the forgotten muscle building phase

The Forgotten Muscle Building Phase

Just finished a strict cut? Shredded to the gills, but feeling a bit small? Time to slap on some more meat right? Conventional advice would be to switch to a bulking phase.

What if you just finished an epic bulk and it’s time to get shredded again? The same people would tell you to switch immediately back to a cutting phase.

This is such common advice that most guys end up switching back and forth for the rest of their lives, going from one extreme to the other. Cut, bulk, cut, bulk, repeat?

Simple? Yeah, I guess. Effective? Not really.

You see going from one extreme to the other comes with its set of issues, from losing muscle, gaining excess fat, and not being able to maximize results. A powerful fix is simply adding a strategic maintenance phase.

Now before you click away because maintenance phases sound boring as watching paint dry, let me explain why they’ll get you jacked beyond your wildest dreams.

Maintenance phases are crucial because they’re like a break for your body after being deprived in a calorie deficit or after stuffing your face in a calorie surplus. Jumping from one extreme to the other is not optimal.

Jumping from a bulk straight into a cut where calories are restricted will easily result in muscle loss.

Vice versa as well. Going from a cut to a calorie surplus is an easy recipe for significant storage of fat right at the start of your bulk. Nobody wants that.

I know what some of you are still thinking. “I’m tough, I don’t need a break between cuts/bulks. I just want to go hard. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

There is more than meets the eye my friends. You see maintenance phases are more than just a necessary break between cutting and bulking. Maintenance phases also prepare you for the next phase by setting up your body to dominate its next goal. Some people even call them transition phases or primer phases.

Call it what you wish to sound more hardcore, but maintenance phases are undoubtedbly underrated and will set your physique apart from your friends. They’re like the forgotten middle child, often overlooked, neglected, but just as important.

the forgotten muscle building phase kb carry

How to do a Maintenance Phase

During a maintenance phase, you will eat at well, you guessed it, a maintenance level of calories. This will be just enough to maintain your bodyweight, generally around 14-17x body weight depending on many factors like activity level, body composition, and genetics. A good rule of thumb is to go higher if you’re more active.

Training during a maintenance is different as well. You’re not adding excessive cardio to speed up fat loss nor are you lifting with piles of volumes for hypertrophy. You keep lifting frequency either the same or slightly lower if you’re coming off a long bulk. The volume you lift with is lowered while the load goes up. As load goes up, so does rest times. You should be focusing solely on strength during this phase.

Lift heavy to prime your nervous system and increase weight slightly each week. After a cut you’ll have more calories to fuel these strength sessions and it will still be doable after a bulk because you’re dropping volume (very important).

Something like 3×5, 4×4, rest pause, or reverse pyramid are all great options for this strategic phase of training. This phase can be anywhere from 3-8 weeks. It has different benefits depending on what phase you just finished and phase you’re going into next.

Maintenance After a Cut and Before a Bulk

When you’re cutting, you’re eating in a caloric deficit in order to drop body fat. The last thing you want is slap on some more fat after giving up Ben & Jerry’s for months. I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing any ice cream loving lifter would want hence why it’s vital to go to maintenance for a few weeks.

Your body will get better accustomed to its new weight. It will get a chance to get used to taking in more calories without being in a surplus. Jumping from a deficit straight to into a surplus is a surefire way for extra fat gain. No bueno either.

Making a quick stop for a maintenance phase after a cut is also important because it gives you a chance to focus all your efforts to building strength. There is no need for cardio or short rest times when lifting because we’re not concerned about burning a lot of calories.

This is powerful because as the body gets solely stronger at this new bodyweight, it’ll allow you to transition into your bulk phase with more intensity per set and the ability to recruit more muscle fibers.

Think about it. Who’s going to build more muscle?

Bro #1 who’s been deprived during his cut not performing his very best, then hops straight to a bulk without developing strength and having to suddenly learn how to eat way more food.

Bro #2 who’s been deprived during his cut, then does a maintenance phase where strength is the sole focus. This allows him to recruit more muscle fibers, lift slightly heavier than bro #1 once he starts his bulk, and life will be better taking a break from caloric extremes.

Bro #1 gets to start his bulk sooner, but I’m willing to bet bro #2 will build more muscle and without a doubt have more impressive lifting numbers simply by patiently stopping for a maintenance phase. I’ll take bro #2 any day.

the forgotten muscle building phase

Maintenance After a Bulk and Before a Cut

Maintenance is arguably more necessary after a bulk than a cut. Let me break it down.

When you’re bulking, you’re taxing your body with volume and progressive overload throughout the weeks. Nervous system is being used in high demand, muscles are getting really sore, and mentally it’s getting tougher. You’re eating in a surplus and the process is often times way longer than most cuts. Your body is under much stress. If you don’t provide more total volume by increasing sets/reps or add more weight to the bar, you’ll plateau, therefore you’re forced to accumulate more training stress each week.

There comes a point of diminishing returns where adding an extra set or adding 5 more pounds doesn’t yield anywhere near the same gains as it did in week one. On top of all this, as the weeks drag on it becomes more difficult to do more work.

So long story short, not only does it become harder to add more overload, the overload you are able squeeze out doesn’t produce as much result as it once did. This is mentally draining and stresses the body increasingly as time goes on trying to bulk.

Most guys would jump straight into a cut.

Well if you were to go straight from a stressful bulk to an environment where calories must be restricted, you’ve just continued the accumulation of never ending stress because restricting calories is also extremely demanding at first especially if you were used to eating much more.

Chronic cortisol will be high which is not an optimal hormonal environment for body composition. All the food you were used to eating is now gone and you just took a complete 180 into a state where your body is taking in less than it burns. It’s like walking through the desert and suddenly being teleported straight into an ice bath. Yeah, not fun.

This will result in a bad cut with all the accumulated stress where significant muscle loss can occur immediately paired with no mental break. You’ll be miserable without stopping for a maintenance phase after bulking.

Maintenance in Between Bulks

Another fantastic opportunity to reap the benefits of a maintenance phase is in between bulks or in the middle of a bulk.

After an extended period of time spent in a caloric surplus, the chances of fat gain increases as well as muscle gains decreasing because of the law of diminishing returns as we discussed above.

Taking a break and going to maintenance is perfect. You’ll drop calories to prevent fat gain and will take the stress away from having to eat so much.

Another enticing aspect of maintenance phases between bulks is to build more muscle. Here’s why.
A good bulk requires you to accumulate more volume throughout the weeks. You must add more training stress that your body isn’t used to in order for it to grow. There is no getting away from this, but after an extended period of time overtraining becomes more likely and with so much volume/load added, injuries can occur. The body isn’t going to keep adding more weight week after week for too long. Eventually either you stop adding training stress and risk plateauing or you continue to push the envelope risking an injury.

Not only will a maintenance phase prevent fat gain, but also resensitize your body to volume once again with a fresh start where injury isn’t as likely. Your insulin sensitivity will improve and you won’t have to deal with diminishing returns for a while.

Regardless, building muscle takes time and I know it can be tempting to bulk straight through a majority of the year because of its slow nature, but you’ll take in less fat and set yourself up for more success if you cut your bulk short to take a maintenance phase.

the forgotten muscle building phase stretch

Break the Cycle and Start Maintaining

And there you have it, if you made it this far, chances are you no longer think maintenance phases are a boring pointless phase. I used to think that way too until I notice much success with some of my clients. Whether you just finished a bulk or cut, maintenance has its place in your life.

Again, cutting and bulking are cool, but they’re not the only tools in your arsenal. Don’t forget about the commonly underrated maintenance phase.

While maintenance phases aren’t responsible for trimming body fat or skyrocketing muscle growth, they’re still just as crucial to your physique as sleep is.

They will give your body a necessary break, prevent the drawbacks of cutting/bulking, give you a more favorable body, resensitize your body, build strength, and ultimately set you up for epic amounts of success in your following phase.

Nothing will prepare you more for rapid fat loss or dense muscle growth than a well timed maintenance phase. If you’ve never taken one, you’re long overdue for it.

Break the boring stressful cycle of cut, bulk, cut, bulk and start maintaining for benefits that prepare your body for a fresh physique. And if the name is still not hardcore enough for you, I won’t be mad if you called them primer phases.

About the Author

Calvin is an online trainer, strength coach, lover of food, and one awfully bad dancer. He helps busy professionals look great in the mirror with custom programs. When he's not transforming bodies, he's making YouTube videos and writing articles on how sweet gains can be made.