What recommendations exist to lose weight without losing muscle? How much strength training is usually adequate to maintain muscle mass during a healthy weight loss diet?

I've been losing weight this year to improve at my sport (rock climbing). I've lost 25lbs. I'm 6'4", and currently 183. I've been losing weight at about 1-1.5lbs a week for several months now. During the first month, I found that my benchpress and overhead press began droped. I had been lifting once a week to maintain, so I bumped it up to 2 lifting sessions a week. I've successfully stabilized my strength as I've continued to lose fat. But I feel like I'm being inefficient about it - I'm basically lifting as much as I did when I was doing a strength training / muscle gaining cycle over the winter. This lifting is in addition to my climbing specific training, so I'm having to workout 5-6 days a week. It's working fine, I'm thinner, equally strong, and climbing harder. But I'm wondering if I can be smarter about my training or diet.

Edit to address questions: I eat about 2000 cal a day, at a rough ratio on 20-30% protien, 20% fat, 50-60% carbs.

I lift on Mondays and Fridays, doing 3 sets of 8 of bench presses, pullups, military presses, cable rows, lateral raises, and deadlifts.

I do about 4 hours of climbing training on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I jog 2-3 miles, 4 times a week. Mostly to help hit my caloric goals on the nose.

I climb outdoors on the weekend, or indoors if the weathers bad.

I'm running myself ragged doing all this, though. I'm not developing injuries or anything, but I'm getting burned out, and was wondering if I could eliminate a lifting day, for my sanity, without risking losing strength again.


  • 1
    I'm not knowledgeable enough to do more than point you to Martin Berkhan's intermittent fasting, and to low-rep, high-weight strength exercises. Could you detail your current diet and strength program? Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 20:29
  • 3
    higher protein intake (lots of protein shakes in water), very low on the carbohydrates and a good amount of healthy fats. Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 20:34
  • @Andreas Your comment should be an answer. Good advice. Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 20:41
  • Thanks for the advice, I haven't found much info about this specific problem.. there's a book called "Racing Weight" about losing weight for cardio sports, but it doesn't talk much about maintaining non- sport related strength. But There isnt
    – DavidR
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 20:58

3 Answers 3


Seeing your routine, which is very solid, I've realized I do have some advice. There are two rough approaches I would take in your shoes.

The first approach would be to cut the sets of 8 to sets of 3. Fewer reps per set still maintains or improves strength, without requiring the endurance of 8-rep sets. It also decreases the recovery load on your system. Sets of eight shoot for significant hypertrophy or mass gain, which could make it hard to fit your strength work in with fat loss, climbing, and everything else.

You could increase the number of sets to keep volume constant, or you could just do three very heavy sets of 3 and call it a day for your strength maintenance work. (For deadlifts, I would do only one set, but really focus on making it heavy.)

I would personally experiment with sprinting instead of longer, slower distance running, because I'm convinced that sprints are A) awesome, B) better at getting and keeping humans stronger and more explosive, C) easier to recover from, D) quicker to do, and E) as effective or more effective for fat loss. But if 2-3 miles is working for you, and you like it, absolutely keep doing it--it's still a great workout.

A high-protein, low-carb diet rich in good fats like coconut, olive and avocado would help. That would be a fine approach.

The second method would be to check out Martin Berkhan's intermittent fasting LeanGains approach, and follow it. His diet protocol is detailed briefly here. At the moment I can't find detailed lifting recommendations from him.


I think you're getting burned out because of the low carb diet. Your muscles need carbs to function and rebuild, and without much carbs your body will just break down muscle to supply you with energy. Strength training and high protein intake will counteract this to some degree, but cutting excess calories from fat would be the ideal method. Your likely eating lots of healthy fats, which is good health-wise, but not for cutting weight. Your body is just storing that fat and breaking it down during your runs (and not much during climbing or lifting). Cut your intake of fat calories and replace it with carbs. I would suggest eating around 180 grams of carbs (roughly a gram per pound of bodyweight) on training days, with the majority of those carbs in your pre and post workout meals. This will give you better workouts and muscle recovery. Revert back to low carb on rest days. You need at least one rest day a week. Climbing laps might also assist in fat burning, while increasing endurance.

As for whether you should continue running 2-3 miles or opt for sprint/interval training, it's a coin flip. Sprints might burn more fat, but bulk up your legs in the process (adding additional weight). Long distance definitely leans you up, but might encourage muscle loss in areas where you want to keep it (especially if operating on a caloric deficit). If your in your late twenties (or older), you might want some of the increased HGH production you get from running sprints. Try a mixture of both?


This link gives solid advice on the topic

How to Lose Weight to Improve Your Climbing

A few key points from the document:

  1. The bottom line for losing weight is that you must create a caloric deficit
  2. keep the protein intake high and the fat intake low
  3. Try not to add fat to anything.
  4. Keep a diary of everything you eat.
  • 5
    Can you summarize the key points of the blog post and quote them here and use the link as a reference? A link by itself does not make for a good answer. If the link disappears or the content changes, then the answer loses its value.
    – user241
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 16:28
  • A web-archive link has been edited in, and the summary actually covers the two pages of the paper.
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 19:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.