Friends Don’t Let Friends Lift Light

I’ve traveled far and wide to acquire this information. I’ve eaten fish with a Kodiak bear, drank tea with a Tibetan monk and even exchanged iced-out watches with aliens on Pluto, all so that I could return to give you a powerful tool to add to your fat loss arsenal. Are you ready?!

Descent Into Madness

If I had a dollar for every time I read or heard someone say that you need to utilize high reps in order to loss fat or “cut up”, I’d be riding around town in a rocketship because that’s just how pervasive this myth has become. Take a look around your gym, or perhaps even your own routine, and I’m sure you’ll find several examples. A sample workout of someone subscribing to this kind of dogma probably consists of 5 different bicep curls, plus every bench press variation known to man, repeated forever and ever and ever until the end of time.

While the above is (mostly) in jest, there is a serious point to be made: the way most people train for the goal of fat loss is counterproductive, but you know what? I don’t blame them, as I too was a victim of it and did my fair share of spreading misinformation back in the day. With the rise of this new, hip thing called the internet, great information is easy to find, but so is the nonsense. When you look at weight training from a simplistic point of view, it almost sounds like it would make sense.

Strength training = calories burned
Strength training + a never ending amount of sets = even more calories burned
Even more calories burned = FAT ANNIHILATION!!!

Right?

Nope.

When your goal is to lose enough fat to look good naked, or at the very least in some form fitting clothes, the last thing that you want to do is engage in a constantly in light weight, high rep training, and here is why.

1. It provides no inventive

If you’re cutting calories like you’re supposed to be doing, then proper strength training is one of your greatest allies in the battle against the chub, emphasis on the word proper. Unfortunately, doing nothing but the type of training described above doesn’t cut the cake as far as proper goes and may very well leave you looking like a smaller, weaker version of your current self.

In a caloric deficit, your body is like The Blob – it doesn’t care if the weight that you’re losing is composed of muscle or fat and it will gobble up whatever it needs to in order to provide itself with what you aren’t giving it. Sounds pretty lame, right? Luckily there is an easy solution. By training with heavy weights and compound movements, coupled with sufficient protein intake, you’re waving a fiery torch of doom at your body, keeping it away from your treasure trove (muscle) and steering it towards a less important resource (body fat).

Unlike lifting a light weight dozens of times and not stressing your system, training with heavy weights provides your body with a physiological incentive to hold on to the muscle that you have because you’re demonstrating that you actually need to keep it around. In the end this is what you want, because muscle + reduced bodyfat is responsible for giving your body the definition and “tone” that most men and women are looking for.

Yes, it is true that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

2. It compromises recovery

Imagine that your muscles are like a sandcastle, and every time you train and allow time to recover, your sandcastle comes back bigger and better than before. This is how things normally go, but things aren’t normal when you’re trying to lose fat.

Your recovery is already hampered because you’re eating less than you’d need to maintain your current state, plus you’re demanding more of it by adding more for it to recovery from in the form of higher reps. This would be the equivalent of me drop kicking your sandcastle right of the middle of you rebuilding it – one step forward, two steps back.

Now what kind of person would I be if all I did was tell you about a problem and just stand there in my b-boy stance without providing you with any kind of a solution? A person composed entirely of dubious and questionable morals, and that just won’t do!

Enter The Pyramid

The most effective training method that I’ve ever used to pack on size or maintain my strength and muscle mass while dieting is called Reverse Pyramid Training, which is a simple training philosophy that I first discovered through Martin Berkhan which side steps the pitfalls of the constant high rep/low weight training.

General Rules:

  • Use this for only one or two (compound) lifts per session in order to avoid burnout.
  • Choose a predefined rep range (anywhere from 1-10 reps depending on the exercise), only increasing weight when you get to the upper end of that range.
  • After a proper warm up, your first work set will be your heaviest set. This is what you want to focus the majority of your efforts towards progressing on.
  • Drop the weight by 10% or so each subsequent set in order to get +1-2 reps compared to your last set

Here is a page from my training log as an example plus a video of me training in a goofy looking hat.

Chin Ups: 2 x 3-4, 1 x as many as possible

Set #1: Bodyweight + 100lbs x 3 reps

Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight about 10% and terminate the set after you get +1-2 reps from your last set.

Set #2: Bodyweight+ 75lbs x 4 reps

Set #3: Bodyweight x 11 reps

Done. Rest 3-5min before beginning the next compound movement (if you have another one).

Front Squat: 2 x 3-5 reps

Set #1: 305 x 4 reps

Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight by about 10% and terminate the set after you get +1-2 reps from your last set.

Set #2: 275 x 5 reps

Rest at least 3min. Drop that weight by 10% and terminate the set after you get +1 rep from your last set.

Set #3: 225 x 5

On some days this may be my entire workout – brief, intense and effective. This is how most my sessions usually turn out, and I’ve managed to maintain my strength and muscle mass despite being in a severe caloric deficit at the time. You can add in a few assistance exercises as well, but I’d keep it limited to 2, 3 at the absolute most, and stay within the 6-10 rep range. Cut out the fufu exercises and keep your training centered around the big movements.

As a side note, if can’t perform movements such as chin ups, deadlifts, squats and the bench press for some reason, all is not lost. You still have the option of using the lat pulldown  weight-assisted chin up machine, leg press and push up variations, just to name a few. The key is to simply use a heavy enough weight to maintain intensity, regardless of the actual exercise selection.

Photo Credit: MayWong

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Comments

  1. CG says

    I am actually curious what “assistant” exercises you’d use for legs. I have a few but I’m not sure I’d call them by that name!

    Also, which ones you might use for chest as well!

    • says

      Hey CG,

      It depends on how I’m feeling on that particular day. I always include a big hamstring exercise such as an RDL or Gluteham Raise, and then I’ll either use the leg press machine or front squat again to get some more volume in. I recommend single leg exercise such as reverse lunges, walking lunges or split squats, but I injured both of my big toes last year so it makes those positions pretty painful for me.

      For chest, dips, pushups and dumbbell bench press variations are always a fine choice.

  2. Lorenzo says

    Hi Roger, great article! I’ve RPT for 4 months, and i like a lot the results. But after a back injury (pain in the lower back caused by heavy squat & dead) i was forced to modify my sessions.
    Now the pain has gone and i’d like to come back to RPT, but without squat & deads.

    What do you think about if i switch leg press 45° instead of squat, and weighted hyperextension instead of deadlifts?

    It’s very hard to find a good replacement for the deadlifts….

    cheers!

    • says

      Hey Lorenzo,

      Thanks for stopping by and checking out this post.

      I’m not sure of the exact nature of your back injury and what caused it (deadlifts & squats may have been what pushed you over the edge, but other factors such as mobility levels & form play a role too usually, having been there myself), so it’s hard to say.

      Just to be on the safe side, I think the leg press would be a good substitute as long as you make sure that you’re not ending up with your knees in your chest at the bottom of the movement as that may exacerbate your back issue. Try to make sure your legs stop at the 90 degree point. Also, have you experimented with rack pulls? I think that those would be better suited for RPT style training than weighted hyperextensions.

      • Lorenzo says

        Hi Roger,
        thanks for your kind answer!!
        You’re right, squat&deads may have stressed too much my back, but those movements are not the leading cause.

        Ok for the leg press in a middle range, if i go knee-to-the-chest my back aches.

        I’ve never heard about rack, i’m watching some videos and it looks quite good! thanks a lot for the suggestion :-)
        With an higher starting point it should be less heavy for the lower back, correct?

        I think that even the deads with the trap bar should be a good option, but unfortunately my gym doesn’t have one :-(

        Thanks again Roger!
        Keep on posting those useful information!!!

        • says

          Yep, that’s the idea. Less range of motion = less of a chance that mobility limitations will come into play and prevent you from getting a strength/training benefit.

          Glad you like it! Give them a try and let me know how they go for you.

  3. Sam Francis says

    what do you mean by a proper warm up? warm up sets of the performed exercise or something else to get bloody flowing?

    • says

      I like a general warm up too – something like 5min on the treadmill/some other cardio machine to warm up your entire body + some dynamic movement exercises for areas relevent to the movement you’re going to do (I.E. hips, upper back, ankles, etc).

      For this article though, I mean warm up sets of the performed exercise. As you get closer to your work sets, I wouldn’t use as many reps so as not to tire yourself out too much.

  4. Tom says

    When do you think one should consider RPT ?
    I am doing the Starting Strength programm right now, my deadlift is at 287 lbs,
    squat at 243lbs, not benching at the moment (rotator cuff problems) but it was at 155lbs before. These weights apply for 3×5, I do not know what my 1RMs are.

    Regards,
    Tom

    • says

      I think those are more than sufficient starting numbers to begin giving RPT a try. I’d stay within the 3-5 rep range for both the squat and the deadlift and work to improve your top work set over time. The fact that your squat and deadlift numbers are so close together tells me that you’re gonna have some great growth in the deadlift.

      • Clement says

        Hey Tom, why don’t you try RPT after you no longer see progress on Starting Strength?

        If you can still make gains on a linear periodisation programme, perhaps you should milk the programme for its full worth.

        A wise man by the name of Roger Lawson once told me that. I took his advice and never looked back!

  5. Mike says

    Love the article, just starting Leangains myself and am hoping to see the gains other have seen. When you mention “severe caloric deficit” how much are you talking about here? I’m 5’11, 180 and am shooting for 2800 cals on strength days, and 1800 on off days. Maintenance calculated to 2800, but I subtracted 500 per day to lose weight.

    Main goal is decrease BF% and see some abs!

    • says

      Hey Mike,

      “Severe caloric deficit” is kind of a relative term, but I like to classify it as 35-50% below maintenance level calories.

      Depending on how many days a week you’re training and how active you are in general that may be too many calories. I’d say track your results and see where it takes you, and be ready to make some adjustments based on your progress. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Clement says

    Hey Rog, I prefer your format of RPT to Martin’s, actually.

    His format is more based around body-parts. For example, he does deadlifts, weighted chins and pendlay rows on a Back day. Yours, however, is more of a full-body workout, which I very much like!

    When I’ve reached all my various goals, I’ll definitely go on an RPT-based programme. I’ll build each session around the squat, deadlift, military press and weighted chin-up, similar to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1!

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  1. [...] on a diet – crucial in sending the body a signal to hang onto that hard earned muscle mass IMO. Friends Don't let Friends lift light. "Rather than worrying about insulin, you should worry about whatever diet works the [...]

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