T Nation

Strength During a Cut?


#1

For those here who have gone through a period of trying to lose fat, how was your strength? I know some who say you should expect a slight drop while others continue to gain strength while cutting

Up until this last week my strength was staying the same or slightly going up. This last week it went down a little so I'm changing things up somewhat to compensate for this. At my level I would expect to keep all of my strength and hopefully gain a little but I could see some of the more advanced/stronger guys losing it.

If Professor X reads this: I know your not exactly doing anything drastic for cutting weight but how has your strength been?

By the way I'm not talking about the last few weeks of contest prep getting down to 4% bodyfat....just talking about dropping fat in general


#2

Strength is the gauge we go by to determine if we are losing too fast. The ONLY time you ignore strength drops are if you are already sure what you are doing and are simply trying to squeeze off that last amount of body fat and are willing to accept the loss.

In fact, if you are just starting a diet and are in the first month of it already experiencing a strength drop, then you are doing something VERY wrong.

I am dieting now but I've done minor diets several times before as "damage control" so I know how my body usually responds. I know that if I jump into this doing cardio every single day and/or drastically undercut my calories, my strength will drop like a rock along with my body weight.

For the last two weeks of this, I actually feel a little stronger (as in finishing with one or two more reps). If I start noticing a strength drop that requires me to not only drop a few reps from my last set but drop the weight, then I will probably put the breaks on.

It really comes down to how much time you have to drop the weight and how much of a loss you can tolerate. Ideal would be to actually gain size and strength while dieting, however, most people are not operating under conditions that would allow that to happen.


#3

Thanks for the response. I definitely agree, I mean especially at my level (intermediate or so) I would not expect to be losing much strength and as I said I wasn't losing any (I was gaining...albeit very slowly) until this last week which I feel is due to lack of carbs and very low calories so I'm changing that up this week.

I would assume other people have similar opinions but I have heard some say you shouldn't expect to hit new records on a diet...I would think that should only apply to very advanced trainers in their biggest lifts though (like obviously you wouldn't expect Dave Tate breaking a bench PR when he was cutting down even with ample calories).


#4

PX, to expand, what do you consider a strength drop? Missing a rep but being able to hit another set and making it up, or actually blowing a whole set and knowing that's it? Or is it more intuitive than that.


#5

I think it's also important to point that just because strength dropped for a workout or two, it doesn't mean you are "losing strength". Sometimes we just have bad workouts and it's when strength drops for a string of workouts that you know something needs to be changed.

Shit, I've lost strength while gaining over a couple workouts before simply because some days I just don't have it in me. I expect others have similar experiences.


#6

If I stick with heavy weights my max strength doesn't seem to suffer too much and it can still go up at the same rate, however the strength endurance falls off ALOT. It's weird though it's not a feeling as if I can't do it, just more like I'm likely to push it to the limit and pull a muscle or something.

Most people I see that do lose strength when they cut it's generally because they immediately start using significantly lighter weights in training. The others have pretty much programmed in their head that they are going to get weaker so they do, the last group which I could be a part of at times.

Starves themselves to often to the point that they are momentarily weaker during training because their body can't figure out wtf they're doing.


#7

I did shoulders this morning. On my last set of machine lateral raises, I only did 8 reps. I usually get 10.

The possible reasons for my drop in two reps:

1) Not enough sleep
I only got 5 hours of sleep last night and was still tired when I woke up. I tossed between getting up and hitting the gym or getting an extra two hours of sleep for about 15min. I finally just got up and went.

2) Sex.
I screwed around literally for about two hours last night and it wiped me out.

3) The Earth's rotation
Damn it, planetary shifts have fucked me again.

4) Yesterday was my cheat day and maybe 22 hot wings take away from rep strength

As you can see, jumping to conclusions about why you missed a couple of reps is quite a jump.


#8

What about if your over 40 Y.O. ? Is it realisitc to expect to be able to maintain strength while cutting?


#9

I cannot do many reps if muscles are glycogen depleted from low carbs. And I may have to drop the weight as well. Glycogen depletion and the accompanying strength loss is not the same as losing actual muscle tissue, but it will probably lead to muscle loss if you stay in that state very long. Also, on very low cals, your training can suffer from just low energy.

Were you dieting awhile before you brought carbs and cals very low?


#10

I've never been 40 years old. I have also never been YOU at 40 years old. There is one guy at my gym who is competing in the Vegas NPC in 3 weeks and I doubt he has lost much strength as he dieted down. I know this because I trained legs with him before and he makes me feel weak. Age alone (unless past the age of 50) is too variable to make rules for all people.

Edit: the guy I was speaking of is in his 40's. He is also the most impressive person lifting in that gym.


#11

This is true....which is why I guess I need to clarify. Losing a few reps while dropping weight is not unheard of. You are essentially keeping yourself from being fully fueled on purpose. However, dropping the weight used during those reps significantly is what I usually go by. If I am used to using the 65lbs dumbbells on a movement but this diet has me down to using 45, I have fucked up.


#12

pffffffft, there's no way you got laid. You don't have visible abs, remember how that works?


#13

Honestly when it comes to dieting, bad sleep = bad workouts. That's really the only thing that ever kills me in the gym.


#14

Are you doing low carb or no carb? Low carb has you feeling a lot shittier. Once your body starts burning fat for fuel, it gets a lot better. The first two weeks of my diet, I wanted to just drop the weight all the time and was super beat. I'm fine now and strength is going up.


#15

That was my assumption, that it would require a real systematic decrease in strength levels (week on week) before you would say you are losing strength. And I would expect that the strength decrease would exhibit itself as an actual set failing (missing say 80% of your reps) as opposed to missing the rep at the end of the set. Thanks!

It also sounds like yesterday was a good day...


#16

I've found recently its been a bit in the mind.

I convinced myself I shouldnt be getting stronger as i'm dropping fat, but every week I continue to put a little bit extra on the bar and convince myself that its going to go up. My lifts had stalled for about 10 weeks, mainly because I wasnt putting the effort in "Oh its ok, your doing the last bit of your cut, as long as you dont lose it, its fine" -Bull. Shit.

New PR's in the 2 weeks in Squat, Military Press, DB Bench, Trap Bar DL.


#17

if you start losing strength as you "cut" then that means you are burning through muscle and should start losing weight a little slower.


#18

If that last part was directed to me then yes I was. Strength was rising most workouts until I brought calories to about 2200...from then to about 1750 they just stayed about the same and when I dropped them again strength loss started so I'm bumping it up 1-200 with some added carbs around workouts and seeing how it goes.

By the way energy and sleep have been fine...I think it's just a combination of such low calories and an extended period with those calories.

For most people really looking to cut down I certainly have not lost any significant amount of strength, it's more the fact that the results are not good enough right now to continue with my old plan considering all I was doing. And at my stage I still want to significantly increase strength, not being able to increase most lifts for weeks now has gotten to me mentally.


#19

Well, as you have discovered, it's tricky to retain muscle on very low carbs/calories. When your training demands glycogen for fuel and it's not there, training is going to suffer, the stimulus demand for keeping the muscle around and the fuel to fuel it are both low = muscle loss. You've got to get those targeted workout carbs just right to have any chance of keeping it around.

Also by keeping calories so low for very long, your RMR will drop. This will make it much harder to keep dropping fat. It is a misconception that just losing muscle is responsible for the drop. Organs like the heart, liver, and brain are probably responsible for most of the drop. You will get to the point where maintenance is what you're eating now.

Overall for a person with a lot to lose (say more than 10-20 pounds), there's a good reason for the standard recommendations of calorie deficits of 20% per day, calories no lower than BMR, and a 1.5-2 pound loss per week. Tom Venuto has data on hundreds of clients and says that with rare exceptions, more than 2 pound loss per week included a loss of LBM.


#20

IMO, if you can train without missing a beat (no missed workouts, get enough sleep) - you can keep gaining (or at least maintain strength) while dieting. When I began dieting and swapped out my carbs - I lost strength-endurance till I got "fat adapted" and then I quickly regained my strength and even kept upping poundage on most lifts RIGHT UNTIL they closed down the gym I train at for all of December 2008.

When I returned I had lost a LOT of strength (not strength-endurance) and haven;t been able to get back to my pre-"forced" hiatus level.
So I've decided to just say "screw it" and just get lean maintaining what little muscle and strength I can hang on to - in any case, you typically regain lost size quite quickly at the end of your cut due to improved insulin sensitivity or whatever. But anyway, if you diet down carefully and methodically without missing a beat EVER, you should be able to hold on to your size and strength well (and even build some).