Strength Training + Low Calorie Diet + Interval Training = Sexy Body

August 18, 2008

If I was going to come up with a simple formula for getting the slim and lean look that looks great in and out of clothes, this would be it: Strength training while losing or maintaining weight. The main thing is to do strength training in a safe and sensible way. The other point is to do it without adding excessive muscle mass. Most people have never tried to gain strength while losing or maintaining weight. Typically people “bulk up” while strength training and lift light when losing weight. I suggest a different approach.

[Speaking of mathematical formulas…”A Beautiful Mind” is one of my all-time favorites. This movie blew me away!]

A Study Exploring Calorie Restriction on Muscle Mass

Effects of Resistance vs. Aerobic Training Combined With an 800 Calorie Liquid Diet on Lean Body Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate. This study has a really long name. Let me give you a quick summary…A Group of men and women stayed on an 800 calorie diet and only 80 grams of protein per day for 12 weeks. The group that did some form of strength training 3 times per week, did not lose any lean muscle mass. This was despite a very low calorie and protein intake! Why haven’t you read about this before in the Fitness Magazines? Well…they make a large portion of their income selling advertising to the big supplement companies. It wouldn’t be smart for them to upset their advertisers.

Forget The Typical “Muscle Loss While Dieting” Myth!

Losing muscle under calorie restriction won’t be an issue as long as you are doing resistance training at least 3 times per week. Your body has mechanisms in place to preserve muscle mass as long as it believes there is need for that muscle. Obviously if you are eating a low calorie diet and not training, there is a chance that you will lose muscle. So, lift weights while eating a strict, low calorie diet.

Those Carrying Excessive Muscle Are The Exception

Anybody who has read my blog for any period of time knows I don’t like or recommend “excessive muscle” (aka bodybuilding). I believe that everyone looks best at their “natural” level of muscle. What I mean by that, is the size that you get when becoming “functionally fit”…strong as well and quick with good cardiovascular fitness. A person with a big frame will hold more muscle than a person with a small frame and they both look great at their respective sizes An example…Duane Johnson “The Rock” has much more muscle than David Beckham, since he has a bigger frame than Beckham…but both are at a natural size and look great because of it. When Duane Johnson was a Pro-Wrestler, he had way too much muscle and it wasn’t a good look for him (an article about this…Duane Johnson Slims Down). Forcing your body outside of its “natural level” of muscle is tough to maintain under low calories, even while strength training…but again, I think you will like the way you feel at your natural size. If you have a lot of muscle mass and are sick of feeling sluggish, you may want to give this a try and get back down to a more manageable weight.

The Type of Strength Training I Recommend

So let’s get something straight…bodybuilding and strength training are two totally different activities. Strength training isn’t about exhausting the muscle, it is about generating tension in a muscle. The more tension you are able to generate in a muscle the stronger you will become. Heavier weights will allow you to generate more tension in a muscle, but this can be done with lower weights as well. Either way, I recommend using low reps. Lower reps allow you to concentrate on each individual rep better than high reps. Here are two previous articles that I wrote that address strength training in great detail. This may help you understand what an effective strength training routine looks like:
1) Gain Strength Without Fail By “Mastering the Weight”
2) Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition

You Can Safely Go “Low-Cal” for Short Periods of Time

I am always shocked at how quickly people will jump on you when you tell them that you are eating a low amount of calories. It kind of makes me laugh. I was unemployed a while back and went 3 months eating very few calories each day to save money. I was working out 4 times per week and actually looked and felt great during this whole period of time. Some of the time I just drank 4-6 cups of tea during the day and one meal at night. I was slightly smaller at the end of these 3 months, but that was probably due to my muscles being a bit depleted of carbs.

Turbo Charge Your Results With a Strategic Cardio Routine

The study above showed that resistance training along with a low calorie diet resulted in fat loss while maintaining muscle. To insure a maximum of fat loss, I recommend adding in cardio as well. From what I have seen…most people aren’t performing cardio in a strategic manner. Read my Fat Loss Cardio Routine, to see an example of how to combine HIIT and steady state cardio in a special way that maximizes fat loss.

Give this Formula a Try. You Will Like the Results

Note: Don’t go overboard here. I don’t want anybody to become anorexic. Make sure that you do the resistance training part and don’t go super “low cal” for any lengthy period of time. As always…moderation is important.

Important Message: Although this site has received 25+ million visitors, I am starting from scratch and abandoning it. This site is dated and old school looking, terrible to read on mobile, etc.

It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.

Starting Over...R.I.P. Fitness Black Book!

Thanks for reading all these years!


----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather February 2, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Hi Rusty! I haven’t posted here in awhile but I’m always around..your site really motivates me. I like how you are big into traveling..I am always planning my next trip (which happens to be Brazil this April and my sis and I just got back from Cuba). My fav place so far is Mexico..I’m in love with Mexico. Someday I will live there 🙂
I’ve been doing turbulence training for over a month now and I really like it. I see you have some posts about TT on your site. Although with TT, Craig has a lot of weighted lunges and squats. In the past my legs have bulked like crazy but for some reason they just look really lean..could be the interval cardio he has you do after. As for diet..I’ve tried fasting several times and I can’t get into it. I’m either starving after a day of ESE and overeat at night or overeat the day after because I’m so hungry. Which brought me back to this post of yours..about eating low calorie. This worked for me for years before and I was super tiny AND had abs. ooh to see my abs again! So I’m going back to what I know works.
Keep up the great posts Rusty! I love your site.

CaRtz February 20, 2009 at 4:07 am

hey rusty! it’s been awhile! i finally found time to go to the gym and im on my 3rd day… it’s seems that I have a bit of catching up to do since you’ve posted a lot of articles since the last time i visited your site. i’ll post again in a few days..

p.s. i’ve told my friends at work about this site and they love it. They asked me how i lost weight and maintained it so I told them to read your blog. I just hope that they’ll have enough motivation and discipline to reach their goal.

Manila, Philippines

Ariana December 2, 2009 at 4:36 pm


I have a question about combining the resistance training with the cardio. I see how doing the interval training would maximize fat loss, however those in the study didn’t do cardio with the resistance. In a severe calorie deficit, isn’t it possible that the extra calories being burned through cardio are going to end up coming from muscle mass? I’m thinking of the following scenario:

Healthy adult woman who burns about 1800 calories a day on average, including those days that resistance training is done.
Diet is restricted to 800 calories a day, resulting in a 1000 calorie deficit. This would result in the maximum recommended 2lbs./week loss, and according to the study she loses no muscle.

Now lets take another woman who also burns 1800 calories a day on average, including resistance training. But now she adds in some cardio that burns an additional, say, 1000 calories per week. Now she has an 8000 calorie weekly deficit rather than a 7000 calorie deficit, causing her to lose more than the recommended 2lbs.

Even with the resistance training, is it safe to assume that the second woman’s additional calories would still be coming from fat? I read somewhere that it was not really physically possible for the body to burn more than 2lbs of fat per week, for scientific/chemical reasons that I don’t really understand. Is this true? And if so, would that mean that the second woman’s body would have to compensate for the extra by either 1) slowing the metabolism in order to do the same work with less calories or 2) burning muscle for fuel.

I guess the bottom line question is that while it’s great that there is a way of ensuring that fat is being lost rather than muscle, is there a limit to the safeguard that resistance training can provide? I’m sure there has to be. Butd do you have any clue, guess or intuition about how much of a calorie deficit there would need to be before the body started burning muscle anyway?


dan May 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Disagree,….Power lifters, can look like body builders without training like body builders. The main differences seems to be diet more so than anything else. You take away their beers, and cheese burgers, and those power lifters actually look like body builders, but more functional.

dan May 14, 2010 at 7:04 pm

One of the comments I do have is in the low calorie resistance training, those who lifted weights and kept low calories kept their metabolism up. Those who did cardio, on the low cal diet, lowered their metabalism, and did lose muscle mass so I would really becareful with how much cardio you do on the low calorie diet. If you want to do cardio for your heart, and overall fitness go for it, but if you want to lose fat, lifting weights and keeping around 800 calories a day is sufficient otherwise,….I am sure more people will lose muscle with lifting, and cardio and low calorie. It seems to make sense ,…lifting weight on low calories kept muscle the same (while losing fat),cardio on low cal lost muscle and fat. Put them together, you are gonna lose fat, and muscle,…..lowering the metabolism. That’s just a guess, but so is the article except for the scientific points.

Sara July 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Kind of late commenting on this post, but I have to say I completely agree with everything you’ve stated here. I’ve been on a low calorie diet (800-1,000) for a few weeks now along with strength training 4-6 times a week and have lost about 15 lbs. I feel great, not weak at all and I can tell where I’ve lost weight. When I tell people how many calories I’m eating, they tell me I’m just going to lose muscle and not fat, and that I’m not going to have any energy to workout. Well, I’m proving them wrong 🙂 Anyway, great article

the boy October 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Another late post to this thread, but:

VERY FEW natural trainers EVER have to worry about building too much LEAN mass from any form of weight training routine! I’m sick of this myth – the only way (most) natural trainers get ‘too much bulk’ is when it’s a combination of muscle mass and BODY FAT; It’s the FAT that is undesirable, not the muscle, regardless of your training style! That said – heavy weights and low cals is the way to a dense, ripped physique, I agree there. However, if you take a man/woman’s maximums muscular potential using the hypothesised genetic limit (sub 10% body fat men and 15-18% women) then 1) most guys/women look awesome like this, and 2) You need to train HARD for 5-10 years to achieve it (if you’re lucky. So, ultimately….. the answer to all this ‘I’m scared of getting too big’ rubbish is this; 1) Never bulk up beyond 12% body fat for men and 20% women, and 2) Get as strong as you can and progress your gym work while staying lean. The main problem most people have is they bulk-up way too high – and that body fat is your so-called ‘bulky muscles’ in natural trainers.

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