Winter’s here, beach bodies are a distant memory. Now’s the time to bulk, or is it…
You only have swipe your thumb up through your Instagram feed a couple of times to see your timeline filled with posts about bulking. Hands up, I’m one of the guilty ones in that group, so I apologise.
We didn’t get much of a summer this year (at least in the UK), but there were a few days were you might have gotten the opportunity to whip that top off and tan those abs you’d been sculpting for the last few months, but now the winter nights have drawn in those abs aren’t likely to see the light of day for a good while now.
And this is why most people switch to the off season bulk. Hibernating their bodies away like a bear in the woods. Exchanging stringer vests and shorts for thick hoodies and jogging bottoms. If your gym is anything like mine you’re probably spending the first part of your workout trying to get some feeling back into your fingers. These gyms are damn cold and I’ll be damned if I’m working out in a vest!
But is this seasonal bulking process right for everyone?
How do you know if it’s right for you?
In today’s blog, I’ve put together a quick guide to determine if bulking is right for you.
What’s your body fat percentage?
This is the key starting point to understanding whether you’re ready to bulk or not. You need to know where your body fat is right now. There are several ways of finding this out, most of which will probably be inaccurate. So let’s cut to the chase and keep things simple for you.
One of the absolute best was to get an accurate body fat measurement is a DEXA scan at your local hospital. But they don’t come cheap so it’s probably not the best use of your money right now. You’re better off buying some more gym hoodies for those freezing cold workouts!
Most people head for the impedance machines. What’s an impedance machine you ask? These are the machines you might find in the gym changing rooms. Basically, two metal handles that you grip while a small electrical current passes through you. The resistance of the electrical current is measured as it passes through the tissue in your body. The results of these measurements can be hugely variable, which makes them so inaccurate and really not worth bothering with.
- Dehydration can cause around a 5kg over estimation of body fat.
- Measurement after a meal can cause body fat to be underestimated. Studies have shown fluctuations in measurements by over 4% during the day.
- Exercise prior to a test can also cause your body fat to be underestimated.
Next option might be to use some body fat calipers. I’d only recommend using these when you’re already pretty lean. And by that I mean abs are popping out left, right, and centre. Or your other option would be to get it professionally done. Yes. there are qualifications for body fat measuring, so the guy or girl doing your gym induction might not be the best person to do it for you.
So where does that leave you?
I mentioned it in a previous blog, but it’s worth mentioning again. I find the best way to measure body fat is visually. Do a Google image search on the phrase ‘Body Fat Comparison Chart’ and match yourself up to the image that’s closest to you. Be honest. No cheating. Get a friend or family member to give you their honest opinion for that independent view.
When I’m working with a new client I insist on 3 photos. One from the front. One from the back. And one from the side. This is for more than just the awesome before and after pics that will be on the horizon. It allows me to get a really good idea of body fat levels and general fat distribution around the body.
Now you know your body fat percentage. What next?
15%. That’s the key number if you’re a guy (25% if you’re a girl). If you think that you are above this number then a cut is the only way to go. Get yourself down to about 10% (20% for you ladies out there) before you think about bulking. This is for 4 key reasons:
- You can maintain a calorie surplus for a much longer period of time before having to cut. This means more potential for muscle growth.
- If you bulk on a high body fat percentage, your subsequent cut is going to be soooooo long that it won’t be pleasant.
- Psychologically, if you bulk when over c. 15% you’re not likely to like how you look in the mirror, which can actually make you demotivated.
- From a physiological standpoint cutting to 10% first will also maintain your insulin sensitivity, which is important for your general health and training
How long should you bulk for?
In simple terms you want to bulk up to a maximum of 15-17% body fat. Hit that sort of range and then switch to a cut. Get back down to 10% then go again with the bulk. It’s a case of repeating this until you get to the body size and shape you’re after. Once you’ve got that ideal size, there’s no need to keep bulking, so now’s the time to get to maintenance levels and enjoy your awesome body!
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Happy training. Keep grinding.