T Nation

Want to Gain Strength, Not Muscle

Hi all,

I read t-nation articles all the time, but this is the first time posting here.

FYI, from past experience, this will probably create all kinds of angst. I’m not a troll, I’m genuinely seeking help!

I go to the gym because a) I want to get stronger, b)I want to fix some injuries and c)I want to future proof myself against future injuries.

The problem is that I want to get stronger, while NOT putting on any muscle. In fact, I would prefer to lose some.

Some people are hard gainers, I seem to be an easy gainer. Before any comments come in about skinny guys wanting to keep their abs, I’m 188cm tall and currently 105kg (6’3" and about 230 pounds). My body fat would be around 15%. Yes, in a perfect world I’d be sub 10% body fat, but I like food. I’m definitely not a fattie though. I mostly train compound exercises (deadlift and press mostly), no machines and no isolation stuff.

So why lose weight? My main sport is whitewater kayaking. I also rock climb and mountain bike. For all these sports too much weight makes things harder. Rock climbing is obvious, more weight to drag up the cliff, but even kayaking I hit a lot more rocks, just because I’m sitting low in the water.

Therefore I want to lose weight. But I also want to get stronger. And I know those two things don’t go together.

Therefore, to me it seems I need to train like a weight class restricted athlete. However, I’m struggling to find info that helps me!

I’m thinking that one work set of 5 reps a week for my main lifts is going to minimise any muscle growth. However, if I do that, is that enough work to continue to build strength?

Any other suggestions for loads, reps, sets, etc?

This is a serious question and I’ve been trying to find an answer to it for quite some time.

I’m nearly 38 by the way.



Until you get to a body fat that you are happy with, I wouldn’t be trying to lose muscle. You may be surprised at how much fat comes off.

Other than that, it’s worth focussing your training around the stuff that will help kayaking, Back, legs, etc and doing minimal work elsewhere (as per cyclists)

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keep training how you have been and cut back on the caloric intake along with making sure the food you eat is nutritionally dense .

This. 15% @ 230# means 195# of LBM. That’s a lot of muscle, even at 6’3". Assuming you’re not enhanced, it’s unlikely you’re carrying that much muscle.

Here’s how to do it:

Get good at hard bodyweight exercises. One arm push ups, muscle ups, hand stand push ups, front levers, pistol squats, shin-to-bar hanging leg raises.


Warm ups: finger tip push ups, pull ups (2x10 each). Box jumps.

Superset 1: 3x5 muscle ups; 3x5-8 pistol squats (each leg). Rotate between these.
Superset 2: 1 arm push ups 3x5-10 (each arm); 3x10 slow shin-to-bar hanging leg raise. Rotate these, and rest as needed.
Superset 3 (easier for volume) 5x10 ring dips; 5x10 inverted rows. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and do EMOM.

Finish with practicing L-sit holds, bridges, and/or front levers.

This works fantastic if you want to be strong but relatively light. Your body adapts to become effective at what you’re doing. If you do heady deadlifts and squats, it will adapt at being better at these by adding muscle and body mass. To get good at hard bodyweight exercises, you’ll need to become strong and flexible, but your body won’t compensate by adding extra mass (in fact, you’ll almost certainly weigh less as you get better at these movements).

I did this type of training with one day of heavy barbell pulling, and my bodyweight naturally went down but I remained as strong as I’d been. I was about your age doing that. I am now doing the “big 4” barbell lifts, and I’ve gotten stronger and better on these but my overall bodyweight is about 10 pounds more (as I expected would happen).

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Get down to 200lbs/lose 4-6 inches off your waist line and then evaluate.

Generally speaking just hit the weights one day a week however you want and you will not put on new muscle. Doing a ton of longer interval conditioning/cardio especially running also hinders muscle growth

The problem is losing that weight, while continuing to build strength! Also, I hate running.

Also, I’m realistic enough to know that while I might make sub 10% body fat, I could never maintain it, due to that love of food.

I walk the dog a lot, at least 5km a day during the week, sometimes a lot more if I do 2 walks. Weekends I’m hopefully kayaking, riding etc, so no weights or other stuff then, generally speaking.

I really like the idea of body weight exercise as a way to get your body more focussed on efficiency. However, I’m struggling with pretty bad elbow tendonitis/tendonosis. It’s a 2 steps forward, 1 back kind of situation at the moment. I can do chins/pull ups, but the limiting factor is the tendons, not the muscles. For example I did a few sets of 3 tonight, carefully, and that was ok. Painful but not too much. Zero chance I could do a muscle up at the moment.

Say i was to try and incorporate more body weight exercises and only train with the barbell once a week, what sets and reps would you do? Just one work set of each exercise? Presumably focus on just a few main exercise, skip all the extraneous stuff? Can I still gain strength only training 1 day a week?

thanks for the responses so far



…is the holy grail of 90% of people on this site. Very rarely happens, especially over 30. Pick one goal at a time

As Eyedentist said above, you’ll be suprised how much fat there is to take off.

200lbs is not that skinny even at 6’3. True 6-pack shredded would be prob 175 if you havent been training to bodybuild

2x5 or 3x3 not including warmups is fine. If your genetics are well above average as you’re implying, one day a week is fine


If you read 95% of the articles on T-nation, or pretty much anywhere else, everyone seems obsessed with putting on muscle. Which I get, but it means it’s hard to find information on NOT doing that!