The Best Muscle Definition Workout Is Not The ‘Old-School’ High Reps & Light Weights Approach
You cannot increase your muscle definition if you don’t have your workout setup to do so. After building the size of your muscles, do you continue doing the same workouts in hope that your muscles are going to get more defined? Have you built some decent muscle mass and then switched to high reps & light weights in an attempt to define your muscles? If so that is not going to work. In order to make your muscles more defined you need to do specific muscle definition workouts.
It used to be that high reps & light weights was believed to be the best type of workout for definition. It turns out that is not going to give you the hard, angular look you’d expect.
The “old-school” mentality of what a good workout for definition should look like is a little hard to let go of at first. Once you let go of that mentality and start working out the right way you will start to see good results.
The Common Misconception
It seems that for years everyone thought that if you wanted to get toned, defined muscles you needed to lighten up on the weights you lift so that you can do more reps. That is actually not the case at all.
The best way to increase the muscle’s definition is to increase it’s strength without increasing it’s size.
When you look at traditional style bodybuilders they focus much of their workouts on producing “the pump” in their muscles. By doing this they look great in the gym and even somewhat defined, but afterwards the muscle deflates and ends up looking soft and rounded.
When you train for the pump by doing high reps you are unable to focus on contracting the muscle. The harder you can contract your muscle the more defined it will become.
Train Your Muscles To Stay Slightly Contracted
By strengthening the muscle without it ballooning up it will become dense and full — giving you greater muscle definition.
A dense muscle will look and feel partially contracted all the time. When you look at someone who looks ripped, toned, cut, etc., they look hard. When you look at a big bulky guy he has a soft look. This translates directly into how hard and dense their muscles are.
Your workout and the amount of reps you do plays a HUGE role in creating a hard muscle vs. a soft muscle. When shooting for muscle definition, you want hard.
In order to achieve this, you must focus on your form and movement throughout each rep. Each rep should take about 4 seconds. That gives 1 second for the positive lift & 3 seconds for the negative. Your muscles should stay under tension during the entire set.
Essential Piece To Looking Great: Losing Fat
It doesn’t matter how ripped your muscles are; you won’t be able to see your muscles until your body fat percentage is low enough. For the best muscle tone, I like to work in cardio, like HIIT, with just as much emphasis and priority as the muscle definition workouts themselves.
Don’t worry, you will most likely look a bit better than this guy. I must say though — he’s actually quite ripped 😀
Sets, Reps & Days
In order to get solid, dense muscle fiber you need to train a certain way. Again, the traditional ‘train to failure’ method is not going to work for creating defined muscle.
For this workout, we’ll focus on doing 8-10 sets of only 3-5 reps for each muscle group. You should stop 2 reps short of failure. You are actually trying to avoid “the pump” the “burn” and fatigue for these workouts.
Focus on form & quality. By focusing your lift on contracting the muscle as hard as you can you are training your muscle to stay in a flexed and solid state.
You can graduate to heavier weights once you’ve mastered the rep, but you still do not want to over-fatigue your muscle by lifting to failure. The goal is to wake up the next morning and not be sore.
What A Common Muscle Mass Workout Looks Like
Bodybuilders know how to get huge. They traditionally preform some variation of a 3 day split routine that looks something like this.
- Day 1 – Chest & Triceps
- Day 2- Rest or light cardio
- Day 3- Back & Biceps
- Day 4- Rest or light cardio
- Day 5- Legs & Abs
- Day 6- Rest or light cardio
- Day 7- Rest or light cardio
The main benefit to this is that by training a muscle group only once a week they are able to blitz each muscle group for an hour or so and then allow sufficient time for recovery. This is good for bodybuilding but not good for muscle definition or tone.
What the Workouts Look Like
Since you don’t want to fatigue the muscle, you aren’t going to spend as much time blasting them. You will be able to rest less between each workout and lift more often.
Do a 2 day split but spend less time working out. By lifting 2 days on and one day off you can limit the actual resistance training to 25-30 minutes and hit cardio for another 20-40 minutes. An example of this would look like this:
- Day 1 – Chest & Back
- Day 2 – Shoulders & Arms
- Day 3 – Abs
- Day 4 – Chest & Back
- Day 5 – Shoulders & Arms
- Day 6 – Abs
- Day 7 – Rest / light-medium cardio
Each of these workouts are followed by HIIT which blasts the legs and melts fat. If you really want burn extra fat, do HIIT for 10-15 minutes followed by 20-30 minutes of steady state cardio.
There are many different approaches that you can take when working out for muscle definition. The one outlined here is a slightly conservative approach. For a full blue print on a more advanced muscle definition workout, as well as strategic muscle building workout, checkout my Visual Impact Muscle Building Review or Visual Impact for Women Review.
This is one of the most unique approaches to building an awesome physique and it teaches you how to add muscle, tone the muscle and strip the body fat away so that you get the most out of your workouts. Here are a few free videos from Rusty Moore that talk about the process of creating ultra defined muscles.
Raymond - ZenMyFitness
February 16, 2011 @ 2:26 am
Great review on how to really workout and get that muscular defined look. I’ve experimented with lots of different routines and the one you describe seems to work the best.
Visual Impact paired with Eat Stop Eat is an awesome but better than that effective fitness strategy.
Kevin - Fitness B&W
February 16, 2011 @ 11:19 pm
Thanks Raymond, I know you’ve achieved some great results from your workout routines – definitely inspiring!
September 2, 2012 @ 7:08 am
Just wondering for the muscle definition workout routine. How much time should you take between each sets? A minute? Thanks.
The Underwear Body
February 16, 2011 @ 6:05 pm
I’ve used the methods in Visual Impact too, to good effect. I really like the idea that we don’t just have to follow a muscle freak’s routine, but that we can learn how to change variables to get what we really want from our workouts. To me this is what training is really all about.
Nice post, and the site looks great too.
March 4, 2012 @ 8:41 am
Thanks Michael! It is nice to know just how to create the look you’re after. I remember ALWAYS doing 3 sets of 10 reps … I’m glad I’m past that stage.
Kinobody Fitness Systems
May 25, 2011 @ 10:00 am
Great article on achieving muscular definition!
You are right on the money. Definition is a matter of a low body fat. However once your body fat is low its important to increase muscular strength without increasing size. This keeps the muscle partially contracted in a relaxed state. Rusty Moore definitely knows his stuff as Visual Impact is my favorite workout routine.
March 4, 2012 @ 8:43 am
Very true … that’s why I like the lower rep range. Training with low weights and concentrating on strength training sure has made a difference for me. Thanks for the comment!
January 24, 2015 @ 1:21 am
Hello Kevin. I found out about your site yesterday and I really like it. Lots of authentic informations. I’m confused about 1 thing. I have 3 exercises for my biceps workout. Should I make 8-10 sets for each exercise or 8-10 sets total for each of the 3 variations? Thanks!
May 15, 2012 @ 2:15 am
What do you use for your Chest workout? Just dumbells? 3 exercises for each body part. 3 sets per exercise. doing the 5 reps style. for ex. chest and back 3 sets of dumbell incline press, flat incline press then decline incline press. And just like that for the Back exercises. Then after that I’ll go on a HIIT? then steady state cardio? Are these the right program?
June 13, 2012 @ 2:28 pm
I’ve been reading up on working dense muscles, and can’t wait to really get into it, but I was just wondering where do you fit in muscle mass exercises? I want my muscles to be dense, but want it to look as strong as they are. I really like Ryan Gosling’s arms and chest, do you know if that is more dense muscle or more muscle mass?
October 30, 2012 @ 2:27 am
should i consume my whey protien after the weights sesh just before the cardio? or should i just take it once ive finished my cardio?
November 9, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
The muscle definition workout looks great… looks like what I’ve been looking for. Just one question though… where do you fit in a solid leg workout?
December 6, 2012 @ 12:02 pm
I follow the rep/set rule and it works. However, I only do multi-joint exc. Any comments on that Kevin?
March 13, 2013 @ 5:02 pm
For building dense muscle/strength and definition, is it better to do 3 sets of 5 reps or 8-10 sets of 3-5 reps?
May 22, 2014 @ 11:02 pm
Great post! I’m just wondering how a person should eat during this strength training?! I know that while trying to build muscle that you should go for a clean surplus of calories. So how many calories should you shot for while trying to build this dense strong muscle? Should you go with a calories deficit, maintenance, or surplus?
January 20, 2015 @ 8:21 am
Kevin you mention 2 rep short of failure. I want to ask as I move to second and third set I have to give quite a “pump” to complete 5reps with same weights. Do I need to cut of the weights or decrease the reps.? Secondly three exercise for each muscle group?
May 31, 2016 @ 9:32 pm
For the definition workouts where do o fit on legs. I assume on ab days