Despite the rise of updated, science-backed knowledge coming out in recent years regarding physique development, the industry is far from free of outdated methodologies and outright deception by influential people that lead newcomers astray.

Of the many outdated strategies, the idea of classic ‘winter bulk’ and ‘summer cut’ phases on an annual basis still persist despite the multiple drawbacks they can create. In an effort to never assume information is common knowledge, I’m fortunate to team up with Layne in writing this article, as BioLayne and APFitness continue working to spread science-backed strategies that can help you get more out of your programming.

Below are some major points on how exclusively considering fall & winter as ‘bulking’ time and the spring and summer ‘cutting’ season may not be the most suitable approach in building a sustainable, consistently improving physique over a training career. You will also find some alternative considerations to help you best maximize your efforts for better overall results!

 

Growing Pains

Train for virtually any amount of time, and aside from the initial ‘newbie gains’ we can all agree that muscle growth is a fairly slow process for drug-free athletes. This realization alone stands as reason for not just focusing on growth during the fall and winter months. That’s not to say that noticeable progress can’t be made in a 4-6 month time period, but when we’re talking about maximizing long-term progression, we’re leaving progress on the table by limiting our focus on growth to such a small window.

To put this in perspective, in addition to the next point I’ll be touching on in this article, for any competitive physique athletes I work with during prep, my general rule of thumb is to at least take one entire season off from competing again after finishing a contest prep.

Growing Perspective

If John Doe and I work together for a Fall 2018 season, that means reverse dieting, taking at least all of 2019 off from competing, and setting a minimum prep-start time for early spring 2020. If athletes are willing to take longer growth seasons, that’s even better. But at least establishing a ‘growth minimum’ can go a long way in allowing for sufficient time to make considerable, quality progress in developing more size & shape in our physiques.

Especially in the case of contest prep, the initial months of reverse dieting are allowing us to regain muscle tissue that was lost while in prep, not necessarily to gain new tissue. Thiss is evidenced by case studies of natural bodybuilders during prep and reverse dieting phases within recent years. So, to only ‘grow’ for ~4-6 months, leaves a very small window in actually building quality, new muscle tissue to help improve your physique from the last prep.

For those non-competitors reading this, the same general approach applies for you as well. Once completing a dieting phase, consider spending more time reverse dieting and focusing on a strategic calorie surplus to allow for more physique development, than the duration you just spent dieting.

General Growth Rules

Competitors:
Take at least ~12-18 months off after finishing your contest season, before starting your next prep.

Non-Competitor:
Spend roughly twice the amount of time reverse dieting/growing as the length of your recent dieting phase. (I.e. 6+ months reverse dieting & growing for every 3 months spend dieting)

 

Tough Loss

Cutting your growth phases short by only following ‘winter bulks’ can limit the progress made in adding new muscle tissue, hindering men from getting bigger and women from adding more shape to their physique. Likewise, dieting too often can hinder progress in reducing body fat in the long run by creating a barrage of metabolic and hormonal disruptions that can make it more and more difficult to continue losing body fat.

Metabolic Adaptation

Metabolic adaptation is something I’ve discussed in previous BioLayne articles, including What Science Can Teach Physique Athletes and Why You Should Reverse Diet. These articles can be helpful for you to check out in order to further complement the points I’m discussing here.

That said, in brief, as we create a caloric deficit through adjustments in our nutritional programming and aerobic activity, and subsequently lose body fat, our bodies adapt to these changes to essentially become more efficient with the reduced food intake and increased activity level. By result, our ability to continue losing body fat declines at a given intake/activity level, which then requires further adjustments to prompt continued fat loss. [2]

From the adaptations, overall metabolic rate declines, and hormones such as leptin, ghrelin, thyroid and testosterone become disrupted. My undergraduate thesis research helped reflect this as ghrelin increased, while leptin, testosterone and thyroid hormones all decreased significantly throughout my contest prep. Not to mention, all took several months to return back to baseline during my subsequent reverse diet. [3]

Just as I mentioned, muscle tissue lost when dieting can take some time to regain, so too does metabolic and hormonal function to return to baseline, healthy levels. Very frequent dieting phases can limit how well these markers bounce back- keeping us in a less effective environment to continue losing body fat, but also making it harder to retain muscle tissue along the way as hormonal markers such as testosterone continue being disrupted. [4]

In the case of a ‘summer cut,’ if we’re dieting for summer, that often means beginning the diet as early as February or March to then be ready for May when the weather starts to warm up- and possibly even starting soon depending on how the ‘winter bulk’ was approached in terms of overall fat gain. Dieting or maintaining that summer conditioning theoretically from basically February through August only leaves ~5 months of the year to 1) get metabolic and hormonal levels back to efficient levels, and 2) regain and attempt to grow new tissue before likely aiming to diet again the following year.

Mental Recharge

Physical factors alone make a strong case for not approaching growth and dieting phases by a seasonal calendar, but instead planning each phase based on long-term goals & priorities. To make an even stronger case, it’s important to consider not just physical parameters in terms of metabolism, hormones and muscle tissue, but also how well we can stay mentally recharged.

If you didn’t already know, dieting for fat loss can be pretty tough. I know, I hate to be the one to break the news. Losing fat is relatively simple process, but far from an easy one even for the most devoted athlete. Anyone who has been through serious contest prep or an extended diet can attest to the fact that the last thing they want to think about for a while after finishing a dieting phase is dieting again.

Waning Will

For those very determined to reach their ideal physique, they may be able to will themselves through multiple, extended attempts at dropping body fat before willpower starts to wane. But, sooner or later, that mental battery fueled by motivation and moxie will start deplete.

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