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I used to lift weights at the gym some years ago and my intention is to get back in shape this month. I'm still in reasonable shape, around 18-20% body fat.

I'd like to maximize my gains/losses as this provides the motivation to keep on doing it. Should I cut or bulk first? If there are any studies about this I'd love hearing about them.


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Silly question, but what do cut and bulk mean? – Ciaocibai Mar 1 '11 at 20:35
Not a silly question! Cutting is exercising to lose body fat, bulking is exercising to gain muscle mass. – Duopixel Mar 1 '11 at 20:43
@Ciaocibai - Also, the reason they kind of go together is many bodybuilders will eat massive amounts of calories to sustain muscle growth in the off season, and this usually results in some added fat weight gain. Then as competitions approach, they "cut weight" to get rid of body fat. You also can lose a bit of muscle this way, which is why you see incremental gains from bodybuilders each year, and why their off season weight is so much more than competition. – JohnP Nov 17 '14 at 20:17
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I always find it more satisfying to gain, since I like to eat. :-)

If you're just getting back into things, you'll find that your strength gains will be rapid until you get close to your old level (muscle/nerve memory) and that will be psychologically satisfying.

Also, having more muscle can only help later when you want to cut (burning more calories, if you believe in that, and helping you produce a better hormonal state for weight loss).

So, I'd suggest gaining first for a while. 18-20% isn't magazine-cover material, but it's not horribly obese either...

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I think this depends on what your ultimate goal is:

  • If your goal is to be able to lift as much weight as possible, bulk first
  • If your goal is look like an underwear model, probably cut first
  • If your goal is general health/something in between, I seen no reason why you can't just start working out without making any radical changes first and let your body gain muscle/lose fat as it will.
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To look like and underwear model I'd still need to gain more muscle, so the question is: is it better to gain the muscle first or to lose the fat first? It is often recommended to concentrate on one or the other, not trying to achieve both at the same time. – Duopixel Mar 1 '11 at 20:40
I'm not a professional, but I feel like that's somewhat of a false dichotomy: If you work out more, unless you start eating massively more than you used to, you're probably going to both gain muscle and lose fat; such is my experience, anyway. – jamesnvc Mar 1 '11 at 23:56

Increasing your muscle mass first will raise your BMR making it easier to lose the fat afterwards. Also, I think that it will be very difficult to increase your muscle mass without putting on at least some amount of fat, so cutting is perhaps a better thing to do later.

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Start light with the weights whilst you get back into lifting. Use that time as an opportunity to lose fat (maybe 5% body fat) and then when you're ready to lift heavy you should aim for a bulk then. It makes a lot more sense to bulk up when in the 10-15% body fat zone, because your hormones are more conducive to putting on lean muscle rather than a mix of muscle and fat.

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I am in the same range of body fat as you are.

I start my workouts with a 5 mile run or 45 minute swim, then I hit the weights. I do this 4-5 times a week and I have been losing weight consistently.

At the same time I have been building muscle. I don't want to be big I just want to be strong and have some definition. Last week I ordered Axis Labs Micronized Creatine Monohydrate, so I'm going to try this out and see how it goes. This works for me.

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