If I had a dollar for every time a woman said to me that they would like to tone up just one area of their bodies, eg. their tummies or thighs, I could be a very rich woman. Add to that the times I have heard women say that 'they are afraid to lift weights and don’t want to get muscly and look like a man' and I could be a millionaire. Well, not quite, but you get the picture.
Let’s clarify a few things
- Firstly, you can’t tone fat; you tone muscle. When you lose the fat, you can see the muscle under the skin and that is what gives you a ‘toned’ look.
- It is impossible to ‘spot’ reduce fat from one area of your body. When you lose fat, you lose it all over and, depending on your genetic makeup, you will find that some areas are harder to lose it from than others. Typically in women this is their stomach, thighs and arms.
- You can do crunches until the cows come home but it won’t reduce the fat around your tummy and tone it. You cannot tone up one area by just exercising it.
- It is extremely hard to build muscle – even for a man. You need testosterone to make great gains in muscle mass and women have about ten times less testosterone than men. You also need to eat like a horse because a calorie surplus is needed to gain muscle mass. It is safe to say that muscle gain is much harder than fat loss for most people – male or female.
I’m always very honest with my clients and I tell them right from the start that eating well + exercise = achieving their goals. There are no fad diets or TV informercial gadgets that are going to replace the hard work you need to put in to get the body and level of fitness you want - it takes three things:
- An increase in muscle mass;
- An increase in aerobic exercise; and
- A change in diet.
1. Increased Muscle Mass
To achieve a toned body, a person needs to build muscle. When you do resistance training (exercising with weights and/or body weight) your muscles tear and when they are recovering they repair and grow bigger. When you are sore after an exercise session this is the sign that your muscles are in the recovery stage.
Compound exercises give you the maximum benefit as they use more than one muscle group, unlike machine based exercises in a gym which isolate one particular muscle. You get more for your money with compound movements, eg. squats, lunges and shoulder presses. Adding weight to these increases the resistance.
2. Aerobic Exercise
To lose body fat you will also need to increase your aerobic exercise, ie. cardiovascular training. This needn’t be running on a treadmill - it could be taking a brisk walk in the bush, playing tennis, or swimming. Whatever floats your boat. If you can enjoy, and look forward to your exercise programme, you are far more likely to stick with it for the long term.
3. Change your Diet
A sound diet is just as important as exercise – if not more so. You may have heard the old adage: “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym”. You just cannot exercise off a poor diet. Think of changing the way you eat as a change in your lifestyle, not a ‘diet’. Diets don’t work. Clean eating does.
If you go on a ‘diet’ and significantly reduce your calorie intake and/or the frequency of your meals your body will go into starvation mode and hold onto your fat reserves for energy. To combat this, eating at regular intervals throughout the day, ie. 5-6 times and having smaller portions when you do eat is the way to keep your metabolism fired up and burning.
Up your intake of vegetables, increase water consumption and remember to eat a source of protein at every meal to keep you full (eggs, whey/pea protein powder for shakes, quinoa, chicken, cottage cheese, etc.).
Each of the above pieces of information need to be taken into consideration for you to reach your goal of a toned body. They work hand in hand and need to be seen as a whole.
If you can follow these three things you will not only feel fabulous but you’ll look it too – and absolutely no-one will mistake you for Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Until next time...
Bev's other blogs
Lifestyle and career change at 49
Starting an Exercise Programme
Eating heathy - moderation not deprivation
Women and body fat
Bev Short is a qualified Personal Trainer, Gorgeous Me photographer and a mum to two teenage daughters.