Bulk and Cut Lean Fat Body Fat Muscle

How Long Should You Bulk Or Cut?

How Long Should You Bulk Or Cut?


Regardless of the plenitude of updated, research backed knowledge in the domain of physique development, the fitness professionals and industries alike, still promote outdated practices and misleading information that can lead beginner trainers, and more advanced one for that matter, down the wrong path. One such strategy that continues to persist is the idea of  bulking and cutting in 6 month cycles, despite their potential drawbacks. The classic “winter bulk” and “summer cut” phases have been ingrained in fitness enthusisats for years, and it’s easy to see why they can be appealing to those looking to build muscle in colder months when clothes are on, and trim up for those t-shirt wearing days in the peak of summer. However, while it may seem like an effective short-term approach, it can lead to drawbacks in the long term. Rather than focusing solely on bulking and cutting during winter and summer, it’s important also to consider alternative strategies that may lead to sustainable and consistently improving physique’s over time. This article will explore the potential drawbacks of exclusive bulking during winter, as well as provide alternative considerations to help individuals maximise their efforts for better overall results both short and long term.

Patience & Consistency


Those of you who have trained long enough will know that building muscle takes time, considerable time in fact. Particularly if you’re not using performance enhancing drugs. Which by the way is always the more healthy option.

It is difficult to provide an exact timeline for muscle growth as it can vary greatly between individuals based on factors such as genetics, age, diet, training intensity, and consistency. However, on average, beginners who are lifting weights and eating well can expect to see noticeable improvements in muscle growth within a few weeks to a few months. Generally though, it is recommended to aim for a muscle gain of about 1-2 pounds per month for an average person.

During the first few weeks of training, the body may experience a rapid improvement in muscle strength as it adapts to the new stress placed on the muscles. This can be seen as an increase in the amount of weight that can be lifted during exercises.

Over the following weeks and months, as the body continues to adapt to the stimulus of weight training, individuals can expect to see further muscle growth and definition. However, the rate of progress will likely slow down as the body becomes accustomed to the training stimulus.

It is important to note that consistent training and proper nutrition are crucial for sustained muscle growth. While individual results may vary, with dedication and hard work, most people can expect to see significant improvements in their muscle size and strength over time.

That said I feel it’s time to stop limiting our focus on muscle growth to just the winter months! Let’s face it, muscle growth is a slow process and if we want to maximize long-term progression, we need to stop leaving progress on the table. We can make noticeable progress in 4-6 months, but why settle for that? We need to broaden our perspective and realize that growth should be a year-round goal. And if you’re a competitive physique athlete, taking an entire season off after finishing a contest prep is a must. Your potentially selling yourself short by taking a 6 month on 6 month off approach. Reframe your mindset, be prepared to be patient and  start striving for continuous progress and growth! Your results will be far superior as a result.

Muscle Growth Science

Muscle Anatomy

Muscle growth, also known as hypertrophy, occurs when muscle fibers are subjected to stress beyond their normal, everyday usage. This stress causes the muscle fibers to break down and then rebuild themselves in response, resulting in an increase in muscle size and strength.

To stimulate muscle growth, you need to challenge your muscles with progressive overload, meaning that you gradually increase the weight or resistance that you lift over time. This can be achieved through a variety of methods such as increasing the weight, adding sets or reps, or decreasing rest periods between sets.

In addition to progressive overload, it’s important to have a caloric surplus, which means you are consuming more calories than you are burning through daily activities and exercise. This provides the body with the necessary energy and nutrients to repair and build new muscle tissue. Typically an effective caloric surplus would be between 150-350 calories above you maintenance (TDEE). 

It’s also important to prioritise recovery in order to maximise muscle growth. This means allowing adequate rest and sleep time for the muscles to repair and recover. Around 7-9 hours per day is the golden zone. Overtraining or not getting enough rest can lead to muscle breakdown instead of growth, otherwise known as catabolism.

In terms of the positive effects of a caloric surplus, it can also have a beneficial effect on hormonal balance. Specifically, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are both important hormones for muscle growth and are positively impacted by a caloric surplus.

Overall, muscle growth is a complex process that requires a combination of progressive overload, a caloric surplus, and adequate recovery time. It takes time and dedication, but with consistency and patience, anyone can see significant improvements in their muscle size and strength.

“Time” is the key message in this article. I love the challenge that body building poses. There are no short cuts or hacks. Our bodies are a true representation of the consistent daily decisions we decide to make. Even those taking PED’s need to consistently and diligently work hard to achieve an athletic looking and performing physique. Because building muscle takes time you need to be patient, which in todays society is a discipline and skill that is fast becoming outlawed. Anything worth doing takes time. 

So what about cutting; which for those of you who don’t know is a fitness slang word for losing body fat. 

The science of Cutting

Fat Cells

Fat loss is a complex process that involves creating a caloric deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume. This forces your body to use stored fat as energy, resulting in weight loss. However, it is important to note that the body is designed to hold on to fat as a survival mechanism, which means that fat loss can be a slow and challenging process.

To start losing fat, you need to create a caloric deficit, which can be achieved by reducing your calorie intake through a healthy and balanced diet or by increasing your physical activity level. A calorie deficit of 350-500 calories per day is generally recommended for safe and sustainable fat loss. However, it’s important to note that this can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, body composition, and activity level. Note also that the more aggressive you drop calories, the more you risk muscle loss. Muscle is metabolic which assists fat loss, start losing this and you drastically reduce your ability to sustain fat loss over time. Which is why we see those who often do fad / dramatic lose weight but usually gain it back (and more) very quickly.  

The process of fat loss takes time, and it’s important to be patient and consistent with your efforts. A healthy rate of weight loss is around 1-2 pounds per week, although this can vary based on individual factors. Rapid weight loss can lead to muscle loss and other negative health consequences, so it’s important to take a slow and steady approach to fat loss.

Recovery is also an important aspect of the fat loss process. Adequate rest and recovery time allows the body to repair and rebuild muscles, which can help to increase your metabolism and support continued fat loss. Overtraining and under-recovering can actually hinder your progress, so it’s important to listen to your body and prioritise rest and recovery time.

In terms of hormonal balance, creating a caloric deficit can have positive effects on certain hormones that are involved in fat loss, such as insulin and leptin. These hormones help to regulate metabolism and hunger, and a caloric deficit can help to optimise their function for greater fat loss success.

Overall, fat loss requires creating a caloric deficit through diet and/or exercise, being patient and consistent with your efforts, prioritising rest and recovery time, and maintaining hormonal balance through healthy lifestyle practices. With dedication and hard work, anyone can achieve their fat loss goals in a safe and sustainable way.

Metabolic adaptation


Metabolic adaptation refers to the changes in the body’s metabolism that occur as a result of changes in body weight, body composition, and physical activity levels. It is a complex process that involves numerous physiological mechanisms, including changes in hormone levels, neurotransmitters, and enzyme activity.

Weight gain, whether it is in the form of muscle or fat, can lead to metabolic adaptation. Muscle gain can increase metabolic rate as muscle tissue requires more energy to maintain compared to fat tissue. On the other hand, fat gain can cause a decrease in metabolic rate due to a decrease in physical activity levels and hormonal changes.

Fat loss through a caloric deficit can also lead to metabolic adaptation. When the body is in a caloric deficit, it may adjust its metabolism to conserve energy, leading to a decrease in metabolic rate. This is the body’s way of adapting to the decreased caloric intake.

Similarly, muscle loss due to inadequate protein intake or decreased physical activity levels can also lead to metabolic adaptation. This is because muscle tissue is metabolically active and contributes to the body’s overall metabolic rate.

In summary, metabolic adaptation is a complex process that can be influenced by various factors, including body weight, body composition, and physical activity levels. Understanding how these factors impact metabolic adaptation can help individuals design more effective weight loss or muscle gain programmes that take into account the body’s physiological responses.

How long should You bulk or cut?

Diet Time

Now that we’ve covered some of the science behind bulking or cutting, what are the practical takeaways and ultimately what do I advise? It’s important to note that we are all different, and when it comes to goal setting this is no different. The duration of a bulking or cutting phase depends on various factors such as individual goals, body composition, and lifestyle. However, a general rule of thumb is to spend an adequate amount of time in each phase to allow for sustainable progress and avoid negative impacts on your health. It’s important to avoid rushing the process and to focus on steady, long-term progress. Remember that health and fitness are a journey, not a quick fix. With proper planning, patience, and consistency, you can achieve your goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

What we’ve looked at so far is the idea that people bulk for 6 months and cut for six months, but this does pose significant drawbacks. This approach may not be enough time to grow substantial muscle size and strength and also be too long spent in a caloric deficit, risking the loss therefore of hard earned muscle being catabolised in the absence of fuel. Longer term leading to the eventual decline of a weaker and weaker body. Which makes it a constant and harder battle to fight in relation to sustaining a muscular physique. 

The science points to a longer more sustained approach for both bulking and cutting. The longer term results it may yield are likely to be superior in contrast to the up and down 6 month cycle adopted by so many. If you are on the back of a serious cut, getting your body fat percentage down to low single figures (for a man) Low teens (for a lady) then I advise to take a break of at least 12-18 months after before beginning your next preparation. to either cut for a show (competitors / professional athletes) or allocate twice the amount of time to reverse diet and growing as you did to your recent dieting / cutting phase. For instance, if you spent 3 months cutting down, dedicate at least 6 months building calories back up and growing. This will help your body adjust and prevent any potential setbacks. 

The problem with staying lean all year round or trying to, is that eventually your body will adapt making it harder and harder for you to sustain muscle, whilst keeping body fat down. This is otherwise know as metabolic adaptation, whereby your body slows down the rate in which it burns calories. Another issue is the body’s response to a perceived famine, again metabolism is slowed and muscle can start to be catabolised for energy in the absence of sufficient fuel. This may be know as the starvation response, quite literally a biological response by your body to protect you from starving yourself to death. This means fat loss becomes much harder and the risk of muscle loss becomes greater. We don’t want this. 

By spending more time meeting your energy demands and consuming wholesome, nutrient dense foods your body can become optimised for health before attempting to take it down to low levels again, either for a holiday or competition let’s say.

The duration of a bulking or cutting phase depends on various factors such as individual goals, body composition, and lifestyle. However, a general rule of thumb is to spend an adequate amount of time in each phase to allow for sustainable progress and avoid negative impacts on your health. It’s important to avoid rushing the process and to focus on steady, long-term progress.

Remember that health and fitness are a journey, not a quick fix. With proper planning, patience, and consistency, you can achieve your goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Consider one of our coaching programmes designed to support you with fitness, nutrition and mindset strategies to deliver both short and long term achievements.