Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

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Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Against Gravity » Sun Oct 04, 2020 12:57 pm

Beyond the beginner and intermediate phases, we are starting to be limited by the amount of muscle mass we're carrying, since amount of muscle mass is directly proportional to the potential strength (force) that a certain muscle can apply, all other factors (joint leverages, CNS efficiency, etc.) being equal.

To solve that issue, lean bulking and cutting cycles are very common among weightlifters, powerlifters, and strongman competitors, as well as for the average gym-goer, because absolute strength (how much load can you lift) is usually more important than relative strength (how much load can you lift relative to your bodyweight). Plus, carrying more body fat (up to a point) is usually helpful for most barbell exercises (bench press, squats, deadlifts) because it improves stability and reduces effective ROM.

However, lean bulking & cutting cycles are not that helpful for bodyweight-based athletes (gymnastics, weighted calisthenics) compared to body recomposition (isocaloric diets), considering that relative strength is the most important factor for these disciplines, and extra fat is never a helpful contributor.

The best alternative is to maintain an isocaloric diet and focus on performance (gaining strength), also known as body recomposition. This is theoretically slower to gain muscle mass than bulking + cutting cycles - but let's be honest: most people, except beginners, end up with the same body composition than they started (muscle vs fat ratio) or even worse (slightly fatter due to the extra fat cells gained). I mean: you can't trick your genetics forever through endless cut and bulk cycles. After a certain number of cycles, there's no extra net benefit compared with recomp.

After many mesocycles (years) you'd end up gaining the same total lean mass through body recomposition anyway, considering that no cutting phases are necessary, and that it's very hard to actually plan a lean bulk with minimal fat gain (many factors play a role, and measuring them all is impossible - we can only estimate). Since you'd end up in the same point anyway, recomp would have been a far easier, less stresful strategy - making it a superior alternative

Here's some interesting videos about the topic, focused in the average gym-goer who trains mostly for aesthetics, but still relevant for us:



Here's another interesting video, this time from the perspective of already advanced athletes:

Having said that, I'd like to know your opinion, based on personal experience, about the topic.
Have you tried any bulk & cut cycles before?
Did you end up improving your body composition as a result?

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Re: Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Vagabond » Mon Oct 05, 2020 2:25 am

I fully agree that recomposition is a better strategy. I tried bulking a year and a half ago, and got decent results from it (went up to 165 lbs at my heaviest), but then cut down too fast afterwards. My bodyfat percentage (taken with calipers, so I know this isn't my real bodyfat percentage) went from 4.8% to 8.5+%. So I did gain fat, but I also gained muscle, mainly in the legs from doing gruesome high rep squatting. Without the squatting, tho, I think I would have gained a lot less muscle and more fat, but I also gained in the upper body when I did. The thing is, I stopped bulking due to injury, not because it didn't work, so it's difficult to compare now and then.

But logically, for calisthenics and gymnastics, very small variations in bodyweight should be acceptable and useful. I'm talking, 2-3 percentage points up and down, at most. So, a slight caloric surplus for a few months, then an even slighter caloric deficit for a few months should do the trick. That's more or less a recomp at this point.

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Re: Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Against Gravity » Sat Oct 10, 2020 2:53 pm

Vagabond wrote: Mon Oct 05, 2020 2:25 am I fully agree that recomposition is a better strategy. I tried bulking a year and a half ago, and got decent results from it (went up to 165 lbs at my heaviest), but then cut down too fast afterwards. My bodyfat percentage (taken with calipers, so I know this isn't my real bodyfat percentage) went from 4.8% to 8.5+%. So I did gain fat, but I also gained muscle, mainly in the legs from doing gruesome high rep squatting. Without the squatting, tho, I think I would have gained a lot less muscle and more fat, but I also gained in the upper body when I did. The thing is, I stopped bulking due to injury, not because it didn't work, so it's difficult to compare now and then.
I no longer measure body fat with calipers. It basically provides a random number that is only useful for you, as long as you keep exactly the same procedures from one measurement to the next (which means, to pinch the skin exactly in the same point, to ensure the skinfold doesn't slip - or slips exactly the same amount than last time-, etc.). Definitely, that random number isn't useful to compare with anyone else, because unless it's a certified expert the one who is taking the measurement, they're very likely not selecting exactly the same spots to measure. Plus, the whole body fat math is wrong for individuals - it's based on average fat distributions, but different people accumulate fat in different proportions & in different zones of their body.

Nowadays, I prefer a much more simple & quick method, that works relatively (to know if there's a fat increase or decrease, yet not the absolute amount). I just measure waist circumference. After all, at least in my case, the hardest fat to lose (or the last one that is lost after a cut) is the one located around waist area. Thus, if my waist perimeter increases, I know I've gained fat. If it decreases, I know I've lost fat. Also, fat around waist is the most harmful for health - and from an aesthetical / bodybuilding perspective, it's also the most important (a thin waist + a muscular torso (V shape) is the gold standard)

But logically, for calisthenics and gymnastics, very small variations in bodyweight should be acceptable and useful. I'm talking, 2-3 percentage points up and down, at most. So, a slight caloric surplus for a few months, then an even slighter caloric deficit for a few months should do the trick. That's more or less a recomp at this point.
I'd agree that hypercaloric diets could be useful, but only if preceded and followed by a recomp. I mean: the idea is to recomp for several months until hitting a very lean physique. And then, if desired, minibulk for +2-5% extra bodyweight. But, rather than doing an aggressive cut afterwards (which would be like sabotaging the minibulk, for the most part), the idea is to recomp again for several months.

This cycle of recomp -> minibulk (+2-5% BW) -> recomp should be enough to unlock the best body composition that is naturally & genetically available for us. The strategy to minibulk is very easy (progressively drinking more milk, or other high-calory-dense meals) - as well as the strategy to recomp (progressively eating more low-calory-dense meals, like fruits and vegetables). Thus, the process is very systematic.

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Re: Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Vagabond » Sat Oct 10, 2020 6:35 pm

Yes, I agree. And a very simple way to measure fat based on Arnold Schwarzenegger's words: if it wiggles, it's fat. When I got to my heaviest weight, it wiggled a bit around my belly button, and I didn't like it. :lol:

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Re: Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Against Gravity » Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:33 pm

Vagabond wrote: Sat Oct 10, 2020 6:35 pm Yes, I agree. And a very simple way to measure fat based on Arnold Schwarzenegger's words: if it wiggles, it's fat. When I got to my heaviest weight, it wiggled a bit around my belly button, and I didn't like it. :lol:
That's an even faster approach:
If it wiggles -> still some body recomp to do!

Forgot to mention that when measuring waist circumference, increased TVA strength may affect measurements. So doing stuff like this may make you believe like you lost fat, when in reality just got a more 'tight' core


It's not even necessary to train vacuums specifically for a tighter core, any core exercise (leg raises, Vsits) strengthens the TVA to some extent.

Anyway, in the end, who cares about whether you lost fat or just got a tighter core. Both give you better health, performance and aesthetics, so reduced waist perimeter while maintaining upper body strength = good news!

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Re: Body recomposition vs bulking+cutting for weighted calisthenics & gymnastics

Post by Vagabond » Fri Oct 16, 2020 4:10 pm

Plus, a good vacuum freaks out people who you it to, ha ha. :lol: