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Ramadan Strength Training: The Definitive Guide

Last Updated March 2024

I’m a working man with a family and lifting weights is a part of my lifestyle. I like to maintain my regular routine in Ramadan. But how do I do it so Ramadan is my focus, not lifting and eating? This Ramadan strength training guide is for Fulan ibn Fulan–the Muslim everyman.

I assume you plan to keep training and not take the month off. Though, in all honesty, maybe you should take a break. But I know meatheads won’t listen, so here we are. I’m also not going to tell you what to do. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I do. How I’ve been training during Ramadan for the past 15 years.

The advice in this guide applies to you if:

  • You’re an observant Muslim - You’ll be praying your 5 obligatory prayers and tarawih as well

  • You’ll maintain a normal daily schedule - You won’t be sleeping all day and staying up all night

  • You won’t be stuffing yourself with food during a tiny eating window to hit your macros

Table of Contents

Podcast: how to keep strength training in Ramadan

The problem with other Ramadan taining guides

Many of the Ramadan Strength training guides you can find online were written by non-Muslims who don’t fast. They don’t know how lifting fits in with our lifestyle and intent during Ramadan. And in some cases, they don’t know we’re doing a water fast. Meaning, they give the same advice for lifters who are intermittent fasting but drinking water, coffee, BCAAs, EAAs etc.

Some of the guides are written by Muslims or consult Muslim lifters but even they have issues.

  • The advice is totally impractical for anyone who maintains a normal work-life schedule

  • You wonder whether they even follow their own advice and if they do, how they manage to get through the day

  • Some of these Muslim lifters fast but don’t pray  - they have more time to fit in training and meals after iftar

Don’t contaminate your Niyyah

Your priority during Ramadan is worshiping Allah to the best of your ability. The validity of your worship is contingent on the validity of your intention (niyyah.) Our intention during Ramadan needs to be directed to Allah alone.

If you have specific fitness goals (lose weight, burn fat, gain muscle…whatever) during Ramadan, your intention could be diluted. The more diluted the intention, the lower the reward for fasting. If we aren’t careful, our fasting could be completely invalid in Allah’s eyes.

Here’s an example of niyyah contamination.

The goal for many who train in Ramadan is to reduce body fat to maintain or gain strength through preserving lean muscle mass. If you thought that was not possible during Ramadan, you thought wrong. However, it is important to be in possession of all the information.

You’re going to lose your gains

If you do Ramadan the right way, there’s no way around it. You’re going to lose some gains. But it’s OK. You’ll get them back after Eid. More, actually, because of supercompensation. I asked Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes how much muscle and strength you can expect to lose if you stop training for one month.

Yes, it depends largely on how long you’ve been training. The longer it’s been, the less you lose. In a veteran person, say beyond 5 years, it will be at most a 5% decrease in LBM, which will come back quickly and a 20% decline in strength, largely from motor coordination. If someone had been training only a year though, they’d likely find it much more noticeable. The loss of coordination is the biggest factor.


What time to train during Ramadan

There are only 3 training times that are practical for most men. Which time you choose depends on your personal schedule and where you live (because of the time gap between Iftar and Suhur)

  • After Fajr - Train before going to work

  • Before Maghrib – Train after work

  • After Tarawih - Train before going to bed

I’m blessed to live in the UAE. So even when I had a regular 9-to-5, we had Ramadan work timings and got off 2 hours earlier. So training before maghrib was always easiest for me.

Since I started working for myself, I control my time and can train whenever I like. But I stuck to the pre-maghrib workout because I like to train heavy, even during Ramadan. If I did that after Fajr, I’d be useless the rest of the day and get no work done. If I did it after tarawih, I’d have a hard time falling asleep.

Here’s what my the second half of my day looks like during Ramadan:

  • Pray Asr

  • Gym – By the time I’m home it’s almost Iftar

  • Iftar

  • Pray magrib

  • Dinner

  • Pray Isha and Tarawih

  • Second dinner – If I’m still hungry

  • Sleep

  • Suhoor

Why I like this schedule the best over the post-Fajr and post-Tarawih options:

  • I have enough time to get a decent workout in

  • I have the longest possible eating window after training

  • I have the longest possible sleeping window. Add a nap during the day and we’re fully rested

You can also see from the above schedule I’m only eating one real meal a day. I’ll talk more about nutrition in a bit.

Ramadan workout intensity & volume

You keep it at 70-80%. 3×5, 5×5 would be workable. Take 3 minutes rest between sets, maybe do one other movement for light weight, blood flow.

How I plan to train in Ramadan 2024:

Daily walks and daily workouts. I’ll do 3 days a week of Push, Pull, Legs since that’s how I’ve been training for the past year. The other 4 days I’ll work on odd lifts and weaknesses. I switched to PPL-style training because I don’t recover as fast as I used to. And full-body routines thrice a week wear me down. Also, with a PPL program, I can really put a lot of effort into the body parts I’m training that day.

Your body adapts fast.

You’d be surprised how hard you can train while fasting. People are too scared to try it. Little will change about your workouts. You won’t be hitting 1RMs and you won’t be doing 20-30-set workouts, that’s all.

For many years I enjoyed switching to Rippetoe’s Starting Strength during Ramadan because it’s a simple, full-body program.

  • Workout A: squat, press, power clean

  • Workout B: squat, bench press, deadlift

The reps and sets are low, so you don’t sweat as much. That keeps your thirst manageable. And you can still lift heavy. I’ll also adjust my intensity and volume on the fly depending on how I feel.

  • Reduce working weights by 10–20%. Add weight to the bar if I feel good and take small jumps.

  • Do 1 work set instead of 3. Some days I’ll feel more lethargic than others, particularly towards the end of the month.

You don’t have to do Starting Strength. You can any program you like – Bill Starr’s 5×5, Wendler’s 5/3/1, Doggcrap etc. Just remember you’re weaker and have less work capacity while fasting.

Other workouts I’ve tried:

  • Dan John’s Easy Strength program - I did this one year when I trained at home; enjoyable program

  • Olympic lifts - drilling technique

  • Boxing - One of my white collar boxing fights was near the end of Ramadan. Coach put me through about 50-60% of the work we’d do during a normal session. I was able to hit pads and spar for an hour without needing water. I trained daily that Ramadan, alternating boxing and weightlifting.

  • Everyday workouts - I’d be working on random stuff, odd lifts I wanted to work on that I don’t do during normal training. Like weighted carries, kettlebell work, single-leg work etc.

Ramadan diet & nutrition

I use Ramadan to just take a break from food the entire month. Honestly, eating one meal a day is the best thing ever. Because you’re eating far less, you don’t need as much sleep. And because your body uses far less energy to digest food, you’re more productive during the day.

And you gain all of the health benefits of fasting Muslims like to mention. If you’ve seen the studies–most Muslims haven’t–the participants were eating well under 1000 kCals on fasting days. The 2-day-a-week fasting protocol has you eating 500-600 kCals on fasting days. How many Muslims do you know who limit themselves to 500 kCals a day during Ramadan? They all gain weight during the month.

My full day of Ramadan eating:

  • Suhur – Dates and water; I used to eat a full breakfast but these days I prefer extra sleep over more food.

  • Iftar – Dates and water, fruit, probiotic yoghurt

  • Dinner 1 – salad and protein, some fat (between Maghrib and Isha)

  • Dinner 2 – protein and carbs, some fat (after Tarawih)

I count dinner 1 and dinner 2 as one meal since they’re so close together. Most days I’m eat around 1000-1500 kCals. My maintenance calories are 3000+, so I’m at a severe deficit during Ramadan.

You may want to eat more than I do. If so, simply eat a complete meal at Suhur and more during Iftar and Dinner 1. I could easily get down 2000-2500 kCals/day. I’ve done it in past Ramadans and I don’t like feeling stuffed in the evenings.

Since there’s no way I’m going to eat enough food to hit my maintenance calories, I prefer to focus on food quality. In order of priority, protein, then fat, then carbs. I also eat way more vegetables and fruit during Ramadan than I do the rest of the year.

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