Two very common physical goals, especially in women, are toning up and losing weight. They’re often the top of people’s agenda when they look to start exercising more. Because who doesn’t want to feel and look a little fitter.
And whilst neither of those goals are directly to do with fitness, they are an aesthetic impact that happens to the body when it adapts to changes brought on by exercise. Not to mention a change in diet too.
So, how can these two things be achieved at the same time? And what’s the best way to go about it if you can only get to the gym every few days.
Let’s start with toning up
A phrase used so often, that it’s kind of lost all meaning. Wanting to ‘tone up’ is a goal lots of people aim to achieve. It’s very generic. It doesn’t really relate to any sort of specific fitness goal, but it means so much to people.
Toning up means the appearance of more defined muscles. And this can be achieved in two ways.
The first is by growing the muscle fibres themselves. Usually this is the type of muscle fibre that’s grown through endurance-based exercise. That involves lifting lighter weights for more repetitions. Think HIIT and circuit classes. Using lighter kettlebells and dumbbells to engage muscle groups over longer durations, rather than lifting really heavy barbells overhead.
Exercising in this way improves your muscular endurance meaning you’ll be able to do more for longer. It also results in the growth of a certain type of muscle fibre. You are unlikely to see huge changes in size and mass of your muscles, but it will contribute to a more toned and lean appearance.
The second way to see more of a definition in your muscles, is to lose the fat that surrounds them. Muscles are more visible when there is less body fat hiding them. The saying ‘abs are made in the kitchen’, away from being horrible phrase, describes how the rectus abdominus muscle group is always there in your stomach, but you’d need a very low percentage of body fat to reveal them. Our view is that there are many more important fitness goals than being able to see some lines on your tummy.
So, what about weight loss?
As we all know, weight-loss is the reduction in overall bodyweight, mainly through a loss of excess or stored fat that surrounds muscles. This is achieved through a calorie deficit, where the number of calories you burn is greater than the number of calories you eat over a sustained period of time. Basically, giving out more than you put in.
Gym-based exercise is a way of increasing the number of calories you burn. It’s a tool in a bigger box that will work towards weight-loss. The biggest tool is your diet. You can have a much bigger impact on the size of your daily calorie deficit by controlling how many calories you eat, rather than how many you burn in the gym. This number is usually not as many as people think.
Got it. Can I do both at the same time then?
You sure can. Working on your muscular endurance and maintaining a calorie deficit at the same time are going to double your efforts towards achieving a leaner and more toned appearance. You’ll be improving the condition of your muscles and reducing the amount of fat that surrounds them.
There can be a bit of confusion over this because sometimes the same question is asked over muscle mass growth and weight loss. It’s tricky to achieve large quantities of growth in muscle mass whilst losing body fat at the same time. That’s because your body needs large amounts of protein and other nutrients to help build and grow muscles, whilst weight loss needs you to reduce your overall calorie intake. Pretty hard to do these two things at the same time, which is why many weightlifters go through the bulking and cutting process. They bulk and eat more whilst building their muscle mass, then cut their calories afterwards to lose the excess body fat.
When wanting to tone up and lose weight, you don’t need to be as concerned about this. By training for muscular endurance and cutting back on the number of calories you’re consuming, you’ll be just fine to achieve a leaner and more toned appearance. You might even see improvements in your strength and cardiovascular fitness too.
Ok great. So, where should I start?
Let’s look at putting all that into practice. If you’re looking to lose some weight and look leaner, here’s where your efforts are best applied:
Increase the frequency of your exercise.
If you usually work out once per week, increase that to twice. Adding an extra day or two in the gym each week will do two things. It will mean you’re burning more energy throughout the week than you would normally, and it will require your muscles to adapt and improve in response to the increase in workload.
Take part in HIIT, circuit, or other low resistance training.
These sorts of activities engage your muscles across a range of full body exercises using lower weights for many repetitions. They will usually be dumbbell or kettlebell based to allow for quick transitions between exercises. Expect little rest time. This means you will also be working on your cardiovascular fitness too, which in turn will increase the amount of energy you’re burning. Double the benefits.
Go for full body.
If you’re limited on the amount of time you can spend in the gym and are looking to develop well rounded fitness, aiming for full body sessions is an efficient and effective use of your time.
Focus on reducing the number of calories you consume across the week.
It needs to be below the amount that your body needs to maintain its current weight in order to see a change. There are a lot of tactics you can use to achieve this, but the most important thing to focus on is that calorie deficit.