We all want to have a lean physique. Not only for looks but also for health, but probably more for looks…I hear you, “I want to look lean and toned” is what most people say. Not necessarily muscular, just firm (mainly women say this) or ripped with a 6-pack (most men say this). And what do most people do when they go to the gym? They lift lighter weights to “tone” their muscles. Well, I have some good news and bad news for you.
Good news: You are in the right place. Hitting the gym and lifting weights is a great way to burn fat, get a cardio workout and achieve that lean look.
Bad news: By lifting light weights a lot of times you are not building the muscle you should be and won’t achieve that “toned” look.
How Your Muscles Look
Let’s take a step back a minute and think about our muscles. Everyone has the same muscles, some have larger than others and some have theirs covered in more fat than others. If you have really large muscles but a load of fat covering them you wouldn’t be able to see those muscles, no matter how large. On the flip side, if you have smaller muscles and very little fat you would look more muscular (more toned, if you like).
“What I’m saying is that you need to lose fat in order to expose your muscles and look toned.”
There are no two ways about it, you have to have low body fat to look toned. Fortunately, there are two great ways to do this.
Two Ways to Your Goal
There are two ways that you can achieve this more muscular and toned look, which are actually two ways to the same goal: FAT LOSS
1. Reduce fat – that’s right, the hardest way of all is to reduce fat by controlling your diet. You wouldn’t need to work out as much to look toned if you lost a lot of fat and had your body weight down to the low teens in percentage terms. But we all know how difficult it is to resist those pub lunches and terrible treats at home.
2. Build muscle – building muscle is probably easier than losing fat for most people. Building muscle is a very effective way to lose body fat. Here is why:
1. The process of building muscle uses a lot of energy so you burn lots of calories for up to 2 days after your workout. Your metabolism remains high and you burn energy to repair your muscles.
2. Just having more muscle means that you use energy to maintain it. That’s right, for every 1 lb of muscle you have your body requires an additional 50-60 calories per day to maintain it. Add 6lbs of muscle but keep your diet the same and you’ve effectively cut your calories by 300 per day! How’s that for a diet…
As an added bonus you will have a more defined physique and feel stronger. Our bodies are used to lifting, running and being active. For thousands of years this is how we survived, it’s only relatively recently that we’ve turned the office chair culture into the norm.
Don’t Lighten the Load
By training with light weights you are building muscular endurance more than muscle size and will not develop your muscles as much, not burn as many calories and not reduce your body fat by as much as you or as quickly when compared to lifting heavier weights. If your main goal is to lose fat you need to have a clean diet and build muscle so you should be lifting heavier weights in the gym.
Weights Vs Reps
For example, instead of doing 12-15 repetitions of an exercise, increase your weight and do 6-8 repetitions. Start off by doing 3 sets (that’s 3 times the number of repetitions you are doing, with a break between) and then build that up to 4 and eventually 5 sets. Remember to keep correct form and never sacrifice technique by lifting too heavy, too soon.
To make things a little harder, do two exercises back-to-back. For example, do a bench press followed immediately by a seated row. This should help to increase your heart rate as well so you are having a cardio workout at the same time, and is more time efficient.
Diet & Nutrition
“Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym”
One of my favorite sayings, mainly because it’s so true. To get a great looking, lean body you need to pay attention to your diet more than your gym workout. Furthermore, a bad diet will impact every aspect of your life, from how you look, to how you sleep and how you feel.
If nutrition is not your strong point follow these 3 golden rules:
1. Eat natural when you can – fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds are good for you
2. Remove processed foods from your diet wherever possible. For example, switch processed sugar for a natural alternative, like Stevia if you need the sweet taste
3. If it grows in the ground, on a tree, in a bush or if it had parents then it’s good to eat!
It’s always best to try and get your nutritional needs from a healthy, balanced diet from natural sources. However, this is not always possible so sometimes you may need to supplement your diet with nutrients. Post exercise it is very important to get a good quality protein and carbohydrate mix very quickly. Protein supplementation is very effective for delivering fuel to your muscles when you need it.