As I mentioned earlier, there are exceptions, the most notable of which are beginners. Take a group of people who have never lifted weights before and put them on a diet and training program that’s geared towards fat loss. Chances are you’ll see them make fairly substantial gains in muscle mass.
In fact, researchers from the United States Sports Academy found that a group of overweight beginners lost over 16 pounds of fat and gained almost 10 pounds of muscle during a 14-week training program . I’ve covered this study in more detail here.
In other words, they gained a decent amount of muscle while also losing slightly more than one pound of fat per week.
Even in beginners who are not extremely overweight, it’s still possible to drop fat while gaining muscle.
A good example comes from a study carried in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which tracked changes in body composition in group of 30 men who were new to lifting weights .
The men were assigned to one of three groups. Group one spent three days a week running (25-40 minutes at 65-85% of their age-derived maximum heart rate), while a second group trained with weights. A combined group performed both routines on the same day of the week, always doing the weight training first.
The resistance-training program involved a combination of free weights and fixed resistance machines, and was divided into upper-body exercises (performed on Monday), lower-body exercises (performed on Wednesday), and both upper- and lower-body exercises (performed on Friday).
During the first two weeks of the program, subjects performed 10-15 repetitions per set, with three sets per exercise. During the final eight weeks, the resistance was set so that failure to lift the weight occurred at 10-12 repetitions on the first set, 8-10 repetitions on the second set, and 4-8 repetitions on the third set.
The runners lost a little over 4 pounds of fat, but they also lost a small amount of muscle. The men who lifted weights gained around 5 pounds of muscle while losing almost 2 pounds of fat.
But it was the combined group who saw the best results.
Despite the fact that they started out with an average body fat of just 12%, the men gained 7 pounds of muscle while losing almost 6 pounds of fat.
However, even though these individuals weren’t overweight, they were beginners in terms of strength training. It’s in the first few months of lifting weights that most people make their fastest gains, and the results aren’t going to apply to someone who’s been training properly for more than a few months.
A natural bodybuilder, for example, with five years of training under his belt will do very well just to hold on to the muscle he currently has when moving from 10% to 5% body fat in preparation for a contest.
For anyone in this type of condition, the main benefit of strength training during fat loss is to maintain rather than gain muscle mass.
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