Q: Specifically I would like to know more about effective ways to reduce unnecessary muscle mass from the legs. I come from a road bike racing background and so I have more muscle on my thighs and butt than necessary for climbing (or mostly anything besides racing a bicycle) and I would like to slim them down and lose that excess weight for climbing.

I’m 5’10” and currently weigh 160lbs. I’d like to get down to 155 for climbing season. As a reference I used to race my bike at 148lbs but I also had an emaciated upper body at that weight. I don’t feel like I have much more room available for fat loss and so I’ve started focusing on losing leg mass by going on long-ish runs (45 minutes to 1 hour) at a steady tempo 3 times a week as I’ve read that this a way to reduce leg mass and muscle fiber size.

My question to you, Steve, is I’m wondering if this is the best/most effective way to accomplish my weight loss goal without affecting my current climbing performance and is there anything more I can do (exercise or nutrition) that will also benefit? The last 5 pounds are the hardest to lose, right?!


A: This is a really interesting one. I’ll bet I get 3-4 emails a month from people who are looking to reduce mass in the legs. The lean mass losing game is a tricky one, though.
I researched this a few years back and ended up talking to a friend that works for Chris Carmichael’s coaching company. These guys do training plans for many endurance athletes, from recreational guys to pro cyclists and triathletes. He talked about how some pro cyclists would weight train and do other sports in the off season, and then diet down over April and May to get light for the big summer tours.
Basically, the cyclists would cease all training other than cycling, and significantly reduce the percentage of protein in their diets. This sort-of worked when we tried to do it in reverse with climbers, but I ran into two problems: 1. We still have to use our legs quite a bit, so mass reduction is compromised, and 2. the training volume and consequently the nutritional load in climbers is very small compared to the cyclists.
I think the reduced protein idea is solid – if you are short on protein for muscle building, there is evidence that your body will steal it from non-training muscle groups.
The last 5 are hell. You need to keep good track of your performance somehow (rp ability or performance on benchmark routes seem to work best), your overall energy level, bodyweight, and leg circumference. Give yourself a few months to lose the 5 – or you might diet your way into overtraining…