Many women have concerns that if they do weight training they may build muscle, when in fact what they want is to lose weight and maintain lean long muscles. They just want to tone up, not bulk up.
Luckily for us women (or unlucky for you if you actually do want to bulk up), our hormones just don’t generally allow for us to rapidly grow muscle like men, but of course if this is still a concern for you, there are some measures that you can take to make sure you get to your goal of trimming down and toning up.
Choose lighter weights and do higher repetitions
Rather that doing say, one set of ten repetitions at a heavier weight where you reach exhaustion of that muscle group on number ten, choose to do three sets of ten to twelve repetitions at a lighter weight, where you reach the point of exhaustion (i.e. you can’t do any more) on the very last rep of the third set.
Do body weight exercises
It’s practically impossible to bulk up if the resistance you are working against is your own body weight, which is why exercises such as yoga, pilates, dancing, callisthenics, or tai chi are great ways to get a full body workout as well as promote lean muscle.
Follow your healthy eating plan
Apart from resistance exercise, the other essential component of muscle hypertrophy (bulking up) is taking in an increased amount of calories in the form of protein and carbohydrate, which your body uses as building blocks to grow muscle. If you start exercising and keep to your set healthy eating plan, not taking in extra calories, it’s pretty much impossible to bulk up.
Exercise can make you feel hungrier, so prepare for this by timing a light snack containing lean protein and low GI carbohydrate in the hour before or after exercise, depending on which works best for your body, making sure you don’t skip meals before or after, and having a set healthy meal for the hours after a workout when you are hungriest and may feel tempted to go high sugar/high fat/ high calorie based on physical cravings.
Understand what it means to tone up
Toning up is a combination of losing body fat, and maintaining or slightly increasing muscle mass. The reason why we want to maintain the muscle that we have is that having a good amount of muscle will not only help you with movement, balance, and strength to perform everyday tasks, but it also contributes to you having a higher metabolism, even at rest.
Muscle also weighs more than body fat, so measuring centimetres rather than relying on the scales is the most accurate way to measure your progress. Say you have two women who weight 80kg, yet one appears slimmer… This comes down to a difference in muscle to body fat ratio. Higher muscle, less body fat vs. lower muscle and higher body fat. And you can bet that the woman with higher muscle probably eats more than the woman with higher body fat to maintain the same weight.
How often should I do weights?
Now that we have established that resistance exercise is something you want to include in your week, not avoid, lets get down to the nitty gritty.
Ideally you want to leave a 48 hour gap in between resistance exercise sessions, unless you are using very light weights and your workout resembles cardio more than weights training. If you do choose to do weights every day, just choose different muscle groups on the alternating days, e.g. arms, chest, back one day, legs and glutes the next day and so on.
You will probably experience something called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you are not used to exercising. This is a little uncomfortable but using heat packs, deep heat rubs, massage, warm baths, and stretching can help with the discomfort until it passes. Making sure you warm up really well at your next workout will help with discomfort while you exercise. DOMS will get less and less as your fitness improves.
I’m not really sure how to do weights training…
If you haven’t trained with weights before, it may help to watch instructional videos on YouTube, or book in a PT session or two so that they can write you a program and instruct you on technique until you get the hang of things.
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