How to Lose Muscle Mass on Purpose?

July 29, 2008

Why do I always tackle the hard subjects? Seriously, I know this is going to be a big-time controversial post. It is beyond the realm of imagination on most fitness sites to ever talk about losing muscle on purpose. I know I have disrupted the bodybuilding gods by even typing this phrase! Lets talk about this subject. What did I get myself into?

losing muscle
[In the UFC you have to be functionally fit and quick or you get knocked on your butt! Most of these guys display a natural amount of muscle without getting too big and bulky.]

I’m Convinced it is Politically Incorrect to Say “Lose Muscle”

I’m actually convinced of this. People like to say “slim down”. I’m as guilty as anyone. It just seems like a subject that many people dance around. The fact is that it does make sense for some people to lose muscle on purpose. There I said it again! Here are a few posts where I didn’t use those exact words.

Will Smith Slims Down For the Movie “I Am Legend”.
Duane Johnson, AKA The Rock, Looks Better Slim Instead of Bulky.
Kobe Bryant Loses 20 Pounds For Upcoming NBA Season

“Aren’t We All Suppose To Gain as Much Muscle as Possible?”

I hear people talking about losing fat, or losing weight, but rarely about losing muscle. If the term “lose muscle” is used…it is always used as a negative. In fact, if you listen to all the main stream info…more muscle is always better than less muscle. The main reason for this is that you often times will hear that “muscle burns more calories all day long and helps you stay lean”. This is an overused statement that is seriously exaggerated. Here is my post on that one:Gaining Muscle Doesn’t Increase the Metabolic Rate a Significant Amount

How Did I Get the Idea for This Post

A reader named Michael asked this question:

“I am currently studying for the bar. This is keeping me out of the gym and out of my normal suits. Follow me here. I am wearing jeans again, which I never have time for in general. Wearing the jeans caused me to realize that I violated one of my number one gym rules: thou shalt not deadlift of squat.”

“You see, I have these powerful short-ish legs (6’2 with a 32 inch inseam), and while I have focused for 15 years on building shoulders and back to not much avail, all I have to do is think hard about my legs, and they grow. And every few years, I make this same mistake…I decide that a couple heavy singles a week will not do anything. Wrong.”

“Well, new firm, gym in the firm, and sometimes for kicks I would go and rack a couple hundred pounds and just do A squat. Or three heavy singles. Twice a week. Thats it. Well, my legs look like pile drivers again.”

“So, here is the question…how can one use a limited gym availability period to allow muscles to shrink/catabolize? Further, I have read people talking about “muscle shifting” by not lifting the target group, lifting other areas, and not eating sufficient protein. What do you think of this? Whats the best way to get my old legs back? If you tell me, I will promise to never give in to the squat itch again…”
[Commercial break…A hot model named “Cindy” and “GQ” looking guy. Just trying to fill the site with attractive role models…No need for the typical flexing and ‘Hardcore’ vibe here.]

I Also Found a Funny Advice on A Few Forums

A female soccer player explained that she had tree-trunk legs and wanted to slim down. Half of the people replied and said to get a bigger upper body to even things out! Not the answer she was looking for. Another gentleman said his legs were too large from squatting and he want to lighten up for mountain climbing. Almost every single last reply told the guy that strong legs would help with mountain climbing and to keep doing squats. Sorry, but this is terrible advice. Climbers have strong but slim legs for a reason. They have to easily pull their own body weight up steep cliffs.

I Decided it Was Time for a Detailed “Lose Muscle” Plan

I certainly don’t think most people need to go out of their way to lose muscle, but some do. In fact a huge complaint that many women have is that lifting makes their legs too bulky. I’ll address that. I also know many guys are sick of lugging around a large amount of muscle. I have been there and it slows you down, plus it isn’t the best look in the world. More often than not it is the legs that get too bulky, but I have seen guys and girls with overly developed traps, pecs, shoulders, obliques, etc.

I Dropped 25+ Pounds of Muscle Nine Years Ago

My story is that I spent the first 12+ years of working out to try to get as big as possible. It made me feel slow, it was hard to find clothes that fit well, and I was sick of lugging all of that weight around. I also realized that it wasn’t an attractive look and being that large made it look like I was trying too hard. It took me close to a year to slim down. I’ve been carrying around much less muscle these past nine years and I look and feel better than ever. Here was my strategy…

My Legs Were Outrageously Large and Bulky

I used to be a monster at squats and deadlifts. I could easily do 3-4 sets of 405 for 5-6 reps with squats. Yes…I know to the hardcore lifters this doesn’t sound like much, but I am 6’3″ and I have a long way to travel on each rep…plus I did this at low body fat levels while having a ripped six pack. I wasn’t a fat slob with his gut sticking out doing squats. I enjoyed doing squats back then because my legs pumped up like balloons. Plus I got all kinds of compliments from the guys in the free weight rooms, who were impressed with how deep I could squat with that type of weight.

I Dropped All Direct Resistance Training on Legs

This was a hard one for me to decide to do, since I used to make fun of guys that just trained their upper body. The problem is that if your legs are big, almost any resistance style exercise is going to help you maintain that size. I tried light weights or just doing things like lunges. I also tried low rep training. Typically low rep training doesn’t dramatically increase the size of a muscle, but you just have to be more careful when it comes to legs.

The Number One Rule of Thumb to Lose Muscle in Your Legs

Avoid anything that creates a “pump” in the legs. Even things like riding an exercise bike will pump up your legs and cause them to stay the same size. My sister is a workout machine and she refuses to do cardio on an exercise bike, because it increases the size of her thighs. The exercise bike can really create a large pump in the legs. Jogging on a treadmill is the best way to slim your legs down (lose muscle on your legs). Once your legs are a smaller size, feel free to give the exercise bike a shot again.

The Type of Cardio for Those Who Want to Maintain Muscle

For the most part on this site, I recommend doing High Intensity Interval Training followed by Low Intensity Steady State Cardio. This is an amazing method to get extremely lean without losing muscle. Here is a quick little mini-course I’m working on, on that subject. It is only three pages at this point, but this a great strategy I’ve followed for years to stay at a low body fat level—>Low Body Fat Percentage.

Note: This method works if you want to maintain muscle mass. This is ideal for most of the readers, but Not for those people who need to lose muscle.

Marathon Cardio is the Best Way to Lose Muscle

If you are trying to lose a bit of muscle mass, you need to do what I call “Marathon Cardio”. Jump on a treadmill and do a medium to high intensity steady state cardio for an extended period of time. Aim for 45-60 minutes at as fast as rate as you can handle for that period of time. Marathon cardio is used by boxers to “make weight”. They basically call it “road work”, but it involves long periods of running at a pretty high intensity level.

A Calorie Deficit Will Speed Up the Process

Don’t go too extreme here, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to go low-cal during this period of time. Heck, I like to go low-cal a few times a year just to give my digestive system a break and detox a bit. Make sure you go into your workout with an empty stomach and don’t eat a meal right after exercising…wait at least 1-2 hours before eating anything.

How to Lose Muscle on Other Parts of the Body

It is quite a bit easier to slim down other muscle groups. You still want to work those muscle groups, but dramatically cut down the sets and reps. Lift heavy for low reps and don’t go to failure. Also, just like your legs…you are going to want to avoid the pump on this body part. This is going to allow you to keep that area strong and dense without having the excess mass. In fact, I recommend that you train your entire body like this anyway. This builds a strong, functional body that winds up holding a “natural” amount of muscle.

Many People Would Benefit from Dropping Direct Leg Work

I’m going to go ahead and point out my most controversial fitness view. I believe that 9 out of 10 people would have better looking physiques if they dropped all of their leg exercises and replaced it with High Intensity Interval Training combined with Steady State Cardio. This just seems to create the ideal sized leg that is functional as well. Not only that, the extra time available for cardio will help you keep a lower body fat level year round. Also…your legs and butt greater definition from sprinting than they will from lifting. The nice thing is that they will remain a normal size while firming up.

Note: Michael…I hope that answers your question at least partially. I haven’t heard much about “muscle shifting”, so I can’t comment on that. Bottom line is that you need to get a good pair of running shoes and hit the pavement (or treadmill). The side benefit is that it is going to help you lean down and lighten up…which will make you more athletic, give you more energy, makes your face look better, etc.

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Rusty Moore

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{ 253 comments… read them below or add one }

Sierra Dell March 8, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Hi, My name is Sierra Dell,

I am a Hockey player and we just finished our season. Hockey definitely requires strong legs which I have and I don;t mind them during the season but now that the season is over and summer is coming up I need a little help slimming them down. I took you pointers but I have a couple other questions about slimming my legs.

1. Is doing the elliptical for 45-60 minutes good for slimming them down like the treadmill or is it more like the bike?
2. If the treadmill is good for slimming down legs what types of setting would you suggest(like resistance and vertical)?
3. Is yoga good for slimming legs or does that isolate muscle groups?
4. Lastly would you say swimming is good for slimming down as well?

Thanks so much for the help it is going to really help with my body confidence !

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