I’m adding this post into a series I did some years ago as it is an important phase and one I missed out of pure laziness.
The muscle definition phase (hereafter “MD”) is the phase you would use at the end of the training block of training parameters previously mentioned to help reduce bodyfat and draw out some of the muscle you have built, for clarity those previous phases would be:
To begin with let us state the scope of the MD phase as according to the authors:
Burns off subcutaneous fat and increases visibility of muscle striations.
Increases the protein content of muscles through performance of long, high-rep sets. In addition to better muscle definition, in some instances these exercises increase muscle strength.
Clearly increases capillary density within the muscle through increases adaptation to aerobic work, which may result in a slight increase in muscle size. (Bompa et al, 2003, p.245)
The authors note they are breaking from bodybuilding tradition when they propose a rep range over 12 to 15 reps, stating that on average bodybuilders believe to increase muscle size reps over this range are not necessary, which the authors concede this. However they state that going over these rep ranges will promote “better looking bodies with higher muscle density, perfect symmetry, and increased muscle separation and striations” (p.245-6), they do this by (1) burning off the fat and (2) decrease load with more reps. Let’s take each in turn.
(1) Burn Off Fat
In order the maximize the values mentioned above removing fat is important, to do this the authors state that to do this: “the duration of nonstop muscular contraction must be increased” (p. 246). They state that bodybuilders have traditionally used aerobic steady state cardio to achieve this, but the authors state this method to be ineffective when compared to theirs. The difference, they say, comes from the fact that fat will be burned from local muscle groups and the body overall through the drastic (but progressive) increase in repetitions. Coupled with this they state to peform the program in a non stop fashion, that is “to perform hundreds of repetitions per muscle group per workout. Since it is impossible to do work of such long duration nonstop for only one muscle group, exercises must be continually alternated during the workout.” (p. 246)
(2) Decrease Load With More Reps
In order to achieve the kinds of reps the authors are talking about you need to drop the load to “30 to 50 percent of 1RM” (p. 245), that is by about half of what you normally lift (RM refers to Repetition Maximum and refers to the max amount of weight you can lift by a designated number, e.g 1,3,5,7 etc). Why do this?
At the beginning of a high-rep, low-load set, only a limited number of muscle fibers are active. The other fibers are at rest, bu they become activated as the contracting fibers become fatigued. This progressively increasing recruitment of muscle fibers allows a person to perform work for a prolonged period of time. Prolonged work exhausts the ATP/PC and glycogen energy supplies, leaving fatty acids as the only fuel available to sustain this activity. Use of this fuel sources burns fat from the body, and especially the subcutaneous fat. The burning off of this type of fat increases muscle striations and muscle definition. (Bompa et al, 2003, p.246)
Program Design For The MD Phase
The authors state in order to utilize fatty acids as fuel a large amount of repetitions must be performed, and thus short rest intervals will prevent ATP/PC and glycogen regeneration and force the body to use its fatty acid stores. The authors warn the MD phase must be carefully designed so that it only takes 2-3 seconds to move between exercise stations. Moreover as exercises are often paired together the authors note is preferable to pick an even number of exercises. They also state some basic programming principles:
In the first three weeks, the purpose of training is to increase the number of reps to 50 or higher for each exercise. When this is accomplished, the exercises are grouped into two, then four, and so on, until eventually all eight exercises can be performed together without stopping. (Bompa et al, 2003, p.247)
Fr maximum results the authors note that the ideal MD Phase should consist of two six-week MD phases, with the longer the time spent on MD the greater of amount of fat burned.
Muscle Definition Cues
Unfortunately this will be a straight quote, as it is bullet points:
MD training requires that muscle groups be constantly alternated.
The same exercise may be performed twice per set, especially one targeting a desired muscle group.
The number of reps may not be exactly the same for each exercise. The decision depends on the individuals strengths and weaknesses for given muscle groups or on an individuals choice in targeting specific muscle(s).
Speed should be moderate throughout the set. A fast lifting rhythm may produce a high level of lactic acid, which can hamper ability to finish the entire set.
In order to avoid wasting time between exercises, athletes should (if this is possible) set up all the equipment needed before the training session begins.
Since the physiological demand of MD training can be quite severe, entry-level athletes should not use it.
The total number of MD workouts per week can be from 2 to 4, depending on the athlete’s experience – lower for recreational, and higher for advanced or professional athletes. The additional 1 to 2 workouts can be divided between aerobic, H, or MxS training.
The number of reps per exercise should not be restricted to 50, as shown in our example. A very well-training athlete may go as high as 60 to 75. (Bompa et al, 2003, p.247)
Below I’ll include example workout the authors provide:
Bompa, T.O., Pasquale, M.D., Conrnacchia, L.J. (2003). Serious Strength Training (Second Edition). Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics.