Relationship Between Weight Loss & Strength

A Fortified Iron poster wonders what the relationships is between weight loss and strength. The thread examines whether it's possible to get stronger during weight loss.

The original poster:

I lost 12-15 pounds a few months ago ( weight has been steady for 2-3 months now ), but I can't seem to gain strength - although I didn't lose any, either. Question is : how long before your body adapts, and you start to move up again? I'm assuming its different for everybody, but is there any rule of thumb?

Responses:

While you're moving down? Not going to happen unless you're still learning form or somesuch. After you stop dropping weight you should, theoretically, be able to start gaining strength immediately.

Unless your name is Lenny Spero and you can drop 20 lbs and hit PRs all over the place, you will usually not be able to squat/bench as much. Pulls usually stay the same or get better unless you were already extremely lean.

Maybe you just need to switch up your routine. The plateau may be training related.

Well when I was losing fat, my lifts went up a tiny bit by virtue of fixing form. Afterwards (meaning when I got tired of dieting laugh.gif ) everything shot up.

as i lost the weight i made sure that i was keeping my protien really -really high and eating alot of fats..
my bench definatly fell off a little bit..but my deadlift and squat have gone up..
loosing weight is very mental also..you think in your mind that your gonna loose some strength then your gonna

It is a complex topic with no simple answer.

I have been working with Mike Wolfe as of late and between his own dieting and my help we have gotten him down below 350 lbs from a high of 416 lbs. Mike has actually gained strength during this process but you have to keep in mind he has lost the weight very gradually.

Strength is more a function of the nervous system and caloric intake certainly has an effect on that but assuming you are not in a deficeit you should be able to comfortably gain strength with proper training.

I suggest you increase your daily intake by 200 cals per day in the form of a protein shake (easy to track) and then possibly make some modifications to your training.

If strength is a nervous function then why would dropping weight affect it should you not be able to gain strength in a defict of calories as long as you provide all the requirements for the nerological adaptation or is it carbs fats and proteins that are part of the requirements.

I think it is a mindset that everyone has engraved into their brains that "if they diet they will automatically lose strength".

Last time I checked you are cutting fat. Fat doesn't lift weight - muscle does, so why get weaker?

I can see guys dropping lots of fat getting weaker (talking 50lb drops, not 10-20) where they are losing alot of fat around the joints, and having big leverage changes. I can also see guys that were normally a higher bf (say 16+) getting really lean (sub 10) getting a little weaker, but I don't think there are any excuses for losing a bunch of strength for a 15lb weight loss - unless of course you did a really shitty diet and lost a bunch of muscle.

You have to be fairly high in the fat department to be able to lose weight and gain strength. Gaining strength is likely going to require gains in muscle tissue, which just ain't happening in a calorie deficit unless your body has a lot of fat to metabolize.

You can also gain strength from increased muscular efficiency. Every time I diet down from 10-12% to 6-7% I still set deadlift and squat PR's. Now I might be an exception to the rule, but I have never had problems gaining strength and muscle while dieting.

Personally I think it is possible to lose around 14 pounds and keep, if not gain strength unless you are already fairly lean. I will soon find out as i'm trying exactly that over the next couple of months.

Gaining strength does not require gains in muscle tissue. When training with low reps and heavy weight you will increase neural efficiency thereby causing a strength increase. If you look at it from your point of view then how would a powerlifter or olympic lifter be able to stay in the same weight class for years whilst still increasing their strength?

I think a big part about gaining strength while losing fat is making sure that the fat loss is gradual (1-1.5 lbs / week). From everything I've read and experienced if you are losing more than 2 lbs a week you are going to run the risk of losing strength.

As long as you have a gradual loss and the proper diet I don't see why it's not possible to lose fat and get stronger.

Your nervous system requires nutrients to function. A caloric deficit can have an effect on it especially when speaking of its recovery from intense exercise.

I think part of the reason it's hard(er) to maintain strength while dieting is that training intensity tends to suffer. you won't have as much energy in the gym which means you can't move the same weights (in general) which means strength loss. this is compounded by large caloric deficits, too few carbs and too much cardio. bench dropping while dieting is an almost universal report though, not sure why.

solutions:
a. be patient and lose the weight gradually.
b. don't jump into retarded amounts of cardio stuff without building up first. if you're gonna get crazy with intervals, realize that this will cut into your leg training and recovery. squat/dl on two days and intervals on 2 different days = 4 high intensity days for legs. for this reason, doing the intervals on the same day as legs can improve recovery, you get more total days of rest.
c. cut training volume as recovery/work capacity will be down somewhat. the key to maintaining strength is intensity (load on the bar), not volume and you can reduce volume by up to 2/3'rds as long as keep the intensity high. I'd rather see someone dieting get one top set with an appropriate weight than 3 sets at a lower weight. work capacity tends to be down so save your efforts for low volume top sets
d. carbs around training at the very least

Yes your right obviously at some point you are going to have to increase muscle mass, however I believe that unless you are at the highest level in the sport you will still be able to gain strength through increased neural efficiency whilst cutting a bit of weight if its done properly.

i upped my volume dramatically while dieting and set pr's left and right..i think dieting is mostly mental///like someone said..last time i checked fat dosnt move weight.

Of course fat doesn't move weight (ignoring leverage advantages) but the point is that fat loss tends to include muscle loss as well, unless the fat is lost slowly. In a survival sense, our bodies are not stupid--if you suddenly start taking in fewer calories, your body is going to prepare for a famine and want to shed energy-expensive muscle tissue. I would guess this influences why people seem to lose more bench strength than squat or deadlift while losing weight as well. If you're going out to hunt or search for food, leg strength to get you there and be able to move fast or flee if necessary is more important than arm muscle, so your body would tend to get rid of upper body muscle first in a calorie deficit. In short, our body's natural evolutionary instinct for survival is every powerlifter's (and bodybuilder's) bane.

Increasing the force production capability of the contractile elements of the muscle cells (actin and myosin) is certainly part of the total demonstrable strength equation.

The idea that fat doesn't contract is, of course, true. That said, there are 2 primary reasons lifters tend to get stronger as they increase their body weight:

1) The body will deposit some of the excess caloric intake as lean muscle tissue with this phenomena being more prevalent when the weight gain is accompanied by an intense weight training regimen.

2) The increased body weight can improve leverage in certain movements due to both bodily girth and the intra-muscular storage of fat which may improve the "tissue leverage" within the muscles themselves.

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I'm 5'10" I found I didn't have much success at all in powerlifting until I reached about 220lbs. I guess for me that's when I was getting enough bulk to gain a leverage advantage. Now I compete at 242.