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Women More On How To Tone And Not Get Bulky With Weight Training

I recently did an interview with a writer who was putting together a story on popular fitness myths. One of the subjects we discussed was the assertion that a particular form of exercise could deliver you with “long and lean” muscles. Talk about a marketing ploy if there ever was one!

Women who fear that weight training will give them “big and bulky” muscles are drawn to the idea that if they use <fill in the blank> form of exercise they’ll develop the slender look of a ballet dancer.

Hee…hee, ok come on now.

More after the jump….

Let me cut right to the chase with this “long and lean” nonsense so we can get into the truth behind how to tone up and NOT bulk up.

The premise that ANY form of exercise would create long and lean muscles is laughable to me. In fact, anyone with even a basic understanding of human anatomy will pick up on an important point that dismisses this entire assertion.

The muscles in the arms and legs are connected to the joints with connective tissue. The muscles in your arm for example are connected to your elbow joint at one end and the shoulder complex at the other.

The LENGTH of the bone between those two joints determines the length of the attached muscles. Unless you plan on stretching out the distance between those two joints and lengthening the bones somehow, how in the world are the muscle going to get any “longer?”

Bottom line is you’ve got short or long muscles thanks to whatever your momma and daddy gave you! If you’re 5’0″ tall it doesn’t matter how much Pilates or whatever you do, you’re not going to get “long” and slender legs.

Can you get “lean” by toning the lean muscle in your legs and removing the excess body fat that makes the area look bigger? You betcha ya. But obviously to a degree the shape of your physique has already been determined by genetics.

Embrace the body type that you have whether short or tall. Of course the tall girl with long, lean thigh muscles wishes she had the shorter girl’s rounder booty and vice-versa. Same old story.

I think the most important word we need to define here is “lean.”

What does it mean to have a “lean” physique? Well I guess it depends on who you ask. The concept of lean is one where there’s little body fat. But this could be skinny or it could be lean and muscular.

You want to get lean? Hey I’ve seen lots of women who were “lean” from black coffee and cigarettes, but I’m not sure that’s the look you’re going for.

There are obviously varying degrees of muscularity but let’s be clear on something….

You tone muscle NOT fat.

If you want to get lean AND have a toned, firm look you’re going to have to do resistance training in some way. That’s rule #1.

The type of resistance training won’t determine whether or not you get “big and bulky” muscles (total myth), but rather how heavy the resistance is and the total number of calories consumed.

Any type of resistance will do whether it comes from bands, cable machines, free weights, kettlebells, TRX suspension straps, or your own body weight.

Ladies, you just have to pick SOME form of resistance training and be willing to put forth vigorous effort. Bottom line is you don’t tone up on the treadmill or stair climber.

Let’s not fall for the placard on some cardio equipment that makes you believe you’ll be toning your butt or a certain part of legs depending on the incline, etc.

Yeah, ok sure maybe it’s recruiting those particular muscles more with the movement, but without significant external resistance don’t expect to see much of a change in muscle definition.

Here’s what I’ve found works best for women who want a toned and lean physique WITHOUT getting big and bulky muscles…

By working out with fast paced circuits using burst training principals (short bursts of high intensity effort) the body will undergo metabolic disturbances which help to tone muscles and burn fat simultaneously.

By varying the repetitions, rest periods, exercises performed, and other variables, one could continue to develop or maintain a lean physique without reaching a plateau.

There’s another common misconception that the best way to tone is to exclusively use light weights and higher repetitions.

Let me tell you what this results in…one word….ADAPTATION.

The human body will adapt to any given workload over time so doing the same 3 sets of 15 reps with light weights after a while will become easy, and when it becomes easy, there will be no body composition change.

Don’t get overly caught up in this idea of always having to be doing high reps with light weights. When “light” becomes “easy” you’re pretty much wasting your time.

(Don’t be the girl bicep curling 3lb dumbbells! Those are for grandma or someone doing rehab).

How could a woman actually get “big and bulky” muscles…

Adding muscular bulk or mass density is the result of repeated bouts of heavy lifting with weights (3-8 rep range) in combination with a positive caloric balance. In short, you have to regularly lift heavy weights and eat a lot of calories. Two things that most women wouldn’t do anyways.

Don’t be afraid of using “heavier” weights (relative term) on occasion if you’re doing weight training for resistance work. This is simply an adjustment in the workout variables to provide a different overload stimulus. You’ve got to be regularly changing things up so the muscles to adapt to what you’re doing.

The difference is you’re not using very heavy loads frequently and hitting the all you can eat buffet when you’re done.

The difference of burst training, especially for middle age women, who want to get lean and toned…

Burst training style workouts are ideal for getting lean and toned as the high intensity and high cardio demands of these fast paced workouts requires the resistance or weight not to be overly heavy. There’s simply not enough rest time between movements for these workouts to be conducive for “mass building.”

In my experience burst training workouts provides the best results in minimal time for a lean, toned, physique in women without getting them bulky.

Traditional weight training workouts a woman might complete in a gym or health club done with a minute or more rest between sets tends to result in “low intensity” effort  since light weights are frequently used. Hence they don’t see much in the way of change.

And don’t get me wrong, you can get a lean and toned physique by doing things like Pilates or yoga and following a clean diet if you’ll work hard and be consistent. Not knocking any form of resistance work, my only beef is when misleading claims are thrown out there about how you”ll get “long” and lean muscles.

My preference with burst training simply comes from the ability to work on lean muscle and get fat burning cardio all from one 30 minute workout. From a “time” perspective (when you don’t have a lot of it to exercise) these workouts can’t be beat.

Just don’t be afraid to pick up the weights and push yourself hard with basic “old school” exercises like squats, rows, presses, etc. You won’t get big and bulky muscles.

(barbell squats…they’re just not for bodybuilders and athletes)

Remember, variety is the spice of life and it’s also a very beneficial variable with fitness training.

I recommend to a lot of my Charleston personal training clients that they mix things up. Two or three days of burst training then add in whatever activities they enjoy on the other days. Maybe it’s Zumba, or Pilates, yoga, swimming, or whatever.

Regardless of the resistance type used during workouts where you’re focusing on toning the muscle, hard work and pushing yourself with focused effort is always key.

How many repetitions should I be doing?

I get this question a lot and in general for women who want to tone and firm, I typically vary the loads for intensity (to make it harder) but tend to keep the repetitions in the 8-20 range.

Doesn’t mean that I won’t drop down to the 4-6 rep range on occasion to provide an overload stimulus with a heavier load, but the norm is the higher rep ranges with weights that challenge the exerciser. Remember if the weight is so light it’s easy, it’s not doing much.

Another method I’ve found much success with is doing as many repetitions as possible in a set time period.

A lot of my burst training circuits are done with exercises being completed with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds rest. They’re what I refer to as “30-30′s” in burst training workout program design.

Ok, more on different variations on another day. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from this post and you’ve found it helpful.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fitness Training.