Getting Stronger Without Gaining Weight

An image of the Shamrock Strength and Conditioning, LLC logo of a muscular leprechaun flipping a tire.

Finding the right balance with your lifting program is of the utmost importance if you’re looking to maintain your weight.

Rather than stopping lifting altogether (which will lead to significant losses in strength and power), look to implement some of the strategies below.

Before I get started, I’d like to give you a quick background on this post and how it got started.

About a week ago, Tim left me the comment below…

“I’ve been thinking about next season and decided I’m going to try to stay at my weight class. In order to do that, I can’t gain too much weight. I know that performing lower reps will help me not gain much. So how could I arrange a 3 day/week strength and power routine to make gains without gaining more than a few pounds? If it’s not too much to ask for, a template would be really helpful. Thank you for all the help!”

I responded with:

“Hey Tim, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Glad I’ve been able to help you so far via email. Hopefully this will help more.

While I definitely think the right training program is an important key to determining whether or not you put on weight, an equally important thing to consider is your total caloric intake. For instance- over the past couple of summers I’ve worked with a few D1 national qualifiers who have made a strong effort to put on more size so that they were bigger for their weight the next year. While they weren’t looking to move up a weight class, they were looking to put on muscle and weight.

And while I did put them on a high volume program (most days the core lift(s) were followed by 4-6 accessories that were on average 5 sets of 10-15 reps), they did their part by eating tons all of the time. In fact, one of the guys was actually accused of and tested for steroids. He of course passed, but it just goes to show you what’s possible when you combine the right eating plan with the right lifting plan.

So while it’s a different situation than the one you describe above, your caloric intake is going to play a big part.

So to get started, check out my recent post- Wrestling Nutrition. Please leave me a comment with any questions you may have on the nutritional side of things.”

So now that you have the general idea behind this post, let’s get into it.

“Rules” To Follow:

I put rules in quotes because I don’t believe in solid rules when it comes to weight training. Instead, I think you should try different things and adhere to basic principles.

With that said, here are some guidelines I’ve successfully used with lots of wrestlers looking to get stronger and not move up a weight class.

1. Low Volume

High volume (lots of sets, reps, and exercises), especially when coupled with a large eating plan, will promote muscle gain.

For low volume plans I like 4-6 strength-focused exercises with around 25ish (4×6, 5×5, 6×4, etc.) total reps for each compound (squats, benches, upper body pulling, etc.) exercise as a starting place. This does not usually apply to light accessory movements like upper back work face or core work.

Make adjustments based on how you respond during the initial weeks.

2. Efficient

Not that you shouldn’t be doing this already, but be sure to select exercises with a lot of bang for your buck.

Look to select compound movements. Basically any exercise that works across 2 or more joints is considered a compound movement.

For example, a squat and deadlift work at the hip and knee. A chinup and bench press work at the elbow and shoulder. Explosive power movements (DB Snatches, Cleans, etc.) work at the hip, knee, and ankle.

The body doesn’t work in isolation on the mat. So don’t train it to do so in the weight room!

3. Disadvantaged Lifting

I just thought of that term. Make note of it if it becomes famous (lol).

Basically what I mean by this is the more an exercise puts you at a biomechanical disadvantage, the less weight you will use.

Take for instance, these two lunge variations…

KB Rack Reverse Lunge

DB Reverse Lunge

Which looks like the exercise you can use more weight with?

There is a much higher demand placed on the core when holding the KBs in the Rack position. Therefore, the weight you’ll be able to handle will be less than the standard Reverse Lunge.

Let’s throw some hypothetical numbers out to give you a better idea on how this impacts total volume.

In the Rack Reverse Lunge I use 50lbs for all 3 sets of 6 each leg. That means 36 total reps X 50lbs. This results in 1800 total pounds lifted.

In the Reverse Lunge (which you can lift more in), let’s say I do 10lbs more, so 60lbs. The same number of sets and reps apply. 36 reps X 60lbs= 2160 total pounds.

In reality (at the time of writing this) I can handle 90-100lb DBs on the Reverse Lunge for 3 explosive reps each leg and only 70lb KBs in the rack position for the Rack Reverse Lunge for 3 reps each leg that are not nearly as explosive.

Anyway, that’s just one example.

But do you see how using “Disadvantaged Lifting” can help keep your total volume in check?

I know what you’re thinking- if I want to get strong, how is lifting lighter weights going to get me there?

My response- it won’t! …at least compared to traditional movements.

While Disadvanted Lifting will increase your stability and total body involvement, I’m not completely sold that it builds the strength and power as the standard lifts.

So consider alternating exercises and see how that affects your weight.

For example, for 1-2 weeks use Disadvantaged Lifting. Follow this with 1-2 weeks of “traditional lifting.”

Some wrestlers just like to lift regularly and feel strong and powerful when they do. So implementing disadvantaged lifts is one way to allow them to continue to stick to their regular lifting routine with less of an impact on their weight.

Benefits of alternating between traditional and disadvantaged lifts include:

1. Lower volume over the course of a month.

2. A couple built in light weeks.

3. A nice balance of “Disadvantaged” lifts vs. “Traditional” lifts.

Disadvantaged Workout Week:

Ok, let’s get into 2 sample weeks worth of workouts.

Keep in mind these are sample strength focused workouts for the Summer. The primary focus of Summer training should be to maximize strength. That base of strength is then used to increase power during the season.

Day 1

Superset 1: Anderson Squat 5×5 and Ab Wheel variation 5×8

Superset 2: Paused Unbraced DB Row 4×6 and Band Hip Thrust 4×8

Superset 3: Seated KB Overhead Press 3×8 and Gi/Towel Chinup 3×8

Day 2

Superset 1: Pin Press 5×5 and BB Good Morning 5×5

Superset 2: Fat Grip Cable Row 4×6 and Ball Leg Curl 4×8

Superset 3: Weighted Spread Eagle Situp 3×10 and Cable Face Pull 3×12

Day 3

Superset 1: DB Snatch 5×3 and Weighted Fat Grip Chinup 5×5

Superset 2: DB Rack Reverse Lunge 4×6 and Pause DB Bench 4×6

Superset 3: Weighted Parallel Back Extension 3×8 and DB Hammer Curl 3×8

“Heavy” Workout Week:

Not that the Disadvantaged Workout Week shouldn’t be heavy, it’s just that these exercises will allow you to use more weight.

Day 1

Superset 1: Box Squat 5×5 and Ab Wheel variation 5×8

Superset 2: DB Row 4×6 and Barbell Hip Thrust 4×8

Superset 3: Single Arm DB Overhead Press 3×8 and Chinup 3x Max Reps

Day 2

Superset 1: Bench Press 5×5 and BB RDL 5×5

Superset 2: Cable Row 4×6 and Weighted Glute Ham Raise 4×8

Superset 3: Weighted Decline Situp 3×10 and Cheat DB Upright Row 3×12

Day 3

Superset 1: DB Jerk 5×3 and Weighted Chinup 5×5

Superset 2: DB Reverse Lunge 4×6 and DB Bench 4×6

Superset 3: Weighted 45-Degree Back Extension 3×8 and BB Curl 3×8

Quick Synopsis

As you can see, the sets and reps don’t change, it’s only the weight (due to the exercises being used). Generally speaking, in low volume programs I don’t do a whole lot of adjusting the sets and reps. I tend to keep the total volume low throughout.

I’ve found that this makes it easier for the wrestler to adapt. It will also keep fatigue and soreness to a minimum once the person gets acclimated to the program.

Additionally, it allows me to more easily track the total volume. I use that info along with the wrestler’s nutritional plan and compare that to what the scale is showing.

Anyway, here are a few principles I follow when looking to make a “regular” lift a disadvantaged lift:

1. Increase range of motion.

2. Add a grip element for pulling exercises (Gi, towel, thick handle).

3. Add pauses to exercises.

4. Move the weight further from the movement point. Examples include using the rack position versus holding DBs at your sides and putting a barbell on your back for a Good Morning versus in your hands for a RDL.

One thing you DO NOT want to do is add a tempo or controlled pace to any exercise. That will increase your time under tension and actually promote muscle growth.

But other than that, everything should be fair game.

Conclusion

Alright, I’m gonna wrap this post up. In a nutshell, there are a lot of things to consider when trying to maintain your weight when lifting. “Disadvantaged” lifting is one possible way to go about things.

However, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you “can’t outrun a bad diet.” If you’re eating like crap, or you are gaining weight at a rate that makes you concerned, check out some of the posts I’ve written on nutrition.

Finally, feel free to leave me a comment below if there are certain exercises you’d like help with turning into a Disadvantaged Exercise.

Related Posts:

Wrestling Nutrition

Best Post-Workout Meal

What’s In Your Protein Powder??

Cutting 101

Cutting 102

A picture of Kyle Dake and Dickie White.
Hi, I’m Dickie (the author of this blog). Here I am with my good buddy, Kyle Dake. While he doesn't have a nice coat like me, he is pretty good at wrestling. Here's what he said about my training system:

Before I began lifting using Dickie's system my wrestling skills were getting slightly better. I've now been lifting under his guidance for more than 5 months and I have begun to dominating ALL of my competition. At first I had little faith in Dickie and his program, but now I would run into a wall if he told me I would get stronger! I know it sounds insane, but I would. The bottom line is Dickie is an expert and knows what he is talking about. If you want to defeat those kids whom you've always lost to and reach a level you never thought possible, I suggest you start lifting using Dickie's system immediately.

-Kyle Dake, 4X NCAA Division 1 National Champion
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Want to see what other wrestlers are saying about my training system? Check out my Success Stories page.

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Want to learn more about Dickie? Check out my About page.

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Want to get started on a program today? Read this post and download your free program- 12 Week Training Program For Wrestlers.

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9 Comments. Leave new

  • LIke the Blog I am in 9 grade trying to get bigger and stronger. Want to put on as much as I can

    Reply
  • I like the post, I’m a little confused about disadvantage lifting. Is the purpose(besides being functional), to lower the weights being used? Also, will doing things like max reps and higher reps(8-12 range) promote muscle growth and keep me from maintaining my weight? Or will it not make much of a difference?

    Reply
    • Hey Tim, thanks for the questions man. Yeah, the idea behind the disadvantaged lifting is simply to have you using lighter weights. You should still push yourself, you just won’t be able to lift as much as you would because of the design of the exercise. So from a pure loading standpoint, it’s lighter on your body and equates to less volume. Doing a lot of sets and reps in higher rep ranges will definitely promote muscle growth when coupled with a higher calorie diet. However, don’t swear it off. It’s not like your body automatically says “oh, he just did 8 reps, time to go into growth mode!” and you’ll gain a ton of weight. If that were the case we’d all be huge, muscle bound Large Americans. However, as a general rule of thumb, I like to stay away from higher reps, especially with big core exercises when looking to maintain weight.

      I think the biggest thing to do is monitor how your body is responding. If your weight starts to creep up, it may mean you need to cut down on your volume by eliminating some sets, reps, exercises, or a day of lifting. Personally, I lift with a similar volume as shown in the sample weeks of workouts above and eat a calorie controlled diet of between 3,000-3,200/day and my weight stays in check, and even starts to come down when I increase my training as I prepare for a fight. But again, that’s something that I’ve found works for me.

      Anyway, hope this helps. Get back to me if you have any more questions or if I didn’t address the questions you asked too well and I’ll get back to you asap. Thanks again for commenting man and talk to you soon.

      Reply
  • Hey Dickie,
         Thanks for writing the post and replying to my comment.  Right now I’m cutting weight for weigh ins tomorrow.  I dont know what your opinions of cutting are, but ill tell you this anyway.  I went to the gym before school yesterday to lose some weight.  Basically I did a bunch of circuits of light exercises.(I did everything from light deadlifts to med ball slams)This was for about 20-30 minutes.  Before and after that I went for a short run on the treadmill, then I made a shower there into a sauna and stayed in it for 20 minutes.  I got thinking about it today: is it not smart to do lifting wrestling, and running for cutting since your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to recover?  I just want to know, in simple terms how to correctly train for cutting.  Obviously its a little late but i just want to know for future reference. Again, I don’t know what your opinions are, but thank you for reading my email and I’ll talk to you later.

    Reply
    • Hey Tim, thanks for the comment man. Although it’s not an optimal situation in terms of depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to recover properly, I still believe it’s important to get in regular strength training. When you’re training heavier with lower reps the adaptations that are occurring within the body are primarily neurological- your body is learning how to better contract and produce force. That’s why you don’t get as big and as puffy with lower reps and heavier weight versus higher reps and higher weight (this promotes sarcoplasmic hypertrophy). Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (hypertrophy simply means muscle growth) results in the muscle cells adapting to the high workload. In response, each cell adapts to carry more water, creatine, etc.; the exact opposite of what you want when looking to cut weight and get water out of the body. It’s this adaptation that results in guys you may know who look big, but can’t move nearly the weight you can in the weight room. The muscle is “all show no go.” So I guess to answer your question- while fueling your body with the proper nutrition so it recovers and performs optimally is always something to shoot for, as a wrestler, it doesn’t always happen. However, because this style of training isn’t designed to be as muscularly fatiguing due it’s low volume, it’s not only not going to produce as much of a stimulus for growth but also, by not providing them with regular adequate nutrition immediately after and throughout the day because you’re cutting will minimize the anabolic (which simply means growth) response within your body.

      Hope this helps man, but let me know if it doesn’t and I’ll get right back to you. Thanks again for the comment.

      Reply
  • Dickie, thanks for the great post. I can see lots of applications for this info like an average Joe (like me) who likes to work out bit doesn’t want to have to buy new shirts in the near future, or someone who has been told by their doctor to lower their weight and begin exercising. Thanks again for the great post.
    Tim

    Reply
    • Hey Tim, I’m glad you liked it and also I’m glad to hear that you find it beneficial being an “average joe” who doesn’t want to go shopping. Shopping sucks, lifting isn’t so bad. Thanks for the feedback man, have a great weekend and talk to you soon.

      Reply

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