Can you get stronger while cutting? What you need to know
Updated February 27th 2020; January 16th 2019
As I continue to get stronger, I always eat enough food.
But I thought about this - can you get stronger while cutting?
Yes, it is possible to get stronger while cutting, at least initially. Strength gain on a cut depends on many factors such as training experience, age, and workout plan. Many beginner and intermediate lifters may be able to put on some strength while losing fat. For more advanced lifters, it is definitely possible to still maintain their strength levels while cutting down their calories.
One mistake people make when measuring strength
On a cut, one error lifters make when measuring their strength is by measuring their absolute strength.
For example, if you weigh 70kgs and are able to squat 100kgs for 10 reps.
If you cut down to 65kgs and are still able to squat 100kgs for 10 reps, you have gotten relatively stronger compared to your previous body weight.
This is especially important because, in many competitions, your max record lifts are measured with respect to your body weight.
So, if you are able to lift the same amount of weights now at lighter body weight, you are technically stronger.
Another common mistake - Changing your workout
Another common issue lifters encounter is trying to change their workout to aid in their fat loss.
Though this is tempting to do, the data shows that what previously helped you build that muscle will help you retain that muscle mass.
In fact, if you are newer to lifting, it may even help you build some muscle and strength while on a fat loss diet.
Following your workout program is the best way to keep getting stronger if you chose a strength training program.
Keep on increasing the weight as stated in your program and in a few weeks, you will see an improvement in your strength.
There is one thing you need to keep an eye on though - you need to keep an eye on your recovery level.
Since you are on a caloric deficit, your recovery is compromised and you may not be able to hit your workouts as intensely with high amounts of volume.
+1 more mistake, measuring strength linearly
Everyone measures strength by your 1 rep max.
The most weight you can lift for 1 repetition.
However, what is not commonly talked about is that people cannot hit that 1 rep max consistently.
For the most part, lifters need to peak and go on high-intensity programs that led to that result.
In other words, it is not replicable under normal situations and requires a lot of preparation in advance.
Whether this is programming, meals, or recovery.
Losing weight just adds another layer of complexity to this equation.
And as a result, you still try to measure your strength by "calculating" your 1 rep max.
Here is one truth, depending on your technique and training experience, this will ultimately gauge your strength levels while cutting.
A more experienced lifter can optimally hit compound movements with precision and can gauge their strength levels.
Whereas an intermediate or beginner lifter may have technique issues that prevent them from hitting a true 1 rep max that they just did a month ago.
Know that each day will present different results and that your strength will not be grown linearly as a result.
While beginners do have the luxury of making linear progress, progress in terms of your 1 rep max or even training max is not displayed correctly through training.
I am getting weaker while cutting?
During the first half portion of your cut, you should not see a drastic drop in strength.
If your gym performance and workouts are suffering, you may want to evaluate your diet plan.
One common issue here is that the lifter is cutting out too many calories at once, leading to a huge weight loss in a short period of time.
If you lose massive amounts of weight in a short period of time, you will see your performance decline.
Your body simply is reacting to the food restriction you are placing on it.
As a result, in order to survive, it will catabolize muscle and fat to make sure you are alive.
Your strength means nothing if you are going to die.
So, what is an example of losing too much weight?
I decided to do some research on this topic.
I found that, on average, anything bodyweight loss of more than 2 lbs per week is considered very aggressive.
This is not a healthy pace to maintain and it will definitely spell trouble for the cutter.
A healthier cut to maintain is one that is the least aggressive and can be sustained over a long period of time.
For example, ½ a pound to one pound a week is a good goal to shoot for in terms of weight loss.
Many cutters find that this is an ideal amount of weight to lose a week to still be maintaining progress in the gym while losing body weight to meet their personal goals.
Eating too far away from your workout
When you are cutting, you are on a caloric deficit.
This means you will need to eat less.
By eating less, you have less energy and nutrients to use to fuel your workout.
For some lifters that workout in the evening, they may feel terrible and lethargic since they are hungry from cutting back some calories.
One temporary solution could be that you workout very closely after one of your meals.
This way, you have something in your stomach in order to fuel you through the workout.
Another solution is to eat smaller meals every couple of hours so you do not feel hungry.
While this can be a great alternative for some people, it definitely needs to be planned out in advance as random situations can interrupt the natural flow of your day.
Doing too much cardio
It is a habit that has been ingrained into the lifting community for the wrong reasons.
Doing too much cardio while cutting calories will drain your vital resources needed to maintain and even get stronger.
When you are eating less, your recovery is impacted.
So, it is best to save all your strength and energy for what is most important to you.
And since we are trying to get stronger on a cut, it makes perfect sense to focus our energy on lifting weights.
Doing too much cardio, especially at moderate intensity can make your body adapt to the endurance portion instead of being strong and powerful.
This is not an adaptation you want when cutting calories.
Eat too little or too much protein
This topic is a very heated one in the lifting community.
There is always a great debate on how much protein to eat.
Is it 1g per 1lb of bodyweight?
Or is it 1g per 1kg of bodyweight?
I decided to do some research on this topic as well.
I found that you can use both those numbers as a range for how much protein to eat.
So, if you weigh 150lbs, you should be consuming at least 68-150g of protein a day.
Eating too little protein will cause your body to break down muscle since you are not eating enough.
On the other hand, eating too much protein might encourage you not to eat enough of other macronutrients.
Carbohydrates and fats are still important to manage your performance and long term health.
Ever heard of affirmations?
Your mental health plays a powerful in how you build your strength and develop a great physique.
For example, if you go into the gym and expect a bad workout, things will not go as planned.
You will feel fatigued.
You may find that working sets are harder than usual.
You may even fail a couple of reps.
Things are not good when you do not put your mind, body, and soul into your goals.
Instead, start expecting great workouts.
Start seeing how strong you are and how much potential you have.
Expect to always make progress and believe that you are on a righteous path towards developing strength.
You create your own reality by telling yourself stories and imagining your success far in advance.
You are doing yourself a disservice if your body is in the gym but your mind is not present at the moment.
Working too hard
You need to continue to work hard.
This is one reason why it is recommended to always follow a program.
While on a cut, some lifters are able to lift with the same amount of volume and continue to get stronger.
However, reducing your workout volume may sometimes give you unexpected fruits of your labor.
You may find that reducing your volume can lead to strength gains because your muscles were able to recover from higher workloads in the past.
Now, they super-compensate from the stimulus.
So, if you are doing 80+ reps per body part per week, you can probably cut down 10-20% of the total volume.
You will find that recovery is much more pleasant and you will be also making strength gains.
If you are trying with very low volume (40 reps or less per body part per week), it is not ideal to continue to reduce your volume.
In this particular case, your problem probably lies in one of the other targeted points we covered earlier.
Strength loss is inevitable on a long cut
If you are cutting for an extended period of time, strength loss is inevitable.
When you are losing body weight, your body will not perfectly only lose fat.
Instead, you will lose both muscle and fat during a cut.
Ideally, you lose more fat than muscle but only your dietary habits and the training regime will determine the ratio at which you drop bodyweight.
At the same time, this does not mean all hope is lost.
You can prompt your body to target to lose more fat than muscle by following these guidelines discussed here.
And like most diets, it requires discipline, hard work, and patience.
If it was easy, talking about cutting while gaining strength would not be a highly discussed topic.
Another aspect of how well you can maintain your strength gains is how aggressively you are cutting.
The more aggressive your cut is, the more drastic your strength loss could be.
The best cuts are done if it is controlled and are least invasive, meaning they do not greatly disrupt your body’s ability to recover.
For example, losing half a pound a week would be a better cut, in theory, than losing a pound a week.
But in reality, it may be difficult to track these metrics for a number of different reasons.
One reason is that weight loss is not linear.
As much as we expect to lose weight consistently over a period of time, your weight fluctuates.
Your strength also fluctuates.
A better way to track weight loss may be to see a graph trending downward, while your strength levels slowly trend upward.