Over the decades, it’s safe to say that the sport of bodybuilding has changed and evolved somewhat. In the early days, bodybuilding was seen as a hobby for freaks. Many travelling circus freak shows would literally have bodybuilders and strongmen as part of their acts because people had never really seen them before in purpose.
Soon after however, society slowly began to appreciate muscle a little bit more. In the 1970s, a “mockumentary” starring a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger entitled “Pumping Iron” put bodybuilding on the map and showed the world that bodybuilding wasn’t just a sport for meatheads and brainless hulks of walking beef who looked as if they belonged in the Stone Age. Now, people saw the hard work that went into building a world-class physique, and they saw that those that competed were athletes like those involved in any other sport.
Then came pro-wrestling and 80s action heroes, both of which heavily featured highly muscled individuals that looked like real-life superheroes and suddenly it became cool to have muscles. Now, you can’t scroll through social media or switch on the TV without coming across bodybuilding in some form or another, which is why we’re looking at what it takes to become a successful bodybuilder today.
When it comes to bodybuilding, there are three traditional phases of training:
To begin with, we’re going to start by looking at cutting. Cutting, which is sometimes known as “shredding” or even just “dieting” in some circles, is probably the most difficult of the three phases of bodybuilding that we’re going to be looking at today. Cutting may be the most difficult, but it also happens to be the most rewarding as well.
Cutting is basically a process whereby a bodybuilder will reduce their caloric intakes, step up their cardio, and clean up their diets so that they lose as much body fat as possible, without losing too much muscle.
Bodybuilders in the lead up to a contest, will plan their contest preps several weeks/months in advance so that they can slowly lose fat without sacrificing lean muscle. The idea is basically to burn off any excess fat they may be carrying so that they can reveal lean muscle tissue hiding underneath the fat. When they step on stage, they want to look as lean, vascular, dry, and shredded as possible.
Cutting is difficult because a bodybuilder needs to drop down into single digit body fat percentages in order to show off their muscle tone, cuts, vascularity, and definition. Many pro bodybuilders will compete on stage at just 3 – 4% body fat. This body fat is dangerously low, which is why many amateurs will generally aim for 8 – 10%, which is still extremely low.
If you’re looking to cut, you need to be committed to your diet and your training. There is no quick fix when it comes to cutting, so you can forget about crash dieting, slimming pills, and other “miracle” products that simply don’t exist. There are supplements that can help, but there is no short cut to cutting. With that said, whether you want to compete, diet down for a photo shoot, or simply just try to get your abs back, here are some tips to help you cut successfully.
Drink more water
Some bodybuilders are apprehensive about drinking too much water while they cut, as they’re afraid that the water will cause them to look bloated and watery on stage. Now, a few days before competing, water manipulation may be something you wish to look into, but for the majority of your cut, you need to make sure that you are drinking plenty of water. Why? Because water provides you with so many health and wellness benefits that it is simply impossible to ignore it.
Water helps to keep you feeling full for longer, which is important during a cut because when you’re dieting, the fuller you feel the less cravings for junk you will have. On top of that, water also hydrates you and your muscles, providing you with much-needed energy for training. Finally, if you drink water instead of other beverages, you don’t need to worry about consuming any extra calories.
Track your macros
If you’re serious about cutting, you need to track your macronutrients. Your macros are: fats, carbs, and proteins. There are apps and tools online that you can use to work out how many macros you need each day. These calculators will tell you how many grams of protein, fats, and carbs you need each day to reach your target. Don’t just read the calories in what you’re eating and drinking, be sure to track and log your macros too.
Don’t have a cheat day
Some bodybuilders are very strict during a cut and they will not eat anything unhealthy or ‘off plan’ until they’ve competed and have stepped off stage. Others allow themselves a cheat meal every now and then, to help keep them on track and to stop them cheating during the week. If you do decide to enjoy a cheat meal, make sure it is a cheat meal and not a cheat day. A cheat meal may put you a few hundred calories over your daily target, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. A cheat day, however, will put you a few thousand calories over, which will set you back several days.
Improve your caloric deficit with cardio
In order to cut, you need to create a calorie deficit. This basically means that you must consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain itself in its current state. Some people simply diet down and create a deficit that way. The problem is that you need to preserve muscle, which means that you need plenty of protein, carbs, and fats. If you diet down too much, you’ll end up losing muscle as well as fat. The solution, therefore, is cardio. Cardio ensures that you burn fat rather than muscle, and it is also beneficial for your heart as well.
Resign yourself to the fact that you will feel miserable
Ask any bodybuilder how they felt when cutting to get truly shredded, and most of the time they’ll tell you that they felt miserable. When it comes to cutting, you’ll be tired because you don’t have much energy, your strength will drop because of the caloric deficit, you’ll crave unhealthy foods, and you’ll constantly feel hungry. It is extremely mentally demanding when you cut and try to get shredded, but in the end it will all have been worth it.
Don’t cut out fat
Some bodybuilders wrongly believe that you need to cut fat out of your diet when you cut. This is simply not true. In fact, it’s the last thing you should do. When cutting, you need to ensure that you get enough healthy fats in your diet. Healthy fats will regulate your hormones and speed up your metabolism. In fact, healthy fats will promote all around health and well-being whilst you get shredded. Staying fit and healthy is very important because cutting while healthy is very difficult, let alone while dealing with a cold or flu virus, or any other illness for that matter.
Up next we’re going to be looking at bulking. Bulking is another equally as crucial phase of any bodybuilding regime, yet it is something that countless bodybuilders do wrong and take for granted. Bulking is basically a process whereby you take in more calories than you need to maintain your body in its current form, while training hard and pushing yourself in the gym. The goal with bulking is basically to gain as much muscle mass and size as you possibly can.
Several months before their next contest, bodybuilders generally enjoy what they call an “off season”. Here, they don’t care about abs, or veins, or muscle striations, or being shredded. Their goal is simply to build as much muscle mass as possible. If you’re looking to transform your physique and take your body to the next level, check out these useful hacks for a successful bulk.
Eat big to get big
While this sounds like heaven to some people, to those of you with a small appetite, eating enough calories each day to successfully bulk up can be a bit of a challenge. You see, in order to build muscle you need to create a caloric surplus. When bulking, you need to eat big, and eat often. You should never feel hungry when bulking, and if you do, you aren’t eating enough. Try to eat no later than every three hours throughout the day, and be sure to track your calories to make sure you are taking in more calories than you need.
Create the right supplement stack
Once you’re satisfied that your diet is perfect, the next logical step is to create a supplement stack. Supplements are no substitutions for whole foods, but if you use them alongside a healthy diet, supplements will actually work wonders and will help you to bulk up and perform better in the gym, while boosting muscle function and recovery. A great stack to begin with could be: Omega-3, multivitamin, creatine, whey protein, and a mass gainer. These supplements combined will give you all the tools needed to bulk up and perform at your best in the gym.
Figure out how much size you should be gaining
The goal of any bulk is to gain muscle mass and size. Some people, however, gain weight too quickly and primarily the weight that they gain comes in the form of body fat. The general rule of thumb for any successful bulk is that you gain weight slowly and steadily. Rather than trying to pack heaps of muscle mass on in one go, instead, start your bulk nice and early and slowly but surely aim to gain weight each week. Ideally, you should aim for between 0.5lbs and 1.5lbs each week, depending on your metabolism, your shape, your size, your diet, and how hard you train. Remember, if this is your first bulk, you will likely gain weight much quicker than a lifter that has been training for several years.
Weigh yourself weekly
Once you’ve established how much weight you wish to gain each week, to ensure that you’re doing everything right, you need to weigh yourself on a weekly basis. Weighing yourself will show you whether you’re doing things right, and if not, it will allow you to make the necessary adjustments. If you actually lose weight one week, this shows that you are probably not getting enough calories, so you can simply eat more. If you are gaining 4 – 6 pounds in a week, there’s no way this can be muscle, so it shows you that you are eating too much. If you gain anything from 0.5 pounds up to 1.5 pounds however, this shows that what you’re doing is working perfectly.
Finally, we have maintenance. Not many bodybuilders focus on maintenance because they’re always looking to get better and bigger. For those that are perfectly happy with their size and physique however, maintenance is very important as it helps them to stay exactly as they are. Here are some bodybuilding maintenance hacks.
Eat the right amounts of calories
Since you are no longer looking to gain lean muscle mass, nor are you trying to lose weight, neither a caloric surplus, nor deficit is required. You therefore need to figure out your basal metabolic rate to figure out how many calories your body needs for maintenance. There are tools and calculators you can use online to figure this out. Once you have your magic number, you know how many daily calories to aim for.
Taper back your training
When people are trying to cut or bulk up, they need to train hard and step up the intensity. Now that you’re simply maintaining however, your training doesn’t quite need to be as strict or intense. If you do miss the odd workout here and there, don’t sweat it. You still need to work hard and push yourself, but just not as hard nor intensely as when you were looking to gain muscle or burn fat.
Keep supplements basic
Again, supplementation doesn’t need to be as complex as with the other two phases. A good multivitamin, a fish oil supplement, and a whey protein, should be all that are needed.
Putting It All Together
Here is an example of how you might sequence these phases:
- Bulking Phase (Mass Gain): 12-18 weeks until you reach 15% – 18% body fat
- Maintenance Phase: 3-5 weeks
- Cut: 4-8 weeks until you reach 8-10% body fat