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Being big and strong is cool. Being fat isn’t. This is why pretty much anyone concerned with having an aesthetic physique is going to eventually enter a cutting phase where they try to lose fat. The problem this is that they often go catabolic, losing both muscle and strength. Ideally, you’d be able to lose fat while you preserve strength. Below are some tips on how to preserve strength while getting leaner.
One of the reasons many don’t preserve strength when trying to get lean is they simply just quit lifting heavy weights. If you want to make sure you stay strong, you’re going to have to keep hoisting the heavy iron.
However, don’t think you should be (or even need to be) maxing out. You’re burning more calories than you’re taking in and forcing the body to feed upon itself. Doing so is going to carve into your recovery, so trying to lift too heavy could cause injury, overtraining, or nervous system burnout.
To preserve strength, starting each workout off with one big compound movement works well. Do a couple warmup sets with say 60-70% of your 1RM, then 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with around 80%. Keep rest breaks moderate in the range of two minutes or so between work sets.
An upper body push, and upper body pull, and a lower body/leg movement all done once per week in this fashion is more than enough to preserve strength. Don’t worry about trying to increase the weight week by week. Instead, just maintain the same weight throughout your cutting cycle, striving to stay strong and maximize explosiveness while performing each lift.
Something some lifters do when trying to lose body fat is go overboard on the cardio. While this can burn a lot of calories, doing too much of it can radically drain your recovery reserves and leave you flat for any strength work you try to do. A better approach would be to mix a combination of long, slow cardio with a couple intense interval workouts each week.
This goes without saying, but you’re not losing any body fat if your diet isn’t correct. It might seem cliché, but the adage that “abs are made in the kitchen” is likely more true than you might think. In fact, it’s absolutely possible to get as lean as you like with only lifting weights and better nutrition. Legendary trainer Vince Gironda was known for getting his clients (both celebrities and bodybuilding pros) ripped while doing no cardio.
The advantage of this is that you can maintain maximum muscle and strength while still getting lean. You may have to alter your lifting a little bit, but as was mentioned above, it won’t take a ton of heavy lifting to stay strong. However, by keeping the focus of your physical training on the weights, you ensure strength and power maintenance even more.
Retaining strength is more than doable when your primary focus is getting lean. You just need to ensure that you keep lifting heavy – but not too heavy. Keep the cardio in check (meaning don’t do endless hours of long, slow distance aerobic work). Then direct most of your fat loss efforts toward getting your diet in check so as to achieve a caloric deficit. Do all that, and you’ll not only end up with a lean physique, but one that’s still as strong as it looks.
For motivation that might make you want to switch from cutting to bulking again, check out these feats of strength videos.