Episode 61 – How To Plan Gaining & Cutting Phases In Strength Sports

Key Topics Covered

Background: Identifying the problem and why this is such a difficult question for a lot for people 

  • Long term planning makes sense.
  • However, in strength sports there is a lot of short term thinking, mostly in regards to the 8-12 weeks before a competition (whether that is bulking into it or making weight into it) – but what happens the rest of the time that isn’t comp prep? 

The difficulty is this question arises with how your programming is structured 

  • Do you do block periodisation (volume, strength and peaking block) – when do you cut, bulk or maintain throughout that? 
  • How would this differ if you structure your programming differently to that?  
  • What happens if you don’t know how your programming is structured? What if your coach doesn’t communicate this with you? 
  • Biggest issue we see: People can end up always cutting during their volume blocks, reducing their potential muscle growth AND/OR they could always be bulking excessively quickly during peaking blocks, when the hypertrophy stimulus is at its lowest 
  • Another issue is always cutting into your comp – is this the best time to be trying to make weight? Or should you have thought of that sooner? 

Solutions to the above problems 

  • Think long term – obviously still focus on each upcoming comp, but not at the significant expense of long term progress e.g. staying in a weight class forever because you don’t ever want to be “caught in the middle of two weight classes” 
  • Don’t always cut during volume blocks. I wouldn’t say it is “wrong” to cut there. But since it is a block designed specifically for muscle growth and also to address your weaknesses, you miss that aspect if you are never on higher calories during it. 
  • Don’t have any phases where you do a large calorie surplus for an extended period of time. It is just inefficient in that the amount of muscle gain is not significantly more, but the fat gain is a lot higher. 

Our proposed optimal strategy  

  • Plan things out based on the long term e.g. identify what roughly weight you want to be at each stage for each comp. Partly do this based on each upcoming comp, but also keep the long term goal/direction in mind.  
  • Don’t cut during every volume block BUT you could actually plan your training around this. Like there is no reason why you couldn’t do a cutting phase aligned with whatever type of training you think would fit best for that.  
  • Decide whether you want to do acute weight cuts – and if so, line things up so you head into each comp at whatever body weight suits that well. Ideally get near that body weight prior to the peaking block starting, so you do not need to be in a big surplus or deficit during that block. 

Overall strategy 

  • Plan 12-18 months in advance – ideally knowing which comps you will be doing over that period of time (or at least ones you want to optimally perform in eg. States, nats etc) 
  • For novice/intermediate athletes I like to plan cutting and bulking phases with the main focus being on what is going to make them the best lifter in that time, regardless of weight class 
  • For elite athletes, I take their preferred weight class into consideration more and discuss with their coach regarding long term weight class plans  
  • Unless the athlete has a significant amount of fat to lose, most of the year should be spent at maintenance or in a small surplus with a focus on building muscle and performing in training  
  • Weight cuts can be planned in the months leading into a comp for weight class purposes or if an athlete has been bulking for a while and wants to reduce their body fat before continuing  
  • Ideally my preference is to have athletes at our preferred weight 6-12 weeks out from a competition so that they can go into last strength block and peaking block with a nice large calorie budget and optimised recovery – this may be just under their weight class or over their weight class but with a plan to acutely cut weight a week out  

Extra strategies 

  • DEXA scans between each cutting and bulking phase to monitor overall body composition progress  
  • When bulking I like to aim for a 2:1 muscle to fat gain ratio – anything worse that a 1:1 ratio would tell me the calorie surplus is too big and/or other recovery factors/training program is not optimal  – we assess this ratio via dexa scans before and after  
  • I often like to have maintenance phases between cutting and bulking phases – this is not totally necessary but  
    • Going for a surplus to a deficit can seem like a huge change – more of an issue for athletes who struggle with weight cuts mentally/hunger wise 
    • Going straight from a deficit to a surplus may end up in the athlete overeating and gorging on all the foods they couldn’t have previously  

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