Romelu Lukaku has been told to cut down the repetition of weights in the gym in order to meet Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s demand to lose muscle mass.
Lukaku said in December that he was struggling with the rigours of the Premier League while carrying the additional muscle mass that he put on ahead of last summer’s World Cup in Russia.
The Belgium international, who has scored nine goals in 34 appearances this season, has fallen behind Marcus Rashford in the pecking order at Old Trafford.
Lukaku has completed 90 minutes in just two of his last eight Premier League appearances and Solskjaer said the 25-year-old would benefit from losing some bulk in order to meet the demands of United’s style of play.
“You know I can understand why when you go to a World Cup and you see the teams that you play, it might be that his physicality took over that part of preparation,” the Reds’ caretaker boss said.
“And for me, we ask our forwards, strikers, to work at higher intensity, runs in behind, but that’s what Rom likes, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.
“Muscle is not so difficult to get rid of and he’s lean, but he’s muscly.”
The Belgium international has netted eight goals in 24 Premier League appearances this season, and former United full-back Michael Clegg, who worked as Sunderland’s strength and conditioning coach, has explained what Lukaku needs to do to lose the aforementioned bulk.
Lukaku said before Christmas that he soon realised on his return from international duty that he would have to make a change.
“I just felt great and I think I played great over there,” he said of his World Cup showing. “And then when I came back it is a different type of style.
“In the Premier League, I cannot play with the same amount of muscle as international football.
“That was something that when I came back I knew straight away: ‘Nah, I cannot play in this style like this.’ I had to lose muscle basically.”
And the former United full-back, Michael Clegg, who worked as Sunderland’s strength and condition coach, told the Mail that Lukaku can lose muscle mass without necessarily forfeiting his strength.
“If Lukaku does a lot of hypertrophy work – which is eight to 12 repetitions on your squats or bench press – it can cause sarcoplasm hypertrophy, which will increase muscle size,” he explained. “That’s not just the muscle itself but the area around it. It’s what bodybuilders do to look bigger and not always functional.
“If you reduce those exercises to three to five repetitions, and still do it with quite a heavy load, then it won’t give you that same increase in muscle size, although the muscle itself will stay really strong given the muscle fibres themselves increase – known as myofibrillar hypertrophy.
“Lukaku can still train in the gym, that is important, but change the method slightly. You want to maximise muscle strength and power but minimise the size of the actual muscular system.
“With someone like Lukaku, you wouldn’t want him doing loads of pounding or extra running. You’d look to get him doing aerobic conditioning on a watt bike, or rowing and swimming.”