02 Sep 2016

The Truth About Weights and Toning for Women

Fitness and workout advice

Ladies, if you’re looking to get tight, toned muscles and a well-sculpted physique, it’s likely you’ll have to part ways with the treadmill and head to the weights room.

Lift up the weights and taut, toned muscle will appear right before your very eyes. OK, maybe it’s not that simple. So, how much should you lift to get toned?

Fewer Reps and Greater Weight

When it comes to toning, many women desire lean muscle definition. This results from undertaking a combination of weight-lifting and fat-burning exercises.

The key for women to get leaner, more defined muscles is to complete fewer repetitions and focus on strength training workouts. Lower repetitions increase tension in muscles, which will further increase muscle tone.

However, doing lower repetitions doesn’t mean skimping on the amount of weight you’re lifting. Despite the myth, heavy weights won’t bulk you up, so don’t be afraid to push yourself a little bit further when it comes to how much weight you’re picking up. We promise you won’t turn into a bodybuilder.

Cardio vs Strength Training

Aerobic activity or ‘cardio’ strengthens the cardiovascular system through vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels), vasoconstriction (the constriction of blood vessels), and the heart during exercise. Aerobic Activity increases cardiovascular health, however burns less calories during the active phase and post-exercise than anaerobic activity. As less loading and intensity of exercise takes place during conventional Aerobic activity vs Anaerobic, less muscle is built post exercise during the recovery phase and less oxygen consumed as a result. This is called ‘EPOC’ or ‘Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption’ and when combined with the energy used to repair muscle, is the determining factor for how many calories your metabolism burns at rest. As Aerobic activity has a lessor EPOC response and muscle repair then heavier loaded exercise, Aerobics impact on the ‘metabolic rate’ - which is your bodies’ internal furnace that burns fuel at rest - is generally lowered. Fuel is calories and calories are weight.

Anaerobic activity places a greater load on the muscle, ligament and tendon structures, resulting in a greater activation of muscle fibres and development of bone. This forces the fibres to either grow in size due to liquid volume being pressed into the muscle during repetitive contraction (hypertrophy) or the growth of more cells within the muscle fibres post-exercise, creating a denser, harder and stronger muscle (Hyperplasia).  This is achieved through increased loads or ‘strength’ training where the interval or time of training is less but the load or intensity is more. As a result, more muscle activation occurs and greater post-exercise oxygen consumption takes place due to an increased need for muscle repair. A greater EPOC response will result in a higher amount of calories burnt at rest.

Remember the majority of calories you burn aren’t in the gym but at home during rest, so be wary of what you eat prior to exercise for energy and post-exercise to support muscle growth and the burning of fuel.

Find out how you can perfect your gym routine with our five tips!

Hormones and Heavy Lifting

Due to differing hormones in the body, males (thanks to testosterone) naturally build more muscle than women. Women (thanks to oestrogen) do not add bulk to their bodies in the same way as men.

The reason you don’t add that much size to your biceps by lifting heavier weights (for less reps) is all down to myofibrillar hypertrophy and hyperplasia.

Hypertrophy is the enlargement of cells, better for bodybuilding as it helps to increase muscle size. When you are completing sets with higher rep counts (12-15 reps), your body will induce hypertrophy.

Hyperplasia, on the other hand, increases the number of cells, which in turn increases muscle fibres and strength but avoids muscle bulk. When you are completing sets with lower rep counts (4-6 reps), your body will induce hyperplasia.

Try to incorporate four to five exercises that target the target the muscles you want to tone (e.g. arms, back or legs), and perform one set of each exercise twice a week. When you start to feel less challenged with the amount of weight you’re lifting, increase your weights by 5 – 10%. This is called ‘overloading’ and is key to strengthening muscle.

Make sure the weight you’re starting out with isn’t too light or heavy – you should feel challenged by the last two repetitions of each set, but still be able to complete them.

In general, try to stick to the principle of FIVE sets of SIX repetitions.

Training Frequency

As with any exercise regime, you can’t expect instant results. In order to build lean muscle, you need to lift on a regular basis. For a beginner, two to three times a week is a great start – intermediates should aim for three to four times, and for advanced individuals, four to six times a week. If you are lifting this regularly it is important you alternate your muscle groups to allow for sufficient recovery time. Typically with strength training you are looking at 48 to 72 hours per isolated muscle group. Alternatively, you can do an upper and lower split.

If you’re just starting out, try a routine like lifting Mondays and Thursdays, or Tuesdays and Friday. This means giving your muscles a well-deserved rest between sessions, which you can fill with cardio workouts to get your heart pumping.

The Lifting Lifestyle

Finally, you can push on at the gym for as long as you like and spin on the elliptical as fast as you can, but if you’re fuelling your body with the wrong stuff, then you’re wasting your time. Real results come from a healthy and active lifestyle – and you need the best of both worlds.

Now that you are strengthening your cardiovascular system via aerobic activity and building denser muscle through strength training, it is important you follow up with a clean, corrective nutrition plan. This plan should allow the body to grow more muscle with protein, gain sufficient energy from fats and carbohydrates and still shed excess weight. This will allow your newly defined muscles to show their shape.

Interested in providing fitness training as a qualified Personal Trainer? Our Complete Personal Training Course or the Certificate III in Fitness course would be perfect for you! Enquire now to speak to one of our Careers Advisors for more information!

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