If you are bodybuilding and building a physique of any kind (I’m not just talking about people who enter bodybuilding competitions here) then planning your fat loss and muscle building phases can often be quite tricky.
You’ll forever be in pursuit of wanting to gain size and lean muscle tissue but also lean enough to show it off. These two concepts do not work well together for 99% of people and this is why a bulking and cutting phase is usually needed.
Dedicated time in which you look dedicate all your efforts to building muscle mass followed by a dedicated period of time in which you cut body fat, see what was hiding underneath, and prime yourself for another muscle-building phase. The problem is most people don’t know when to stop cutting.
When should you stop cutting for bodybuilding? Most people should stop cutting when they reach a goal body fat percentage of between 7% – 10%. This figure will vary depending on individual goals but a body fat percentage in this range is attainable for most non-competitive bodybuilders and can be maintained comfortably before a bulking phase.
Everyone will of course have specific goals and targets when it comes to bodybuilding but if you don’t have a coach or plan on entering any competitions and purely engage in bodybuilding to improve your physique, it can be difficult to know when you should stop cutting.
In this article, I’ll therefore run through what you should be considering during a cutting phase (goals, timelines, motivations), how long a cutting phase will generally last, and finally, when you should stop cutting.
When Should You Stop Cutting
As soon as you start cutting and restrict some of your favorite treats, start getting on the Stairmaster or going for your daily walks, and when your energy starts dropping and lifting weights becomes harder you’ll already be thinking about when you can stop cutting.
Bulking can be hard if you don’t have a big appetite but there are hacks/tricks that allow you to easily overcome it. Cutting, on the other hand, can be incredibly draining both physically and mentally so I never blame people for wanting it to be over as quickly as possible.
Fad or crash diets work well because most people want quick results when it comes to a physique and the one advantage that bodybuilders have over the average gym-goer is that you can understand building a good physique takes time.
It takes time to build muscle and it takes time to lose body fat, if your truly in the bodybuilding mindset and not the “weightloss” mindset, then you’ll want to lose the most body fat possible on a cut whilst also preserving as much muscle mass as possible.
The crash diets, excessive calorie deficits, and desperate timelines mean that most people cutting will start to sacrifice muscle tissue in order to lose body fat quickly and that is pretty much unacceptable when bodybuilding.
Lean muscle mass is hard to build and your priority should always to hold on to as much muscle mass as possible regardless of what bodybuilding phase you are in.
As soon as your cut gets difficult (or even before cutting in some cases), you will likely be wondering when should you stop cutting? The answer to this will depend on a few key questions that you’ll need to ask yourself:
- What is your cutting goal (to get to a maintainable body fat percentage of 10%-12% or do you want to get competition shredded at <8% body fat)?
- Do you want to lose X amount of weight? This is usually a poor option to consider and I’ll cover it shortly but for now, you want to think in terms of losing body fat and not just losing weight.
- How long do you want to spend cutting? If you are planning to start a cut on December 1st then you either have a lot of willpower or you’ve not thought this cutting phase through properly. Timeframes are not definite but they should be a factor.
- What is your starting position? This is the most important question that you need to consider. If you are 24% body fat and want to get your abs on show then you are going to be on a much longer cut than the person at 15% body fat who just wants to cut some body fat for a holiday.
As you can see, the length of a cut will depend on quite a few factors and you need to get clear on these from the very beginning in order to manage expectation and also be realistic in your goals.
To use that above example again, if you are 24% body fat and want your abs on show, a 4,8, or even 12-week program is very unlikely to produce these results. Knowing your starting point is really to a key factor in determining how long a cut will last.
Once you have this starting point, then you can start looking into how long typical cuts will last.
How Long Are You Supposed to Cut For (H2)
The length of a cut will often be determined by either a specific timeline such as wanting to get in shape for a holiday or it will be based on an ideal physique target based on reaching a certain body fat percentage.
The latter is usually the target that will result in the best physique as you are not restricting yourself to a timeframe, though timeframes are useful to track progress. If you focus on a specific timeframe such as 12 weeks to get “shredded”, then you will likely resort to some extreme dieting techniques in order to reach a certain weight goal.
This will usually involve cutting calories too much and placing yourself into a very high-calorie deficit which will result in muscle loss alongside fat loss and you’ll also resort to excessive amounts of cardio.
Aiming for a body fat percentage goal (usually in the area of 10% for most people wanting an attainable and fairly ripped physique) will often yield better results than just aiming for a target bodyweight goal. The reason for this is that when bodybuilding, you will likely overestimate what bodyweight you need to get to in order to hold a lean and ripped physique.
A good rule of thumb is that whatever bodyweight you think you need to be at, subtract another 8-10lbs for a more realistic target. With body fat percentages, however, 10% is fairly set in stone that your abs will be on show and you’ll be lean.
I use 10% as a random example as most bodybuilders are looking to get to 8-10% body fat during their fat loss/cutting phase. Whatever your target, the goal should be to reach a specific body fat percentage that can be supported by a consistent and manageable rate of fat loss.
The length of time will vary for everyone and in this cutting article, I discuss why a 12-week cut will work for some people whilst 52 weeks could be more realistic for others.
It will all depend on your starting point but for those that are bodybuilding, it’s safe to assume you already carry a decent amount of muscle mass without too much excess body fat, in which case 12 – 24 weeks could be realistic.
Other Factors (H2)
It’s perfectly fine for me to say preserve muscle mass, take it slow, pick a body fat percentage, and don’t focus so much on scale weight but there will of course be some factors that you need to consider that will strongly determine when you should stop cutting.
Training level – An advanced lifter who has done a cuttign phase before will be much better suited than a beginner. Diet breaks, macro-control, and optimized hormones will all be in favor of an advanced lifter and they will therefore be able to cut down more effectively and in a shorter timeframe than beginners looking to rush the process.
Coaching – Having a dedicated coach or personal trainer will not only help keep you accountable and track your progress but they’ll ensure you are following a proven process at times when you might not have the knowledge.
A good coach will help you burn body fat at an optimal rate (fast but not rushed) whilst also maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. This will of course come with a monetary cost but it could be the difference between a successful 12-week cut or a solo attempt that sees you make minimal progress in that same timeframe!
Motivation – Cutting is hard, while you should stop cutting once you reach your personal goal, you also need to appreciate that breaks are needed if you are bodybuilding but not competing. If your cravings are high, energy is low and motivation is low, there is no harm in taking a short diet break.
This is something a coach will usually oversee but 2-4 days of higher carbs (not necessarily cheat days) can do wonders for long term progress. The aim should not be to cut as fast as possible but as effectively as possible so researching tips like that are key to keeping motivation high and progress moving.
Final Thoughts (H2)
Have you been putting yourself through a grueling cutting phase to the point that your energy is depleted, you are constantly hungry, and always seem to be in a bad mood? If so, chances are that you have been on a cut for far too long.
Setting a realistic target should be based on a body fat percentage and not a weight goal or set timeline. This will lead to rushed methods of dieting that will end up being catabolic and impact the muscle mass that you worked so hard to build in the first place.
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