It may sound strange that anybody would want to REDUCE muscle size on purpose, but honestly, if that's one of your goals, you're not alone! Reducing the size of a specific muscle group or all your muscles in general is a more common goal than you might think.
And there certainly ARE ways of decreasing the size of your muscles through exercise! But let me just start by saying, if you feel your calves are too big, please go ahead send them my way... :)
Basically, in order to reduce muscle size, we need to utilize a two-pronged approach, focusing on a very specific training style and then on post-workout nutrition.
For training, we're going to accomplish the goal of reducing muscle size by utilizing VERY high rep sets (upwards of 80 to 100 reps per set!). This type of training can be done with pretty much any exercise you choose and will be dictated by which muscle group(s) you want to reduce the size of.
To properly explain the reasoning behind how this type very high rep training can be effective, you should first know that there are two basic types of muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch.
Fast-twitch fibers are responsible for high-power, short-duration activity (like sprinting and heavy weight training) while slow-twitch fibers are responsible for low-power, long-duration activity like jogging, walking and other endurance-based activity...basically anything you can do for longer than a couple of minutes.
Fast-twitch fibers are larger than slow-twitch fibers and when you have a high percentage of fast-twitch fibers, you will have larger muscles. You can see the difference when you look at a sprinter compared to a marathon runner.
So what does this have to do with making muscles smaller? Well, most likely, if you find a specific muscle group too big for your liking, you probably have a high percentage of those fast-twitch fibers in that muscle group. They are much easier to develop and you probably don't even have to work that muscle group to keep it larger!
What you WILL have to do, then, is focus ONLY on endurance-oriented training for that specific muscle group that you want to make smaller. This will preferentially detrain the fast-twitch muscle fibers and train the smaller, slow-twitch muscle fibers.
So how you put this type of training into practice? My best advice would be to pick an exercise or two that work the muscle group you want to reduce. For example, if you want to decrease your calves, standing and seated calf raises will work.
Now, at the beginning of EVERY single workout you do (no matter what other bodyparts you're working or even if you're just doing cardio training), perform 2 sets of VERY high reps (80 to 100 reps) on one of those exercises (you can use the same exercise for both sets or do one set of each). Rest two minutes in between those 2 sets to clear out lactic acid build-up.
The reason we do this every single day is that slow-twitch fibers require frequent work and lots of volume. Doing these two sets every single workout is the most efficient way to accomplish that stimulus.
Naturally, you're going to need to use some fairly light weight to be able to get that many reps, but don't just be a rep counter and stop when you get to 80. Push yourself to keep going and get as many reps as you possibly can. The high reps are what will train your slow-twitch muscle fibers.
DO NOT do any heavy or even moderately heavy training for your target muscle group. It should be ALL light-weight, very high rep whenever you work it. We want to really take away all stimulus to the larger, fast-twitch muscle fibers and focus on training only the smaller slow-twitch endurance-oriented fibers.
For the REST of your workout (for the muscles you aren't trying to reduce in size), you can feel free to use heavier weights and lower rep ranges. It's only the target muscle group you want to absolutely keep to very high reps.
And just because you're training to reduce muscle size, it doesn't mean it's going to be easy work! You do need to push yourself on these high-rep sets, not just go through the motions and count to 100.
As I mentioned above, this is a two-pronged approach...training and nutrition. So now that we've got the training covered, let's move on to nutrition, specicially post-workout nutrition as that is going to have the biggest impact on your muscle reduction program.
Your muscles require protein to rebuild and recover. So what we're going to do is deprive your body of protein during the post-workout period by not eating any protein for a few hours after training.
By not eating protein right away, you will force your body to eat up some of its own muscle tissue for recovery purposes, further helping to reduce muscle size. Immediately after your workout, take in some simple sugars to help get the recovery process started (sugary drink mixes like Tang or Gatorade are good). Eat only carbohydrates such as grains, fruits, and vegetables for a few hours after exercise.
You can eat protein during the rest of the day, just not during the post-workout period (for at least 3 hours after).
It does take a bit of time for the muscle fibers to respond to this type of training but it will happen if you stick to the high rep sets and keep it up consistently.
The size of your muscles will obviously be your main gauge as to whether the training is working for you or not, so use a good tape measure and measure your target muscles (at the same place on the muscle each time!) on a weekly basis and at the same time of day to control for outside factors such as food and water intake (first thing in the morning before you've eaten or drank anything is best).
So if you're looking to reduce muscle size without getting flabby, give this type of training a try! The high reps may be painful, but they will transform your muscles and reduce their size, getting your muscles where you want them to be!
About the Author:
Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of the online personal training company BetterU, Inc. He has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology and has been inventing new training techniques for more than 17 years. Nick is the author of a number of bodybuilding eBooks including "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days To Maximum Mass", and several others all available at ( http://www.fitness-ebooks.com ).