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Question: “I’m a raw powerlifter with about 35% bodyfat, but I would like to drop some weight without losing a ton of my strength. Any advice on how to do this?”
The key to improving the body composition, while not losing much strength is to incorporate interval training. Interval training simply means to do a bout of intense work, followed by a prescribed rest and repeat a bunch of times. This is the most effective way to drop the body fat. Steady state aerobic work will do little to drop the body-fat. It will mostly serve to increase your aerobic capacity.
There are a couple of different ways to attack this one. First, during your off-season program (when the volume is high and the intensity is low), I would decrease the rest between your sets to increase the tempo of your workout and thus, get your heart rate up for a longer period of time. I would keep the rest periods to 90 seconds at the most, but I would pair your movements. Pairing is done the following way: Pick two movements (preferably antagonists like a bench press and a barbell row). Perform the prescribed number of reps for the bench press, rest 30-60 seconds, then perform the prescribed number of reps for the barbell row. The net effect is that you get more work done in less time, and this will have the effect of interval training. Secondly, I would incorporate work capacity training into your program – it will burn fat, strengthen your weak areas and get you in shape to move heavier weights down the road. The options for this are many but here are a few:
Sled dragging – walk with a weighted sled (backward, forward, lateral, bent leg, straight leg, lower body, upper body – the possibilities are nearly endless) – do it for trips of 25 yards, start with 300 yards and gradually increase the weight and the distance.
Barbell and dumbbell complexes – use a relatively light weight (start with 25% of your bodyweight) and perform 4-8 movements in a row without rest. An example would be: RDL to high pull, muscle snatch, back squat to push press, good morning, barbell row. Do this for 3-6 sets of 5-10 reps per movements.
Medicine ball throws against a wall – pick a medicine ball 10-20 pounds and throw it in various ways (i.e. side throw, forward chop, overhead throw, side chop, etc.). Throw it for sets of set. Start with 200 reps and gradually increase the weight of the ball and the total number of reps.
Escalated Density Training – pick two movements (preferably antagonistic movements such as push up and pull-up). Set the clock for 10 minutes and complete as many sets as possible in the allotted time. Take as little rest between sets as possible. Over time try to increase the total time and also try to escalate your density – that is, if you are able to perform 10 sets of 5 reps of each movement in 20 minutes one week, then try to increase that to 12 sets of 5 the next time.
Use these work capacity workout the most in the off-season, but keep them in your workouts even as you near competition time. Just make sure to increase the intensity and decrease the volume as you near competition.
-Bryan Dermody, Powerlifter/Strength Athlete/Former Strength Coach