To become stronger and appear more toned, you’ll need to target several different muscle groups within your body. These are the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, back, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps and core. However, first you’ll need a good understanding of how your muscles work and what ‘toning up’ actually means.
The toning myth
The idea of ‘toning’ your muscles is actually something of a myth. It’s not possible to have ‘untoned’ muscles, and the appearance of being ‘untoned’ actually comes from having small, under-developed muscles buried under too many layers of subcutaneous fat. That highly sought-after firm-muscled look actually comes from losing body fat and building muscle definition to give you a leaner look, rather than firming up the muscles themselves.
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So, looking toned is a two-pronged approach which involves losing excess fat whilst building up muscle. It’s impossible to achieve a toned body if you aren’t eating well. So, in the first instance, you need to ensure your diet is healthy and balanced. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains and avoid sugar, fizzy drinks and processed foods.
Although part of toning up is fat loss, don’t be tempted to crash diet to reduce body fat. Remember, rapid weight loss causes loss of muscle mass, can slow your metabolism and will leave you weaker. This is a long-term commitment to improving your strength and overall body appearance, not a quick fix.
Strength and resistance training
This is where a good training routine comes in.
In strength and resistance training, you use weights to build muscle tissue, boost your resting metabolism and give your body a lean, defined look. For a muscle to grow, it needs to have stress put on it, which is why resistance and weights are needed to make your muscles work harder than they would during cardio, for example.1
To a novice, the idea of weight training might sound a little intimidating, but it’s not the same as bulking up in a muscle gym (unless that’s what your goals are). Strength and resistance training is suitable for almost everybody and as well as making you look your best, it makes you stronger with a solid core and enhanced balance and coordination too.2
The best approach to strength and resistance training is by combining both compound exercises and isolation exercises.
Isolation exercises work one main muscle at a time. An example of an isolation exercise is a bicep curl, or a leg curl. Lots of people only do isolation exercises because they see it as a fast route to getting bigger muscles in one area. However, isolation exercises alone do little for your overall strength and won’t make you look toned. People who only perform isolation exercises can become frustrated that they’re not seeing the results they want even after putting hours in at the gym.
Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups and are excellent for overall strength and core stability. Examples include bench presses, deadlifts, pullups and squats. The advantage of compound exercises is that they train several muscles at once and you can get a full-body workout that mimics the type of movements the body is naturally designed to do, such as lifting, pushing and reaching. Compound exercises target different muscle groups in one workout, which can help prevent injuries often sustained through over-working one particular muscle.
A combination of isolation and compound exercises is best for increased strength and the optimum appearance of muscle tone. This approach allows you to build general strength whilst keeping muscle growth balanced. Unless you have a specific area of weakness, look at doing 70% compound exercises to define your whole body, and 30% isolation exercises on the areas you want to build muscle most.
Remember- it should be challenging! If the body isn’t working hard enough, you won’t build the defined muscles you’re looking for. If your muscles aren’t aching when you are reaching the end of your reps, you should increase the resistance by adding more weight.
Although it’s fine to start small if you’re a beginner, aim to work towards training 3-4 times per week on alternate days to give your muscles time to rest.
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There are many books, websites and apps which offer often free advice for those new to strength and resistance training.
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1. [Online] https://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/exercise/resistance-training.htm.
2. [Online] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/why-lifting-is-the-new-running-for-the-over-40s/