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Let’s say you’re new to strength training and you embark on a strength training regimen.

Scenario One: Let’s say you’re a male and you’re currently 25% bodyfat – you weigh 200 lbs with 50 lbs of fat and 150 lbs of lean bodymass.

Scenario Two: Let’s say you’re a female and you’re currently 30% bodyfat – you weigh 130 lbs with 39 lbs of fat and 91 lbs of lean bodymass.

You start lifting weights and over the next year, you gain a ton of strength. These strength gains are accompanied by increases in muscular hypertrophy.

You gain 10 lbs of muscle but you don’t gain any weight. This means that you have to lose 10 lbs of fat (or very close to it).

Scenario One: Now our male still weighs 200 lbs, but he has 160 lbs of lean bodymass and 40 lbs of fat, and is 20% bodyfat (down from 25%).

Scenario Two: Now our female still weighs 130 lbs, but she has 101 lbs of lean bodymass and 29 lbs of fat, and is 22% bodyfat (down from 30%).

But since muscle is around 18% more dense than fat, even though no weight is lost, the body shrinks, especially around the midsection. So the body firms and shapes up in the right areas and shrinks down in the problematic areas. This is why resistance training is King when it comes to improving the physique.

I realize that this may be hard for some to visualize, so check out the DEXA scan below.


If you start lifting weights and you don’t gain any weight over time, the yellow stuff (fat) strips away and the red stuff (muscle) increases. The body shrinks down slightly and firms up.

Now, you may lose weight, stay the same weight, or gain weight during your strength training career. But no matter what your scale weight is at, you’ll carry more muscle and less fat if you’re lifting weights compared to if you’re not.

The point of this article is to portray that strength/hypertrophy (muscle gain) training is fat loss training. The majority of individuals prioritize vast amounts of cardio and conditioning while starving themselves to see physique results, when most of these people would be better off focusing their attention on getting stronger, adhering to a consistent strength program, and consuming optimal macronutrients including adequate protein to support muscle growth.

Need more visuals? Check out the pics below. Each of these ladies either gained weight or stayed put – none of them lost noticeable scale weight and yet each of them improved their physiques by getting stronger over time. Does this make you question the endless cardio/starvation approach and respect progressive strength training as a means to primarily improve body composition? It should.



Photo credit: Pinterest


Photo credit:


Photo credit: Pinterest

Proper amounts of cardio and conditioning work are healthy and fine to do. But they do not build significant amounts of muscle like strength training. Therefore, they cannot create physique changes like the ones shown above. Let’s say our 200 lb man and 130 lb woman instead embarked on an intensive cardio regimen for a year rather than focusing on progressive resistance training, but they ate intuitively and ended up staying the same weight on the scale. They would have ended up gaining a few pounds of muscle and losing a few pounds of fat, which would have only created a modest change in bodyfat percentage and physique improvements. If you enjoy cardio, then by all means, please do some. But if your goals are physique related, gaining strength through progressive resistance training is a much more efficient and effective route, so make sure you prioritize accordingly and focus on building muscle. Strength training does a body good!


  • Roz says:


    I’m 34 y/o, 5’5.

    I’ve been strength training 3x/week with short metcons as finishers (5-10 mins) since Oct 2015. Since then, I have gained 4lbs of lean mass, but my fat mass has also increased.

    DEXA 10/17/2015: 139.1 lbs , 38.2% fat, 82.7 lbs Lean Mass, 51.8 lbs Fat
    DEXA 3/13/2016: 143.5 lbs, 37.5% fat, 86.6 lbs Lean Mass, 51.2 lbs Fat

    I’m not sure if I should train more/heavier, change diet, do more cardio. I’d like to look leaner. Do I want to keep gaining muscle? Or should I focus on fat loss?

    • Konrad says:

      You have to change to diet!

    • Pi says:

      Have you watched your diet? Excessive carb and bad fat intake? Diet is the basis of fat loss. I’ve experienced this (trust me when I say this, for women it’s harder to lose fat vs. men)… You have to eat clean. Strength training alone won’t help you lose fat!

    • Matt Carlin says:

      1. Your fat mass actually decreased. Not significantly but it did.
      2. Diet. Reduce your average daily calories by around 100 or so. See how that goes.
      3. If you focus on ‘muscle gain’, unless you’re already super lean, it’s inevitable to gain fat mass too. I think you’ve done pretty well to halt fat accumulation and increase muscle mass.
      4. So either reduce calories ever so slightly or add in an extra day of activity.

    • Polish Power says:

      Diet. Seems you’re provide more kcal than you should. Decrease kcal per day.

    • Roz says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      Indeed, I need to work on my diet. There’s just so much conflicting info out there, that sometimes you just don’t really know what to do.

      • Andrej says:

        I know this reply is a bit late, but better late than never, right?

        What this article doesn’t explicitly state, although you can see it from the pictures, is that really lean people tend to respond better to strength training, than less lean people.
        At 38% BF, your body prefers storing fat over building muscle. The obvious solution would be to lose weight, but that is never easy, and sometimes downright counterproductive.
        The only reason I pointed this out was to let you know that there nothing “wrong” with your physiology.
        My advice would be to continue with your training, eat enough protein and try to make slightly better food choices (without stressing yourself out).
        You simply need more time than a lean person.
        So stick with the plan and good luck!

  • Tobias says:

    Good one, Bret! Though I think there’s even more to be said for the benefits of doing strength training over cardio.

    People are obsessed about the number on their scales, for whatever reason. But I think when presented with before and after photos of a year of cardio vs a year of strength training, it’ll be hard to put much importance on the weight. 🙂

    Btw, in the DEXA scan, is that a belt or the effects of a belt around the waist?

  • Heather says:

    I love this post. I spent YEARS, DECADES focusing in calorie restriction on cardio, what a waste of time, and predictable outcome: calorie restriction and cardio until I couldn’t take it anymore, then binging, then starting all over again. UGH! Although I’ve dabbled in strength/resistance training over the years, I’ve never stuck with it. However, this year I joined a local fitness contest at my gym to gain muscle. I did this to help me change my entrenched mindset that cardio was *great* and that any uptick on the scale was *disaster*. In 3 months my weight has dropped 4 pounds, but my BF on the ORMRON BF monitor has gone from 29.5% to 24.8%. (I know it’s not necessarily a spot-on measurement but the trajectory is very consistent with my appearance and strength in the gym). I don’t have a before picture, but the changes are quite dramatic in my “naked” appearance and how all my clothes fit. I’ve had to gradually increase my calorie and protein intake. I also have your book, Strong Curves, and am looking forward to starting that program after the contest. (I’m currently working a program with a trainer at the gym that will finish at the end of this month.) I have scoured your blog, done some of the SC bodyweight workouts and added Hip Thrusts to my program. You are truly awesome and always inspiring, as are all the strong females, whose stories and progress and results you share. I think this time around I actually get it and will stick with my resistance training!!! THANK YOU!!!

  • Paula BR says:

    The DEXA would also seem to indicate an increase in bone density as would be expected but is an additional benefit to strength/weight training

  • Ellen says:

    So it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat around your stomach at the same time without having to starve yourself??? Whenever I google how to lose fat everything says to severely restrict your calories but that just does not make sense if you also want to gain muscle at the same time. Plus I am not into restricting my calories because I do not want to feel like crap and mess up my metabolism. The number on the scale does not matter to me, I just want to be leaner in the stomach but have greater muscle definition everywhere else.

    • Chris says:

      You can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time – but it becomes harder the leaner and the more advanced you are.

      You lose fat globally according to your energy deficit in all areas of your body in genetically determined amounts and patterns locally. You gain muscle in the muscles you train.

      These are the basics.

      So decide your goals and priorities, train, and diet, keep your weight, or gain accordingly.

  • msytc says:

    Awesome Bret! Love how you highlight other trainers and programs that may be considered your competition all in the name of bringing the best info to light.

  • Michael Terry says:

    An important post. People say “abs are made in the kitchen”, but in reality people tend to have a weight set point, and another perfectly valid way to get abs is maintaining your diet and improving your strength to weight ratio. Gymnasts have the physiques they do because they are massively strong at their weight.

    • Chris says:

      Abs are still made in the kitchen, because however strong you are, they simply wont show until rather low BF%ages. Its very hard to get to these BF numbers by body recomp from a high or medium range (thats what Bret described), whereas improving your physique in a general sense is perfectly doable that way.

  • Gali says:

    Hi, Bret! Great article, as always!
    I have a question, hoping to get good news.
    I’ve been training heavy for almost a year, made some great progress, especially hip thrusting, thanks to following your advices. But now, due to hormones I guess (I had a misscarriage 3 months ago) I have joint pain, especially knees. Do you think I can go on being in a deficit and maintaing glutes with, let’s say Jane Fonda’s floor exercises? Will it be enough or I’ll lose my hard earned muscles? I hate stalling in lowering BF, but if losing muscle will occur, maybe it’s better to wait untill the pain is gone? I know hip thrusts are knee friendly but pain still exists while doing them. Should I stop them completely and try maintaining somehow? Thanks! And sorry for my English 🙂

  • The Dude says:

    Great article. I was honestly JUST reading stuff about this today when I got your email. Thanks!

  • Dan says:

    Do you stilll need to cut calories to loose fat if you weight train or will body composition change? from fat to muscular and lean even with a calorie surpless?

  • Matt says:

    I always appreciate Bret’s thoughts. I would like to provide a slightly different perspective, though, at least on one front. Fat mass changes appear to be most benefited by concurrent training, resistance + cardio. A nice meta analysis by Rhea and company ( found that resistance, aerobic, and concurrent training had non-statistically different improvement in body fat mass, yet concurrent training had showed the greatest absolute effect (ES = -.95). Interestingly, cycling in combination with resistance exercise seemed to have positive effects on fat mass while not “interfering” with strength/power gains, particularly of the lower body. I would be cautious in implying that cardio should be relegated to runners or that cardio may even keep people at the same weight. Ultimately, I would suggest to pay less attention to the mirror and more to what you enjoy doing!

  • Jim says:

    Your points are concise and well stated. It took me a while to comprehend your points and theses. Now, after over 2.5 years of near consistent strength training. It’s true. I then hired a younger, somewhat more knowledgeable trainer to aid with mobility training, for frankly it was needed and crucial.

    As a senior, the kids and young men now call me ‘buff grandpa’ at two facilities – note I’m not that buff. But, my energy level shames many of the young men. I squat, bench, compound movements and isolated work. All has greatly assisted my muscular development. My waist is now down to what I was at 35, I’m near 70. I’ve lost 69lbs, then gained 9lbs AND my bf went from about 23% to 11% in 3 years. Thanks

  • Louise says:

    I’m 45 and have my old 25 year old body back. I’m hip thrusting over 200 lbs now and gained about 4-5 lbs of muscle at this point. I’ve also gained 5 lbs and look and feel amazing.

    I just finished leaning out a bit and only needed to lose 1 lb.

  • I really appreciate sharing this great post. This article gives me a better understanding of how lifting weights works with my body. The guys I play basketball with never believed me when I said I couldn’t keep weight on unless I lifted weights. I didn’t fully understand the science of what was going on, but I knew I had to lift weights to put on the pounds.

  • Heidi says:

    Hello Bret,
    I love your articles and I am very inspired by your insight and knowledge…,
    I am currently training 3xweekly -full body/compound lifts, 4 days of cardio, 3 days right after my training for 30mnts. and 1-2 days fasted fir 45 mars. all a low carb diet. I’ve been following this diet for years now but always training consistently through struggles with energy/electrolytes. I very rarely take carb redress or “cheat meals” because I feel my body has stopped responding to everything!
    My weight is maintaining but my strength in the gym is consistent. I have increased my lat pulldowns, rows, shoulder presses, so that’s a positive but I feel my body is holding on to fat in certain places, my thoughts/inner & outer and stomach.
    I would really appreciate your advice on what direction to go from here! I am lean but still struggle with problem areas I can’t seam to change no matter what I’ve tried.
    I’ll never give up, but I just don’t want to dig myself into a deeper hole!

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