Shedding muscle mass doesn't have to result in a significant loss of strength. In fact, there are a number of ways to stay strong and fit, such as swimming, Pilates, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts and boxing, without accumulating a considerable amount of muscle bulk.
Muscle bulk depletion could also depend on specific characteristics, like your age or genetics. If you want to lose muscle, consider your timeline, which physical activities to avoid and which exercises to do more often.
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I Want to Lose Muscle!
First, avoid muscle overload. Muscle overload means that the intensity of the exercise must be high enough for the body to physiologically adapt and change. In other words, muscle overload culminates in an increase in muscle size.
According to the American Council on Exercise, engaging in physical activities like stair climbing or step training, increasing step height or adding power movements, such as squats or jumps, will increase muscle bulk.
If you're concerned about building muscle, there are ways you can decrease the amount of overload. If you're step training, for example, you may want to reduce step height. In general, it helps to lower the impact of movements when you're trying to avoid muscle growth.
Same Exercise, Different Version
When it comes to strength training, keep in mind that losing muscle mass doesn't have to denote avoiding a certain exercise completely. Weightlifting, for instance, can build muscle and strength if you're working with heavier weights and performing fewer repetitions and will promote endurance if you're using lighter weights and doing more repetitions.
Strengthen Upper Body Without Bulk
Just because you're trying to lose muscle bulk doesn't mean you have to stop exercising altogether. In fact, certain forms of resistance training can help you lose upper body fat and get toned. Fitness trainer Rachel Attard suggests:
- Boxing, which strengthens the arms without adding much bulk.
- Swimming, which is good for toning the arms without making them bigger. Swimming 30 minutes one to two times per week should give you strong arms without making your shoulders look too broad.
- HIIT workouts, which help women lose weight and avoid bulk. HIIT workouts are often focused on the lower body, so if you're going to gain muscle anywhere, it will most likely be the legs.
- Pilates, which strengthens your arms and core, sans the added mass. If you're hoping to get thin, muscular arms and a sturdy core, then Pilates might be what you need.
When to Expect Changes
The amount of time it takes to lose muscle mass depends on certain factors, such as whether you're an athlete. According to a 2013 study from Sports Med, athletes can begin to lose their muscle strength in about three weeks if they're not exercising.
Nonathletes, those who work out less than five times per week or who haven't been exercising for long, are more likely to stymie muscle growth during periods of inactivity.
Read more: The Best Way to Gain Lean Muscle Mass
- Healthline: Exercise Break: How Long Does It Take to Lose Muscle Mass?
- NCBI: Sports Medicine: The Development, Retention and Decay Rates of Strength and Power in Elite Rugby Union, Rugby League and American Football: A Systematic Review
- Rachel Attard: How to Slim Down a Muscular Upper Body
- American Council on Exercise: Building Muscle for Women