It’s a question I’ve seen asked over-and-over again, “Should I Keep Cutting Until I See Abs?”
The main aim for pretty much all of us is to add muscle to our frame while keeping body fat to a minimum.
And there are those lucky ones who can build muscle and lose body fat at the same time, although they will usually have great genetics and a minimum of 6-12 months lifting experience on their side.
However, for us mere mortals this typically requires a system of cutting and bulking until we hopefully reach our physique goals.
But, how long exactly should you cut for?
Allow me to explain what you need to know about cutting and abs.
Should I Keep Cutting Until I See Abs?
You should cut until you can see abs coming out in the mirror. Realistically, as a man you should cut if your body fat percentage is over 15%, and over 25% for a woman. It’s not until men and women get down to 10% and 20% body fat respectively that they should consider bulking. So, this will mean that you will have visible abs when you reach the required cutting body fat percentages.
1. Always Cut When You Have Excess Body Fat
I guess you could say that the main “rule” with cutting is that you should continue doing so if you’re carrying excess body fat.
For most of us we want to get to the good stuff, i.e. bulking, consuming extra calories, and packing on muscle.
However, when you’re carrying extra body fat you really shouldn’t be bulking.
When to cut or bulk obviously comes down to your initial starting point.
But, for me, I would want to cut until I can see my abs coming through in the mirror.
It’s only once I can begin to see a decent ab definition that I would consider increasing my calorie intake in order to start adding muscle mass to my frame.
It’s obviously impossible to spot reduce fat from specific areas of the body.
And admittedly, most of us tend to carry a little extra around our midsection.
However, if you’re following a sensible eating plan and training with the required intensity then you’ll eventually notice more definition to your waistline.
I will also say that cutting and bulking comes down to what you want to achieve in terms of muscle mass and overall muscle definition.
So, if you’re someone who prefers to be at single-digit body fat levels then it’s clear that your abs will be visible once you’ve achieved your goal.
But, even if you’re someone who simply wants to produce a great physique you should cut until you reach the desired body fat percentage.
2. The Body Fat Percentages For Cutting & Bulking
I will admit that we are all different from each other, and what we wish to achieve by cutting may well be different too.
However, there is a basic rule of thumb when it comes to cutting and bulking.
Personally, I would say that as a man you should be cutting if your body fat percentage is over 15%.
And you shouldn’t really consider bulking until you hit at least 10% body fat.
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For a woman, you’ll want to cut with a body fat percentage over 25% and you can consider bulking once you’ve hit at least 20%.
These figures aren’t set in stone, but they’re certainly a great starting point.
You’ll generally find that once you get ever so slightly below the upper limits of body fat mentioned here you will start to see your abs coming through.
So, as a man with around 14% body fat there will definitely be some abdominal definition.
This is likely to be a well-defined set of the upper four abs, although your lower abs may still be covered in some excess fat.
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It’s not until you hit that 10% mark that you should notice a well-developed six-pack coming through.
3. Slow Cutting to Maintain Muscle
One of the worst habits that many of us get dragged into is trying to cut or bulk too quickly.
Basically, many lifters view bulking as a “dirty bulk” and it’s a free-for-all when it comes to eating food.
By this I mean that there seems to be no real control over eating habits in an attempt to add as much weight as possible.
However, you’ll always end up adding way more fat than muscle following this method.
The same can be said for cutting and some people will literally go into starvation mode.
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But, this is definitely not the right way to cut (or to bulk for that matter).
The main purpose of a cutting phase is to lose body fat slowly, while trying to maintain as much muscle mass as possible.
However, if you simply starve yourself and try to cut weight and body fat too quickly you could soon run into problems.
Firstly, by cutting too fast you’ll play havoc with your metabolism, as well as your cortisol levels.
By cutting too fast you could in effect slow your metabolism down, which will make it harder to lose body fat.
Additionally, if your brain and body thinks it’s going into starvation mode then it’s likely to hold onto body fat to use as a potential source of energy.
Plus, you could even start breaking down muscle mass, which will just compound these two factors even more.
So, take your time with cutting (and bulking) and realise that it could take a lot longer than just a few weeks.
If you cut correctly, not only will you produce a great set of abs, but you’ll also maintain much more muscle than if you try to speed your way through this.
The Best Way to Preserve Muscle While Cutting
4. Should You Train Abs While Cutting
Something else that many people are unsure about is whether they should train abs while cutting.
In truth, this comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Training abs won’t enhance your cut in any way, and as I’ve mentioned, you can’t spot reduce body fat.
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So, it’s simply a case of whether you want to train abs or not.
Furthermore, an experienced lifter, who has had a real focus on ab training over the years, won’t notice that much of a difference when training abs while cutting.
Basically, someone who already has a well-developed and defined set of abs isn’t going to develop much further during a cut.
With that being said, if you’re someone who doesn’t specifically train abs then you now have a good opportunity to do so.
As you lose body fat during your cut, while simultaneously training your abs, you should notice some fantastic results.
So, for me, training your abs while cutting will very much depend on your starting point in terms of previous ab training.
So, as you can see, it is preferable to keep cutting until you see abs.
Men and women should be cutting if their body fat percentage is above 15% and 25% respectively.
Plus, they should continue cutting until they have reached approximately 10% and 20% body fat respectively.
By the time you reach this body fat percentage your abs will definitely be visible.
Basically, a general rule of thumb is that if you are carrying excess body fat then you should continue cutting.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.
1 thought on “Should I Keep Cutting Until I See Abs? (4 Ab-Cutting Facts)”
This is really interesting. I have not done any abs exercises for years because I can’t get rid of the fat covering them. It’s not a lot of fat, but it is definitely fat.
I used to think you just had to exercise, then I saw this amazing video by Elle Ip who challenged herself to enter a sports modelling competition one year after she had her second baby! Long story short, she did zero abs exercises but at 14% body fat (I think!) had sensational abs (and everything else).
Thanks for confirming that I never need to do abs exercises while I am at 30.0% body fat (according to my body composition scales). Not sure that’s right – I am 5ft 8ins and just over 10 stones – hardly obese!
Anyway, thanks for the insights. Looking forward to checking out more posts.