Heavy and strong. What now?
August 5, 2008 1:01 PM   Subscribe

How does the ability to lift weight change with significant weight loss? In females?

I'm in my early twenties; have been lifting weights off and on for about five years. I'm relatively tall and large framed for a woman-- 5'8" and 190 lbs-- and from the beginning, I've been able to lift a lot more than the other women at my gym. Nothing drastic-- I'm not very serious about it-- but probably about double what I see other people doing. I've never stuck with weightloss efforts for more than a few months (or a dozen or so pounds) so I've always been able to increase weights with no problem. But if I were trying to lose, say, 40 pounds, would I expect my capacity to lift weight decrease by virtue of my decreased mass? How do I manage this?

Related: are there any training guidelines or other resources for someone like me?
posted by acidic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If anything, provided you kept up with the exercise and didn't lose any muscle mass, you'd see your lifting capacity increase - muscle mass (lifting power) stays constant while the total amount to lift (body + weight) goes down.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:06 PM on August 5, 2008

I think once you're past the so-called "beginner" gains in weight lifting, you reach a fork in the road. One path, with reduced calories and continued training, you will lose fat and basically maintain your current strength. The other path, with more calories and continued training, will build muscle, but not remove fat. The good thing is, in neither case should you expect to lose strength. The bad thing is, you can't really build new muscle while starving your body of energy.

By the way, most women at the gym are lifting far too little. It may not really be a valid comparison to look at what they're doing.
posted by knave at 1:08 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

decreased mass ? what kind of mass do you want to lose ? fat or muscle ?

theoretically it is impossible to gain muscle mass and lose fat at the same time, hence lifters tend to divide their training and nutrition into 3 different phases, bulking, cutting and maintenance.

sounds like you want to cut so if you do it as cleanly as possible you should be able to maintain the weights you can lift while shedding fat, however most likely if you are engaging in a cut then you will most likely lose some muscle mass as well so your lifting may suffer...
posted by dawdle at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2008

This is purely anecdotal, but I've lost quite a bit of weight over the course of the past year and a half, and I can definitely lift more than I did when I started out. As long as you make weight training a regular part of your routine, I don't think you'd have any difficulty.

I've been combining a moderately reduced-calorie diet with gradual increases in strength training, though it sounds like that might not be such a good idea given the answers above. (But, again, this is anecdotal, IANA doctor/nutritionist/trainer.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:37 PM on August 5, 2008

If you're "dieting and doing cardio" to get down to an average 150lbs, then yes, you will likely see significant strength losses.

If you're cutting down very gradually to a lean, muscular 150lbs, your chances are better.

You probably know the difference between anorexic-diet, atrophy-happy weight loss, and healthy, gradual fat burning.

Do interval cardio in durations of 20-45min, and keep lifting, and lifting heavy. Implement a precise diet that feeds your machine, and you should see steady fat loss while maintaining the strength and muscularity you want to keep.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2008

Fat does not add to your strength - losing 40lbs of fat wont affect your strength unless you're also losing muscle.
posted by missmagenta at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2008

You sound almost exactly like me--same stats and relative strength--only I'm 25 years older. I've lifted off and on for years. I'd recommend you diet slowly to lose fat (1-2 pounds/week), and you should be able to at least maintain your strength during the diet. After the fat loss, you can feed the muscle and increase your strength.

About 10 years ago I was the same weight as you and lost 30 pounds doing lots of cardio. I didn't notice any loss of strength, but at the time my heavy workouts involved chainsaws and trees, not gym weights. A couple of years ago, I got back into weights and quickly added muscle. Unfortunately, I also put the fat back on and got bulky.

Now my goal is to lose 1-2 pounds a week, all of it fat. I'm still working out with trees but have replaced weights with cardio. I have plenty of muscle, and I know from experience that I add muscle fast. So even if I do lose a little muscle during the diet, I know I'll get it back fast, and I'll bet the same is true for you.

I'm counting calories (1600/day) and eating vegetables, low-fat protein, and a moderate amount of complex carbs--nothing extreme. I track my progress on Calorie Count Plus.

If I had the time, I would continue to lift. But fat loss has priority, so now it's all cardio, all the time. This has meant fast biking, fast walking, and short bursts of intense dancing / jumping jacks / stair running during breaks at the computer--10 minutes of crazy cardio every 50 minutes (I work at home), plus a more sustained 30-min cardio workout. And it's finally clear to me that when I reach my goal BMI I'm going to have to keep cardio in the mix for the rest of my life or I'll pudge out again.

Lose the weight now, while you're younger. I can tell you already that it's slow going when you're in your 40s. The rewards, however, are worth it. When I weighed about 155, I was buff. Turning-heads, lots-of-dates buff, with a big tank top collection. I don't consider myself shallow, but, wow, that was fun.
posted by PatoPata at 3:15 PM on August 5, 2008

If anything, provided you kept up with the exercise and didn't lose any muscle mass, you'd see your lifting capacity increase - muscle mass (lifting power) stays constant while the total amount to lift (body + weight) goes down.

That would be true for bodyweight exercises, like pullups, chinups, and dips, but not really for barbell or dumbell lifts.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:05 PM on August 5, 2008

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