The powerlifting fraternity has a bad reputation for producing athletes the size of an industrial refrigerator. And guess what, it’s to do something with our belief system, which sort of sounds like this:
- get huge
- get effing huge
- repeat until you die
Is it common sense to carry 400 lbs (roughly 180 kg) of mass on your frame? Hell, no! Yet, powerlifters want to get huge thinking that’ll help them move heavier weights. Now, I’m not the karma police to keep everyone’s belief system in check but I sure have my own thoughts on the “bulking” (when you gain weight — both muscle and fat, you can’t have just the good things in life, alright?) and “cutting” (mostly fat, with some muscle if you aren’t careful) phase that every powerlifter is left to choose.
While most go for the “bulk” the challenge is that athletes get perpetually stuck in that phase. Why? Well, who doesn’t like to eat ice creams, pizzas, and all other crap? And since you’re spending an enormous time in the gym, you’re working out, which means you’re active… meaning you’re doing just fine. Right?
Honestly, I think that’s just being an idiotic approach to gaining strength. It fundamentally breaks the basic rule of being healthy and fit — lack of common sense. Most powerlifters don’t have to “bulk” but just stay at their regular weight and compete in the weight class they would be categorized in. The smart athlete would try to move up or down a weight class to test his/her limits but that’s it not further experiments. The idea of competition is to challenge yourself and unleash your best self to the fore.
But like every other sport or aspect of life, there are obsessions. Silly ones at that. In my opinion, obsessions with strength (particularly moving a 1000 lbs) is as hazardous and idiotic as taking performance enhancing drugs (like steroids). Statistically, it’s been proven to have a marginal effect on the strength despite a bump in the numbers.
Let me give you an example:
Athlete A (80 kg): Deadlifts 240 kg
Athlete B (105 kg): Deadlifts 262.5 kg
Who’s stronger? If you said Athlete B… you’ll be right. Numbers don’t lie, after all. Athlete B has more absolute strength than Athlete A. But then, “B” lifted 2.5 times his bodyweight compared to Athlete A who lifted 3 times his bodyweight!
Now, who’s stronger? You and I know the answer to that. In life, relative strength is all that matters. All competitions come to an end. And the best athletes focus on getting functional about their strength meaning they don’t go into crazy diets.
Which brings me back to the main point — body composition. If you’re a strength athlete or even a bodybuilder for that matter, your decision to bulk or cut should be based on common sense than common practice. Here’s a rough guideline you can consider:
Body Fat more than 15 % – CUT
Body Fat less than 15% – BULK
Simple enough? It is but like I said, it isn’t common practice. It doesn’t make any sense to bulk if you’re over 15% body fat because once you start bulking the body composition starts to look ugly. And that’s totally natural. But if you focus on cutting out fat from your body and lean down to something like 12-14% bulking is a much better experience. Why? Because you’ve developed the discipline to lean down and if you’ve done it once, you can and most definitely will do it again. Most importantly, you will realize that a perpetual bulk will ruin your gains and hence will be more cautious with your approach, which possibly might lead you to do a lean bulk instead. A much smarter strategy.
But how do you know if you’re following the right approach? Google it! Find a certified nutritionist and seek help. You can’t do it alone unless you’re someone who knows how nutrition work… and let me tell you from experience, it works in funny ways. A balanced approach combined with your regular training regime will do wonders. Another benefit of a nutritionist is that they won’t lead you to follow a fad-diet. They’re more focused on sharing the right knowledge with you and help you build lasting habits.
On that note, let me also warn you that a healthy diet is a lifestyle. Not a one-off event. If you commit to it you’ll find it simple yet difficult to practice but the key, as with all things, is to trust the process and stick with it.
If you’re wondering if you’ll lose strength or lose some muscles during a cut the answer is maybe. You can minimize muscle loss to a large extent but losing strength is inevitable. But I’ve found it most effective to start your cut at the very beginning of a training cycle (1st week of the 12-week cycle) because the weights are lighter (70% of your 1-rep-max) and you have 12 weeks to build your strength (and then some) back up.
Cut or bulk, I don’t care. Just use your common sense.