How can I tone up and lose weight?

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Answered by: Charlie, An Expert in the Weight Loss - General Category
In my medical practice, my female patients often ask me how to tone up and lose weight. “Toning” is a very common term in the context of fitness.  I have always been fascinated when I hear, or get to participate in, a conversation about it.  When I ask what they are talking about, I invariably hear that they want “tone up” the body, or in other words, lose body fat and get more defined.  That’s fantastic.  I think that’s a great goal for most people.  The problem with the myth lies in how to achieve that look.  What I’m about to say is not new.  It’s been around for as long as the toning myth has existed.  But the fact that people still buy into it means that I am still going to write about it.

What is the “Toning” myth?  Basically, it says that sets of high repetitions coupled with light weights are the best way to improve a physique.  A common thought from women is that lifting heavy weights will make them “bulky,” or masculine.  Many men, too, do not want to be “big, just defined.”  This theory of toning seems to maintain that heavy weights and lower repetitions are not only not good, but bad. Especially for women, whom it seems will become the hulk overnight if they lift too much.

The perpetuation of this myth has without a doubt hurt the efforts of many exercisers in their goal pursuing.  Here is the deal:  There is no such thing as toning.  Muscles can either get bigger, smaller, or stay the same size.  If they do more work than they are accustomed to, they get bigger.  If they do less, they get smaller.  If they do the same, they stay the same.  It’s not complicated.  Lifting light weights may cause some positive changes in the beginning, but they will soon stop, as once the muscle is accustomed to the work, it has no reason to grow.  A lot of you are saying, “I don’t want it to grow, I just want it to get defined.”  I am saying back, “You have to make a muscle grow to get it ‘defined.’”  Muscles simply cannot get “defined.”  I guess it’s tough to grasp how slowly the body works, and what five pounds of muscle, which is a lot, actually looks like. 

Let’s look at an overweight woman with average genetics, meaning she has average muscle mass, and ability to respond to exercise.  Lack of activity has caused her to gain 30 pounds   She decides to start a physique revolution. At the start, she wears a size ___ dress.  She takes up a weight training and cardiovascular exercise program.  She trains consistently 4-5 days-per-week, and three times per week, she engages in 20 minutes of extremely intense resistance training (reps 15-20) employing a variety of bodybuilding principles.  She works out with the focused intensity of a bodybuilder, directing all force to the target muscle.  She fills in her exercise time with cardiovascular exercise. 

Since this woman has average genetics and is working out incredibly hard, let’s say she puts on 8 pounds of muscle in two years.  That’s a lot of muscle weight for a woman, whose low testosterone levels make it very hard to increase muscle size appreciably. Additionally, muscle is more dense than fat, so replacing fat with and equal amount of muscle will actually make you smaller, not bigger.

If all this seems like overkill, it probably is, but I still can’t stress enough that you need to lift hard. The harder you lift, the faster your progress and the sooner you will achieve your ideal physique. In other words, you will "tone up and lose weight."  It is the key to changing your body.   Follow your routine.  Do the cardio. And before you know it, you’ll be inside the body of your dreams.

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