How To Tone Without The Bulk

How to Tone-Up Without the Bulk!

December 15th, 2015 by Liz

How to Tone-Up Without the Bulk!

Tone Without the Bulk

Tone-Up Without the Bulk

Many of our female clients want to know how to tone and firm without the bulk.  If this sounds like you, you are not alone! In fact this may be one of the most common questions personal trainers get asked.  Unfortunately it's also a question with a complex answer, and with that comes a lot of overly simplified or just plain wrong information.

First, what does it really mean when we say "tone"?  When we think of what toned muscles should look like we imagine them as sleek, and firm. To achieve this look we're not actually toning but strengthening and (sorry ladies) increasing the size of our muscles. Our muscles don't really go from soft to firm, they become larger and denser. As muscles grow they feel firm because of the increase in muscle tissue and the decrease in fat. Understand that it is entirely possible to get stronger without getting bigger, it all just depends on how strong you want to get.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about genetics. It's important to understand how big of a role genetics have when it comes to muscle and size.  We have to have the right hormones to grow large muscles (and a very small percentage of women have them), but also our unique ratio of Type I and Type II muscle types absolutely set our potential for muscle mass.

Each of us is born with a pre-determined ratio of smaller slow-twitch, type I (endurance) to larger fast-twitch, type II (power) muscle fibers. We can strengthen the muscles we have within each type, but as far as we know we cannot change our fiber type ratios with any amount of training. This explains why two people on the same diet, and same training program can look drastically different, and why athletes really EXCELL at sports suited to their body types.  So, those with mostly slow-twitch fibers will never get very big, and those with mostly fast-twitch fibers have potential to put on a lot of muscle mass.

We've talked about genetics, now let's discus how training impacts our muscular composition, and for our purposes in this article how to train to minimize muscle mass. Please understand that I highly encourage women, especially those trying to lose weight, to lift heavy enough to increase strength and build muscle because this is the quickest, most effective way to shed fat.  However, if you are putting on more size than you'd like, you can limit muscle mass by lifting lighter weights at higher reps, with very little rest. Also, utilize your type I fibers by incorporating plenty of aerobic training in your sessions. Try doing bouts of aerobic training between strength sets to allow muscle a quick recovery with minimal rest.  Also, limit isometric moves (like holding a wall sit) and focus on exercises that take you through a full range of motion.

Keep in mind you shouldn't need as many rest days as you would with heavier strength training, or as many daily calories. It does take longer to shed fat training this way, and your strength will be limited, but you will be strong enough to see tone and definition plus you'll improve your muscular endurance and heart health.

Really, how you train all depends on what your personal fitness goals are and what YOU need to be happy in your body.

In Strength,

Liz Saywer, NASM, CPT, FNS


References for more thorough reading:

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