The Art of Building Strength While Getting Lean

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In the last article I discussed the Kinobody Lean Bulk Guide To Adding Muscle While Staying Lean.

This is great to use if you’re already pretty lean, in the 7-12% body fat range, and want to start packing on muscle.

However, some of you are probably not quite content with your current level of definition and if you bulk at this point you’ll end up like a bigger and puffier version of what you look like now.

Not exactly what we’re going for, eh?

As a result, some of you are going to want to use the fall and winter as a chance to lean down so that you’re absolutely chiseled come spring time. One great thing about getting lean for spring is that it can be an incredible opportunity to get into shrink wrap condition for the summer.

Now in this article I will be sharing some of the most effective strategies to optimize strength gains while undergoing a diet to develop a lean, chiseled and absolutely breathtaking physique. Let’s get started!

The Art of Building Strength While Getting Lean 

how to gain strength while dieting

The first thing you must understand is that the key to looking incredible is to get very lean while building up a great deal of strength.

When I take someone’s weight and body fat percentage down while greatly improving their strength, incredible things happen. Their entire body shape changes from overweight and weak to lean, defined and powerful. As well, they become true modern day warriors with incredible physical prowess – a high amount of strength relative to their body weight.

Another great thing about training to become very strong and lean is that it leads to very consistent improvements in physique development. As you get stronger, your muscles adapt and become bigger.

I know that if someone is struggling to add size to their shoulders, if I help them add 20 lbs onto their shoulder press, their shoulders will become significantly bigger. Too often people waste time trying to figure out the best routine to add muscle when they should find the best routine to get them strong. With strength comes muscle and when you combine that with a low body fat, physique mastery ensues.

Can You Really Build Strength While Getting Lean? 

Can you gain strength on a cut?

It’s funny that people desperately swear that you can’t increase strength while dieting. This thinking is fundamentally flawed.

With the right training stimulus and a proper nutrition plan, increasing strength while getting leaner is very doable. In fact, in the last 4 years I’ve done quite a few cutting programs and each time my lifts went up. Granted, with my more recent cuts I usually maintain most of my lifts, as they are already at the highly advanced level, but a few of my lifts will actually increase by a significant amount.

Most of you are probably not close to the elite level of strength development. Therefore many of you will have no problem bringing up all your lifts while getting leaner each week. I’ve seen this time and time again with my clients and people that have been following my programs.

Achieving this requires a very methodical approach to training and nutrition. In fact, it requires you to be very careful with your training volume. Doing too much lifting or cardio can backfire and your strength gains will come to an abrupt halt. Further, going too low in calories and trying to lose fat too quickly can lead to a loss in strength and muscle mass.

Not to mention, drinking too much alcohol, not getting sufficient sleep, eating a nutrient poor diet and being overstressed can make things much harder than they need to be. These things are all very important but where most people go wrong and sabotage their efforts is in the gym. With further ado, let’s begin.

Five Tips To Building Strength While Getting Lean

1. Don’t train in the fatigued state 

One of the most common reasons for why people can’t gain strength while cutting is that they try to build strength in suboptimal conditions.

People think they need to to use 3-4 exercises for a muscle group to make it grow. So for chest they’ll start with bench press, then incline, followed by decline and finally chest flyes.

The problem with this is that their chest is already very fatigued after incline bench press. By the time they hit decline, they will be working at about 80% of their potential. You won’t be triggering any real muscle growth and strength gains when you’re lifting in a weakened state. All you’re doing is depleting your muscles and providing your body with more work to recover from. The two additional exercises you’re performing are actually causing more harm than good.

If you really want to optimize strength gains then you must exercise some temperament. Two exercises per muscle group is just what the doctor ordered. Ideally rest 4-5 minutes before going into your second exercise for the same muscle group.

For example, usually after doing bench press I will take about 5 minutes rest before going into incline bench. When cutting I also usually only do 2 sets per muscle group. If I do three sets of bench press then I know I’ll be weaker for incline. However, if I only do two sets of my first chest exercise, I’ll still be quite close to my strength potential for incline press. When I switched my cutting programs down to 2 sets per exercise, my strength gains went up.

I very frequently get people from my blog ask me if they can do incline bench, flat bench and dips all in the same workout for three sets each. The answer is hell no! It’s not about the amount of exercises and set you do. It’s about how you progress at them. When you do three intense pushing movements for three sets each, while cutting, you’re spreading yourself too thin. You sacrifice strength improvement for variety and muscular fatigue, not a good tradeoff.

2. Don’t train heavy two days in a row

Throughout my 9 year strength training career, I have made the most consistent progress with an every other day lifting set up.

I have worked with hundreds of individuals and switched them from 5-6 lifts per week to 3 and sure enough their progress took off.

When you train every other day it allows for much better neural recovery. This means you hit the weights feeling light, fresh and full of vigor.

For people that have found it hard to gain strength on a consistent basis, three lifts per week is your ticket. When you lift 4-6 days per week, you’re going to be lifting under different conditions each session.

Some days you’ll feel strong and powerful and other days you’ll feel wiped. This makes steady strength gains appear to be an illusion or a mythical story at best.

Take that full rest day after each heavy lift and you will be recharging your neural battery for every session.

3. Don’t use forced reps 

I always shake my head when I see someone have their friend spot them and help them get a few more reps.

There are only two types of people who regularly do these forced reps in their routine. People who are weak and people who are taking steroids.

The true natural lifters who are powerfully muscular rarely, if ever, do forced reps. Why you ask? Well because forced reps train you to become weak. They overburden your nervous system and sap your strength for the rest of the workout. You need to get each rep on your own for a truly productive set. Once you have someone step in and help you lift the weight, you are training yourself to become weak.

4. Give yourself some room to grow

If you’re starting a new workout routine fresh, I recommend leaving a rep or so in the tank. If you’re grinding out every last rep of each set, you’re going to be hard pressed to make steady strength gains for the next few months.

Incessant grinding of reps will overtax your nervous system and make strength gains more difficult. Contrarily, when every last rep is executed with strength and confidence, you can bet your behind that the weights will go up with ease.

This doesn’t mean training has to be easy, it won’t, it will be require fortitude and intensity.

All it means is that you will have to know when to walk out on a high note. If you think the next rep is going to be a struggle and a half to complete then there is no shame in racking the weight. Trust me, you’ll come back stronger the next workout if you do so.

By adhering to this rule you will leave the gm feeling exhilarated and powerful, unlike most people who leave feeling wiped and drained.

5. Rotate your key lifts 

If you’ve been doing everything right in your strength training routine, but you’re stuck in a plateau then the solution is very simple.

You must rotate your key lifts.

You see, after several weeks of strength gains on a particular movement it is inevitable that you will stall. If you didn’t then you’d keep getting stronger until you’re lifting thousands of pounds.

Unfortunately this is simply unrealistic. You see, with time you will get burnt out hammering the same lift week in and week out. It is at this point in time that you must switch to a similar but fresh movement.

What will happen is that you will begin to hit personal bests (PB’s) again and for several more weeks. Then you will likely hit another plateau and it’s at that point in time that you should rotate to a third movement. After another 4-8 weeks you will go back to the original movement.

Below I will share my favorite exercise to cycle through for each of my key lifts.

Chin ups* – Pull ups and Parallel Chins

Incline Barbell Bench – Incline Dumbbell Bench and Close Grip Bench Press

Standing Barbell Press – Standing One Arm Dumbbell Press and Seated Dumbbell Press

Barbell Curls – Incline Dumbbell Curls and Standing Dumbbell Alternating Curls

Pistol Squats – Reverse Lunges and Bulgarian Split Squats

*Once you start adding weight, make sure you’re using a high-quality weight belt that won’t get in the way of your training.

The Warrior Shredding Program

For those of you who have been anxiously anticipating the release of my new warrior shredding program, I am happy to say it is finished.

This is my diet and training program that I have developed over the course of several years to make getting the lean and chiseled physique as effortless as possible. During this multi year process, I have followed nearly every effective diet known to man and I’ve tracked them to the tee.

Furthermore, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients utilizing different systems and protocols to get a wide variety of feedback. With time I started to uncover the most effective way to set up a nutrition and training plan that made fat loss and strength and muscle gain simple, enjoyable and most importantly, brutally effective.

Learn more about the Warrior Shredding Program

shredding program

 

Greg O'Gallagher

Greg O'Gallagher is the founder of Kinobody, a site dedicated to helping men and women achieve the lean, muscular, and aesthetic "Hollywood" physique. His fitness programs have helped hundreds of thousands of people transform their bodies and change their lives in the process.

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