I’ve noticed that a lot of people have difficulty deciding whether to begin with a bulk or a cut when starting out at the gym (for those unfamiliar with these terms, that’s basically choosing between focusing on building muscle or losing fat). Although it is possible to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously to an extent, it’s certainly not the quickest and most efficient way for one to reach their goal physique. Hence, the decision must be made: to bulk or to cut?
Personally (also blatantly obviously), I think it depends on the goals of the individual. Half the reason people find it so difficult to decide is because they’re always being told by others “There’s no point in cutting bro’, you should focus on building a solid base first” or “You should be cutting, you don’t need to be any bigger” etc. The truth is, unless the people dishing out advice know exactly what the recipients’ long term goal is, when they’re hoping to achieve this by, and have a good knowledge of realistic timeframes for progression in terms of building muscle and losing fat, their opinions are invalid. Some might think it’s fine to exist at 15% body fat, whilst others would prefer never to exceed 10% and so it’s hard to get an unbiased opinion.
Before making a decision, you really have to accept two obvious but important things. The first is that if you’re going to bulk, you’re not going to get any leaner. The second is the reverse. If you’re going to cut, you won’t be building any more muscle. With that in mind, you should ask yourself two questions. Am I comfortable with gaining a little more fat? Am I comfortable with feeling a little smaller? The answer may well be no to both of those, in which case you just have to choose the lesser of two evils. Obviously, some people don’t have such a dilemma. It makes sense for extreme ectomorphs to begin with a bulk and extreme endormorphs to begin with a cut. It’s just the average Joe skinny-fat guy/girl who sometimes struggles.
My opinion (and it is just that) is that pretty much anybody carrying a bit of extra “flab” (even if it’s not obscene amounts) should begin with a cut. I say this for a few reasons. The first is that losing body fat is typically an easier and quicker process than building muscle in terms of lb for lb loss vs gain. I believe that progress is the single most powerful motivating factor for a lot of people, and so the quicker they can achieve this and notice it within themselves, the less likely they are to get disheartened and quit. Another advantage is that when one does finally begin a bulk, muscle gains will be a lot more evident if said person is relatively lean. Gauging progress in terms of muscular hypertrophy can be difficult for people with body fat percentages into the teens and above, and would require body fat measurements to be taken along side body weight to distinguish between muscle gain and fat gain. On the other hand, somebody who is lean can much more easily identify muscle gains, particularly if they have a good grasp of how to manage their caloric intake to minimize excess fat gain while bulking. On top of this, the simple fact is that a lot of people want to get in shape to be more attractive to the opposite sex… and guess what guys, girls like abs, even if the rest of you isn’t particularly muscular. Just look at Justin Bieber.