How to change your training during fat loss

written by Philip Stefanov  |  FEBRUARY 28, 2023

Strength training is necessary during caloric restriction because it helps us retain muscle mass and supports our metabolism.

The question is, should your training change during fat loss? If so, how?

Let’s discuss.

First: What You Should Not Do

This is an old and mostly outdated idea, but it is still worth mentioning for the sake of completeness.

Up to a few years ago, many people were under the impression that fat loss required a drastic change in the training approach. More specifically, trainees looking to lose fat should switch from a good workout plan to a high-rep mess.

High-rep training has its place in a good workout plan, especially for people looking to maximize hypertrophy, but it’s generally not good when losing fat.

One of the primary reasons is that dieting means consuming fewer carbs, leaving less available energy for working out. Doing more reps would be counterintuitive because you simply don’t have that much fuel to support your performance and recovery.

Plus, we could also argue that not placing significant mechanical tension on your muscles through heavy weight training would increase the risk of muscle loss.

Any form of resistance training will provide some tension, but high-rep sets mostly cause metabolic stress. It alone might not be enough to signal your body that muscle is valuable and should not be broken down for energy.

So, What Should You Do?

Well, it depends on a few things. Most notably:

  • For how long do you plan to diet?
  • What does your current training look like?
  • How aggressive will the calorie deficit be?

If you’re planning a longer fat loss phase, possibly including one or two diet breaks along the way, I recommend starting slowly and not changing your training much. For instance, you can keep your training the same for the first two to four weeks and start making changes after that.

Similarly, if you prefer a mild deficit of 200 to 300 calories, you could probably get away with making fewer changes to your training plan. But if you’re looking to lose weight more rapidly and are considering an aggressive deficit of 600-700 calories, adjust your training accordingly.

An exception to the rule would be a mini-cut, where you place yourself in a more aggressive deficit for two to six weeks. In such a case, you might not have to change your training.

Your current workout plan also plays a role. For instance, if you’re on a high-volume, high-frequency plan and barely recovering, it might be better to reduce the volume as soon as you put yourself in a deficit. (In the same line of thought, taking a deload or recovery week might be wise before jumping into a fat loss phase if you feel overtrained.)

In contrast, if the plan is manageable and you don’t feel particularly beaten up by it, keep it as is for a while and monitor how you feel (mood, energy levels, soreness, gym performance, etc.).

Examples of How That Might Look Like In Practice

Scenario 1: Long Fat Loss Phase (Maintenance: 3,000 calories)

Weeks 1-3 (going from 3,000 down to 2,500 calories): keep training the same
Weeks 4-7 (keeping calories at 2,500/day): gradually reduce your volume by 20 percent
Weeks 8-12 (possibly reducing calories to 2,250-2,300/day to maintain the same weight loss rate): gradually reduce your volume by another 20 percent

Note: I recommend slowly reducing your training volume and calorie intake weekly instead of making sudden changes.

How much volume you should cut will depend on your starting point. I don’t recommend removing more than 50 percent of your volume throughout the course of your diet because you might end up training below maintenance volume (MV). You can learn about MV here.

For example, if you’re doing 16 sets for your back, don’t drop below 8, even if you’ve been dieting for a while.

Scenario 2: Shorter But More Aggressive Fat Loss Phase (Maintenance: 3,000 calories)

Week 1 (going from 3,000 to 2,600 calories): reduce volume by 10 percent
Week 2 (going from 2,600 to 2,400 calories): reduce volume by another 10 percent
Week 3 (same calorie intake): reduce volume by another 10 to 15 percent

How to Reduce Your Training Volume

The simplest way to reduce your volume is to maintain the same structure of your workouts and only remove sets.

For example:

Bench Press - 5 sets ⇒ 3 sets
Incline Press - 4 sets ⇒ 3 sets
Machine Shoulder Press - 4 sets ⇒ 3 sets
Skullcrushers - 4 sets ⇒ 3 sets
Lateral Raises - 4 sets ⇒ 3 sets

The second way is to remove exercises that cause too much fatigue. For example, stop doing deadlifts (unless you are a powerlifter) instead of reducing the number of sets on multiple activities.

You can also remove entire training sessions, but I recommend against that. Training more frequently would mean having shorter and less demanding sessions, which can be a blessing while dieting.

Plus, it would be easier to hit every muscle group twice a week, which could help control soreness and allow you to retain more muscle.

I recommend maintaining your weekly training structure and reducing volume by removing sets. In addition, remove exercises that cause too much fatigue or swap them for less demanding activities.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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