T Nation

Train for Strength while dieting?

Regardless of what supplement manufacturers try to claim, I tend to hold to the belief that it is impossible to gain LBM while in a hypocaloric state(dieting) unless you’re a complete beginner, genetic freak, or on the juice. Seemingly, weight training while dieting serves mainly to send a signal to your body that it needs to keep it’s muscle and burn fat instead and also the exercise obviously helps to burn calories. With that in mind why is it so popular for people to train with hypertrophy in mind when it is unlikely they will experience any?

It has been proven that you can gain strength without a hypertrophic response due to your nervous system(CNS) adapting to the heavy loads. I’m wondering if CNS adaption can occur without a calorie surplus as muscle growth needs. If not then wouldn’t it make sense to train with strength in mind while dieting? If you give up the fact that you will not gain muscle in a diet then you can train for strength and hopefully at the end of the dieting phase you will be stronger. Then because of your higher strength you can begin your mass phase lifting greater weights thus getting a better hypertrophic response than if you had trained for hypertrophy during the diet phase.

I know I've oversimplified things a bit but it seems a legit theory. Also people seem to gauge if they're losing LBM during a diet by the maintenance of strength. "So long as I don't get weaker then I'm not losing muscle". However what if these people were actually losing a bit of muscle but gaining strength from CNS adaption at the same time? Could it be misleading to go by the keep the strength theory?

I know Poliquin advocates higher reps and short rest periods during diet phases to induce more lactic acid buildup which he says raises GH levels. I’m curious how fat loss would occur during a diet while training with low reps and heavier weights with longer rest periods which would build up less lactic acid.

Just curious.

This is a really interesting concept, I’d like to see in answered by the experts

Yes, A very good question!, I would love to know the answer on this!

Sorry, fellas, I’m surely not the expert that you’re looking for, but I thought I’d chime in because this is rather interesting to me as well.

You’re absolutely right, Vegeta, that most trainees seem to go with higher reps during a hypocaloric dieting phase with the false assumption that the higher reps are what gets them cut However, the fat loss comes from a combo of training and nutrition. Training with higher reps allows for much quicker acute recovery (between sets) so less time between sets need be taken, thus elevating the heart rate to a point where the weight training is like a cardio workout as well.

I agree and am testimony to the fact that it is difficult and damn near impossible to put on much if any LBM in a hypocaloric state. So why not train using strength training protocol? Not a bad idea. One thing I'd think you'd have to look at is how demanding this type of training is on the CNS--even when consuming adequate or more than adequate energy--and further factor into the equation the fact that your body's recovery will most likely be less than optimal because of the lack of energy. Basically, I just think the demands on the body would be somewhat higher than with high-rep training. You also lose the advantage that high-rep, short rest interval training plays in fat loss. But I do find it an intriguing topic and hope that others will give their ideas.

Vagetta, that is what I am doing presently. Keeping the intensity high, the volume low, and not working to failure. I’m also doing an MRP diet with quite a bit of caloric reduction. I’ve lost 13lbs. and have gotten strogner at every workout. It works. By the way, a few months ago I emailed TC with the same question you posted here. He basically gave the thumbs up too.

Training for strength while dieting is definitely the way to go. Whenever I trained high reps while dieting I lost muscle because I wasn’t taxing my body enough. If you diet down and force your body to lift the same weights you were lifting when you were bulking you will lose minimal muscle mass. I dropped 20lbs, 3 inches on my waist, chest measurement stayed the same, arms down by 0.25 inches.

I can’t cite any research examples supporting the position of using a neural training program for fat loss, but I can offer my own personal experience. I started the Massive Eating program a few weeks ago, but decided to modify it so that I was either at maintenance calories or slightly below on a daily basis, in essence to try to use it for fat loss while retaining muscle tissue. The thing that intrigued me about John Bernardi’s aricles was the macronutrient food combinations and their effect on insulin levels. I decided to try this in conjunction with a low-rep (2-4), moderate set workout routine. I have not used any supplements either since I wanted to see how the training and diet would work sans any type of supplement help.

All I can say is that during the last 4 weeks I have increased my strength while losing body fat at the same time. Just to mention, I'm not a newbie, I've been bodybuilding and strength training for over twenty years now so the results are not from some "newbie training" effect. I've been using a step loading approach for the weight workouts which has been working well. I plan on continuing this for 4 more weeks to determine how the plan is working. So far, pretty good. I too would be intersted in an "expert opinion" on this.

Not to mention the muscle hardening effect that low rep training brings. I am going to employ this into my next cutting phase because #1 I am a martial artist and the “sorry I’m sore from lifting yesterday,” doesn’t fly when you’re sparring and #2 My muscles get really soft when dieting down. So, it looks like the low rep high intensity thing is a definate go.

Wow…I’ve been thinking about the exact same thing lately. I think training for strength fits well with dieting, and in fact I wrote in a few months ago asking about the same thing. I don’t think you should use strength gain/loss as an indicator of muscle gain/loss when dieting, because I have also gained strength while losing weight. Another point is that when you’re energy deficient, it’s a bitch to do high-rep workouts…whenever I try this, my progress comes to a halt. After reading the Evil Russian articles, I decided to try going back to more of a strength approach, and even after only two weeks, strength and muscle hardness seem to be rising. One thing I would recommend: listen to your body. When you go from high-rep to low-rep and start handling heavier weights, your joints and other supporting tissues might be a little shocked and I think you might be prone to injury if you’re not careful. I also personally think that the whole GH thing with high-rep/low rest is over-rated. Diet plays a much bigger role.