Today I want to address one of the most common questions I get here at OTA: how to build strength without the size.
Even though most of my work is on the performance side of things, certain athletes have concern about looking the part.
For these guys in particular, I like to take a more athletic approach at “cutting” principles.
Awhile back I put out a good video on how to gain strength while cutting, so this is a great guide to look over if you want to build a lean, athletic physique.
There’s a ton of studies and programs all backed by science, that could support you in a cut while maintaining strength.
The important thing to realize is that each of these programs will effect everyone differently depending on how you recover, how you implement intensity, and the way in which you approach each training session.
You could be an athlete coming out of the off-season or a weekend warrior who likes to train for performance.
Each approach towards nutrition will have a different effect on every athlete.
Since you understand that there’s many variables when it comes to cutting, you know that having the proper programming is essential to making a difference in your strength and body composition.
Here’s my three phase approach to building strength without the size – keep reading.
I’ll be starting off with a sample “pre-cut” or the initial steps to begin shedding body fat.
Our main goals here are to maintain power output, maximal force, and relative strength while improving body composition and staying lean.
The two main pieces of this program will be based in training and nutrition, both of which are essential when it comes to reducing weight and gaining strength.
If you think you’re going to see a major difference in your body fat percentage, or become lean by ignoring either one of the two, I hate to disappoint – but you’re wrong.
Let’s start with a general prep:
When it comes to your initial training during this first cut phase, we want to think in terms of high intensity and high frequency, with a moderate volume.
What I mean by high frequency is that you’re looking to hit basic movement patterns (push/pull, bend/squat, gait and twist) multiple times during a single mesocycle or one week of training.
The goal is to stimulate the nervous system as much as possible since this works to build absolute strength.
I also tend to have my athletes place a focus on the eccentric portion of their movement in order to recruit additional muscle fibers and truly enhance strength training.
Overall in this initial training phase, you can be lifting up to 6x per week, getting in a lot of auxiliary movements while keeping compound lifts to a moderate volume or amount of reps.
Doing too many reps will cause you to break down your form quickly and deplete the true goal which maintaining good form.
On the nutrition side of things during this first phase, your general prep phase is where you’ll determine your baseline calories.
This is an opportunity to do an audit of what you’re eating within seven days time and make any changes from there.
I usually recommend staying away from the online calculators which recommend caloric intake based on your activity level.
Say you’re currently eating 1,500 calories a day, but this calculator says that you should be having 4,000 calories…
Your weight is going to blow up if you add all these calories overnight, so we want to very slowly and incrementally introduce more calories.
The other factor we want to look at in your baseline nutrition are performance macros.
What does this mean?
Now is the time to shift your macros around so that they better fit your level of performance or your specific training demands.
If strength is your overall goal, you have to make your nutrition work for you.
For instance, if you’re currently eating around 2,000 calories a day but this is made up of more carbs and fat than protein, we want to shift around your macros so your nutrition is better suited to to build strength without the size.
Protein is especially important when eating for performance since it allows you to properly recover from all those intense training sessions.
Secondary Cut Phase
Next we’re moving into high intensity, high volume, and moderate frequency.
In this secondary portion of your cut, we’re really trying to amp up those training sessions to see a big change in body composition.
The major shift in your training comes from frequency, so as opposed to last week where you’re hitting benchpress two or three times a week, you’re now bringing it down to only one or two touches a week.
You might want to focus on a particular movement or lift which you’re looking to strengthen like the bench press or maybe back squat.
Due to some new changes in nutrition during this phase (I’ll get into this soon) your body can handle additional volume.
So for example while you might be benching less often, the weight on the bar or intensity is going up.
The goal is to stimulate the nervous system by getting the most out of each rep.
Finally we’re at the true cut portion of our protocol.
During the initial two phases, we were working to incrementally add calories and vary the levels of training intensity in order to build strength without the size.
When I utilized this protocol myself awhile back, I gained a ton of absolute strength during these weeks.
Now that we’ve reached the final stage, it’s time to for the most important part.
After changing up rep ranges and variables of work, for the final portion of your cut we’re continuing with high intensity but dropping the volume and the frequency.
My goal in doing this is to back off the volume so that every single repetition is done at max effort.
Because even as we reduce calories, we can maintain the quality of our lifts.
Let’s continue with the example that we’re trying to get a bigger benchpress. Our frequency should come down to only one touch a week, but with the intent of getting an intense workout in nearing your one rep max weight.
This final nutrition aspect of your cutting protocol is the most important piece of all when you’re trying to build strength without the size.
Over the course of your entire cut (however long that may be for you) we’ve been slowly increasing your calories, leading up to this.
Depending on the individual athlete, your daily calories may be up to anywhere around 3,000-4,000. Now is when we can play with the actual cut.
Look at it this way – your body is acclimated to eating a lot of calories and using them for fuel.
We can now begin to reduce this caloric intake anywhere from 10-20% and within that first week you’ll immediately start to see the weight start to shed off.
Now, are you ready for the secret sauce?
During your first two phases, we haven’t introduced any supplementation. Supplements are used to make up for the nutrients you don’t get from your diet.
My recommendation is to abstain from any supplements during your initial two phases and really focus on eating quality foods.
During your final cut phase as you reduce the amount of total calories and therefore nutrients, you can begin to add in some performance supplements such as Glutamine and BCAA’s which help to enhance recovery from all your training sessions.
I might also introduce a pre-workout or some kind of stimulant so that all the workouts stay intense.
Another favorite supplement of mine is Creatine Hydrochloride. I choose this over creatine monohydrate to reduce water retention. Creatine provides you with additional ATP that enhances energy and muscle contraction.
By introducing supplements during your reduced caloric phase, your body has all new nutrients that will allow you to shed weight and build strength without the size.
Using this very cut protocol, myself and many of my athletes have been able to simultaneously maintain a shredded athletic physique as well as a strong bench press and squat.
When it comes to any sort of nutrition or dieting as an athlete, I like to take an evidence led approach rather than evidence based.
Everyone will have different results when altering nutrition so it’s important that you adjust your calories to stay healthy and maintain strength throughout your training.
I always recommend a holistic approach when implementing new ideas, then alter them based off your experience.
If you’re looking to gain strength without the size in your cut phase, then look no further…
There’s a new program I’ve been working on, Athlete Built Savage.
You’ll burn body fat, while gaining muscle mass and increasing your athletic performance. All at the same time.
A triple threat if you will.
This walks you through the exact method I prescribed to myself and my pro guys. I’ll simply breakdown what you need to do to get these results and build strength without the size.