How long should a bulk last? When to cut?
Q: How many weeks should you cut or bulk? I gained a few pounds on vacation and am feeling squishy. ;) so I think I'm going to lower my calories for awhile then go back up. 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 cycles 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 w/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. Less "mental" for me then, LOL. So, my bulk runs 3-4 months now.
Cutting should be closely monitored & 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 cals 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 wks). I lose as slow as possible (.5/wk), to prevent muscle loss.
During your bulk, take the opportunity to get your cals as high as possible. This will allow for a metabolism reset, allowing you to cut/maintain @ 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 (w/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 set your MFP goal to "gain 1/2lb per week". Women can gain a max of .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, & make us wanna run, lol.
So, once familiar w/ the process, you may be better off bulking until you "feel" bulky (aka jeans get too tight, lol), then cutting a bit. 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, & looks completely different (which is why the scale can't determine your goals). I'm only a few lbs away from my previous "fat" weight, but about 5 sizes smaller, lol.
Also, it's perfectly acceptable to start your bulk before reaching "goal" weight. I did. I never have figured out what "goal" was, lol. After so many bulk/cut cycles, my weight vs clothing size don't even make sense anymore, lol.
Q: Thank you! I've just been so confused. I have been shrinking and really don't want to get any smaller but my lower half of my body is still very squishy and not toned. Would that mean I need to do cardio or just lift more on my legs? I have those dreaded saddle bags that stay on me till I weigh as much as a toothpick. I weigh 110 right now with around 20% body fat. I don't know if I could handle a month cut? Sorry for all the questions. I am just tired of not seeing any results.
A: Oh, I didn't realize that you were so small already. I'd say it's time to up the weights in the leg work. Doing more cardio just creates the "skinny fat" look, which is what you're trying to avoid/overcome. Building muscle will firm the legs up quite nicely. So you could go straight into a bulk, and develop some lean muscle under the layer of fat that may be there now. Because of this your legs may feel like they're getting bigger at first (because muscle is developing under fat), but pay close attention to the firmness. When they seem firm enough (or if your pants get too tight) cut for 3-4 wks (or until pants fit again, lol) and then go back to bulking. This will slowly get rid of the "skinny fat" and give you firm, shapely legs and glutes.
Must haves in your leg routine should be *heavy* squats, lunges and deadlifts. Stick to free weights/compound movements, don't even bother w/the "weight" machines, if you can help it (unless you're very new to weights and still learning proper form. But eventually wean yourself, or sprinkle into your free weight routine).
Also see if you can incorporate 2 leg days into your routine, 1 heavy and one light (the lighter weight/high rep day can replace a cardio day.) or, alternatively, use a cardio machine like the stair mill on cardio day.
Even if you choose not to bulk now. Opt to eat over maintenance (~ 200-300 cals) on leg day.
Q: Yes, its that awful skinny fat on my legs! Everyone says cardio, cardio to get rid of it. My thighs are 19 1/2 inches and still fat. I need to learn to like leg days like my back days! ;) One of my friends refuses to lift weights and tries to get me to run with her a few days a week. I hate it! She wants me to run a 5k with her but all I can ever think about is how it's cutting out my time at the gym.
A: Nooooo! Lol. Now is NOT the time for a 5k, ROFL. Excess cardio is what creates the skinny fat, not what heals it. As you develop the muscle you desire in your legs, you can carefully use your runs to help w/extra fat. But too much will tear down the muscle that you're trying to build and become counterproductive. This is especially important if you are not training for a marathon (in which case you would want some muscle atrophy in order to run faster- too much muscle makes you slower), and actually want muscle in your legs. If you wanted to incorporate cardio that will help you reach your goal, shoot for things like the stairmill, bleacher runs, sprints, etc., NOT long distance running (at least not right now).
Girl, adding squats, deadlifts, etc. was the best thing that ever happened to my cellulite, lol. Weighted leg work is the real deal when it comes to shaping the legs (just ask my DH :p)