How to Preserve Muscle While Losing Fat on a Diet
Lowering your calories enough to create a deficit ALWAYS results in weight loss, but not always fat loss.
That weight can come from either fat or from muscle.
How do you lose fat without losing muscle?
By performing resistance training.
With diet alone, you are rolling the dice and HOPING most of that weight comes from fat, not muscle.
Resistance training, done properly, sends signals to the body to hold onto muscle tissue.
Instead of losing a combo of muscle and fat…
The weight loss comes mainly from your stored body fat.
There is a specific approach to resistance training that works best when you are in a calorie deficit.
I’ll talk about that in a sec…
what type of resistance training do I recommend when you are restricting calories?
High Tension Resistance Training
This type of training is not based on the equipment you have available.
HOW you perform the exercise…
…is more important than the exercise itself.
You will want to train in a way that creates strong contractions in the muscle.
This can be done with heavy weights…
…but you don’t have to lift heavy weights.
Heck, you don’t even necessarily need to lift weights.
(Nope, changed my mind, NOT going there.)
Heavy weights are just a tool that makes it easier to create strong contractions in the muscle.
The goal is maximum contractions…
…and there are many ways to get there.
Strong contractions basically tell your body that you have a need for your muscle tissue, that it is important, and to hold onto that muscle tissue.
When in a calorie deficit, my advice is to train for strength to increase muscle definition and to maintain muscle tissue…
…and use your diet and a bit of cardio to lose body fat.
In this article I’m going to talk about lifting heavy weights while losing fat.
Heavy weights won’t make you bulky unless you lift to failure and with high volume.
I want to outline a specific resistance training routine you can use if you feel like mixing things up.
It’s designed to last 4-6 weeks and it’s called:
10 X 3 Workout for Fat Loss
This is a workout that Chad Waterbury made popular on T-Nation.
I’m not a huge fan of T-Nation because they push supplements like crazy and it is kind of bodybuilding centered, but Chad’s articles are fantastic (don’t agree with everything though).
Here’s how Chad recommends doing 10 X 3 when dieting hard.
- 10 sets of 3 reps for each exercise.
- Use 75% of your max for each exercise (the weight you can lift to failure for a set of 10, but you are stopping at 3 reps).
- Rest 30-45 seconds in between each set.
- Train each muscle group 2 times per week.
- Follow the resistance training with 10 minutes of HIIT.
Chad recommends working the full body on Monday and again on Thursday.
On Tuesday and Saturday, he recommends a 10-minute jump rope workout.
All other days are rest days.
I want to make a few tweaks and create a slightly different variation in this article.
Here’s the link to Chad’s exact 10 X 3 Fat Loss Routine.
I like this routine, but believe it would work better for fat loss if it was done using a 2-day split.
Half the body would be trained on Monday and half on Tuesday, taking Wednesday off, then repeating the two workouts on Thursday and Friday.
Cardio after weights provides better fat loss effects than doing cardio in isolation.
Chad’s routine has 2 days of just jump rope cardio.
His approach takes less time…
…but I’m convinced that fat loss will be dramatically accelerated by liftng weights two more times each week and doing a bit of cardio after these sessions.
Each exercise takes about 10-12 minutes because you will be performing 10 sets.
His setup uses 4 exercises per workout.
You don’t really want to do more than 4 exercises since that would mean lifting for over an hour.
…and that is before you even do any cardio.
Because his workouts require the body to get trained in one workout, the 4 exercises are just compound lifts.
For example here one of the workouts he recommends.
* Deadlift 10 sets of 3 reps
* Chin-Up 10 sets of 3 reps
* Front Squats 10 sets of 3 reps
* Dips 10 sets of 3 rep
^^^ There isn’t much room for working your abs, calves or arms directly with this setup.
I realize that they get worked indirectly, but direct intentional targeted work creates better definition in these muscle groups.
I believe a better approach is something like this.
Monday & Thursday: Legs, Back, Chest and Calves
*Chin-Up 10 Sets of 3 Reps
*Bench Press 10 Sets of 3 Reps
*Seated Calf Raise 10 Sets of 3 Reps
Rest 30-45 seconds in between sets.
That would be followed by some type of cardio for 20-30 minutes (adjust intensity for fatigue levels).
Tuesday & Friday: Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps and Abs
*Dip Machine 10 Sets of 3 Reps
*Barbell Curls 10 Sets of 3 Reps
*Hanging Leg Raise 10 Sets of 3 Reps
Same thing as the other workout when it comes to rest periods and cardio.
Also, this isn’t a superset.
You will want to complete all 10 sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.
You don’t have to do these exact exercises or anything like that.
Just pick one exercise per muscle group, choose a weight you can lift 10 times, stop at 3 reps, rest 30-45 seconds then do the next set.
For muscle groups that are bulky?
Lift lighter than recommend, but still stop at 3 reps.
Lift at a slower speed, while squeezing and flexing that muscle group to improve the mind-to-muscle connection.
This is how you increase definition without adding size.
If someone wants to keep their thighs slim?
I would have them use a lighter weight and do 3 reps where the focus is on perfect form and possibly even improving squat depth to increase mobility in hips and lower back.
High tension is a signal to the body to hold onto muscle when you are in a deficit. This can be done with heavy weights or by purposely contracting the muscles hard during an exercise.
The 10 X 3 workout I outlined above will work well…
…but there are tons of ways to achieve this same goal.
What you want to be careful of?
Don’t fall into the trap of only doing high rep “pump and burn” style training when calories are low.
This will burn calories…
…but there is a strong possibility of muscle loss.
Spend at least part of your workout generating tension to the muscle tissue you want to keep.