I Just Want to “Tone Up”

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When I recommend lifting heavy to women, I usually get the following responses:
“I don’t want to be bulky”
“I don’t want to look manly”
“I just want to tone up”
“I think I just need to do cardio”
As a female trainer that grew up around heavy weightlifters, responses like this can be very frustrating.  I am unsure how these ideas got so embedded into women’s heads (although I’m pretty sure it has something to do with all the women’s magazines pushing them).  There are a few reasons why each of these responses don’t hold much validity:

1. “I don’t want to be bulky”:

Women do not have the ability to gain huge amounts of muscle naturally due to our hormonal make up.  Yes, there are women that can put on muscle a lot easier than others (I am one of them), but it still takes time, consistency and eating a lot of food to build muscle.  You don’t just wake up one morning and you look like the Hulk.  The overly muscular women that people see in bodybuilding shows get like that on purpose.  Their training, diet and supplement regime is executed in such a way to allow this to happen, so again, it can’t happen on accident.  Now, a lot of women will complain when they first start to lift that their weight goes up and they start to panic.  This is temporary and happens for the following reasons:
-When you workout, you essentially tear down your muscles.  If your body isn’t used to this, a high inflammation response will happen, and bring more fluid to the area in order to help heal.  This will go away after a few weeks once our body gets used to lifting. However, the scale will should a higher number for a few weeks.
-The need for higher energy stores. Your muscles store glycogen in your muscles to use as energy. When starting a workout, your muscles realize the need to store more glycogen due to the increase in activity, and will increase the amount it holds, which also comes with some additional water. This too is temporary and will disappear after a few weeks.

2. “I don’t want to look manly” 

This one always gets me.  Are there some women out there that take things to the extreme and look manly, yes.  Is that from lifting weights, no.  Its from injecting male hormones into their bodies to allow them to put on excessive muscle.  Unfortunately, when male hormones are taken, muscles aren’t the only side effects-face structure changes, body structure changes (hips get smaller, shoulders and back get broader), etc.  This is not to put down those that chose to do that.  More power to them for finding their passion and going all in.  I just want women to understand that looking like that doesn’t just easily happen.  Those women are putting in an extraordinarily amount of hard work, taking specific supplements and eating a TON!  The thought that a woman that is a recreational lifter that does not take hormones can come close to looking like them is just not possible.
Used properly, lifting can actually enhance your femininity by building up your curves.  You can use it to sculpt your arms, build your butt, and give you killer legs.  What is womanlier than that?

3. “I just want to tone up”

This one always confuses me.  I have yet to find a proper definition of “toning up”.  I think when people use it, they mean they want to lose fat and achieve some definition.  News flash ladies, if there is no muscle there to define, you are on your way to being “skinny fat” (this is where your arms are small, but they jiggle when you wave-no bueno).  It seems like there is a wide spread belief that the best way to “tone up” is to do a few sets of body weight or super lightweight exercises.  For those that are beginners, this will work for a short period of time.  In order for a muscle to grow, it needs to be challenged and broken down.  It then recovers and grows back a little stronger.  So as you progress, it will take heavier weight to break it down.  It won’t take long for the body to get used to body weight or lightweight exercises.  It will get to a point where the body weight exercises no longer build, they are just burning calories, similar to what cardio does.  If you aspire to build a good sized, lifted booty, those body weight squats just won’t cut it.  The goal is to lift heavy, get your muscles to the size that you want, and then maintain. 

4. “I think I just need to do a lot of cardio”  

Have you ever looked around a gym and noticed that women tend to fill the cardio machines, while guys are usually in the weight room?  Have you also noticed that men end to be leaner than women?  Yes, their hormonal make up largely comes into play here, but some of the reason is due to them lifting more.  Again, not sure when and why this was drilled into women’s heads that the best way to lose fat is cardio, but the reality is that it has been.  It cannot be more incorrect.  The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be.  This also works the other way, the less you have, the slower your metabolism is.  Weight lifting is anabolic (it builds muscles), cardio is catabolic (it eats away muscle-especially long sessions of steady state cardio).  Weight lifting also increases our fabulous fat burning and anti-aging hormone: GH (growth hormone).  This stays elevated long after we walk out of the gym.  Cardio, not so much.  Excessive cardio can increase stress hormones and tax adrenals, which leads to weight gain.  Depending on the cardio, excessive amounts can also program the body to hold fat in certain areas.  The body is smart and if it notices you doing something over and over again and demanding energy from a certain area, it will keep energy (fat) in that area of the body in preparation.  An example of this is bike riding.  Those that live on the bike can find their legs starting to hold on to more fat compared to the rest of their body because primarily the legs are used while bike riding.  With all this said, I am not saying cardio is bad and it should not be utilized.  I am saying that it should never be the only component to a fitness program, and never used in excessive amounts.  Instead, there should be a good balance of weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise.
I hope all the information above starts to debunk the myths of weight lifting that most women are led to believe.  It is a great tool to build the strong, feminine bodies that we all strive for.  So when planning your workouts, don’t forget to hit the weights! 

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