Decreasing Bodyweight While Maintaining Size and Strength
by Anthony Ditillo
One of the most intricate and most difficult things to do is to lose excess bodyweight while you maintain your muscle size and overall body strength. I know. I have tried it many, many times and many, many times I have failed. On every occasion either the losses in fatty tissue were not enough to really consider the experiment a complete success, or the strength and muscle size suffered while the fatty tissues reduced at a constant but painfully slow rate. Another problem I have encountered while trying to reduce down to a more “human” level of size is the loose skin which one develops after losing any sizable amount of bodyweight. This loose skin situation is mainly what has caused me to go up again in bodyweight, shortly after going through all the pains of losing the weight in the first place. And I am the first one to admit that such a situation is neither sensible nor healthful.
One of the main faults which causes so many fellows to give up in their quest of a less fatty type of physique is faulty dietary habits. Most people blame their metabolism for this kind of situation, but I for one do not agree. First of all, if you work out sensibly, you can increase your metabolic rate and therefore such an excuse will not back up your condition. Also, one must realize that what I am speaking about is not DEFINING the already muscular physique but a situation which seeks to reduce the outer fatty tissues so that the large muscles inside can begin to show through. If you do not have sufficient muscular bulk underneath this thick layer of fatty skin, then, when you begin to reduce, the outer appearance your physique will take on will be ANYTHING but attractive.
Sensible reducing will take much thought, patience and willpower. And here again is where most fellows fall by the wayside. They have the willpower and the patience but they don’t give the exercise routine enough thought and consideration to really do them much good. It’s for sure. If you’re not training right, you’re not going to gain right. One must take into consideration many aspects of the overall training program and diet when beginning to undertake such a training endeavor. It is the purpose of this article to help the trainee who has trained for quite a while to develop all the muscular mass he can carry and now wants to train down so that his waist, upper thighs and buttocks will approximate more aesthetic proportions. I know that in my own experiences this is what I eventually wanted to do. I wanted to, first of all, become as large and as strong as possible, and then I wanted to trim down to a more pleasing appearance. I must admit, I have not as yet FULLY SUCCEEDED with this goal, but at least I can finally feel as though I am on the right track.
Because such an undertaking is so very complex, I shall endeavor to show you, step by step, ONE MAN’S way of doing the job. I do not mean to hint that this is the ONE AND ONLY way to do such a job, but as far as I am concerned this seems to be the only way I have found so far that REALLY works.
When I first joined the Elizabeth YMCA in January of 1971, I weighed 260 lbs. My chest was almost 56” and my arms taped at 21 ½”. My waist was around 44” and my thighs were a snug 31”. I was fairly strong. My bench press was my weakest lift (it still is) but on the incline bench I was using almost 300 lbs. My squat to parallel and deadlift were both 515 lbs. I was using 250 lbs. in the lat machine pulldown as an exercise poundage and my seated press was at an all-time high of 255. Now these poundages may not seem to be really impressive when you consider my bodyweight, but you must remember that I am only 5’6” in height and at a bodyweight of 260 you must realize that I was carrying quite a bit of fat as well as muscle. A person in my condition couldn’t possibly be fairly compared to a powerlifter who weighs the same but is much taller. In such a case, this man would almost be forced to carry more muscle and less fat than I could. What I mean is that though I weighed in at 260, my muscular bodyweight couldn’t possibly be over 210, if even that much. Now I have been told and agree with the concept that FAT cannot lift a weight. So these particular lifts I made at my high bodyweight were actually done at a muscular bodyweight of no more than 210 lbs. REMEMBER: FAT CANNOT CONTRACT. ONLY MUSCLE MOVES A WEIGHT!
When I arrived at the Y last year, I was still interested in training solely for power at the expense of my appearance, if necessary to lift heavier weights. But what got me to change my mind was the ever-constant fact that I could not allow myself to gain anymore bodyweight without endangering my health and my future happiness in the business world, in general. In a business suit I looked like KING KONG and in a sweater and slacks I slowly but surely began to resemble JACKIE GLEASON! At about this time my training buddies were beginning to make sense when they told me that my lifts would appear all the GREATER if I could maintain them while reducing my weight to about 210. It seemed to make sense to me, although I didn’t feel that I would be able to maintain such strength levels while losing almost 60 lbs. at the same time, but I was ready and willing to give it a try.
The basic plan which I outlined to follow during this experiment has had to be revamped again and again in order to take all possibilities into consideration as time has gone by. I did not think for a minute that I could do such a thing without making mistakes along the way, nor did I for once imagine that I could lose all this weight in a short time. The entire schedule has taken me almost one year of constant dieting and changing of both my training routine and my dietary schedule. Such was the only way I could continue on with such a project without slowly losing my mind! That is why I must go into such explicit details when discussing my methods so that interested readers will have all the knowledge available.
The results I sought were many, almost too many. In order to guarantee myself that I would maintain as much muscle size as possible, I decided to go on a POWER RACK training routine. This type of sectional power training would enable me to use the heaviest weights throughout the various areas of the particular lifts, and in this way I could maintain whatever muscular bulk I had already developed. I trained four days per week and did not keep a time account for the length of each workout. I worked out until I was tired and had to stop. I concentrated on using basic movements and I placed added emphasis on partial rack squats, beginning from three positions and performed from a dead stop. I concentrated on squatting because I realized that in order to insure myself that I would not lose much in the way of strength I had to force myself to really work on my legs and back very, very hard. I also included at this time the following movements: Press off rack, Bentover rowing, Lat pulldowns, Parallel squats, Half squats, Quarter squats and Parallel squats while heavily wrapped the way powerlifters of today wrap up for competition purposes. As I mentioned earlier, I trained four times per week. I made sure that I was squatting on all four of these training days, but the other movements I chose at random whenever the mood hit me, so to speak.
Monday would consist of the Quarter squat (1250 lbs.). I would work up to my limit and then would perform 3 to 5 sets with all the weight possible for 3 reps per set. From here on I would go into perhaps the Press off rack and then Bentover rowing. All these movements would be performed the following way: 1x10, 1x7, 1x5, 1x3, 1c1, 3x3. Naturally, I would try to add weight to the bar whenever this was possible. I trained this ways for approximately five months before I decided to make a few changes in both my diet and exercise routine. At this time I weighed about 240 and a few of my lifts were: Half squat 725, parallel squat 455x5 and a competition squat (heavily wrapped) of 550. So far, the routine had worked.
My diet up to this time had been one of high protein, high fat, low carbohydrates. My sources of protein were mainly from meat, eggs and fish and m y sources of fats revolved around heavy cream and safflower oil. This diet gave me training energy and more than enough protein for muscle growth and repair. It did, however, become quite tedious and boring after a few months. It was mainly for this reason and because my muscles were no longer responding from my particular training routine that I decided to make the changes.
At this time, at a bodyweight of 240, I switched from four days training per week down to three. I began to concentrate on my bench pressing which I had been neglecting and I still continued on with my partial squats, although I concentrated on the Half squat position in preference to the others. I stopped Presses off the rack, but I began to include Incline presses in their place. I also added the Barbell curl and the Dumbell row, and continued on with the Lat machine pulldowns. I performed most of the pressing movements from a dead stop in the power rack, once per week, and on the other two days I performed them in the usual manner. Once a week I would work up to a limit and on the other training day I repped out as much as I could with a given weight. I tried to work into high singles this time but my nervous energy was soon bogged down so I had to give this type of training up for the more relaxed (mentally) kind that I have already mentioned.
I also switched from the first diet to a diet which stressed high protein and high carbohydrates while I tried to leave all fats out of the diet. This diet was VERY BAD. After a few months I began to feel very tired and listless and my training energy was at an all-time low. It was VERY difficult for me to maintain my training poundages during this period and in many instances I began to lose strength. However, my muscle size and tone were doing all right and my bodyweight dropped to 225 lbs. This had taken three months. I had been dieting for eight months, all in all.
So far, my various dieting methods and exercise routines had been fairly successful. At a bodyweight of 225 I was leveling off to a more healthful appearance and my strength was maintained for the most part, without too much trouble. I could squat competition style (heavily wrapped) with 540 and I was pressing 285 off the rack. My lat machine work had dropped to 220 but this is because I lost the extra bodyweight which helped to hold me down when I would pull on the bar. I don’t like to have anyone help. I performed 2 reps with 305 on the bench and since this lift has always been hard for me I don’t think it was too bad. The main reason why I went off my diet for about a month was because of the weakness I was beginning to notice, whether I trained or not. So, for about a month I ate well balanced meals, not trying to gain weight but not really trying to lose any either. I continued on with my power training and I trained four or five times per week during this time because the diet I was following had given me much training energy. The diet centered around milk, meat, eggs, fish, potatoes, corn, peas, and fresh fruit and fresh fruit juices. I did not stuff myself nor did I go hungry. The result was that in about six weeks I had gained almost 10 pounds! It was at this time that I decided to continue on with my reduction experiment and began once again to cut out fattening foods and train less strenuously.
I changed my training schedule to twice weekly. I had to do this for a number of reasons. I felt that the kind of dieting I would have to undergo would reduce my training energy quite a bit and I would most certainly go stale if I tried to train as frequently as I had done before. I also felt that with training only twice per week, I could train VERY HARD each session and still have plenty of time for adequate physical recuperation.
My diet consisted mainly of PROTEIN for the first 3 weeks but then, after I began to see the weight coming off once again, I began to include some milk in my diet. Basically, I ate as much as I could of the following foods each day: various types of meats, poultry, turkey, fish and one quart of skim milk per day. That was the entire diet, except for a bit of cheese now and then. This was the diet which brought me down to my lowest weight of 210, fifty pounds less than one year ago!
My training routine was the same as the one I am presently following. I train twice per week and each workout takes about three hours to complete. I use basic movements and perform many, many sets for each one. I begin with one warmup set of 5 reps then jump to a weight I can handle for 5 single attempts. Then I drop down about 40 lbs. and perform many sets of as many reps as possible with this weight, until fatigue sets in and I must stop and move on to another exercise. I rotate the various movements so that each training day I am beginning with a new one when my energy is the freshest. Whenever I begin to feel stale I drop the single attempts and continue performing the high sets of low reps using all the weight possible. These methods have given me my best strength and muscle gains. The protein diet coupled with skim milk has given me the best losses in excess weight. Whenever I begin to feel overtrained with this diet, I drop it for two weeks and follow a more liberal one. Then, refreshed, I go back to it once again.
At a bodyweight of 210 I have inclined over 300 and I have half squatted with 855. When I began this diet and training I wanted to lose fat while I maintained as much muscle and strength as I could. I feel I have succeeded. With a bit of work and diligence, you can too.