If you have been wondering how to know when to stop bulking, you have come to the right place. Bulking is a fine balance between building solid muscle and going too far with a bunch of fat.
A little bit of fat is ok. In fact, you cannot build muscle without gaining fat. Why? Because building muscle requires you to be at a caloric surplus. When you are at a caloric surplus, you are going to gain weight.
As long as you are working out, you should be gaining muscle. Of course, it is important to not go too far here. Some people consume way over their necessary calorie intake threshold.
This will lead to excessive fat gain, which will ruin the whole purpose of your bulk in the first place.
Bulking is a slippery slope. Once you see all that muscle piling on, you don’t want to stop. You can get to the point where you ignore the fat that is accumulating.
I know this first hand. I spent 3 years in a caloric surplus and went from 135 lbs to 205 lbs. Once I hit 205 lbs, I realized I went too far and had to cut down and reveal the results of the hard work that I had put in.
So let me take the time to tell you about what I observed that helped me realize it was time to transition out of my bulk and into a cut. You will find that learning how to know when to stop bulking is fairly simple.
One of the things I always recommend to people is to take progress pictures once per month. Unfortunately for me, I made the mistake of not taking pictures for years. I was so uncomfortable with how skinny I was, that I refused to take pictures.
Now the only pictures that I have to look back on are random pictures here and there. Don’t make this mistake. No matter how terrible you think you look, go ahead and take the pics.
You can use these pictures to your advantage for motivation and benchmarking.
We don’t always notice when we go too far with our bulk. In fact, I had no idea until my wife told me that she wanted me to cut. Of course when I compared current pictures to older pictures, I was shocked to see how much fat I had gained in unintended places.
Here is the thing. We all gain fat in different places. For me, it’s my chin and neck area. For some it might be their legs or belly. Everyone is different. Bulking will be the ultimate revealer for where you store fat.
This is a good thing though. It is easier to monitor just one part of your body than it is as a whole. Now I know that when I see my face start to get a little bit rounder, then it’s time to cut.
The whole point here is to learn about your body. Every person on earth has different body characteristics, so let’s embrace those differences and use them as indicators for how to know when to stop bulking.
BMI and body fat percentage
The reason that I put BMI and body fat percentage in the same section is because BMI should be taken with a grain of salt. BMI is somewhat outdated, and it doesn’t take into account the fact that you can have a ton of muscle and a low body fat percentage.
Let’s take The Rock for example. You know the actor Dwayne Johnson? Well, he is 6’ 5” and 260 pounds. According to BMI indicators, he is obese. It doesn’t take a genius to look at The Rock and realize that he is not obese in any way.
Here is a traditional BMI chart
As you can see by the BMI chart, it might not be very accurate considering your height and weight.
That is why I prefer to use body fat percentage as an indicator of knowing when to stop bulking. For me, it was simple. When I hit 22% body fat, I knew it was time to cut down. Ultimately, I cut down to 12% body fat, and now I am maintaining around 15%.
What you choose to do is all up to you, but how do you know what your body fat percentage is? You have a few options:
The easy way – Getting a handheld body fat monitor like this one from Amazon.
The better way – Getting body fat calipers like these from Amazon.
The best way – Getting a dexa scan for the most accurate representation of body fat percentage.
The problem with the dexa scan is that it is expensive. I have used both the handheld body fat monitor and used the calipers. I find that the calipers are more accurate than the handheld digital monitor.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. If you would prefer the professional approach, the dexa scan is the way to go. Just do a Google search on where you can find a dexa scan in your region.
Again, the only downside to the dexa scan is the price. I found a Groupon in my area for $60, but I have yet to get one. I know I will test it out one day.
It doesn’t matter how you cut it, you need to understand BMI and body fat percentage. I prefer body fat percentage, but it is important to understand both. These will help you know when to stop bulking.
Main Point: How to know when to stop bulking
You now have the tools necessary to learn how to know when to stop bulking. It isn’t that difficult. If you can bulk, you can cut now too. You know that it takes dedication and consistency to get to the point where you are.
Now let’s just flip the script. You cannot lose belly fat while in a caloric surplus. So now let’s switch it around and start eating at a caloric deficit. Don’t go too low though, or you will lose muscle mass.
You want to get to a point where you are maintaining your muscle, but losing fat. You will know that you are losing muscle if your lift numbers are going down.
Remember, understanding BMI and body fat percentage is imperative to knowing when to stop bulking. Don’t be tied down to one or the other.
If you want to get started on a good routine, check out our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). You will find that our FREE workout plans are enough to get you shredded, but there is so much more.
All in all, only you can determine when it is time to stop bulking. It is your body after all. Compare current pictures with previous ones. And make sure that your body fat percentage is in a good range.
Let us know what other tips you might find useful in determining if it is time to start a cut.