Friday, 12 February 2016

How to Get Amazing Feminine Muscle Tone Without Bulking Up

Have you been wasting countless hours at the gym lifting the wrong weight like 38% of women?



Okay ladies, have you heard this at the gym or said it yourself "I just want to tone - I don't want to get bulky huge muscles". Then you go to the weight rack and choose 2 pound weights for your workout class and do 15 reps of each move. Do you even feel tired after the 15 reps? Probably not but that's okay - we're toning here ladies! Right?

Let me tell you right now that it's not going to work. Okay yes lifting your 2 pound weights 15 times is much better than sitting on the couch. But, to see any noticeable increase in strength you must pick a weight that causes you to reach the point of FAILURE. Yes I said it, your aim is to fail in exercise. New research by Stuart Phillips at McMaster University suggests that reaching FAILURE is the most important factor in muscle building.

How to Choose the Right Weight (for Women)

  1. Start by picking up the toughest weight you can lift - divide that number in half and try a set of 10.
  2. You should be able to lift heavier weight for leg exercises and bicep curls while triceps and shoulders will require lighter weights.
  3. Write it down - write down the move, weight, repetition and how hard the set was (P90X and P90X3 have great tracking sheets that I use for tracking my weights).
  4. Find it getting easier? Write it down - seeing the progress on paper will keep you pushing yourself.
  5. Increase and decrease the weight until you can do 8 to 10 reps before you can't do a single addition rep (yay for failing).
  6. If you hurt the next day don't despair, as you get used to weight lifting the pain will go away. Or learn to love the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
  7. After you find a good weight you can't stop there - once it gets easier increase by a few pounds at a time.
  8. You will now be building a calorie burning machine! Congrats.
But, you say, I just want to TONE, I don't want to look like one of those bodybuilding ladies I see on TV. Ladies, let me tell you, you are not going to look like a linebacker by lifting heavy. You WILL create muscles that will prevent injury as you get older. You WILL prevent bone density loss that will otherwise be inevitable after age 30. You WILL create a body that burns fat even when you're sitting on your butt! It is a myth that lifting heavy weights will give you bulky muscles. Who started this myth anyway?

You have two options for making your muscles look more defined: make the muscles bigger or reduce the layer of fat covering them. The best option would be a combination of both. The most recent research suggests whatever combination of weights and repetitions you choose, you shouldn't be able to do even one more after you're finished. Aim to choose a weight that gets you to the point of failure after 8 to 10 reps. You'll need a tracking sheet to keep track of the weight and reps you do so you know which weight to choose the next time you do the workout. After you figure out each weight for each particular exercise - guess what? You're going to increase slowly over time to keep that muscle gain going! And you know what else? You're going to keep lifting every few days to keep the muscle maintained. Avoid breaks more than a few weeks at a time to avoid muscle loss.


Okay great, I'm going to head to the weight machines at my gym! The weight machines may feel safe - the gym rats don't touch them and they seem pretty easy to understand. Since it's a machine it must be great at targeting the exact muscle I'm trying to work. Right?

Well yes, technically that's right - the weight machines are great at targeting one muscle. But that's also what makes them inefficient and hindering your fitness! They take stabilization out of the equation. You do not use your core or any other muscle when you're using a weight machine. Therefore the weight machines are not beneficial for functional muscle development. And what is really the point if we're not building functional muscles? To build muscles that are better for real life movement try adding instability to your exercises. You can achieve this by standing on a BOSU or standing on one leg.

To take the guess work out I would highly recommend Tony Horton's workout programs P90X and P90X3, both of which I've personally completed or the new 22 Minute Hard Corps. They give you a balance of muscle training (both instability like balancing on one leg and stability like standing normally), high intensity and low intensity cardio like yoga, while taking the guess work out of how many reps to do and how heavy to lift. These high quality programs  are based on the latest fitness science. They even give you a meal plan to give you the energy you need for your workouts and the nutrition to get the best muscle gain possible. There's a reason these programs are so successful work guys.  Even if you can't do a single push up or pull up you can still do these programs! They are not just for jacked men. They are, however, considered advanced workouts. This means you should know basic fitness knowledge like the difference between a lunge and a squat.

If you don't know this basic stuff then start with Autumn Calabrese's program 21 Day Fix which is a similar balance of cardio and strength training but will be based on more simple moves. It also has a more robust meal plan and portion containers.

Much of the information for this article came from the book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Workout myths, Training truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex Hutchinson. It's a must-read for anyone fascinated by the science of fitness or curious about common fitness questions.