For years, I’ve been told that you can’t expect to lose weight without losing a ton of strength. Over and over that idea was pounded into my head. Yes, losing significant amounts of body weight can impact strength, but that doesn’t mean just because you decide to drop a few pounds,  you’ll shrivel up and become the weakest guy in the gym.

For the last five years, I’ve done nothing but train with the goal of getting as big and as strong as possible. I’m six feet three inches, and I ate my way from 220 lbs to 285 lbs. I had been training for many years before this, but much of that training, while strength related, was focused more on passing military PT tests than it was on building strength and size (my maximum body weight when I was in the Navy was 215 lbs). Over the last five years, I had put on a good amount of size and strength. However, not all of the size was “good size.”

In February 2009, I had some blood work done and the results weren’t ideal. The doctor told me to clean up my diet and drop some weight. With state and national powerlifting meets coming up, that went in one ear and out the other. I put up totals at both meets and tried to go right back into training, but I just hit a brick wall as far as motivation and results. I was beat down. I went through the motions for a while but finally decided I needed a change.

In September 2009, my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world. I no longer had the desire to go through 2–3-hour training sessions trying to get my squat or bench up. So I enlisted the help of Shelby Starnes (#) to help me whip my body into shape. The goal was (and still is) to get as lean as possible and maintain my strength levels as much as possible. I had also been put on cholesterol medication that I wanted to stop taking.

I started working with Shelby on October 9, 2009. I was set up for a 12-week progressive fat loss plan. The diet started with a basic carb rotation and cardio plan. As the weeks progressed, Shelby adjusted the diet and cardio as needed. (Currently, I’m at 70 minutes of cardio a day seven days a week.)

At the beginning of the diet, I decided to run a little experiment to measure how my strength levels would be impacted by weight loss. I had used Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program in the past for raw work and decided to use it as my training template. It’s straightforward and easy to follow, and there have been no shortage of success stories surrounding the program.

I keep a pretty thorough training log, so I track my numbers very regularly. The 5/3/1 training actually started one week before I began the diet, and the starting numbers below were all done in the 2–3 weeks leading up to starting the diet. Over the course of 10 weeks, I lost 30 lbs, going from approximately 275 lbs down to 245 lbs. I used the basic accessory work outlined in the book and kept my training maxes exactly the same for the entire three cycles that I ran. I did add in rest-pause work after the main lift to get a bit more work in because my rep out sets started to suffer just a bit toward the end.

I did a lot of superset work and drop sets. My goal for training was to always get done lifting in under an hour, so I kept my rest periods short and kept moving. Basically, if you want to know everything I did, buy the 5/3/1 book written by the world famous Jim Wendler.  It’s worth every penny (and it’s not even that many pennies).

The starting lifts are numbers that were actually completed in the gym. They aren’t perceived maxes or numbers bumped up because of how easy a lighter lift may have been. They aren’t calculated maxes. These lifts were done prior to starting.

Here’s how the numbers were impacted:

Starting lifts

Squat: 500 lbs (To be fair, this wasn’t a “max effort.” However, it was the heaviest raw squat I attempted.)

Bench: 425 lbs

Deadlift: 525 lbs (same scenario as the squat)

Military: 215 lbs

Ending 30 lbs lighter

Squat: 500 lbs (This was much harder but I got it. I also hit 430 X 7 three weeks ago, which was an all-time PR regardless of body weight.)

Bench: 385 lbs (I was fully expecting the drop in my bench.)

Deadlift: 550 lbs (This is an all-time raw PR, regardless of body weight.)

Military: 225 lbs

So if we calculate a make shift “total” of these lifts, my starting number at 275 lbs in body weight is 1665 lbs for all four lifts. My ending number at 30 lbs lighter is 1660 lbs for all four lifts. That equates to a total difference of 0.3 percent. By my calculation, a drop in body weight of 30 lbs plus a drop in total weight lifted of 0.3 percent means that I maintained my strength levels overall. In fact, I would argue that I got stronger through the whole process.

Another benefit that came about through this process of working with Shelby was the improvement in my blood work. My cholesterol and triglyceride levels had gotten a bit high (nature was working against me because my father has notoriously high cholesterol and triglyceride levels). As I mentioned above, my doctor saw fit to place me on some medication for this problem. I stopped taking that medication about three weeks before my “ending” labs were drawn, so the results were from the combination of diet and cardio. There is no other plausible explanation for it.

Here’s how my blood work played out:

Starting numbers (labs taken about a month before I began working with Shelby)

Cholesterol: 210

Triglycerides: 280

Labs just taken after nine weeks working with Shelby

Cholesterol: 146

Triglycerides: 136

My cholesterol dropped 64 points, and my triglycerides dropped 144 points. That’s a huge improvement, and this was actually one of my big goals for this diet cycle.

So as it stands now, I’m no longer under the impression that you have to gain copious amounts of body weight to get strong. Yes, gaining body weight may allow you to add pounds to your total more quickly, but at what cost? Life outside of the gym had gotten pretty miserable. I could throw on all types of gear and have great training sessions but walking across the parking lot at work left me winded and in need of a long nap.

The improved quality of life has been worth the effort in and of itself. The physique changes are an added benefit. I’m not done with my physique goals though. My first round with Shelby ends in two weeks, but I’ve already signed up to continue working with him for another 12 weeks so that I can achieve my physique goals. As all of us usually are, I was a bit fatter than I thought I was starting out. This is easy to do because it isn’t hard to look in the mirror and justify what you see. But take your shirt off and snap a few pictures and look at yourself objectively, and you will probably find that you have a bit more work to do than you originally thought. I still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be, but I’m on my way and I don’t plan to stop until I get there.

As Jim Wendler would say, get “north of vag” and stay there. Seriously, anybody can do this.

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