Can Women Really Just “Tone Up”?

Hello my dear readers,

Today’s article is all about the widespread phenomenon of women who go to the gym to “tone up” or “firm up” their muscles. I’m here to say that these phrases are somewhat meaningless, and to not leave you hanging, I describe some realistic and meaningful goals women can have when it’s gym time. The following information comes from The New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Shuler, Cassandra Forsythe, and Alwyn Cosgrove. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I am not picking on women. Men make many mistakes in the gym (we’re a pretty odd bunch when testosterone takes over…). Anyways, ladies, this is for you. If you want, I can write an article about the mistakes men make in the gym. It’ll be a much funnier read :)

Let’s clear up the terminology. What does “tone up” mean?

Tone is short for tonus, which is the firmness of any given muscle when you aren’t flexing it. Tonus improves when you train with weights, but it’s not something you can see. Women use “tone” to mean making their muscles look better without making them bigger. Many women, at the mercy of false marketing, believe that light weight and high reps are the way to achieve this “toned” look. Alas, it is not so easy.

THE PROBLEM: Your muscles need to be challenged to grow. When the muscles grow, they will look better. Without the necessary stimulus, no muscle growth occurs, and thus, no change is seen. As a result, many women mistakenly exercise in a way that produces no lasting results. They use light weight and do many more reps than what is necessary to get the desired result. They get disappointed (as all of us would) and tend to give up. On top of all this is the fear of “bulking up”. Ladies, let me tell you something. Even men struggle to build muscle and we are genetically designed to build the stuff. Women do not have anywhere near the same amount of testosterone and growth hormone as men, and thus it takes longer for women to build muscle. You will never bulk up unless you inject yourself with steroids. Just saying.

THE SOLUTION: Alright, ladies. You should know by now that you can’t rely on light weight and high reps to get the nice, lean body you want. So how do you do it? Strength training. This means using heavy weight for 3-10 reps for at least 4 to 5 sets. You have to overload the muscle (good form is paramount, of course) in order for your muscle to get stronger. When your muscle is forced to grow, you will see the definition you want. Muscle takes the place of fat. In addition, strength training burns more calories outside of the gym. Compare this to steady state cardio, which only burns calories in the gym. When you stop running, the caloric burn stops. But when you stop strength training, you burn calories during the recovery. This means that you will get leaner and more fit from strength training than you would with steady state cardio on the treadmill. So, if you don’t enjoy the treadmill, then you don’t really need it.

RECAP: “Toning” is misleading because it doesn’t mean much. Light weight and high reps does not stimulate muscle to grow, so your body will not get that lean physique look you want. Strength training with heavy weight (few reps, several sets) will force muscles to grow and burn calories during recovery, which gives you the physique you really want.

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know if you have any other health and fitness questions. I’d love to answer them!

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