I have a dream. I dream of a world where strength training experts train people for strength and fat loss experts help people lose weight. In this fantasy world, neither pretends that the other is a primary goal. In other words, my strength experts will not claim that fat loss will make you stronger, and my fat loss experts will not claim that strength training will make you lose weight and therefore make you stronger.
Did the last part of the preceding paragraph give you pause? How could someone claim that losing weight, in and of itself, makes you stronger?
As you know, fat loss is big business. And, strength training is big business. If you don’t really know how to go about getting a person real strong, but you do know about how to get them real thin, the magic term is relative strength. I already wrote about the difference between strength training and bodybuilding; I never thought I’d have to write about the difference between strength training and fat loss.
Better Relative Strength Means You are Stronger?
It goes like this: Right now you weigh 205. You can deadlift 405. Hypothetical you is pretty strong. You can squat good, too.
Enter ‘strength training for fat loss’ expert. He tells you:
“If you want to improve your strength, you need to lose some of that fat. Get down to a nice 185 and you will be stronger because your relative strength will improve.
So, what is he saying?
Is he saying that if you lose 20lbs you will be able to deadlift 450?
He is saying that if you lose 20lbs you will be lifting a higher percentage of your body weight. You will have better relative strength because relative strength is how strong you are in proportion to your body weight.
Are you stronger, then? NO. You are not stronger. A guy who still weights 205, and can deadlift 415 is stronger than you! Who cares about your relative strength other than you?
NOBODY. Nobody gives a shit about your relative strength. They may be impressed that a “skinny dude” can lift a lot, but they’ll still be more impressed by a bigger fucking lift. Why do you think people pay more attention to the heavy weights in powerlifting, in general? Bigger weights. More exciting. Compare it to gymnastics. Let’s suppose there were bigger gymnasts and smaller gymnasts. The small compact gymnasts would outperform the bigger gymnasts. Period. So, would gymnastics fans watch the over-size gymnasts and say, wow, that is very impressive for such a big fella? I think I like them better than the small ones.
Not likely, is it?
Who Cares About Relative Strength?
Fat loss does not make your stronger. It makes you relatively stronger. Being relatively stronger only matters in competition and sports. And even then, it doesn’t matter to your competitor, because if you’re in the same weight group as the next guy, he only cares how strong you are. What are you numbers?
But let’s back up. Does losing that weight mean that you will be able to become stronger, in an absolute sense, faster? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how much weight you lose.
Folks with single digit body fat are NOT going to gain strength as quickly as someone with body fat in the teens. Likewise, someone who is overweight or obese is not going to become strong as quickly as someone with body fat in the teens. At least as a general rule.
Being Thin is Not Conducive to Getting Stronger
Did I just say being chiseled is not conducive to becoming hella strong? Yes, I did. Having a chiseled six-pack and getting that 450lbs deadlift are not all that compatible. You’d do better to choose one, or realize that while you are working on that six-pack, or carrying it around, you probably are sacrificing strength gains.
Now, these fat loss trainers are quick to tell you that the fatter you are the weaker you are and they’ll use pullups as an example. You can’t pull up your own body weight? Oh, poor you! You’ll feel so much better if you lose some weight and get that pullup! You want to feel stronger don’t you? Then pay me and I’ll give you my strength training fat loss program.
If you want to feel stronger, you’re not really interested in strength training. If you were, you’d want to be stronger.
Pullups? So What?
At the end of the day, the weight you can “pull up” is the weight you can “pull up.” Who is to say that hauling 500 off the ground is not just as impressive as hauling your skinny ass up on a pull-up bar? In other words, these fat loss gurus are telling you what strong is, how it should feel, and what your goals should be.
You know what happens when dedicated strength enthusiasts manage to do a couple sets of body weight pullups, because they’ve lost weight? They add weight to the pullups. So, in other words, losing weight is like taking a few plates off the barbell. You just add them back on later. In this case, you exchange actual plates for body fat. Anybody who thinks “I’m so much stronger now because I can do 30 pull-ups” has gone and confused muscular endurance with absolute strength.
What they don’t tell you is that the same thing that goes for the overweight tends to go for the underweight.
Work capacity is important for continued gains in strength. However, the kind of work capacity you need involves lifting the heaviest weight possible for the most reps possible, in whatever way you happen to be doing this. It does not mean light little weights and “metabolic complexes.”
Fat loss and strength gain are two different goals. To some extent, fat loss may help you in your strength training, if you are severely overweight, or your weight is coupled with a lack of endurance to the extent that you cannot handle the work-load you need.
Strength training is for people who want to get strong. Fat loss is for people who want to lose fat. Sometimes you may have both of these goals. You’d do well to prioritize the one which is most important at any given time.