I emphasize how slowly I moved is because depending on how long my cut phase would last, I needed to be able to continue to adjust with each plateau. This is why my results rarely stagnated for long. Also, I like to be able to lose fat, while still eating as much as possible, and to still have another “trick” up my sleeve, so to speak. So I never got super restrictive with my cals (i.e. going below 1800) or excessive with my cardio (ie. more than 3xs/week) until I was almost at the finish line, so that I didn't subject my body to it for more than 2-4 weeks MAX.
I never wanted my body to just adjust to high cardio and low cals, and think that it was the new norm, because there was no way that I could keep it up. Engaging in something so unsustainable at the beginning of a long cut, would be setting myself up for failure. So basically, stubborn fat loss tricks stayed up my sleeve unless 100% necessary…
Phase 3: Maintain/Chill – If all went well up until this point (typically around June/July), this period would be smooth sailing. I pretty much kick back and enjoy the fruits of my labor during this point, knowing that I'm ready for an impromptu trip to the beach or other random event where skin may be involved, lol. (And if things hadn't gone well…well, I went shopping and figured out how to enjoy it anyway!)
This is when I'd enjoy doing any and all workouts, not necessarily focusing fat loss, muscle building or on any one particular thing.
This is when I'd allow myself to be more random (seeking more mental vs physique results from my workouts). For example: I'd do body-part splits and full body workouts in the same week (like two splits, one full), and begin to tone down the cardio just a bit – unless it involved some fun in the sun. For me, Summer was the perfect time to enjoy some of my workout DVD's that may have been neglected during specific phases. They'd give me any variety or autonomy that I may have been missing, and allow me to stay in shape.
But I did not depend on them to do anything specific for my body other than that.
My eats slowly increased back to maintenance level (I'd re-test it each year by slowly increasing to see what my new maintenance was) which was typically slightly higher than it was the year before, thanks to the added muscle! And after a period of logging at my new maintenance level, I'd take a break from logging altogether and just enjoy the season (Chill!)
*You can get access to the exact workouts that I create for trainers, gyms, and my own clients via The EM2WL Method Workout App.
Q: Will I not succeed/not build muscle/not lose weight/plateau/fall off the face of the earth, if I don't do your “fitness cycles” or “bulk cut cycles”?
A: Maybe it's time for my disclaimer… So, here it goes:
I'm not saying that everyone wanting to build muscle must do it in the same phases that I do, or even use the traditional “bodybuilding” cut/bulk cycles. After years of trial & error, that is the method that I (Kiki) found works best for me, helps me to put on a good amount of muscle, and (most importantly) is convenient. For my lifestyle, it is just more practical to build muscle, deal with any unexpected “puffiness,” and eat more calorie dense foods starting right around Thanksgiving (convenient/brilliant, huh?). It is also more practical for me to eat less, do more cardio etc. when the weather is warmer, we are having active family outings, my garden is in full swing- so I have lots of fresh fruit/vegetables, and my hens (yes, I really have hens) are popping those suckers (eggs) out by the dozen. In addition to that, there are more clothing layers in cool months, so I can maneuver the clothing enough to look as if nothing has changed – a lot harder to do in warm months where more skin is exposed. I've learned the hard way that FOR ME, attempting to lose weight during the holidays, is equally as futile as trying to bulk during bathing suit season (been there, done that…DISASTER). My body is way too sensitive to the fluctuations/water retention, and it always backfires.
So THAT'S how I chose, and it's made my (and my family's) life much more pleasant. But, if that's not YOUR convenient schedule then you may need your cycles to be shorter/at different times of the year. Maybe you don't want to give yourself that much leeway on the scale, or you have events going on all year round where more “body” is exposed, or you live in a warm/cold climate year round. You can set your goals accordingly. You can stay in certain phases longer/shorter. You could do a gradual body recomposition throughout the year inserting 4-6 weeks dedicated solely to building muscle throughout the year, as often as it can fit, or do one month build, one month cut, etc.. There are many paths, but you SHOULD try to chose one, just walking aimlessly through your fitness journey should no longer be an option.
For more info/ideas on doing a body recomp, check out sites like Lyle McDonald's website, Body Recompostion. He's big on finding your happy medium, and the “bulk a little, cut a little” concept.