Dealing with strength loss when dieting
Dieting and losing weight is not fun. Anyone who’s said it is probably don’t like donuts and hate beer. But sometimes we find it worthwhile to restrict the pleasure of our taste buds to appeal to our vanity in pursuit of a slimmer waistline. Unfortunately it often cause our gym lifts to slow down, stagnate, or even regress which doesn’t exactly make our endeavor more enjoyable. Here are some ideas to help you from banging your head against the wall when dropping weight.
Bodyweight matters when it comes to lifting, otherwise there would be no need for weight classes. Depending on your body structure it might matter more or less but if you’re one of the unlucky ones you might see a drop of 1 kg on your bench press for almost every kg you drop from your bodyweight. That mental part is for many much worse than the actual restrictions on food.
One thing I almost always do when I want to drop some weight or help someone to drop weight is to include some relative strength lifts. Typically I immediately include chins and dips because they should actually increase as your bodyweight drops. You get the feeling that you’re getting stronger as your waist is getting smaller – that’s a huge reward!
If you’re already strong in chips with dip chins and dips already, and I use the completely arbitrary number of being able to do ten reps here, you can switch to harder variations, for instance:
- From chinups to pullups
- Slow pullups
- Gironda pullups
- From half-rep dips you mostly see to actual full depth dips
- Slow dips
- Bulgarian dips
- Gironda dips
EMR suggestion: 15-2
You can also simply hang some extra weight around your waist. You should still be able to improve even if your bodyweight goes down. There are many other bodyweight exercises one can do.
For the not so strong:
- Pushups, including variations with different hand placements.
- Rows on rings or a bar.
- V-ups and other abdominal exercises.
For the more advanced:
- Pistol squats
- Handstand pushups
- Front lever and back lever
What about lifting?
But what about actually lifting weight? There’s no need to completely stop doing your main lifts but aggressively chasing new personal bests might not be the best option. Better to focus on maintaining and building up solid skill. Practicing at around 85-95% or your 1 repetition maximum (1RM) will keep your strength and very effectively increase your skill. It’s also worth considering being on a type of program where you stay clear of failure and maximal attempts. There are many, many options for that. Dig through the Everlifting Module Repository and I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.
I do want to point out that I’m cautious with very heavy squats and deadlifts when there’s a fairly rapid decrease in weight. I’ve seen and heard about quite a few messed up backs when pushing those two lifts in particular while simultaneously trying to drop weight. Thankfully it has yet to happen to myself or any of the lifter’s I’ve trained but it has still lead me to be a bit careful with it and I suggest you should be too.
I also like to do lifts that I normally don’t do because there’s no strong emotional connection to them and they still have a fairly high chance of improving simply by an increase in skill. The lift variations don’t need to be exotic. For instance, if you normally bench press, training the close grip bench press or incline bench press might be a good idea. Just pick something you don’t typically do or haven’t done in a long time. The point is to not bang your head against the wall because your main lifts are starting to feel heavier.
You can also shift gear and instead of trying to lift new maximums try to lift in relation to your bodyweight as mentioned in the previous article “Are you relatively strong?”.
It might seem like I’m predicting your main lifts will all go to hell. That’s not the case if you use a sensible fat loss plan and don’t go extreme and think you need to combine intermittent fasting with the grapefruit diet or whatever extreme concoction of nonsense you’ve been fooled into.
If you drop weight slowly you might actually even be able to increase strength, especially if you’re not an advanced lifter. But for most there is some extra heaviness to the bar and you’d be wise to plan for it in order to not get wrecked mentally.