Q: I’m an intermediate bodybuilder who has never competed before. I wish to complete in a show in 4 months, and will begin my pre-contest diet in a few weeks. I will be making drastic changes to my diet at that time, and I figure I’ll change my weight-training to high-repetition in order to etch detail into my muscle group. How should I adjust my training to get ready for the show?
A: Be careful that you don’t make a mistake that many bodybuilders do, forgetting who brought you to the dance. In order words, you achieved your current level of muscle size by training hard and heavy, completing a nice mix of high-repetition (for slow-twitch muscle fibers) and low-repetition (for fast-twitch muscle fibers) training. You were able to achieve your level of size because BOTH sets of muscle fibers were stimulated in the muscle group.
Now, as you adjust your diet and prepared to compete, you’re talking about removing half of the weight training that helped you build this muscle, the low-rep heavy variety. This is a mistake. As soon as you cut the heavy weights from your routine, you are going to begin to lose muscle size. Yes, you might be able to stimulate a nice pump in the gym. But this is from the slow-twitch muscle fiber stimulation, not from fast-twitch training. As a result, the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your muscle group will suddenly find themselves not being stimulated for months at a time.
The result, as one might suspect, will be a loss of muscle mass. When this occurs at a time when the body is already losing size due to calorie restriction, muscle size can be lost relatively quickly. Seeing the legs lose an inch or two can cause many bodybuilders to panic, which causes even more muscle loss as cortisol levels spike.
Diet is responsible for etching the separation and definition into muscle groups. High-repetition training is great for drawing a lot of blood into the area, but the muscle fibers still do require heavy weights to be moved to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers (those which are stimulated with low, heavy repetitions). Successful national and professional bodybuilders almost unanimously do not adjust their training at all. They might find they don’t have as many reps in them, or that shaving 5% of the weight off is required to retain good form. But they still lift heavy to keep the muscle they worked so hard to build. Instead, they let the diet and the cardio deliver the muscle definition they desire.