A lot of our clients want to burn fat to get six-pack abs but they don’t want to “cut” and burn fat because they already feel too small and too light.
There’s something psychologically damaging about seeing their weight drop when they step on the scale or seeing their arms feel small in the sleeves of their tee.
I was actually in this exact same scenario a few years ago. What happened was that one bad bulk made me pudgy and fat. I was still pretty strong at that point (I was deadlifting over 315 pounds), so I then decided to “cut” which means to get into a calorie deficit to burn fat. But then I ran into a problem with my cut, and I lost a ton of strength and (seemingly) kept all my fat.
It was a couple of years until I found a solution that worked for me.
What was it?
It was shifting my priority away from calories and over to getting stronger in the gym.
If you want to lose fat but keep your size—it’s imperative to be following an intelligent resistance training program, such as lifting weights, and combined with less calories (energy.)
This effectively changed the emphasis away from my diet and instead over to my training.
Strength & Size Are Linked
A stronger muscle is a bigger one. Research has found that in powerlifters, muscle size predicts their strength (2019 study), and in one study on young, hobby lifters, they found that those who looked the biggest were the strongest (2017 study) (Hat tip to Shane over at Outlift.com for these refs)
So focusing on strength fixes these two problems.
- Scared of fat-loss and losing your size and getting smaller? If you’re getting stronger and hitting new personal records each week, you don’t need to worry about muscle loss as you’re almost certainly building muscle. It breaks the psychological part of feeling smaller—since you’re at your very strongest, and you can trust in the process.
- Scared of getting too fat while focusing on adding more size? If you’re getting stronger and hitting new personal records, then the good news is that some of that weight gain will certainly be new muscle (and if you’re gaining slowly enough, you can minimize fat gain.) It breaks the psychological part of worrying about only gaining fat. If you’re breezing along and adding 10–15 pounds to your bench every month, it won’t be too long before you’re benching another plate. When you decide to lean out, you won’t have the fear of being small because you’ll be pretty damn strong.
As a lifelong skinny guy, at that point, I felt more comfortable with being leaner and smaller than fatter and bigger. So I went for a cut and focused on strength. In a few months, I was hitting new PRs while getting lighter and burning fat. Ever since then, I’ve just been focusing on getting stronger.
Take Jarrett, who’s going through our True Gains program.
Before working with me, he was fat-fat (his words) and managed to burn off over 60 pounds by himself (which is awesome.) But now, he was in that same limbo of wanting to be both leaner and bigger. He was scared of losing any size he had left to get leaner. But he trusted in the process.
So we put him on a cut (calorie deficit) to start and got him lean enough to begin seeing his abs while focusing on his strength. At that point, he was now his strongest ever and leanest ever. Then we put him on a bulk, but focusing mainly on strength. He wanted to go all out, so he put the hard work in and was doing a 5-day lifting program, and he gained 10 pounds in 2 months. He’s now 8 pounds heavier than when he started, he’s leaner, and he’s been hitting new personal records. I’d say he’s crushing it and can’t wait to see what else he can accomplish.
Diet matters—don’t get me wrong. But if you focus on developing strength, you’ll know that you’re directly heading towards your goal and you won’t need to lose your size as you burn fat. Don’t put the diet first to drive your weight changes—use training to drive an adaptation to be stronger—then use your diet to recover and grow your muscles back stronger. Make sure that the cart is mounted *after* the horse.
Lose Fat And Keep Your Size With Nutrient Timing
One final thing you can do to burn fat but keep your size is to improve your nutrient timing. We cover a study and how exactly to do this in this article on intermittent fasting versus calorie counting.