T Nation

Training to Maintain Muscle and Strength While Losing Fat

Hey, guys!

I often see the following advice being given on forums, or on popular YouTube channels:

“If you want to MAINTAIN your muscle and strength while cutting, keep training as you did while you were building muscle, because that’s what built the muscle in the first place.”

This is driving me nuts. To me, this sounds like a total waste of time and energy.

On a cut, we are likely not going to BUILD muscle anyway. The body is in a mainly catabolic state, and there ain’t enough calories or the proper hormonal environment to BUILD muscle.

So, why not just train a couple of times a week, with just a couple of sets of the main compound lifts? This appears to be enough to MAINTAIN the muscle and strength we have.

Why waste our energy and willpower on training “full throttle”, without gaining anything from it? I think our energy would be better spent focusing on our diet (something that many people give up on after a while, because their training regiments have wiped them out).

What’s your honest opinion on the subject?

Thanks in advance!

When you say “cut”, I take it you mean getting ready for a bodybuilding show?

Correct. Reducing calories to lose fat (not necessarily to compete though).

Wait…that just sounds like losing fat, not cutting.

You can definitely get stronger while losing fat. I’ve done. Right now, if you check out the log of @twojarslave you can see he’s doing it too.

I reduce the amount of conditioning work I do when I’m losing fat, and I might reduce some of the volume/assistance work, but deciding that you’re just going to give up on getting stronger simply because you’re losing fat is silly. Yes; focus your energy on your diet TOO, but you should still be kicking ass in training.

Now, if you’re actually cutting, as in getting into bodybuilding contest level conditioning, I think strength loss should be expected, and training should most likely shift toward simple maintenance, but I honestly have no experience dropping my bodyfat that low.


Thanks for the reply…

Not sure what’s the difference between cutting and losing fat. I have always thought they are the same. I have edited the subject line to make it clear I’m talking about losing fat.

I’m talking about losing fat for “civilians” - say going from 25% bodyfat down to 12%.

I agree with this:

“I reduce the amount of conditioning work I do when I’m losing fat, and I might reduce some of the volume/assistance work”

Thanks again.

Cutting/going on a cut is bodybuilder lingo for getting into competition level conditioning, essentially transitioning from high single digit bodyfat to mid/low single digit bodyfat. It’s been popular for meatheads to adopt this term to refer to any form of fat loss, but it’s simply not true, as one will undergo drastically different physical changes pursuing the former vs the latter.

The higher your bodyfat percentage, the easier it is to lose the fat, and the easier it will be on your training. Trying to get absolutely peeled will cost you. What has happened is that people have taken the experience of bodybuilders trying to get down to competition level bodyfat and decided that it must be the case for ALL fat loss, but that’s silly.

I actually hit my greatest deadlift numbers when I dieted down to 8.4% bodyfat (according to a bodpod), mainly because my diet was really dialed in.

I think this is a really important point that gets overlooked a lot (including myself). Eating properly doesn’t just get you leaner, it also gets you stronger and helps you perform better.

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I think @T3hPwnisher already hit on some very important distinctions between “cutting” and “losing fat”. Now that we’ve established that we’re talking about the latter, I’ll address your statement.

You may be right, but I’m not interested in finding out right now. I am unsure of your fat level, your strength level, the amount of muscle you are carrying, your proficiency under the bar, your consistency in the gym and in the kitchen, but I don’t think that even matters that much for most people.

Bust ass. Eat right. Sleep. Keep it up over time. You will either make progress, or not. If you are and you believe you can make as much progress, or better progress, or easier progress by doing less work, have at it and let us know how it goes for you. I’ll stick with always striving to be as strong as I can, as it has been working well for me.

I’m in the same boat. Working with 5/3/1, walking for an hour 3-4 times a week, and trying to consume 2,500 calories. I’m sitting at about 22% (hydro test). I’ve always been taught to lift heavy and let cardio/diet dictate how your body shapes up. It’s so easy, but so complicated at the same time.

I remember reading something by thibs that recommend to focus on maintaining strength during a cut because basically your body wants to use it as energy so by stimulating the muscle enough it tells your body it is essential and tries to use other sources.

But I’m confused why you think just doing a couple of sets would be enough? If that’s all it takes to stimulate your muscle before then fine but if you’re used to a much higher workload (which it sounds like you are) then your body simply will not grow or maintain strength with taking that big of a deload for that long.

@T3hPwnisher is on the money. I’m doing exactly that, trying to lose fat. I’m still pushing to get stronger (so far so good) and build muscle (likewise seems to be working). It just means my calories are in a slight deficit was I’m hungry fairly often.

Thanks for the replies. :slight_smile:

Just to clarify where I’m coming from: I’m 40, have a bad spine, and started my fat loss at about 24% BF. I also have other things that require my focus and willpower, like my business.

In other words, I’m not 25, looking to get shredded or win a powerlifting competition.

My main interest is “achieving a healthy and good-looking physique for the average, busy, middle-aged guy.”

I do realize this is a forum for those who are “serious” about their physique, so thanks for putting up with me.

Dan John says that achieving some qualities is easier than others.

Gaining strength: Easiest of all

Losing Fat: Somewhere in the middle

Gaining Muscle: Hardest of all

Also, from what I have read, it takes a lot of work to BUILD muscle but very little to MAINTAIN it (dat muscle memory, yo).

For strength, yes, it’s a little easier to keep improving on it more easily, because a lot of it is neural adaptation.

My view (which I ain’t trying to impose on anyone) is that the minimalistic approach to fat loss is:

“Do the minimum amount of exercise needed to maintain muscle, and then just eat less (with enough protein to maintain the muscle)”.

I have to say that, right now, I’m losing fat, maintaining muscle and strength, and it doesn’t even appear to be that hard.

I think the following supplements are helping me:

Caffeine: Suppresses appetite
Glucomannan fiber: Makes me feel fuller, suppresses appetite
HCA: blocks carb absorption
Chitosan: blocks fat absorption

I’m just saying that it’s easier for me to focus on getting my diet and supplementation dialed in, rather than “leaving it all” in the gym.

Different approaches work for different people, and that’s fine.

Thanks again for the replies! :slight_smile:

Pretty much where I was at when I started.

I think the main point we were making in relation to training is what you were doing before is fine and probably best to keep doing. You may find you don’t make progress as fast, but you’ll still make progress.

Your appearance in terms of body fat is mostly down to your diet, specifically calorie intake (macros are important more for recovery IMO) since if your intake is below maintenance, your body will eat up fat stores. Training to be strong and muscular will actually help with that.

Either way, it sounds like you’re on the right track.

is that one of those supps that makes you leak the oil out of your asshole? If it is, I’d probably avoid it.

For something as simple as fat loss, if what you’re doing is working, I usually recommend sticking with it until it no longer works or you can no longer do it. We don’t need permission from the internet to chart our own course with this.


Yeah, that does happen sometimes, lol!

Serious question: Is the leaky asshole worth it?

I’m not judging here, just curious.

saves on lube?

I’d just eat less fat, personally.

Or hell, just be hungry. Gotta be better than leaking oil.

All these appetite suppressant things confuse me.

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Reminds me of a story Anthony Cumia (formerly of Opie and Anthony) told after he broke up with his girlfriend, a local weather girl and model who had appeared in Playboy. She was taking the prescription fat blocker Xenical and, according to Ant, they woke up to soiled sheets on more than one occasion after a surprise leakage in the middle of the night.

So, yeah no, not worth it. Even to be with a Playboy model.

More on topic,

“Eat less, exercise less” is one route for fat loss. “Eat more, exercise more” is another. So if you’re currently seeing results, I’d say stay the course. But I’d definitely suggest getting your diet more in order instead of relying on one supplement to “block carbs” and another supp to “block fats”. Making smarter decisions would make those Band-Aids unnecessary.