Many people talk about being toned. It’s a popular goal among women, and also men, to achieve a firm body with defined, shaped muscles.
Usually, people believe all they need to do to get toned is very high repetitions with little resistance. The emphasis is usually on the upper arms, there are moderate or long rests between reps, and no consideration of cardiovascular activity or diet.
“Toning” Is A Myth
Muscles do not “firm up” or “tone”; they don’t go from soft to hard. The firmness comes from an increase in muscle tissue; this usually goes with enough of a decrease in body fat to make the body stop jiggling or wobbling.
Fat Loss, And Strength Training Too
To achieve the desirable, defined muscular look you’ll need to engage in strength training as well as shed the layer of fat that covers the muscles.
Resistance training alone won’t apply enough stress to the muscle, particularly with light resistance and many repetitions of the same moves. And it won’t shed any subcutaneous body fat beneath the skin. To do that, a calorie deficit must be created.
Fat Loss Benefits From Strength Training
Strength training needn’t be separate from cardiovascular work. It brings its own fat burning benefits, both directly and indirectly.
Large body movements and short rest periods elevate your heart rate, and provide some of the same calorie and fat burning benefits as a cardio workout. And as you add more muscle tissue, your basal metabolic rate, or resting metabolism, will increase. This indirect effect means you’ll burn more calories even at rest, and gives a longer-lasting weight loss effect.
A well designed workout will bring the double benefits of cardio and resistance training in one short, sweet session.
High Repetitions To Tone Is A Myth
Don’t shy away from using relatively heavy weights. It won’t pile on muscle mass or make you bulky rather than toned.
Your muscles need some effort and stress to adapt and grow, and going through the motions won’t produce enough results to reshape the muscles.
As a guide, most individuals should train with enough resistance and weight to feel fatigued after 8 to 12 repetitions. If you can comfortably reach 15, you should increase the resistance – and if you can’t manage 8 reps then decrease the resistance and build it up again gradually.
Rest periods between sets should be short, ideally no longer than 30 seconds (keep a stopwatch or clock in sight to measure them) to keep the heart rate up but give the muscles a short rest and recovery period.
Because of the short rest periods, it should get tougher to complete all the repetitions, and you shouldn’t fear the “failure” of not being able to complete as many reps as last time. The body won’t have time to remove all the metabolic by-products from the set before.
Stressing your body like this forces it to adapt and recover more efficiently, and you’ll be able to lift more weights in less time. The short breaks will become ingrained and you’ll be better recovered and ready to go for the next set.
Circuits are a popular way to an all-round cardiovascular workout that only takes a short time. You move directly from a short set of one exercise to another that works a different muscle group. With no rests it becomes a circuit that elevates the heart rate, with a brief rest only at the end of each circuit.
It requires focus, ideally no distractions such as headphones, but is extremely effective at burning extra body fat and building strength and endurance that will benefit your strength training.
A Programme That Works For You
You’ll burn more calories working the larger muscle groups like the legs and back. Also exercises that use many different muscle groups at once, like the bench press, burn more fat than isolated arm movements.
Good exercises to elevate the heart rate include squats, deadlifts and lunges of any variety, and bench step-ups and straight-leg deadlifts.
Get creative too, and combine and alternate movements, so you could go from a dumbbell shoulder press into a bicep curl with the dumbbell, and then 10 to 15 reps of both.
This is where a personal trainer’s expertise can help, developing non-traditional exercises to help achieve your goals, while showing you how to perform them all safely and most effectively.
With enough resistance to bring fatigue in no more than 15 reps, and very short rest periods, plus a solid nutrition programme, you’ll see your muscles gain size and definition, and lose some of the fat around them to give you that toned look you desire.