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What Are Bulking and Cutting?

Bulking and cutting are two new buzz words floating around the floor of the gym these days.  As with most new exercise programs or fitness philosophies, fancy names have been given to basic workout principles.  In this case, bulking is building muscle and cutting is losing fat.  These fancy named programs can work, but there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths surrounding them, making it difficult to execute properly and safely.  We highly recommend speaking with a Balance trainer prior to starting a bulking or cutting routine.

Believe it or not, if you have been exercising for a while, there is a good chance you’ve been bulking or cutting at some point in your fitness career.  Back in the day, men were typically the ones bulking and women were usually doing the cutting.  However, with strong being the new skinny for women, these old school rules don’t apply anymore.  When you claim that you are bulking or cutting, it is considered the time you put into either gaining weight and increasing strength, or losing fat and losing weight.  Most bulking and cutting phases are typically around 4-12 weeks.

Bulk to Hulk!

During a bulking phase, your goals are usually simple.

  • Build Muscle
  • Gain Weight
  • Increase Strength

In its most simple form, bulking is increasing your caloric intake.   However, leaving it this simple can mean big problems in reaching your bulking goals.  Simply adding calories is not necessarily going to get you stronger, put on “good weight” or make you look better.  When bulking, you need to pay attention to the type of calories you are intaking, the nutrient value, the “clean” value, and the type of weight you are packing on.

So, if your gym bro is telling you to eat everything in the house, butter your cereal, or yell Chips Ahoy every time you sit down for a meal, you may want to do some more research.  In fact, there is a limit to the amount of calories you can put towards your muscle growth.   If you consume more calories than your body can convert to muscle, you’ll be getting fat, probably really fat. You need to pay attention to the extra calories you are consuming and the rate at which you are converting them to muscle.

Oh, besides the bad weight you put on from eating the box of Fruity Pebbles, you are probably going to feel terrible.  If your body is not use to eating that type of garbage at an unsustainable rate, it is going to let you know and it won’t be pleasant.

A better approach to your bulk phase still requires a caloric surplus, but needs to be well thought out, monitored, and measured.  So, slow your tootsie roll and give yourself the proper amount of time to put on lean muscle mass.  The bulk needs to be slow and steady, a rate in which you can grow muscle without growing your belly.

Tips for Bulking

  • You need a caloric surplus to gain weight. Multiply your bodyweight x 18 calories. For example, if you are 145 lbs. you would be eating 2610 calories.
  • Women should not be scared to bulk! Strong is the new skinny!
  • The majority of your calories should be in the form of protein and complex carbs.
  • Clean bulking makes for easier cutting.
  • Figure out your daily calorie goals based on your age, weight, metabolism and body fat percentage (ask a Balance trainer for help).
  • Monitor your protein Intake. Eat 1.1-1.4 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
  • Monitor your fat intake. Your fat intake should be about 20% of your total caloric intake.
  • Make sure your carbohydrates are complex (vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, nuts, sees, whole grains) and not refined (sugar, sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice).
  • Incorporate pre and post workout meals/shakes.


Shredded Wheat, the Cutting Phase!

The cut phase is a 4-12 week diet and exercise program in which you cut your caloric intake to lose weight, lose fat, and hopefully get leaner and more defined.  Similar to the bulking phase, cutting the wrong way is very common, can waste your time and become dangerous.  Again, we need to slow it down.  Massive weight loss in a short time is not good for you, isn’t sustainable, and can cause terrible habits.

Some common mistakes we see during the cutting phase is reducing your caloric intake too much, too fast.  Other common mistakes include, spending too much time doing cardio, not doing the right types of cardio, and not monitoring your nutritional intake. Unfortunately, these mistakes can make you lose the lean muscle you spent so much time trying to build during your bulking phase.  You need to properly prepare for your cutting phase, make sure it is done the right way, and work very hard to lose fat and not lose lean muscle mass.

Many people think that massive amounts of cardio is going to help you get the results you want during your cutting phase.  Cardio is an important part of this phase, but the right cardio is the key to getting good results.  We recommend a combination of interval and steady-state cardio training for your cutting phase.  Steady-state cardio involves working at a low to moderate intensity, usually around 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for a sustained period of time.  You won’t burn a massive amount of calories, but it will burn a higher percentage of fat tissue.   Interval training is tough work and requires switching from 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate to 55 to 60 percent.  You want to alternate these rates, which will allow you to burn more calories than a typical steady-state workout.   If you want to really dial in your cardio workouts, try doing your steady-state work in the morning and your interval training after strength or weight training.  Try to get in three steady-state workouts and two interval training workouts a week.

The cutting phase requires knowledge and  expertise.  You can find a lot of great resources online, however, we highly recommend you speak and work with a trainer during  your cut phase.  Below are a few tips to help you get started, but speaking with a Balance trainer is going to be the best advice we can provide in this article.

Tips for Cutting

  • Hydrate! Up your water (and not other drinks).
  • Monitor your nutritional intake. The best way to monitor your nutrients is to cook your own meals.  There are plenty of resources out there for menu options, find a few that you like and stick to them throughout your cutting phase.  Make sure you are getting  lots of protein and fiber, avoiding sugar, reducing cooking oil, and taking in clean complex carbohydrates.
  • Increase your cardio. High intensity cardio will heighten your metabolic rate and burn more calories.  Cardio is a great way to lose the calories you’ve eaten (and cheated).
  • Create as much lean muscle mass as possible during your bulking phase. The more lean muscle you can pack up during the bulking phase, the easier your cut with be.  Bulking and cutting isn’t about shrinking, it is about reshaping.
  • Anticipate and learn how to deal with being hungry.

If you want to give bulking and cutting a try, come in and speak with one of the Balance trainers.  They will be a great resource and we think working with them during these phases will drastically improve your results, provide you with the knowledge you need for future workouts and be a great motivator to stay on track.  Call a Fitness Consultant at one of Balance’s convenient locations.


  • Balance at Glover Park: (202) 965-2121
  • Balance at Thomas Circle: (202) 216-9000
  • Balance at Foggy Bottom: (202) 457-5070
  • Balance at Capitol Hill: (202) 450-5448