Online health, training, fitness coaching. Should I build or cut for the physique goal I have.

Should I Build or Cut?

Aug 22, 2022

I want to address one of the more common dilemmas when it comes to the physique transformation process. I’m referring to the classic question of “should I build or cut?” 

For some people the most appropriate choice will be clear almost immediately, whilst for others the ideal priority to pursue may be harder to decide upon. Ultimately the best answer will always be context dependent and to properly assess the most optimal path to take, we first need to do some digging.   

This is why our new client auditing process at ATLAS is so extensive, because it’s crucial we deeply assess a client’s status, goal and preferences, to ensure we pursue the most optimal path. To illustrate this, below is the amazing physique transformation by my client Emma and the first major decision we had to make together was whether to “build or cut”.

Now with Emma, she came to wanting to compete in her first ever WBFF physique show. However, she wasn’t sure if she should start cutting with me immediately and compete just a few months later. Or if she should instead first prioritise building and add more muscle, then diet down for her comp after that.

So, to determine whether we should first focus on building and muscle gain, or instead attack dieting for a competition just a few months away, I needed to identify the following:

1/ Her priority goal.

2/ The time frame.

3/ Current body composition.

4/ Needs & preferences.

5/ Ability & experience.

6/ The scenario.

7/ Her ideal outcome.

Identifying the answers to the above is essential, because two people could be working towards the exact same goal and have similar same time frames, yet they may require vastly different strategies. Simply because their body composition, needs and ability may be wildly different. They may also have very different ideal outcomes too which is absolutely crucial to remember.

Ultimately you can’t optimally achieve everything at once, which is why you need to identify your priority, then allow sufficient time. Plus, when it comes to the physique transformation process, as a coach you need to be able to accurately predict the potential end dieting outcome, then see if it aligns with your client’s ideal result too.

Now in this instance, after I had assessed Emma’s status and ideal outcome, I advised we first dedicate our initial 6-months together to muscle building. This surprised her but she trusted my judgement fully. I decided to attack muscle gain first better prioritise building the physique she hoped to reveal on stage. Below is the outcome of her initial 6-months of building with me.

Yet whilst we initially planned to pivot and begin dieting for her WBFF physique show debut after this period, COVID had other plans for us. This resulted in not one, but two cancelled dieting phases for her WBFF Bikini division debut. The silver lining of these competition cancellations was that we gained precious more time to keep prioritising muscle building.

Emma actually kept growing so well during time together that we ended up switching our focus from the Bikini division to Fitness. So, the physique transformation you see below is Emma’s journey with me and the time difference is 99-weeks! Whilst we definitely didn’t spend our entire time together focused on building and in a calorie surplus, we did spend a much longer amount of time focused on it than most would be prepared to do.

The end outcome for Emma was the insane physique you see here and one we were both so proud of. This culminated in a top 5 placing in her first ever WBFF show on the Gold Coast in the Fitness division. This is amazing given she had only moderate lifting experience before me, plus she was a 100% natural competitor as all my clients are. 

The lesson here is that when it comes to deciding between cutting or building, often both pursuits are viable options. Typically, the best choice simply comes down to your goal, needs and preferences. With Emma, the pursuit of muscle gain initially allowed her to build an even better physique, which we would better reveal later on. Yet COVID ironically helped us build more muscle than we could have ever imagined.

Ultimately, it’s crucial you just pick one a priority when considering whether you should “build or cut”, plus then dedicate sufficient time and energy to optimally achieving that pursuit. Whilst you can’t have it all at once, you can potentially in time!

Finally, don’t overlook a powerful alternative option too - maintenance calories and progression in the gym. Life is good at maintenance and training is much more enjoyable with more available energy, so don’t forget about prioritising periods focused on this option too.

Thanks for reading,
Glen Carroll