Should You Lift Less When You Are Cutting Weight
May 15th 2019
Find out whether or not you should start cutting back your program volume if you are cutting weight. In the real world, we face many challenges that prevent us from looking from our ideal body shape. For many lifters, we either start off as overweight or skin and bones. We are never at our peak physical condition. So, many lifters will always try to attempt to cut weight in order to achieve their ideal body image. Even for people who do not workout or go to the gym, they will also want to cut weight through their diet. Unfortunately, they are often misguided by salespeople and advertisements, promising them quick results for very little effort. Weight loss is not like that. But that is a topic for another time.
The big question we have for today is, should you lift less when cutting weight? If you talk to most strength training coaches and fitness enthusiasts, you will be bombarded with nutrition information on how you should be on a caloric surplus in order to maintain optimal strength progress. This is something that I am confident every lifter would agree on - that being on a caloric surplus is what helps drive progress the quickest. In order to build strength, you can grow more muscle and create more neural pathways. Even with both of these options, it takes time and resources that your body must use in order to create new muscle. And logically, what is the quickest way in order to refuel your body with appropriate building blocks of life - your food. Your diet.
But here is the catch, can you even gain strength when cutting? Is there no hope to just try to maintain your bodyweight and still try to gain strength?
Do you lift less when cutting?
You do not need to lift less when cutting. The whole purpose of working out while cutting is to reduce your losses - you will attempt to salvage any muscle atrophy while trying to burn fat.
Minimize your muscle losses
The whole purpose of cutting is for you to lose weight, particularly fat. I do not know any lifter who purposely dieted down in order to lose muscle. This would defeat the whole purpose of a diet. Our body will store fat in certain areas and it is up to us on whether or not we want to start eating at a caloric deficit.
When you try to lift lighter because of a caloric deficit, are you achieving your goals? Remember that some goals can be achieved through more than one means. For instance, if you wanted to lose weight but also gain some strength, this is a possible avenue. Depending on how long your cut is, you still have some time where it is possible to gain some strength on your gym lifts.
If you are cutting weight and want to grow muscle, your goals are not aligned. When you are cutting weight, you want to lose fat. But at the same time, you will also be losing a bit of muscle since the process of losing weight is not black and white. However, if you do work out and lift weights while going on a cut, you have a better chance to lose more fat than muscle, compared to someone who is not working out at all.
Longer and less aggressive cuts will result is less loss of strength
Have you ever heard that longer and less aggressive cuts tend to yield better results? Well, it is the truth. The more calculated your cut duration is, the less you have to suffer. Picture this, imagine a 16 week cut versus a 4 week cut, where the same goal is to lose 5 lbs. In the 4 week plan, you will have to suffer more to lose the same 5 lbs as someone who is on a 16 week cut. In addition to that, you will most likely also put back on the 5lbs after a shorter cut duration compared to a longer cut timeline. If you have ever followed the TV show, The Biggest Loser, these contestants are able to lose massive amounts of weight in such a short period of time. In the end, they are weighed and rewarded for who can lose the most weight in a short period of time.
What the show does not reveal is the aftermath of the contest. Almost every single contestant afterward gained back the weight their loss during the show. For some, they even weighed more after the show than they did when they first started. This is not building positive momentum for anyone.
We can learn from the mistakes of other people. It is logical that the longer something takes to accomplish, the more likely it is to stick around. For instance, imagine your ancestors building their first home. The home building takes a while if you want an awesome place. If your ancestors were not able to stick with building their home for the long run, your dynasty would probably not be here today.
In terms of losing weight, the longer it takes for you to achieve a certain amount of weight loss, the more likely it is to stay off without too much resistance for your body. One reason for this is because you have weaned your body into learning how to adapt to lower body weight. The same principle applies to strength building.
If you still lift heavy when cutting, you will retain most, if not, all of your strength. In some cases, you may even gain strength if the cut is short enough. For longer cuts, strength loss may be inevitable. This is because your body does not have enough time in order to adapt to the intensity of your heavy workouts.
Fear of Injury
There are some lifters that are afraid that they may get injured while doing a weight cut. This is just paranoia and you should try to think about the long term goals of your weight cut. In any sport, there is always a potential for injury. When athletes push their body to the limit, your bodies may not be ready to adapt to that stress. At the same time, what other choice do people have if they decide that being average is not a worthy goal?
In reality, it will be tough to reach the top. This is why there are always only a few winners and a whole bunch of losers. It takes an incredible amount of discipline, hard work and commitment. These are qualities that you will not find in an average person. So, what is really stopping you from lifting heavy while cutting?
I am here to tell you that it is okay to lift heavy. But you need to be aware of the limitations of a caloric deficit and its relationship with strength gains.
What happens if I am losing strength when cutting?
If you are losing strength while cutting, you are probably either cutting too many calories in a short period of time or cutting for a long period of time. In either case, here is something you can do in order to limit your strength loss.
Lifters should maintain their intensity but cut their volume if needed. So, if you are running a 5x5 program and the squats and bench press are just murdering your recovery, you can slowly drop some sets. Try to do a 3x5 instead of a 5x5. When a 3x5 gets too difficult and you are still cutting, you can drop that to a 3x3. One metric that some lifters like to use is to compare their 3x3 working set from before the cut to after the cut. If your 3x3 working sets did not change, you did not lose any strength. If you see a dramatic drop in your 3x3 workout sets, know that it is a normal reaction to someone who is cutting weight.
Should you do cardio when you are cutting?
One main purpose of adding cardio to a strength training program when cutting is to increase your caloric deficit. If you are able to burn off more calories, you can technically eat more and still be losing fat. The issue comes where you are not getting the results you want from adding in cardio. And another gray area comes when you are unable to figure out whether or not you are getting your results each week or each month. Daily weigh-ins are important to track but they should not discourage you if you somehow gained weight on certain days. You must remember that weight loss is not linear.
I am not a fan of adding in cardio while cutting. Technically, I am not a fan of cardio in general. But the main question you need to ask yourself is whether or not doing cardio will help you achieve your goals. It is important to first answer this question because it will help determine what you need to do in terms of your caloric intake and workout program.
Should you lift less when cutting? No, you should not but ultimately you can get to the same goal - losing weight - whether or not you lift heavy, lift light or do not lift at all. The main question comes from whether or not you have secondary and tertiary goals that you also want to accomplish while cutting weight. This can potentially detract you from your primary goal but this is your call to make.