college bodybuilder tips: bulking and cutting

Dear K***,

I know we’ve talked a little bit about the “long term-goals” of your bodybuilding. I think it’s time to reinforce some of those ideas, and talk more specifically about “bulking” and “cutting” phases of your workout.

It’s important that you think about what you are doing in terms of years, not weeks or even months. Any exercise routine or diet that you think of as being something that you are for a few weeks, will do absolutely nothing for you.  Any exercise routine that you go into expecting to make major transformations in a month, will not be healthy. You and I have talked about this, and I think you feel comfortable with that.  When you point at some hot built bodybuilder in a movie or magazine and ask, “How long will it be before I look like that?” the answer might be “2 years”, and you have to be OK with the idea that that is a good answer: that is faster than it would be for most people, because you’ve got great genetics.

But there is even more to it than that, both physically and mentally. I’ve told you about the fact that over the course of a year, we will be alternating between a “cutting phase” and a “bulking phase.”  During each phase, your workouts will change, the amount of cardio exercise you do will change, and your diet will change.  But, your mindset will also change, and the way you feel about yourself will change. You should be prepared for that.  So, let’s take a look at this graph:

The Long-Term Bodybuilding Plan

As you can see, the eventual goal in the long-term is to both increase your muscle mass and decrease your bodyfat.  But these two goals are almost impossible to achieve at the same time, especially with your metabolism. You are naturally very lean, and burn calories like crazy.  In order to gain muscle, you HAVE to eat over 3000 calories a day, you have to have big meals every two hours. That is the routine that you are on right now.

Of course, with that kind of diet, you will very naturally also increase your bodyfat. That is unavoidable. So, our strategy is to minimize the fat increase while maximizing the muscle growth.  Then, we will switch to a cutting phase, where we try to maximize the fat loss while minimizing the muscle loss.  The graph above shows two complete “cycles” of these two phases.

If it’s done right, as you can see by looking at the graph, after 1 full year (1 full gaining phase and 1 full cutting phase) you will be at a better starting place than you were the previous year: you will have both more muscle and less fat.  Then, you repeat the cycle again (two phases), and you will end up once again at a better place than you started 12 months prior.

In between, your mood will fluctuate.   As you are gaining, at first you will feel incredible because you will see the increases in your muscle size, and you will see your increases in strength as you lift more and more. You will feel hot, you will feel awesome. But after a while, the increase in bodyfat will start to annoy you. You will start to feel fat. The reality is: you ARE more fat than you have ever been before. This doesn’t mean you are a fatty, it just means that your bodyfat is higher than your scrawny ass is used to.  That’s fine, and it’s the trade-off that you get for the increases in strength.

Then, you will start the cutting phase.  Remember you will do this gradually: the worse thing you can do is to suddenly drop your calorie intake, because you will lose all of the muscle gains that you worked so hard for.  But, you will gradually decrease your calories intake over time. You will gradually start to do more cardio over time.  You will keep lifting hard, but will not be trying to increase your strength: instead, you will be trying to maintain as much muscle as possible while reducing your fat. Your strength might decrease some, and that is natural, although we will be trying to minimize this.

During this phase, once again you will feel awesome. As you see yourself getting leaner, your abs getting tighter, your definition improving, you will feel hot again. You will look in the mirror and see all the progress you are making.

But then, eventually, you will hit the next point: you will start to feel “too skinny.”  This is the opposite end of the cycle from the “too fat” period. You will be completely confident about how hard and tight and ripped your body is, but you will feel bad because you feel like you have lost some “bulk” to your muscles. You will feel scrawny and weak. And the truth is: you HAVE lost some muscle, but that’s ok: that’s the trade-off for getting as ripped as you are.

Eventually, you will transition back to the gaining phase. Again, it will be gradual: you will have no sudden increases in your calorie intake, or that will make your body store more fat.  But you will gradually increase your calories over time, and you will start to see increases again in your muscle size and strength. You will feel hot again.

So keep an eye on this chart.  There is a very real psychological reality there: on this program you will feel hot and good about yourself maybe 8-9 months of the year. The rest of the time you will either feel too skinny or too fat.  But this is part of the process. The people who never eat enough calories because they are afraid of ever “feeling fat” also never pack on serious muscle. The people who never eat few enough calories because they are scared of being “too skinny” also never get really tight and ripped.  Bodybuilding–real bodybuilding–is about pushing your boundaries.  Best for you to get used to the idea now!

—Greg

 

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