Only a fool would think you can train just as hard while cutting as you can with bulking. I know, I have been that fool. The first week or two of training goes just fine. You are just as strong as you where before the cut. Then the magic happens and by magic I mean black magic. Weights that used to feel somewhat light start to feel heavier. You particularly notice this in pushing exercises such as the bench press and leg exercises such as the squat. That extra mass you once had was great for lifting heavier weights, but now that you want to look better your strength numbers start to drop.
HOW DO I FIX IT?
The truth of the matter is there is no magic trick or secret here. A caloric deficit means less energy in your body. Less energy means less strength and power. As time goes on and you drop more body fat your leverages will change. But, here is the good news. The strength losses are not going to seem as bad when you evaluate the big picture. Is a 220 lb man who squats 500 lbs and cuts down to 200 lbs and squats 470 lbs not stronger pound for pound? 500/220 is 2.27 and 470/200 is 2.35. Dropping 20 lbs of chub while only loosing 30 lbs on the squat total is worth it in my opinion.
CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG, BUT ISN’T THE POINT OF LIFTING WEIGHTS TO GET STRONGER?
Yes it is young grasshopper! But, you don’t lift weights to get fatter! This is why modifying your training needs to happen on a cut. For me and probably you, exercises like pull-ups, dips, and pushups increase when I am cutting. Why? Because, I am carrying around less weight and less body fat. It is easier to pull 200 lbs of manliness over a bar than it is to pull 220 lbs over the bar. What I am saying is why not emphasize the exercises that are going to improve when you are in a caloric deficit as opposed to self-loathing over the ones that are not.
PREVENTING THE COLLAPSE OF THE BIG LIFTS ON A CUT
Okay, I get I should emphasize the exercises that are going to improve the most on a cut, but I love the big lifts (Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Overhead Press, Rows). This is where you can save face by employing one of two strategies. Cycle your weight ala Wendler 5/3/1 or do variations of the big lifts that you suck at. What I mean by variations that you suck are instead of doing bench, deadlift, and squat try close grip bench or incline bench, safety bar squat or front squat, sumo deadlift or snatch grip deadlift. Chances are you haven’t been doing those lifts and those muscle groups are salivating for stimulus. When you go back to eating more calories and you return to the big lifts you might be shocked by your new-found strength. This is due to the improvements you made to the supporting cast.
CHANGING YOUR APPROACH
I am a huge fan of the 4 days per week upper body/lower body split. I believe for drug free lifters it gives a better stimulus for strength and growth. This is mostly due to hitting each body part twice per week without annihilating them. However, during a cut I like to tickle my fancy with a bodybuilding split of usually two or three muscle groups per day. I might do this in a 4-day or 5-day split, depending on how I feel. I will have days dedicated to back/biceps, shoulders/traps, legs, and chest/triceps. I do this for a few reasons. First, it is much easier to recover from this style of training. Second, the point of a cut is to look better. I can hammer a muscle a lot harder when I know I am only training it once per week. Finally, it offers a change of pace and keeps things interesting.
CARDIO ON A CUT
Some bodybuilder types out there will tell you that you don’t need to do cardio to get lean. I will tell you that is the exception, not the rule. I am the furthest thing from a genetic freak. The first time I attempted the leg press in high school I got crushed. I don’t think it had more than 180 lbs on it. If I didn’t train and eat right I would be skinny fat at best.
What I am telling you is that you can certainly lose fat and cut weight without a lot of cardio. In fact, if your goal is to maintain as much strength as possible you shouldn’t do a lot of cardio. However, cardio burns calories and if done correctly burns fat. To get leaner you need to burn off your stored fat. The best way to do this is by doing fasted cardio. There are studies on the effects of fasted cardio vs cardio not done on a fast. Personally, I don’t care about those studies. The problem with studies is that they use too small a group in a controlled environment to test the results. The real world is not a controlled environment. When I write I speak from personal perspective.
Going for a walk, spending time on the elliptical, bike, or stairmaster will actually make you better. Cardio is good for your heart, your lungs, and your body composition. But, if your goal is to be jacked don’t become a cardio queen who forgets to lift. I think it is more intelligent to do some cardio year-round than to go OMG it is summer I need to get my fat ass on a treadmill.
The point of cutting is to get leaner, to lose chub, to look fabulous! It is not the time to set an all-time personal record on the big lifts. Continue to lift weights with the goal of getting stronger. Strong is a relative term. If you haven’t done Front Squats in since Clinton was president, anytime you do the exercise you are getting stronger at it. Do cardio, but don’t run yourself into the ground. HIIT or steady state cardio or both. The choice is yours.
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