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It’s typically taken as gospel that you cannot gain strength while in a calorie deficit. And strength gain and/or maintenance is the clearest indicator of muscle retention.

Your training age, level of body-fat, calories and training volume will all determine this, but this article is not about boring you with the basics.

You and I both know that you need to consume adequate protein, eat a sensible deficit and manage satiety. I cover that here in my own journey to single digit bodyfat). We’re assuming that stuff is all in place.

I’m talking about something different here.

As you saw from Ian’s ‘lazy man’s program’ , we’re always learning from our clients.

The following guys have one thing in common: gaining significant strength on a calorie deficit.

Introducing Colin – he’s extremely Scottish, 50 years old, shreddy and cracks out weighted pull ups with 30kg.

Then there’s Shahid, whom we’re prepping for a physique show in May: he’s gained significant strength and size throughout his diet with no sign of slowing.

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Shahid over 12 weeks

I love guys like Shahid – Jonny and I refer to them as the ‘algorithms’:

He read the plan.

He implemented the plan.

He got swole.

You may have seen Ed (a.k.a T2000) from our email. He’s another algorithm.

The ‘algorithms’ usually end up accidentally becoming competitive powerlifters/bodybuilders after enough time with us, like Matt did.

Yes I’m bragging at this point, but I wanted to use real people to illustrate this example.

These guys have got jobs, families and kids to negotiate, yet they’re losing weight, while gaining strength consistently. What’s their secret?

The answer is that they have one common trait: 

They don’t expect to lose strength

As a result:

1) They approach their programs differently

2) They’ve tuned out the noise


Here’s how:

1) It’s what you bring to the program

While we’d like to take the credit, we aren’t miracle workers. In Shahid’s case, the programming was simply just what he needed at the time.
It was nothing special, but it was just what the doctor ordered:

– New stimulus to his previous program

– Volume for weak bodyparts

– Wiggle room to make technical improvements and motor efficiency

– Surveillance of his technique


As a result, he gained a little muscle and consistently hit personal bests in the gym.

Expecting the program to do the work:

The program could have all the bells and whistles

The prettiest spreadsheets

and all kinds of bands and chains with hourly undulating periodisation.

But that doesn’t mean anything if the key inputs aren’t firmly in place.

You could do the latest mens-health-zumba-pilates-beach-body program, complete with squat-thrusters and twisting-spiderman-renegade-pushups. And you’d still make progress if you applied progressive overload and a focused mind.

The setup may not be 100% optimal for strength gain, but that doesn’t mean that you should adjust the way you train and remove the expectation of strength gain completely. Instead, they train like they’re seeking all-out strength gains.

Using age or gender as an excuse

‘I’m over 50, so I can’t make strength gains’

If you feel that way, you can always give Colin a shout, he’ll set you right. See these thought patterns for what they are: destructive, mischevious, gainz-stealing little imps.

Sophie, a friend of mine (and now Propane Athlete and IPF nationals competitor… common pattern here) initially started out seeking to get stronger, and came to me for some advice.

Critically, she did NOT hold the attitude of “I’m a woman so I’m inherently weaker”.

She trained with me, so I was her reference point, so she instead held herself to my standards and didn’t operate subject to any false gender-bound constraints.

“If you’re deadlifting 240kg, then why can’t I?”.

I like the way you think, Sophie.

Meanwhile, I had a tough job of ‘deprogramming’ some of my other female clients, who had been told by peers or previous trainers that they either SHOULDN’T (lol) or COULDN’T lift heavy. Before they’d picked up a weight. With societal moulds adding to this pressure, they would often hold themselves back from progressing in their training.

Luckily, there’s been a shift away from this attitude in recent years.

“But aren’t you just burying your head in the sand? If gender and age don’t affect strength, how come the world’s strongest human isn’t an 81 year old biddy?


I’m not denying that. But what’s the alternative? Throwing in the towel before starting is the fastest way to guarantee strength loss.

The solution:

Tune OUT & tune IN

The resoundingly common theme in the mindsets of the ones who make progress is that they TUNE OUT of the noise, the uninformed opinions and quick fix propaganda, and TUNE IN to the right people.

Remember, much of the fitness industry has a strange contradictory goal. They simultaneously want you to keep seeking, yet they don’t want you to achieve it or you’ll stop buying. There is therefore an incentive and ongoing profit potential from you being bogged down. So they seduce you into a hamster wheel of minutia and shoddy results.

The algorithms neither bullshit their way out of getting their desired progress, NOR allow the fitness industry to do the bullshitting for them.

Instead, they decided on what they wanted, picked a trusted source and tuned into it.

Consequently, there is no radio static pushing them away from their process.

Their powerful consistency arises ORGANICALLY from complete trust in the process.

This empowers them to ‘just get on with it’, and make the plan their bitch.

The private PropaneAthletes facebook group and single, trusted input of their coach give them enough trust in the process to nail it.

When a collection of minds come together for a unified cause, they resonate: that is, the shared frequency amplifies.


That’s our thinking behind Team Propane

Our mental frequencies are aligned to the same goal, and we become a pulsing mass of shreddy.

Difficulties dissolve. There’s no longer any need to explain or justify to friends who don’t lift ‘why you you do that weird thing with heavy weights and eat so much protein. It’s bad for your kidneys you know’. You’re with people who get it.

If you haven’t already, join the facebook group here and introduce yourself, post some videos of your work sets, what you’re eating, what you’re working on, and get accountable. We’d love to hear from you .

The problem is that we are human. We transmit and receive, and so we WILL resonate with our surrounding influences. If you don’t actively decide what frequency your knob is tuned to, you’re a sitting duck you’ll be swept along with a wave of Kim Kardashian and LADbible journalism. We were at the mercy of fitness noise at the beginning of our training careers, and it cost us several years.

Terence Mckenna, always ahead of his time, talked about TV in the same way:

“Television is a drug. It has a series of measurable physiological parameters that are intrinsically its signature as the parameters of heroin or its signature. Sit someone down in front of a television, 20 minutes later you come back, sample their blood pressure, eye movement rate, blood is pooling in their rear end, their breathing takes on a certain quality, the stare reflex sets in, they are thoroughly zoned in on a drug.


And when you think that the average American watches 6.5 hours of television a day…

Imagine if a drug had been introduced in 1948 that we all spent 6.5 hours on.

The one thing about drugs in their defence is that it’s harder to diddle the message. A drug is a mirror.

But television isn’t a mirror. Television is a billboard.

And anybody who pays their money can put their message into the trip. This is an extraordinarily insidious situation.”

The internet gives us an unprecedented liberty: limitless access to knowledge, but by the same token, that channel can be abused by producers of noise.

This always happens. I start writing a post on maintaining strength during a calorie deficit… 1500 words later and I’m harping on about TV and news feeds. Here’s the take away point:


1) Get the basics down.

2) ALIGN and SURROUND yourself with the people and ideas that are in line with your goal.

3) TUNE OUT the bullshit. Watch less TV, block mental pollution from your news feed that doesn’t help you achieve your goal.

4) Tune IN to a community that is supporting your goal: we’ve got your back.

5) Program sensibly, but do not train expecting strength losses

Got that?
Got that?

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