Everyone has an idea in their head when it comes to looking their fittest and healthiest. For some, it's fitting perfectly into a certain outfit, or walking on the beach in a bikini with total confidence. For others, it may mean seeing a defined midsection reflected in the mirror, or having strong, toned shoulders or legs. We all have our own goals for how we want to look and feel. Although your specific goals may be different from those of others, almost everyone wants to look and feel toned and fit.
But what does "toned" really mean? And is it different from "bulking" up? This article sets out to define just that—and to dispel some myths about toning, strengthening and bulking up.
When most people say that they want to "tone up," what they usually mean is that they want to become leaner. Basically, they want to lose fat, and add a little muscle definition—but not so much muscle mass that they look like a bodybuilder.
In the fitness world, there is no real definition for toning that is greatly recognized. Rather, toning is a term used to describe the end goal, which usually results from a combination of basic weight-lifting and fat-burning.
Typically, men want to "bulk up" and women usually wish to avoid building big, bulky muscles. Although there is no strict definition, "bulking up" means adding a lot of muscle mass to the body and possibly reducing one's body fat, too. Bulking up brings on images of bodybuilders and big football players—usually male and extremely muscular.
Toning, typically refers to women of a leaner shape, who have lower amounts of body fat and some visible muscle, but not large muscles.
But with Weight training and exercise there exists myths and preconceived notions that trigger hesitance when starting an exercise regimen. So lets discuss some myths exist within the exercise world.
Lifting light weights will tone your body and lifting heavy weights will bulk you up
While there is some truth to the idea that lifting lighter weights for more reps does a better job of increasing the muscular endurance, lighter weights will not help you "tone" better than heavy weights. In fact, because heavier weights build the strength of your muscles (and the size to a small degree), thereby helping to increase your metabolism and burn fat, lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (8 to 12 on average) and working until you're fatigued is more effective at helping you reach your toning goals than lifting lighter weights. Not to mention that it's more time efficient.
Building muscle and bulking up are one in the same
If you've been avoiding weights because you think that building muscle means that you'll bulk up, think again. When you lift weights that are challenging, you actually create micro-tears in the muscle fibers. These tears are then repaired by the body (it is believed that this is why soreness occurs) and in that process the muscle becomes stronger and a little larger. However, because muscle tissue is more dense than fat, adding a little bit more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat actually makes you look leaner—not bigger.
To really bulk up, you have to really work with that goal in mind. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights, along with eating a very strict diet that promotes muscle gain. The average person's workout and diet—especially a calorie-controlled diet—doesn’t' result in the same effects.
Lifting light weights won't help you get stronger
When it comes to lifting weights, the secret to really getting stronger isn't about how much weight you're lifting. Instead, it's all about working your muscle to fatigue where you literally cannot lift the weight for another repetition.
The August 2010 study from McMaster University that proved this found that even when subjects lifted lighter weights, they added as much muscle as those lifting heavy weights. However, the time it takes to reach fatigue with light weights is much longer than the time it takes to reach fatigue with heavier weights. So, if you're like most people and extra time is a luxury, it makes more sense to safely lift heavier weights and then go home.
Women and men should lift weights differently
It's pretty common to see women lift 3- to 5-pound dumbbells to do biceps curls while men pick up the 20-pounders to do the same exercise. Although men are genetically stronger than women, they aren't that much stronger. Second, most women tend to stick to the weight machines or basic leg-work that target the rear end and abs, while the guys at the gym are more likely to be seen working out with free weights or using barbells.
Obviously gender differences exist and everyone has different goals. But if you really want to lose weight and get lean—no matter if you call that toning or bulking—people of both genders should have a strength-training plan in place that works every major muscle in the body at least 8 to 12 times, using a weight that is heavy enough that the last two repetitions are darn hard to lift. Only then is the body challenged enough to change, grow and adapt, making you stronger and leaner no matter if you're male or female. Lifting this way, in combination with good nutritional habits and aerobic activity, aids greatly in weight loss programs.