The Powerlifter’s Guide To Fat Loss

WRITTEN BY Daniel Harrod

Do you know what’s freakin’ awesome?

Lifting heavy stuff.

Do you know what’s also freakin’ awesome?

Looking great naked.

So can you do both at the same time? Can you really crush some heavy numbers in ‘The Big 3’ whilst shedding body fat and have heads turn as you perform an epic deadlift?

Is powerlifting for fat loss possible?

You bet, and below I’m going to explain how.

Time and Patience

This bit’s going first. Because it’s important.

In order to minimise strength losses and maximise Instagram selfie gains it’s imperative we take things slow. Crash dieting seldom works and in order to achieve the best of both worlds – lifting big and looking shredded – a slow and steady approach is crucial.

Prioritizing the preservation of muscle mass is key for both goals and even though a calorie deficit is imperative to ensure both goals are met, you should target a bodyweight loss of no more than approximately 1.5-2lbs per week.

Dropping weight, and body fat, fast increases the risk of losing strength and muscle mass. Add to that the way your body shape will inevitably change, ultimately affecting the way you lift, and you can see why a fast and furious method is far from sensible.

When applying the slow and steady approach however, you’ll be able to lose fat and still maintain strength along the way.

the powerliifter's guide to fat loss guy eating


There it is again. Nutrition. Why is it so damn important?

Unfortunately when fat loss is concerned, nutrition comes first. And none more so than when trying to maintain, and possibly increase, strength as well.


Calories matter. End of. And in order to shed body fat a calorie deficit is non-negotiable.

The real trick comes in the size of the calorie deficit though, and as we’ve already established we’re employing the slow and steady approach, a calorie deficit of approximately 15% is going to be a good starting point.

We can use all the equations and mathematical calculations we want to decipher a calorie target, but ultimately this number should be relatable to you.

This is why I much prefer taking a weekly average of your current calorie intake and setting a deficit from there. For example:

Day 1 – 2500 calories

Day 2 – 2300 calories

Day 3 – 2600 calories

Day 4 – 2500 calories

Day 5 – 2400 calories

Day 6 – 3200 calories (It was someone’s birthday)

Day 7 – 2500 calories

Weekly Average – 2570

15% Calorie Deficit – 2180


The holy grail of all things fat loss, protein is crucial to both dropping fat and lifting heavy.

A calorie deficit often leads to losses in strength and so by keeping your daily protein intake as high as possible, you’ll be satiated for longer, you’ll continue to support muscle protein synthesis, you’ll retain as much muscle mass as possible, and you’ll achieve legendary status in the gym when you not only out-lift everyone, but also proudly parade the body of a Greek God.

A good starting point is to aim for the consumption of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day. For example:

Weight: 85 kilograms

Protein Intake/Day: 185g

Carbohydrates & Fat

I’m a big proponent of carb cycling when it comes to powerlifting for fat loss.

While this method is largely down to personal preference (and will never trump an overall calorie deficit), keeping your carbohydrate intake high for training days and low for non-training days will potentially keep you on the straight and narrow for longer.

By manipulating calories and total carbohydrate intake throughout the week, it’s possible to increase thyroid output, control your hunger, maximise things like insulin’s potential anabolic benefits, and ensure you’re still adding weight to that bar.

In order to work out a sufficient carbohydrate target, we’ll start off by figuring out your fat intake. As a starting point, set your fat consumption to 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight on a training day, and 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight on a non-training day.

Training Day – 0.3 x 187 = 56g fat/day

Non-Training Day – 0.5 x 187 = 94g fat/day

From there you can work out your appropriate carbohydrate intake for each day.

Training Day – 950 calories remaining/4 = 240g carbs/day

Non-Training Day – 600 calories remaining/4 = 150g carbs/day

the powerliflter's guide to fat loss guy squatting


So we’ve established we’re letting our nutrition handle the ‘fat burning’ side of things, but in order to prolong our journey into the world of ‘lifting heavy shit’ we need to make sure our training is on point as well.

We need to play this smart. I would advise aiming for three heavy sessions per week, with each session split into three different parts.

Part 1 – The Heavy Stuff

Powerlifting doesn’t require a lot of volume (the amount of work you do), but does require a high intensity (the amount of weight you lift).

Employing a programme that utilises these two caveats is therefore essential. Keep sets and reps fairly low but weight high. I’m a big fan of Jim Wendler’s popular 5/3/1 programme, and when it comes to powerlifting for fat loss, works perfectly. Cycle your three main lifts between each day and follow this setup:

Week 1 – 3 x 5

Week 2 – 3 x 3

Week 3 – 3 x 5, 3, 1

Week 4 – Deload

(For exact 1RM percentages, check out the programme in more detail).

Part 2 – The Accessory Stuff

Preserving, and potentially building, as much muscle mass as possible is still our goal and it’s imperative we include some form of hypertrophy based training as well. Since the nutrition side of things is going to handle the majority of your fat loss, again a lot of volume isn’t necessary.

We’re going to employ two working sets for each exercise, following this protocol:

Set 1 – 8-10 reps (heavier weight)

Set 2 – 12-15 reps (lighter weight)


Set 1 Dumbbell Chest Press – 1 x 10 x 30kg

Set 2 Dumbbell Chest Press – 1 x 15 x 24kg

You shouldn’t need to perform more than four additional accessory exercises per session.

Part 3 – The Conditioning Stuff

Some form of conditioning work to aid the fat loss process is also necessary and will form the last part of your session. The two following types of conditioning (which I suggest you alternate between sessions) will optimise the amount of fat burnt during a workout, as well as keeping your metabolism elevated long after you’ve stopped exercising.

These shouldn’t harm strength but will drive your fat loss gains to the next level. When it comes to powerlifting for fat loss, what more could you want?


A complex involves cycling through a series of exercises without putting a barbell or dumbbells down, transitioning smoothly from movement to movement and performing all the assigned reps on one exercise before moving to the next.

Alwyn Cosgrove says it right: ‘A circuit using one piece of equipment, one load and one space’.

Example 1 –

Push Press x 8

Back Squat x 8

Hang Clean x 8

Romanian Deadlift x 8

Complete three sets with 90 seconds rest between each set

Example 2 –

Reverse Lunge x 6/s

Good Morning x 6

Push Press x 6

Front Squat x 6

Complete three sets with 90 seconds rest between each set

Density Circuits

One of the often-forgotten training variables that helps propel strength and muscle is the technique of density: the amount of work performed in a given amount of time. To improve, you can either do more work in a given amount of time, or do the same amount of work in less time.

We’ll therefore be improving your work capacity through density training, which will boost strength, aid hypertrophy, and retain lean mass. Win.

You’re simply going to continuously alternate between 2-3 exercises and complete as many reps as possible in a given time period. Due to the intensity of the work you’ve completed earlier on in the session, we’ll complete one circuit, repeated twice (increasing the weight on the second set).

Example 1 –

Goblet Squat x 12

Press Up x 12

Kettlebell Swing x 12

Complete as many rounds as possible in 8 minutes

Example 2 –

 Hip Thrust x 12

High Incline DB Press x 12

Chin Up x 12

Complete as many rounds as possible in 8 minutes


Do you need to perform cardio? For this particular type of programme – no.

Yes, cardio has its benefits no doubt, but as the nutrition and detailed programming aspects will handle the majority of your fat loss and strength gains, needlessly adding in steady state cardio is not required. Trust me on this one.

the powerlifter's guide to fat loss muscular guy deadlift

The Programme – A One Week Example

Now we’ve figured everything out training wise, let’s attempt to put it all together.

Session 1

Deadlift – 3 x 5

Goblet Squat – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Hip Thrust – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Weighted Press Up – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Rollouts – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Complex – 3 x 8 – Push Press, Back Squat, Hang Clean, Romanian Deadlift

Session 2

Bench Press – 3 x 5

Military Press – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Chest Supported Row – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Weighted Dips – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Hanging Leg Raises – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Density Circuit – 2 x 8 minutes – Goblet Squat, Press Up, Kettlebell Swing

Session 3

Back Squat – 3 x 5

Pull Throughs – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Romanian Deadlift – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Reverse Lunge – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Heels To Heaven – 1 x 8-10, 1 x 12-15

Complex – 3 x 6 – Reverse Lunge, Good Morning, Push Press, Front Squat

To Conclude

Is powerlifting for fat loss possible? Absolutely. Do you have to be smart about it though? Absolutely.

The key things to remember when attempting to lift heavy shit and look shredded at the same time are:

  • Always employ the slow and steady approach
  • Keep protein as high as possible and cycle carbohydrate intake on training and non-training days
  • Keep training volume low but intensity high
  • Steady state cardio is not required

Use three parts to your training sessions:

  • The Heavy Work – this is where you’ll be hitting new PR’s in The Big 3
  • The Hypertrophy Work – perform no more than two working sets
  • The Conditioning Work – alternate between complexes and density training
Author: Daniel Harrod
Daniel Harrod helps people get lean, strong, and sexy. This is achieved through the magic of the internet with his online coaching service. He wrote a pretty epic eBook on how to win at fat loss, which you can download here (
You can find Daniel Harrod at

Get your hands on my cheat sheet for setting up training programs that took a 132lbs. skinny weakling from not being able to bench the bar to deadlifting 3x his own body weight and winning silver at the nationals.



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