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How to strength train while cutting

After bulking, it can be difficult to start cutting calories down since you’ve probably been eating everything in sight.

But more confusingly, many of us are unsure about lifting while cutting. Can you get stronger while cutting?

The answer is, of course, you can. If you go about it the right way.

In this article, we’re going to cover all bases, from cardio while cutting through to strength training while cutting – answering those all-important questions you’re just dying to know the answer to.

So let’s get stuck in.

Why should you build muscle while cutting?

Strength training while cutting is crucial for keeping as much lean muscle mass as you can during your cutting phase. The more muscle you maintain, the lower your body fat goes as you lose weight.

Plus, the more muscle you keep, the more calories you burn at rest – meaning you can eat a little more since you’re burning plenty.

Typically, during cutting, many cut weight the wrong way. This means that they veer off from a slow and steady approach, making maintaining high muscle mass even harder. So why should you be lifting while cutting?

Although lifting heavy can help you to cut through body fat, it can also keep your metabolism running high, helping you to hold onto muscle tissue while cutting.

Sure, you’re eating less, but strength training while cutting will allow you to maintain muscle and burn fat. So what happens if you don’t build muscle while cutting?

Failure to strength train during a cut – or lifting too light – can lead to muscle wasting, loss of strength and a decrease in your metabolism. The complete opposite to what you’re trying to achieve, right?

In short, strength training while cutting is crucial. Even more so than cardio while cutting.

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Can you get stronger while cutting?

Lifting heavy during your cut will not only help maintain muscle mass, but build more – naturally enhancing your strength.

Still unsure whether you should be strength training while cutting? Allow me to explain a little further…

Let’s dive into our seven-step guide, allowing you to build muscle while cutting.

The ultimate guide to lifting while cutting

Yes, your diet will still remain the most important part of your cut but strength training during a cutting phase should also be one of your top priorities.

Below we have a seven-step process to help you maximize your gains during a cut.

Step one: Set the date for cutting

Before starting any kind of cutting phase, it is recommended that you’re balanced in terms of your calories as this gives you a base for improvements.

More often than not, this base leads into a bulking phase, whereby you increase your calorie intake which allows a slow increase in body weight.

  • For example – A stable weight gain of 0.50% a week for 8 to 12 weeks, or until your body fat levels increase by approximately 15%.

Taking this into consideration, we’d suggest starting your cut phase 8 to 12 weeks before a specific event you want to look and feel your best for. Say, if you’re wanting to whip your shirt off in summer with total confidence, you’ll want March, April and May to slowly drop in weight – allowing you to maintain as much muscle mass as possible.

For example, you could undertake a bulking phase in which you aim to gain 0.50% of your bodyweight a week for 8 to 12 weeks, through January, February and March.

Then follow this up with a 2 to 3 week essential maintenance phase where you need to stabilize the weight you’ve become to conserve muscle growth.

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After this, you can start the cutting cycle in mid-April. This again will be for 8 to 12 weeks where you finish your final cutting weeks just as you enter summer.

Step two: Decide when to finish cutting

Ideally, you can allow a slow cutting phase that can be completed without any crazy measures. This also allows you to preserve high muscle mass too. Saying that though, you cannot cut forever.

Don’t try to play the process by thinking you can bulk for 12 weeks and cut in 4, as this is simply not sustainable and you will make yourself feel worse. Not only that, but you could end up losing muscle mass, wasting your efforts.

If you find that you’re 8-12 weeks into your cutting phase and you feel like you’d like to cut even more, you could do another 2-3 weeks and slightly increase your calories.

This will give you the boost you were looking for and will force your metabolism up.

Cutting for longer than this under the assumption that you also bulked for the same amount of time, can make your body build resilience to lose body fat. This has huge downsides such as losing muscle, feeling fatigued, not losing fat and feeling hungry.

Start with a somewhat vigorous cutting phase lasting between 8 to 12 weeks, if you also bulked for that time, too.

A steady goal for the cutting phase is to lose 0.75% of your body weight each week. If you lose more than that, this can result in losing both fat and muscle (the total opposite of what you want!).

Take into consideration that the more time you leave yourself to cut weight, you will typically preserve more muscle.

Step three: Define your workout split

During a cut, it is really important to do strength training while cutting to conserve muscle mass.

Those who increased the number of sessions they did in a week burned more calories, kept their metabolism high and found it easier to recover from their workouts.

It’s important to point out that doing more days per week, doesn’t mean you’re upping the number of sets. The two act together, allowing you to continue training at higher intensities and still maintain 80 to 90% of the overall volume – yet you’re still able to recover muscle tissue, even though you’re in a calorie deficit.

We’d suggest a 4 to 5 day workout split whilst cutting. Your splits could be 4 day of upper, lower, upper, lower; or a 5 day split that has lift training of all muscle groups at least twice weekly.

Incorporating some cardio while cutting into your split is a good idea if you need to burn some more calories, however, this isn’t necessary for everyone.

However, burning 200-300 more calories can make a huge difference as you can then eat more calories and still lose fat.

Step four: Opt for the best exercises to build muscle while cutting

The key to a cutting phase is preserving muscle mass. In strength training programs, the pillars are compound movements as they stress great amounts of muscle tissue.

As you’ll see in the program a little further down, movements during cutting and bulking can be the same. Unlike the bulking phase, recovery may be slightly more difficult as you’ll be in a calorie deficit.

This is why it’s so important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. This allows you to focus on using the correct techniques and lifting heavy weights without adding too much tension to an already stressful event.

We’re not saying you can’t train hard, because you absolutely can! It’s just important to understand that your body is operating on fewer calories than required.

Our suggestion would be to keep a moderate overall intensity, rather than going hard and burning yourself out.

Step five: Work out your sets, reps and intensity

In spite of what many newbies and even some coaches believe, lifting heavy weights isn’t a vital part of cutting. Although, it can be ideal for building strength and muscle mass.

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Beginners and people unfamiliar with the process believe that lifting light weights and doing a lot of reps will lead to a toned look. Whilst this is somewhat better than lifting, it can actually lead to some muscle loss.

Alternatively, opt for rep ranges in some movements such as compound lifts. Stick to low-moderate reps to conserve strength and muscle mass and then others in high reps to balance your overall success.

Below is a workout that will be a great base for your strength training while cutting.

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Step six: Keep track and control your diet

So as we’ve already discussed, a safe and maintainable amount of weight to lose each week is roughly 0.75% of your body weight. If you find you’re losing more than that, we’d suggest slowing down as you’re likely losing weight as well as muscle, defeating the objective of cutting.

Stop doing any excessive cardio while cutting and add more calories back into your diet, at least until you’re within the safe zone for weight loss.

However, if you find you’re the opposite and you’re not losing weight and you’ve been cutting for less than 8 to 12 weeks, then you may need to add some cardio into your routine and cut 200 to 300 calories daily to see if it improves.

Step seven: Cardio while cutting (if needed)

Now we aren’t saying that you have to do any cardio during your cutting phase.

Some people prefer to burn an extra 200 calories than they do to eat 200 less, but this is up to you. If you notice you’re not losing weight and find that you’re hungry more often, add some gentle cardio while cutting as this can help nudge the fat loss along.

If you’re a lover of HIIT or high-intensity cardio, try and keep these workouts to 2 to 3 times a week as a maximum. Adding HIIT into your program can cause more stress than you’re already under just from eating fewer calories.

Doing too much intense cardio can force your body into starvation mode in which it’ll preserve fat stores and breakdown muscle mass, not what we want at all.

You’ve hit your goal, what next?

You’re here! You’ve been lifting while cutting and getting stronger by the day.

But what’s next?

It’s important that you don’t just bounce back to eating everything in your kitchen, since this will be a quick way to gain all the weight you’ve just lost, plus even more fat.

After putting all your efforts into strength training while cutting and watching your diet like a hawk, it can be tricky to ease back into eating. However, this part is crucial for maintaining a healthy, lean muscular look – while not being quite as strict with your diet.

Following your cut phase, you can gradually up your carbs (usually in carbs) by around 200 to 300 calories initially – this is your maintenance phase. But why do it?

Well, this phase allows you to keep up with your hard-earned gains, without ballooning back up to a higher body fat.

Also Read: The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout

Doing this slow increase in calories for 3 to 4 weeks will allow the body to reintroduce itself to an increase in calories and carbs, priming your muscles to use this extra fuel to build muscle and increase metabolism.

Our 4-day workout for strength training while cutting

Below is our 4-day workout program for those looking to cut body fat and maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible.

What about rest time?

Keep rest periods to around 90 seconds, focusing on lifting heavy to keep as much muscle as you can while cutting your calorie intake.

Day one: Upper body (back, chest, arms)

Machine chest flye

Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 15

Incline bench press

Sets: 4

Reps: 6 to 8 (lifting heavy)

Weighted (or assisted) pull up

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Standing dumbbell Arnold press

Sets: 4

Reps: 10 (lifting heavy)


Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 20

Barbell curls

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Day two: Lower body (Focus on squat)

Back squat

Sets: 4

Reps: 6 to 8 (lifting heavy)

Smith machine hip thrust

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 10

Bulgarian split squat

Sets: 4

Reps: 10 to 12 reps/leg

Seated calf raise

Sets: 4

Reps: 1o to 12 steps

Leg extension

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 10 to 20

Day three: Upper body (back, shoulders and arms)

Cable lateral raise

Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 15

Barbell military press

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 10 (lifting heavy)

Cable face pull

Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 15

Dumbbell flat bench press

Sets: 4

Reps: 10 (lifting heavy)


Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 12

EZ bar preacher curl

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Day four: Lower body (Focus on deadlift)

Snatch grip deadlift

Sets: 4

Reps: 6 to 8 (heavy)

Dumbbell single arm row

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 10

Leg press

Sets: 4

Reps: 10 to 12

Calf raise

Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 15 steps

Reverse grip pulldown

Sets: 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Hamstring curl

Sets: 4

Reps: 12 to 15

Total sets per week

Below is the total amount of sets per week per muscle group. Each week, you could increase the total weekly set volume by one set, up to potentially 16 to 19 total sets per muscle group (minus arms).

From there, reset back to lower set volume and increase the weight.

  • Chest: 12
  • Back: 12
  • Shoulders: 12 to 15
  • Triceps: 8
  • Quads: 12 to 16
  • Hamstrings/Glutes: 12 to 16
  • Calves: 8

Ready to get lifting while cutting?

With the workout program above and plenty of advice to move forward with, strength training while cutting should be a total breeze!

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Now, go smash it!

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The Brutal Force Team

The Brutal Force Team

We research and write articles about health, fitness and dieting. Each of our articles includes sources from scientific studies where possible.






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The Brutal Force Team

The Brutal Force Team

We research and write articles about health, fitness and dieting. Each of our articles includes sources from scientific studies where possible.