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Can You Get Strong While Losing Fat?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Muscle



Absolutely. There are two ways to gain strength. One is to increase the size of the muscle. The other is to increase the neural drive to the muscle (neural improvements).

When you’re dieting for fat loss you obviously won’t be increasing the size of the muscle. So you’ll have to focus on neural strength gains, which is really what you should be doing anyway.

Plenty of people regularly make impressive strength gains and even hit PR’s while leaning out.

Bodyweight exercises will all improve as you lose body fat. Many lifts will go up, others will remain stagnant but shouldn’t go down.

There are two exceptions, however.

If you have a large waist and you cut, lets say six inches off of it, your squat weight will most likely go down. That’s simply because your foundation will no longer be as big/wide. But a lot of that has to do with how you squat. If you’re squatting high bar, Olympic style and going straight down you won’t notice as much of a decrease as you would squatting the way a geared powerlifter squats.

Your bench press will also suffer because the range of motion will increase. When you lose fat on your back and chest the bar will now have to travel through a greater range of motion.

But I wouldn’t worry about either of those. Focus on getting lean and don’t pre-load any excuses into your head. You CAN get stronger while losing fat.

Train heavy (but with submaximal weights) in the range of 3-6 reps and be sure to really maximize tension from head to toe during the performance of each set. Contrary to what most people would think, you may actually need to slightly increase your rest periods when dieting. That’s because calories will be low so you may find yourself more fatigued than normal. If you find that starts happening simply give yourself a bit more rest between sets. That way you will be sure not to sacrifice any strength.



Back around 1930 Mark Berry started using the Heavy/Light/ Medium system (or Heavy/Medium/Light, depending on how you want to look at it) and Bill Starr popularized it a few decades later. That’s when almost everyone always did full body workouts and didn’t split things up too much. That system has always worked incredibly well. If you split your training into upper and lower body workouts a heavy/moderate day, like you mentioned, is a great option that’s been used by many successful lifters. So on the heavy upper body day you might focus on sets of 3-5 reps and on the second upper body day of the week you’d use lighter weights and an average of eight reps per set (or as high as ten, in some cases). This is a great way to compress longer periodization schemes into one week and helps prevent you from burning out. I use it in my Renegade Strong program.



As I guess you might know, music is a huge passion of mine and it’s always playing in my house.

Since you mentioned hip-hop I will stick with that for what is currently on high rotation on my training mix.

RA the Rugged Man made one of the greatest and most underrated hip hop albums of 2013. I always have some La Coka Nostra, PE and some Beasties in the mix. I’ve also been on a pretty serious Nas kick lately.

Anyway, here’s a look at my current training mix:



Got a question that requires more than 140 characters to answer? Holler at me on Twitter with the hashtag #AskJay and I will do my best to answer it here.


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11 Responses to Can You Get Strong While Losing Fat?

  1. Carl January 10, 2014 at 2:21 am #


    Love this and hope it’s the start of regular Twitter Q&As on the site!

    Public Enemy are a constant ‘accomplice’/training partner on my headphones during workouts and I’m sure Chuck D has been responsible for more than one of my training PBs over the years!

    Looking forward to more of these quick-fire Q&As.

  2. Richard Parker January 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Great questions which drew my attention. I think the first question was the very first question I had when I started training : )

    Looking forward to more of these.

  3. Chuck January 11, 2014 at 1:31 am #

    Love this post idea! I’m looking forward to seeing more like this in the future

  4. Brandon Richey January 13, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    Jason great post. Addressing muscle size and neural drive will increase strength gains and in pursuit of this one can lean out by keeping nutritional/metabolic factors in line. I too have seen some of my best strength gains as I was leaning out. It’s amazing how much the body will give back when dialing it in with nutrition, consistency in the weight room, and getting sufficient rest. Thanks again for the share.

  5. Danny Lake January 14, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    Excellent Post! This is exactly what I wanted to find out. Been cutting for a few weeks but trying to get stronger at the same time and didn’t know if it was possible until now.

    Thank you =)

  6. John B January 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    This question is the story of my life. My body naturally wants to be 20 pounds heavier than I want it to be… the wrong kind of heavier. So I’m practically always dieting while lifting. It’s a pain in the ass, but it is possible to build while trying to lose some weight… it’s not ideal though, that much is true.

  7. Will January 18, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Glad to see Ap and Celph on the playlist! I’ll check out RA. Thanks.

  8. joe daniels January 21, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    i like the twitter q and A . of course you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time just have to do it smart. good recommendations jason

  9. JB February 1, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Hope to see more of these posts Jason.

    Especially like the hip hop list mate, R.A is a freak.