I don't want to be big or heavy. I want to be stronger at my existing weight, or preferably even lighter.

Is it possible to get stronger whilst remaining at the same weight or while losing weight?


The fastest and most reliable way to increase strength without gaining weight is to drop your bodyfat percentage. Take a short 110 lb woman as an example. If she is at 30% bodyfat, she has 33 lbs of fat and 77 lbs of lean mass. However, if she gains 11 lbs of muscle and drops 11 lbs of fat, she'll be at a leaner 110 lbs with 20% bodyfat. Eleven pounds of muscle is nothing to scoff at and would provide a lot of strength.

Outside of additional muscle mass, doing lower rep sets that are close to your one rep max will provide greater adaptations towards strength. Powerlifters tend to primarily train in this style. Sets of 1-5 reps that are taken to or close to failure (close to failure more often than to failure if you aren't peaking) is the general idea here.

Eat plenty of protein (~1g per pound of lean mass) to support the adaptations of your muscle tissues, and eat approximately enough calories to maintain weight. If you're worried about becoming "too big", don't be. Unless you're a one in a million genetic freak, you'll find adding muscle to takes a really long time. Best case scenario for a newbie male lifter looking to maximize muscle is 2 lbs per month while in a surplus. Most guys aren't getting 1 lb per month when they start, and the more you gain the slower you gain additional muscle. Muscle is smaller than fat too, so if you drop bodyfat percentage while staying at the same weight, you'll be smaller without having lost weight.


Yes, it is absolutely possible to get stronger whilst losing weight or remaining the same; it is the norm for many athletes.

Relative strength is the term used to describe our strength relative to our body mass. It can be evaluated as a dimensionless ratio of the mass that we can lift for a particular exercise of interest—for example, the squat—divided by our body mass. That is:

                       mass of lift
relative strength = ———————————————————
                        body mass

Diet alone may indeed increase your relative strength by decreasing your body mass—that is, the denominator in the equation—but it will not increase your strength meaningfully without training.

It is important to understand, also, that ‘big’ and ‘heavy’ are subjective terms, and we are all going to perceive them differently. However, to put things into perspective, at her peak, Allyson Felix (pictured below) could squat around 140 kilograms (300 lbs) at a body-weight of 55 kilograms (120 lbs)—a relative strength well in excess of that of most amateur bodybuilders! A light, athletic frame can certainly be developed to be extremely strong.

Allyson Felix

The key to developing a high relative strength is a training regimen characterised by heavy lifting with low relative volume, combined with aerobic endurance training. Aerobic endurance training hinders the hypertrophy of Type I (slow oxidative) muscle fibres, and further develops the endurance characteristics of Type IIA (fast oxidative glycolytic) fibres. Endurance work, alone, tends to limit our physical size. And perhaps counter-intuitively, heavy lifting—in this context defined by loads equivalent to 1 to 6 repetitions maximum—stimulates strength gain whilst permitting too little training volume to encourage significant hypertrophy.

It should be noted that women develop considerably less muscle bulk than men due to their lower levels of testosterone—on average, women have approximately 25% less muscle mass relative to their size—but the relative strength of their muscle is comparable. Furthermore, they tend to have greater muscular endurance and consequently higher exercise tolerance. Only a small subsection of women who are particularly gifted for strength and power have a propensity to develop large muscle bulk easily. (And to a great degree, the same is true of men—hence fora such as this.)

So in summary: lift heavily; don't do excessive lifting volume; and complement your strength work with a significant volume of long (aerobic) endurance work.

I hope that helps.


Assuming you’re 6’ tall and 200 pounds right now, your completely untrained squat is probably around 100 pounds - assuming you go to the proper depth and use the correct form. So, pound for pound, your squat to weight ratio is about 0.5.

Do the Starting Strength novice linear progression properly and you’ll be squatting 320-360 in about 3-5 months and you’ll weigh about 230-240 pounds. So, in 3-5 months you go from a squat to weight ratio that was 0.5 to a ratio of about 1.36! The deadlift, bench and press will have similar increases in this ratio!

Now, let’s say you are 6’0 and 200 pounds and squat 95. Say you decide to lose 30 pounds. Your squat numbers will go down as you lose weight. Let’s say after 30 pounds of weight loss, your squat is 85 pounds at that point.

Now your body weight is 170 pounds and you squat 85 pounds. Your squat to weight ratio is still about 0.5!

To get stronger, you need to lift progressively heavier weights... Gaining weight while getting stronger will still yield better results than losing weight.

Your best bet would be to get to a point in which you can lift very heavy weights and then subsequently lose as much fat as possible. You might still be slightly heavier than your initial weight, but your body composition will be startlingly different.

  • That is true, but the poster specifically said that she wanted to be stronger at her existing weight, or lighter.
    – POD
    Jun 9 '20 at 10:56
  • My point was that if he/she gained some weight to get stronger and then ended up back at their original weight, their body composition would be completely different and they’d be pound for pound MUCH stronger.
    – Frank
    Jun 9 '20 at 20:16
  • You appear to have addressed the title, but not the post. Her post says clearly that her focus is gaining strength without gaining significant muscle bulk, without gaining weight, and ideally whilst losing weight.
    – POD
    Jun 9 '20 at 22:04
  • Temporarily gaining weight to get stronger and then subsequently losing enough weight to get back to one’s base weight will leave one with a net overall strength gain while maintaining one’s original weight. Not only that, but she will likely have far more muscle than fat at the original weight, and will look leaner. And if it’s a female, then no, she won’t be bulky. The advice to burn fat will just leave her weaker. You don’t lose 10, 20, 30 pounds and leave your squat the same. As I demonstrated, her squat to body weight ratio will stay virtually the same.
    – Frank
    Jun 9 '20 at 22:09
  • That is likely true, but you are making assumptions about who she is and what she can or cannot lose. And women can, and do, get bulky relative to cultural norms and personal preferences. (Hence the stipulation, I suspect.) Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing in our physiology that makes us weaker when we lose fat.
    – POD
    Jun 9 '20 at 22:19

Bruce lee proved this by squatting and benching very impressive numbers and he was extremely lean. In terms of explosive strength or regular strength it is. The only thing you need to know is keep your protein levels high, do strength training routines, and most importantly DONT INCREASE YOUR CALORIES! you will naturally gain a tiny bit of muscle but not eating more calories than you do now will prevent any significant muscle growth.

You can also reduce your protein by a lot too but you risk losing what muscle you currently have and might lower the max strength your capable of, but it is an option and will definitely stop muscle gain. With this option you are more flexible with your calories but still need to not eat too much

I know this is a simple answer which is why it might be downvoted, but its quick and to the point.. the only way to not gain muscle but gain strength is to eat enough to maintain which is the amount of calories you're currently eating now if you want to stay at existing weight, and use a strength training protocol. There's calculators online you can use to find your max strength limit based on your weight. Eventually you'll be limited by low amounts of muscle but you can become quite strong. Bruce lee did a 6 rep max of a squat, and he is incredibly lean, between 150 and 165 pounds.

  • How much did Bruce Lee squat/bench?
    – Alec
    Jun 7 '20 at 23:14
  • bench press: 265lbs over head press: 225lbs barbell row: 100lb one arm 10 rep max squat: 315lbs for 6 rep max, did not do 1RM due to injuries related to good morning lift barbell curl: 140lbs dead lift: Did not perform due to injuries related to good morning lift. Source(s): Enter the Barbell Article: Blackbelt Magazine June 1994
    – Ace Cabbie
    Jun 8 '20 at 16:36

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