Bulk or Cut – Should I Build Muscle or Lose Fat First?

I’ve previously covered the basics of bulking and cutting the right way and the wrong way. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap…

  • A person would “bulk” when their primary goal is to build muscle.
  • A person would “cut” when their primary goal is to lose fat.
  • To do this the right way and get the best results possible, the true goal while bulking is to build muscle while keeping fat gains to an absolute minimum. When cutting, the true goal is to lose fat while maintaining all of the muscle you’ve built. If you do it the wrong way like so many people do, you’d gain too much excess body fat while bulking and/or lose too much lean muscle while cutting and basically spin your wheels and get nowhere.
  • A person would then alternate between phases of bulking and cutting until they’re as lean and muscular as they desire.

Now after hearing all of this, there are always three questions that come to mind.

  1. Which phase should I start with? Should I bulk or cut first?
  2. How long should each phase last before switching to the other?
  3. The hell with these stupid phases, why don’t we all just lose fat and build muscle at the same time?

Now those last two questions are really good and I get asked both all the time. The thing is, their answers are a little complicated and will take an entire article of their own to properly explain. As it turns out, I’ve recently answered #3 over here: How To Lose Fat And Build Muscle At The Same Time. But right here and now, it’s the first question that I want to focus on and answer.

Should I Build Muscle or Lose Fat First?

If you’re asking this question, then there’s one safe assumption I can make about you… you currently have body fat you’d like to lose AND muscle you’d like to gain. Obvious, right?

But I mention it to make sure we understand that if you’re just fat and don’t really care much about building muscle, you wouldn’t be asking this question. You’d just lose fat first because that’s the primary (or only) goal you care about. The same goes for if you’re already pretty lean/skinny. In that case, you don’t care about losing any more fat… you just want to build muscle.

But if you’re asking this question, then you obviously want or need to do both. You just can’t figure out which to do first.

And in that case, while there are a few factors to consider when making this decision, there’s one that matters more than all of them…

What Is Your Current Body Fat Percentage?

As I mentioned before, the key to doing a “smart” bulk and ending up with something good to show for it in the end is to avoid gaining excess body fat while you build muscle.

Your diet and weight training routine are the key factors in optimizing this muscle:fat gain ratio, but there’s actually something else in your control that plays a significant role in this area: your current body fat percentage. Why? Because…

The fatter you are and the higher your body fat percentage gets, the worse your calorie partitioning gets and the more likely your body is to start storing excess calories as fat instead of muscle.

Not to mention, the fatter you are when you start to bulk, the fatter you’re going to be when you end it. Aside from just giving yourself a longer “clean up” job to do when you finally cut (which only increases the potential for muscle loss), this also means you’re going to spend a nice amount of time during the year unnecessarily looking like crap.

Wow, fun!

For these reasons (and others), starting a bulk (and therefore creating the caloric surplus required for building muscle) when in an already-fat state is just a recipe for disaster.

Instead, the ideal starting point for a muscle building phase is when you are at least somewhat lean. How lean exactly? Well, you don’t have to be super ripped with an 8 pack or anything like that (although you certainly can). But, to a certain point, the leaner the better.

  • For men, this typically means 10-13% body fat (or less).
  • For women, 19-23% body fat (or less).

Starting higher than that can work of course, it’s just probably going to yield sub-optimal results.

But No One Actually Knows Their Body Fat Percentage

However, since most people have no idea what their body fat levels truly are and the typical methods for finding it (online calculators and digital body fat scales) mostly suck, the average person won’t really know for sure if they are indeed at this “at least somewhat lean” status.

So, here’s my advice. Take off some clothes and look in the mirror. Or, take some pictures. Do you look like someone whose #1 goal right now should be losing fat or building muscle?

Use your best unbiased judgment here. Would you consider yourself “at least somewhat lean” and ready to start building some muscle, or would you consider yourself in too much of an already fat state to create a caloric surplus and gain the small amount of fat that will almost always accompany even the smartest of smart bulks?

Then, find your answer below….

I’m In An Already Fat State

If you do indeed consider yourself as being in too much of an already fat state, then the very best thing you can do now is cut first and lose that fat.

Once you’ve lost enough fat and reach “at least somewhat lean” status, that’s when you should start a full muscle building “bulk” phase and create the caloric surplus you need to build that new muscle. Your results will be WAY better this way, trust me.

That doesn’t mean you should hold off on (or stop) weight training until you reach that point of leanness. You should definitely still weight train the entire time. It will help a bit with the fat loss, and even more importantly, it’s the ONLY WAY you will maintain the muscle and strength you currently have.

I’m At Least Somewhat Lean

In this case, while bulking might be the obvious decision, you can technically start off with whichever phase you want based on what’s most important to you right now.

For example, you might want to build more muscle. That might be your #1 long term goal. But if you have some good reason or preference in the short term for getting even leaner than you currently are (some kind of event coming up, curious to see what a six pack looks like, want to start your bulk as lean as possible, etc.), then hey… go for it and then start to bulk right after that.

But if you’re lean enough to start bulking and all you really care about is just building more muscle already, then let the bulk begin!

You can focus on getting extra lean later on when you actually have some muscle mass to uncover.

Start Right, Do It Smartly, Switch, Repeat

So, here’s how it works. Use your current body fat percentage to help you determine if you should bulk or cut first.

Whichever it is, make sure your diet and workout are designed as intelligently as possible so you don’t gain excess body fat while you bulk, and you don’t lose any muscle mass while you cut. This step is key.

Then, after you’ve put in enough time, effort and consistency for progress to be made, switch on over to the other phase and do the same. Depending on exactly what your goals are and exactly how much muscle you want to build and how much fat you want/need to lose, you can repeat this process as many times as needed.

When you end up with your ideal “dream” body… you win!

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  1. Brandon says

    When bulking, do you mean 300 extra calories on top of the recommend daily allowance? Should these be protein?
    Also is bulking high weight low reps and 10min cardio?


  2. Bob says

    Unfortunately, because of not being vigorously active as I used to be, I am 6’3 weight 203 pounds. I am not obese, but at the same time I have some belly fat. My legs look fatter than before. In the past, I have exercised a lot and lifted a lot. But then again, I doubt I still have a lot of lean muscle. What should I do?

  3. Osvaldo Milian says

    Hey Jay,

    Im 5’8″, currently 136 pounds but as a teen i was always around the 155-160 pound range and was chubby. Over the years i began to weight train on and off and lost considarable amount of weight but never really lost all of the fat that i had when i was chubby. Now at 136, i still feel that i have some excess fat mainly around my waist, lower abs area, and lower chest. My question is whether I should first try to eliminate that excess fat first before trying to do a muscle building beginner routine and how exactly would i go about doing that, or should I just start doing a muscle building workout like your recommended beginners routine. Please let me know thank you.

    P.S. awesome job with the site, has great information.

  4. Tyler Gibson says

    Hi there, I just want to say that this is probably the greatest site ever! I have one quick question , though, purely out of curiosity. WHO ARE YOU?? LOL Are you a personal trainer? I know you have done tons and tons of research throughout time, but what motivated you to do so? You sound very much like an experienced trainer. So I was just wondering if that’s what you are.

  5. Kyle says

    Hey Jay – great article again; keep them coming!

    I am down to 9-10 % body fat and will be starting my first bulk phase in about two weeks when i am down to 7-8% body fat (started at around 20%, so the results using your sites have been fantastic to say the least!)

    Anyway, my question is this: When bulking at a rate to add about 0.5 pounds per week (250 calorie daily surplus as you recommend), what percent of the weight gained can I expect to be muscle vs. fat assuming I do everything in all of your articles (lifting heavy, etc.) correctly? For example, will the breakdown be 70% muscle/30% fat, 80%/20%, etc.? I assume this highly depends on genetics as well as many other factors, but is there a general estimate that you could give for somebody bulking at under 10% body fat to start? Or is there an article somewhere that you would recommend about this? I am just hoping to get a solid estimate as I plan out my bulking phase.

    Thanks so much for your sites!

    • says

      Awesome to hear it dude! I hope you’re taking pics. ;)

      As for your question, it comes down to a few things. One is experience level (beginner has the potential to gain more muscle than someone advanced). Another is age (18 year old guy has the potential to gain more muscle than a 48 year old guy). Another is overall diet and training, which of course can make an extremely HUGE difference here. Meaning, eat/train like an idiot, and it can very well be almost entirely all fat and no muscle. Eat/train perfectly, and you’ll increase the potential for muscle growth to the highest level it can go.

      How high is that? That all comes down to the last factor here, which is genetics. For some with horrible genetics, they can do EVERYTHING just right and at best reach a 30/70 ratio of muscle to fat. For someone else with awesome genetics, maybe 70/30. I’ve heard someone claim 50/50 is a common decent ratio for the average person. It might be.

      So the answer here is basically I have no clue and no one else really knows either. All you can do is try to optimize your diet and training as well as you can, so you’ll do as well as your genetically capable of doing.

      • Kyle says

        Thanks for the quick response – that helps a lot!

        I have been taking pics every Monday morning. (Along with body fat measurements, etc.) I also weigh myself every morning at the same time then take weekly averages to reduce some of the daily variations. (I have some pretty elaborate Excel spreadsheets going by now to record and plan out everything :D)

        I am a 23 year-old beginner, and I have been cutting for nearly 3 months now – hopefully my age and inexperience will help me out here. My training and diet are both based off of your articles, and I am confident they are leading me in the right direction and will continue to do so! (Again – cannot thank you enough for laying this information out.)

        It looks like the big unknown factor is going to be genetics (as usual). I am anxious to see how this works out as this is the first smart bulk I will have gone through. My final goal is to get to about 170 pounds and 6-7% body fat – based on my predictions, it looks like this will take about 2 years to happen (currently ~138 pounds and ~9% body fat; started at ~158 pounds and ~20% body fat).

        Anyway, thanks for being awesome, and I will keep the results coming!

  6. Abdelrahman says

    Hi i don’t know what my body fat percentage is but i barely see my 4 pack abs and have fat on my legs my upper body is start to lose it’s fat but my lower stomach keep losing and coming again what should i do bulk then lose fat or complete the task of losing fat first ?
    Great article Btw i love it :)

  7. KildareIan85 says

    Hi, I am male, 28, 5 foot 11 inches and I am pretty skinny all round althought not toned at all. My only area of concern is belly fat. Its not much but sticks out when I sit a good bit or if i wear a t-shirt you can see it. I look 3 months pregnant ha. So I want to build muscle and tone up. But what should my diet be to lose that belly fat yet gain muscle? Should I lift? Cardio? Both? What do I eat?


  8. Tudor says

    Hi mate liked you post really made sense on the answers I was looking for, could you give me some advice please, I’m 31 male and been lifting for many years, I’m at 16%bf which I’ve got down to from 22%, I’ve been leaning out and cutting up and have built up some good muscle but it’s taken some time, i want to do a “bulk” regime and am build some more muscle then cut, do u think this is a good idea? And how many colories should I take daily and should it be a clean diet intake thanks.

    • says

      If you’re legitimately 16% body fat, I’d recommend getting a bit leaner before going into a surplus and bulking.

      When you do start bulking, a surplus of about 250 cals per day is usually perfect for most people.

  9. Alan says

    Hi, i am 5 11 and 171 pounds. I had a can done and my body fat percentage is 14% I’m currently trying to get down to around 8% ideally. I am also trying to put on lean muscle. Maybe to a total of 182 pounds. Should I just keep trying to do both at the same time or would u suggest bulking then cutting.

      • Alan says

        Ok so I prob shouldn’t start to bulk until around 10% bf? When I got my scan it gave me my resting metabolic rate at 1987 cal/day and to maintain weight to be 2100 cal a day. Does this sound about right to you and if so what sort of cal intake should I use while cutting down to my 10% which is about 8 pounds.

        • says

          Ideally you’d get down to 10-12% before going into a surplus and bulking.

          As for your calorie intake for fat loss, figure out your maintenance level and create a deficit of about 15-20%.

  10. Osvaldo Milian says

    Hi, im 5’8″ and 136 pounds, with around 17% body fat, do you think i should cut or bulk first?, i mainly ask because i have some excess fat around my waist area, lower abs, and lower chest.

    Thank you.

  11. Osvaldo Milian says

    Also, since im currently using dextrose along with whey as my post workout drink, how much dextrose would you recommend me to add if im cutting?

    Thanks in advance

    • says

      I’d recommend eating the right total amount of calories, protein, fat and carbs that you need to eat per day. After that, if you prefer to use dextrose post workout, just make sure it fits into those totals.

  12. Kyle says

    Hey again Jay,

    I finally hit my first cut goal of 135 pounds and 6% body fat! Thank you for all your help so far; I am extremely excited to keep it going!

    Quick and probably common question for you – Do you have any tips for transitioning from cutting to bulking? Do I just go right from my cutting phase one day to my bulking phase the very next, or do I need to do this gradually or anything?

    Also, will I put on extra weight the first few days of this bulk just from the body’s reaction to more calories again or extra water being retained?


    • says


      Yup, you definitely want to be gradual about it. Move from the deficit back up to maintenance and stay there for about 2 weeks. Then, create your surplus.

      And yeah, your weight will go up pretty much instantly from a combination of water, refilled glycogen stores, and just the fact that there’s additional food in your stomach.

  13. George says

    Im 18, 5’10 and approximately 13% body fat.. I can just about see the outline of my upper abs, but my lower ones are lost in a layer of fat..
    I have tried for a while to loose the rest of the fat, but can’t seem to push throuh the barrier. .
    Just wondering what advice you could give me as to whether I should start building muscle or continue trying to loose fat. Honestly I’d love a six pack, but I think having more muscle on me may help to achieve my goals

    • says

      This articles contains the advice you’re looking for. At 13% you’re kind of on the border of being lean enough to bulk and fat enough to keep cutting. If you’d like to have a six pack (like you said), then by all means feel free to get a little leaner first.

      As for that “barrier” you mentioned being stuck at, a caloric deficit is the barrier buster.

  14. supersadie says

    5’5.5″ 127lbs. Female, 49.
    Been doing weights, core exercises and cardio. 40 minutes in the gym three or four times a week. Would like more defined arms and abs, especially a flatter lower ab area (wouldn’t we all?)
    Cut some alcohol and carbs from my week, increased protein and ended up losing about a lb a week. My midsection has reduced but my lower ab is still a little ring of surplus fat.Don’t especially want to lose more weight. Any way of getting rid of the little donut?

    • says

      Well, if you have more fat to lose, it’s pretty much just a matter of continuing losing fat. It will eventually come off from the specific spot you want it to.

      And yes, losing that fat will most likely require losing more weight. Why? Read this one.

  15. Max says

    You, are awesome.

    The first site I’ve found that *directly* answers the question of whether to bulk or cut first! Brilliant.

    I’m 6 foot, 187 pound, 32 years old male. “Skinny fat” — skinny forearms, neck, and no chest, but a 38″ waist. According to the bodyfat thing on my scales, it says 23% bodyfat.

    So, by your definition, I should cut first, right? I don’t workout at the moment, so if I start weight training, I don’t think I could possibly lose muscle, considering I don’t do anything at the moment.


      • Max says

        Hey man. I took your advice, read your posts, applied the knowlege. I went in calory deficit like you suggested. It’s been a few weeks. I’m now down to 35″ waist, 18% BF, 17 pounds lighter.

        I haven’t been working out yet, but intend to from next week. Have worked out all my protein/fat/carb percentages. I’ll be sure to eat the right amount of protein from the day I start working out. I intend to do your beginner routine for like 6 months.

        Only one slight thing I’m concerned about. Is it going to be ok to train while in calorie deficit? I could do it at maintenance, but I’m not sure if the fat will continue to drop. But in deficit with doing the beginner routine, the body will cope ok?

  16. Ash says

    Hey I’m just above 5’11, 78Kg, 60kg is about LBM (apparently)Which is disgusting for someone of my age (recently just turned 19) . I play a lot of football (soccer) well I used to, But I still play more then the average joe. Apparently my body fat percentage is at 25% but somehow I can stil see my top abs, I’m just not toned I just wanna know how to cut efficiently as I’m trying to create my own nutrition and workout plan to improve athletically. What macro nutrient ratio? When should I eat? Should i Use a fat burner supplement? High intense interval? Weights? Both? Thanks

  17. Polar Bear says

    First off – let me start by saying Thank You.

    I spend a considerable amount of time searching the web for information on working out and this article is very well written and explained. So thank you for that.

    I have an interesting problem and I’m not sure what to do. I think I would be what you could call “Skinny Fat”. Where I seem to have skinny legs and arms (lean) but my fat is on my chest and a little on my tummy. I saw you mention gynecomastia and after checking it out I’m not sure I am as severe as the wiki makes it out to be. However my personal problem area is my chest (and a little on the tummy). In fact, I feel like I have a lot of excess skin.

    I know it’s hard to judge without pictures. I’m at 160lbs now. I’ve been working out for a while and I’m pretty happy with the progress. I bench 195 and I curl 40lbs (finally) so I think muscles are where they should be.

    My problem now is how to lose this skin or fat. Using the body fat calipers it puts me at 20% mainly due to the amount of skin you can pull from the back/sides.

    My question is – what’s a good way to “tone up”. I just started working in cardio to my routine. I lift 3x a week and I run 3x a week, but only for 20 min using sprint/jog intervals.

    As an aside: I also noticed that I seem to be at a neutral weight for my body. If I have a few healthy days, or unhealthy days, I don’t really notice a difference, and if I do my body returns to this state within 2 weeks.

    Any advice would be helpful


    • says

      Well, there’s really no such thing as “toning up.” You can only lose or gain fat, or gain or lose muscle. That’s basically all the human body can do in this regard.

      So if it’s fat, it’s just a matter of creating a deficit and losing fat. If it’s loose skin (or gynecomastia… there are much more mild versions of it), then that may require some form of surgery.

  18. Dreambodychaser says

    Hey there

    Great articles!

    I’m 5’9 and 170lbs. This is my first effort at bulking, and I haven’t struggled so far, food is awesome! I’ve been bulking for two months and gained 10lbs so far, and no real noticeable fat. I have been training between 3-5 days per week, all weights, no cardio. I’m going on holiday in two months and want to look good so I’m thinking of trying to cut. Is two months enough time to become lean without the muscle loss?
    Any suggestions on workout routines? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!


  19. Big belly says

    Hi, I am 20 years old male. I am 5″6 and 155lb. While I do have fat throughout my body, majority of my fat is at my stomach. I had tried workout program such as P90X and rushfit and while I do gain some muscle and definition I could not reduce my belly fat so I never finish any of them. I really want to lose my belly fat and get that flat belly, though not necessary a six pack, that I always been dream of. So should I follow a get lean plan to lose my belly fat? And if I do, how could I prevent muscle loss? Thank you.

  20. Anna says

    Okay, I will admit it. I’m lost. And I have two questions.

    1. I have always heard/read that when working out one should do both strength training AND cardio because you want to work out your muscles while you are burning the fat that covers them. Strength training also (allegedly) burns more calories which in turn makes it EASIER to lose weight. I was told to eat enough to build muscles but not enough to create fat. So drop your calories (to lose fat) but not to such a deficit that you will start losing muscle. Is this correct? OR can you explain/direct me to the correct way to do things?

    2. I am THAT person who seems to have done both at the same time. I dropped pounds according to the scale, lost inches according to my tape measure, and my strength increased (lifting heavier weights, performing more difficult physical tasks) all at the same time. My question is in regards to the HOW? Or WHY? Was I just lucky OR what exactly happened?? Was I doing more of one or the other than I thought I was and so it LOOKED like I was doing both at the same time but I really wasn’t??

    I am starting back up exercising after a hiatus and I was planning to do what I had done before (boot camp style training, kickboxing, lifting weights, run a couple times a week) but now I am curious if I will actually get results and/or why I got the results I did the first time.

    Thanks so much for reading.

  21. Ange says

    Hi, I have just spent all day reading your website and I found it all just made sense!!! However, I have one conflict which is the amount of protein I should be eating. I have read that you should be eating (as an example) 1 lb of protein per lean body mass whereas you have mentioned it should be (as an example) 1 lb of protein per body weight. I do realise it would be difficult to work out my lean body mass. Can you please clarify this one small query for me. I am a new fan of yours!!!!

    • says

      Using your lean body mass to calculate protein is one good way of doing it, but since most people have no clue what that number truly is (but everyone knows how much they weigh), it’s just much quicker and easier to go with 1g per pound of body weight.

      The one major exception here would be someone who is above averagely overweight, in which case going with 1g per pound of target body weight is usually a better choice.

  22. Chris says

    Your article has been very informative. I have a question I hope you can answer.
    I’ve been dieting now for 9 months. Down to 198 lbs from 255. I want to start bulking. Maybe back up to around 210 or 215 before I cut down again. Ideally I’d like to be right at around 205 lbs. but with nice definition and tone. I am 5’11”. Now I’ve been eating around 1940 calories a day. 60g of fat. 140 g carbs and 210-220 grams of protein a day. Less on the carbs to help me cut the fat. High on the protein to hopefully keep the muscle I have. My thing is, I want to do a lean bulk. I know I will gain some fat with any bulk but how do I minimize that? Also I should be eating around 3400 cals a day for a .5 lb gain a week. Slow and steady is what I read is best for a lean mass gain. Now should u jump right to 3400 cals from 1940 a day. Or do about a week at 2600 cals a day and work my way up? Also should my macros be around 80g fat 300g carbs and 280g protein during this bulk? Also I am around 18% body fat. I know I should be lower before a bulk but I feel I have been dieting for entirely too long. My gut is gone. Stomach is almost
    Completely flat. No 6 pack tho. Will this hinder my goals? Hope you can help me. Thanks


    • says

      Definitely adjust your calorie intake gradually in small increments. Don’t just go from 1940 to 3400 overnight. Add a small amount each week until your weight starts doing what it should be at the rate it should be.

      As for minimizing fat gains, I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the future. Until then, besides the obvious (optimal diet and training), keep your rate of weight gain slow. For a guy, shoot for no more than 2lbs gained per month.

      And with your body fat percentage, for the best results you should typically wait until you get to 10-12% body fat before bulking.

  23. Shane says


    I am male, age 32 and 5ft8in

    I started dieting 18 months ago and lost about 40 pounds but pretty much hit 170 pound mark and just could not lose weight no matter what I did (i kept trying for 4-5 months with diet break etc to try kick start losing again. I bought some digital calipers that had me around 11% but my trainer said i looked more 15% which most people say you should not bulk at. I look ok apart from quite love handles. The thing is has really got me down so i decided to go on bulk and started working cals up 100 a week. I am at 2000 so far from 1600 and my weight has more or less stayed the same. I was basically thinking I would let myself creep up 10-12 pounds and start dieting again. I guess I am looking for some reassurance that what I am doing is ok because the trainer say i should just keep dieting but its so hard because its hurting my motivation not being able to get bigger and not being able to get any leaner while on such low cal intake(I am fairly solid from doing a years lifting but no increase in size).

    Do you think I am ok to do this bulk? I know I prob need more cals but I intend to keep increaseing until i see .5-1 pound a week increase and stop in after xmas or once i put on 10-12 pound (if waist line jumps and inch may stop then too).

    Sorry if I rambled a bit I am just really frustrated lol

    • says

      As mentioned in this article, for optimal results I wouldn’t bulk until you’re under 15% BF. That doesn’t mean you can’t, it just means your results would be better if you started off leaner.

  24. jay says

    i currently have 25% body fat though i dont look fat and most of my fat is around my belly … but i have thin hands and legs what should i do bulk or cut

  25. honda says

    I have been weight training and have muscle now. Im in the somewhat lean category. My bodyfat is 22.4 I want to go down to 19-20% bodyfat. I have some muscle to uncover if I flex I can see its. Can u help me please I noticedhhhaha

  26. Rohan Sharma says

    I joined gym a year ago to lose weight, I weighed 88 kgs and dropped to around 75 kg in December with the help of fat burner and exercise (mostly cardio). I am 5ft 8 inches. I still have fat around my waist and thighs and a lot of flab on my back. I recently shifted to a new place. Joined a new gym. My new trainer says that I have flab because iI lost excessive weight and I used fat burner without any other supplement. Now my muscles are damaged and hence the flab. He advised me to gain weight and again with the help of protein supplements. And then try to cut.
    I feel quite skeptical about this approach. What to do now?

  27. cassie says

    Hey , i am 16 years old and i am 6 ‘ 4″ and i weigh 120 lbs . I am satisfied with my weight but i do not want to gain weight and i want to shape my body (get toned). I started at the gym with the weight machines , but i was wondering if by gaining muscle i will gain weight ? And if so i gain weight , will it show on my body that i gained weight or is it just on the scale ?
    Thank you

  28. TonyDthatsme says

    Hey man!
    Absolutely love your site and it has helped me a lot! I took your advice on this page and started to lose fat. I’m 6’2, 22 years old. When I started 4 months ago I weighed 204 pounds with some fat in my cheeks, neck, and stomach that I was trying to lose. All in the same following the advice on here doing light weight training. When I started I was doing the Insanity workout. Lots of cardio. Then I started going to LA fitness and doing basic cardio warm ups and then going into some p90x training. I’m now down to 180 pounds with significant fat loss. While there was many goals in mind the one driving me was for that 6pack every guy wants. So here is my question. Since i still have a little bit more fat to lose on my abs should i continue sliming down or is it safe to start focusing ab workouts to build muscle. I don’t want to build it under fat..

  29. Dave says

    Hi mate,

    Great article, very helpful.

    I currently weigh 143 pounds and am 5ft 8in

    I have done a successful bulking plan earlier in the year and got up to 165 pounds, I went off working out for a couple of months and have been doing weights for just under 3 months now. I have dropped a fair bit of fat and I am at around 10% down from 19%.

    I have noticed that my strength has increased, basically to the same levels as when i was 165 pounds. My main goal at the moment is to get ripped/abs.

    There is so much conflicting info out there and I just wanted to get some clarification on something:

    Once i get my body fat % down to around 6-7% and have the cut I am after, the next phase would obviously be to gain more muscle/size. Is it possible to do this whilst keeping the six pack? You mention that it is good to cycle, basically will I need to have those fat stores for gains? So go up to the 10-15% body fat in the “bulking” regime.

    You the man!

    • says

      Unless you’re using drugs or have amazing genetics, some amount of fat will almost always have to be gained in order for muscle growth to happen past the beginner stage.

      It’s one thing to try to keep fat gains as low as humanly possible and cut before getting TOO fat (and this is the only way I recommend doing it), but it’s another to try to stay 6-pack-lean while simultaneously trying to build significant amount of muscle. In this latter case, it’s fairly common to end up spinning your wheels and never building any muscle.

  30. Natalia says

    THIS is exactly what I needed to read. I’ve read zillions of replies to this very same question.

    What I’ve loved the most about the article is that it is actually sensible. Easy to understand, comprehend and it makes TONS of sense.

    Loved the part where you say (when calculating BF): “look at yourself in the mirror”. It’s perfect. You are just showing everyone that reads this that each one of us has the power to know what’s the best for ourselves at this very moment depending on our goals. You are not talking imaginary numbers or recipes here.

    I’ve been second guessing myself with training and dieting for 3 months! i was like: “No wait, I should definitely bulk, what am I going to cut to if I don’t build muscle before?!?!”. And then I would go: “No wait, the least thing you want is to gain fat, which you will if you bulk. You are at 28% BF, you do not want more fat Natalia!”. Repeat dialog for three months. I did start bulking but when the second guessing started I started to eat less.

    THANK YOU for writing this. :)

  31. Francis says

    Hey there! I have a question I hope you can give me some advice on.

    I started weightlifting about 2 months ago and I have made some progress, I’m 71 KG or 156 lb, I’m 5ft 7-8 and I’d say I’m quite lean, being I have some abs showing.

    I guess my calories and just try to eat a good amount of protein and make sure I eat more than I would normally ( Not too much more)

    My question is do I have to be in a calorie surplus (Bulk) If I am just starting to lift weights? I seem to build muscle quite well so far but I know 2 months is nothing.

    There’s alot of confusion on the internet of people telling me different things.

    Thank you very much, keep on helping people!

  32. Mohamed says

    Hey bro, I have a question I am 6ft 1 and am currently at 104 kilos(I was 115 in july I took 2 months off for school from the last of september to the end of november ) now for some reason I am having trouble lose weight. My trainer told me that I should build muscle and lose weight at the same time (he said when you build muscle it destroys some of the fat around it) and I am lost now I dont know what to do your article says that

  33. Shazaib says

    Hey there.

    I’m 19, male, 5’4 at around 12% body fat, I was wondering whether or not I should bulk or cut?

    I’m pretty much a beginner and have been at a stable weight for a long time. The only thing is that I weigh about 99lb, which is why I think I need to bulk up. I do see my six pack when I regularly train, but I haven’t in a while and my lower abs are not as visible.

    I really need advice on this as I’m pretty much raking away at my brain, I’m pretty much underweight and skinny-lean everywhere except lower abs which has a tad bit fat. I can provide some pictures so you can determine my BF level too, if need be.

    Thanks in advance.

  34. Nick says

    Hey great post. Question?… I recently purchased a personalized shredding diet from a personal trainer at the gym I workout at. It’s supposed to last for 12 weeks. The amount of calories I take in every day for the first two weeks is really high… I had lost a lot of weight doing a lot of Cardio and eating cleaner… But started lifting to gain muscle bc I looked skinny fat… Anyway I got the meal plan and I’m midway through the second week and I’ve actually gained weight and I’m wondering is this bad. The intake gradually reduces over the 12 weeks but I’m just a little nervous and wondering will it work since I’m eating so much. He claims that I will eventually see fat just start to melt off.

    • says

      Can’t say for sure without knowing the full details of this program (and please don’t give me them, there’s just not enough time in the day to attempt to go through it all).

      But generally speaking, if your goal is losing fat and you’re gaining weight, that doesn’t sound like an ideal diet.

  35. Maxine says

    Whats the best diet for trying to become leaner before the bulking process and I know you said nobody really knows their body fat percentage and online calculators don’t work but how do you figure out body percentage and then use it to your advantage?

  36. Dee says


    I love your article, it’s so clear and easy to understand for beginners!

    I’m a 22 year old female. I’m 5’5, I weigh about 70 kilos and my bf is between 30-33%

    I did go to the gym earlier, but I’m a beginner because I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t lose any fat. Since 3/4 weeks I did/do more research online, that’s also how I found this article, and I go to the gym 3 (and sometimes 4) times a week. Since 2 weeks I eat a lottt healthier and about 1800 calories a day (2 weeks ago I counted my calories for the first time and I noticed that I used to eat about 2500-3500 calories a day !!)
    I have a training schedule. I do about an hour of weights training, then sit ups and stuff and then 20minutes cardio at the end.

    My main goal at the moment is to lose weight. And I also want to get toned a bit (eventually).

    What do you advice me to do at the gym and how much/what to eat? I don’t really know if I’m doing the right things atm.

  37. JMan says

    Hey, im 18 and im currently a senior in high school and i have a scholarship to play football. Im 5’8 220, im a good sized boy and yea i consider myself fat. I need to be as strong as possible by end of summer. Right now i only bench 245, squat 375, clean 215 and deadlift 455. Not at my strongest point. So should i cut then bulk? What do you reccomend?

  38. chawk195 says

    I’m 18 years old and a college wrestler and I’m looking to drop a good bit of weight. I’m around 5’10″, 245lb and with around 25% body fat (very dense frame). My goal for season next year is to wrestle the 197lb division. Although almost 200lb is still said to be overweight, i was 190 two years ago and had a 6pack clearly defined, after a string of injuries, i gained a bunch of fat. How would I be able to drop the weight, yet be stronger? I’m satisfied with my 345lb bench, and 520lb squat, but I would like to maintain this or increase it.

    • says

      It’s going to be pretty tough/impossible for a trained athlete (meaning not weak beginner) to get stronger while losing 50lbs. The best you can realistically shoot for here is to maintain as much of your strength as you can.

  39. Dallas says

    Hi, I’m a 5’10 male and weigh 148 lbs. my body fat percentage is 13%. And according to the article(nice job by the way ^_^) being anywhere from 10%-13% for a guy is just right. However I have a problem. I have a stomach I want to get rid of, I’ve had it since highschool when I used to wrestle at 152 lbs. Back then I used to workout routinely but on my arms mostly. I didn’t know as much then and I still have a lot to learn about lifting. I heard that to lose stomach fat you have to burn fat on other areas of your body as well. So would I have to cut at my current weight (148lbs) and focus on my ab workouts more? Or do I bulk? At my weight I’m lean, with muscle, but I have a bit of a stomach :/ any more help would be appreciated and thanks again ^_^

  40. Jay P says

    Hey I’ve been reading your articles and it seems like you know what your doing and if you can point me in some sort of direction with my fitness.im a 22 male,at 5’10″ at about 165 pounds and around 13-15% body fat.been working out for a while and see a decent 6 pack.chest pops out,arms are decent.its I’m just not ripped,my questions is, am I at a stage where I am ready to bulk or should I keep shredding.my goal is to be able to see my 6 pack more,and be more defined all the way around.but I don’t want to look to skinny while doing it.i am not too skinny I got a pretty good build.

  41. abhishek says

    Hey I have just lost 90 pounds and now am at 160 pounds at 5’11″, I have a bit of stubborn fat at the belly region and want to lose that, but because of my vegan diet, I have had some muscle loss during the weight loss and I want to gain more muscle but not become bigger. I fear if calorie surplus diet will be a hindrance in the belly fat loss, ps do I need to lose more weight?

    Thank you

  42. Mikey says

    Hi, I’m a 6ft male and weigh around 192lbs, I read your article and it’s great but I’m just looking for some further guidance.

    I would say that after looking in the mirror i’m not fat but I have really stubborn belly (+ lower belly and “love handles” ) fat which I have tried for ages to lose but can’t seem to get rid of it! I have lost weight everywhere else except these areas! Calorie deficit + exercise but it won’t shift…….any tips?

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