The Myth of Toning Workouts

Many women are misled into believing that performing many repetitions of dumbbell or resistance band exercises can help “tone” muscles in specific areas. This is patently false.

First, the “wobbly” or “flabby” areas of your body (under your arms, around your stomach or on your thighs) aren’t sagging muscle. Those are fat deposits you need to remove with cardio exercise, not strength training. And you can’t spot-burn fat, making this process even more difficult if you try a traditional “toning” workout.

Muscle tone refers to the state of your muscle during a contraction. It doesn’t mean a leaner, longer muscle. And by the way, you can’t permanently lengthen a muscle—if you could, you wouldn’t be able to walk or move your arms because your muscles wouldn’t properly connect to your bones!

So, let’s say you want to target your triceps and biceps, or the areas on your upper arms most women dread to poke and shake. Performing hundreds of repeitions of light dumbbell exercises won’t “tigthen” those muscles. Your best bet is to peform whole-body cardio exercise and target your upper arms using your weights or bands with more resistance and fewer reps.

How Many Reps and How Much Weight?

If you’re looking for a leaner, sexier shape, you’ll need to build muscle in specific areas. You’ll have to use enough weight or resistance to slightly damage your muscles (“feel the burn”) each exercise. During the next 48 hours, your muscles will repair themselves, growing larger. Don’t worry about bulking up, that’s almost impossible for most women to do based on your lack of testosterone. If you ever do get concerned about the size of your muscles, just stop lifting weights!

Use enough weight or resistance so that you can’t perform slow reps for more than 90 seconds without having to stop. If you can perform reps for minutes on end without fatiguing to failure, you’re not using enough weight or your resistance bands aren’t wrapped tight enough to cause enough muscle damage to help them rebuild.

Use Slow Reps

Perform your repetitions slowly to prevent gravity from dropping your weights or resistance bands downward and to prevent momentum from helping you bounce the dumbbell back upward after you lower it each time. The key to building muscle is to use muscular effort each time you lift and lower a weight or move your arm or leg against a resistance band. If you’re using weights during a cardio workout, you can perform quick reps, since your goal isn’t muscle building and you don’t want to fatigue to failure, but for muscle building, slow reps is the way to go.

Bottom Line?

If you want to improve your shape, combine targeted resistance exercises with full-body aerobic workouts. Start with 10 to 15 minutes of resistance training first. This will help deplete glycogen stores so you’ll burn fat more efficiently when you start the cardio portion of your workouts. Try a rowing machine instead of an elliptical, stair stepper, treadmill or exercise bike if you have that option.