Every day thousands of women worldwide are looking at ways to improve their fitness levels; partly for health reasons and partly for looks.
When it comes to looking more toned, this can achieved by building muscle tone.
By making your muscles stronger and leaner they become much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
But how is muscle tone achieved, especially for women?
I’m sure we are all aware women’s bodies are genetically different to men’s in many ways so how women physically build muscle tone is also a little different.
Generally speaking, muscle tone improves when the muscle fibers become larger, which is usually the result of regular weight training.
A key point to remember is muscle weighs more than fat so don’t be alarmed if the numbers on your scales increase a little if you are doing resistance training on a regular basis.
Here are the top 5 ways for women to build lean toned eye appealing muscle and improve your overall appearance.
1. Use the progression method when weight training for women
Weight training is the best way to improve muscle tone and build lean muscle. But there is little benefit in rarely challenging yourself by using the same weights and number of reps for months on end, as this does not provide enough of a challenge to the muscle fibres.
Try this instead.
For each exercise, start with a weight for which you can do a maximum of 7 or 8 reps with good form before tiring and losing your form. Rest for around one minute between sets and then do another two sets. Once you have worked up to doing 10 to 12 reps with the same weight then increase your weight to a level where you can only do 7 or 8 reps and work your way back up again to 10 to 12 reps. Keep repeating this process with all your exercises.
Remember to change your exercise program every six to eight weeks so as you don’t become too bored with the same routine every couple of days.
If lean muscle is your target then don’t go above this the 10 to 12 rep range. This is because you want to train your muscles for strength rather than stamina.
It is strength that gives you the lean muscle tone you are looking for.
2. Eat more protein
So the real question is…….how much protein should a woman have who is lifting weights?
We should all aim for a balanced diet which includes a healthy amount of protein, carbs and fats regardless of whether you are working out or not.
But take note, if you are looking to build lean muscle then protein becomes more important in your diet as it is one of the essential building blocks for lean muscle growth.
If you are not too sure about which are the best sources of protein then check out this article: 8 of the Best Plant-Based Sources of Protein.
3. Reduce the amount of (bad) simple carbohydrates you eat
To understand the good, the bad and ugly surrounding carbs it is worthwhile having some idea about the difference between simple and complex carbs.
Carbohydrates are most commonly found in common foods such as white bread, pasta, and rice.
There is also a whole range of other low value processed foods made with white flour such as take-away meals, cakes and biscuits so go for the whole-meal varieties instead; it’s the healthy option.
For more good information about carbs check out this article from Medical Daily: Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: 5 Common Myths about Carbohydrates that May Be Ruining Your Digestive Health.
I don’t recommend low carbohydrate diets as carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet.
If you are trying to build lean muscle then it is best to reduce the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming, especially the white variety.
This is not to say cut carbs out completely; they are still an essential part of a healthy diet.
Just be aware and make some good choices when choosing which carbs to eat. So as you know what is best to eat and which carbs are best left on your plate check out these 12 healthy high carb foods recommended by Authority Nutrition.
Carbohydrates help the body release insulin which is needed for energy and to help with muscle repair.
4. Eat more high fibre vegetables
Again, vegetables are a key part of a healthy diet and should be eaten every day whether you are working out or not. When you are trying to build lean muscle tone vegetables become even more important.
Vegetables generally contain very few calories and have a high thermic effect. This means they consume a lot of energy to eat, digest, and burn through again.
This helps with building muscle tone, particularly if they are eaten raw or just slightly cooked.
5. Minimize the amount of steady state cardio you do
Weight training to gain muscle is a very different type of exercise to cardio workouts and achieves different aims. If you are focusing on building lean muscle tone then you need to minimize the amount of cardio workouts you do.
Many people believe the more cardio you do the more toned you are going to look. This is a fallacy.
People often ask me, how much cardio should I do?
Here’s what Mike Matthews has to say on the subject and it is worth noting: “You should do as much cardio as it takes to achieve your goals and no more, and it shouldn’t be so much that it impairs your strength training, recovery, or health.”
The long distance running or cycling workouts are particularly bad as they tend to encourage muscle wastage.
Rather than eliminate all cardio workouts, you will help build muscle tone by including some HIIT training in your workouts.
In conclusion, there is one question I get asked time and again by women and that is about bulking up if you do weights. Here is an article I wrote that will help ease your mind about the issue: Weight Training for Women – Debunking the Myths about “Bulking-Up”.
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Cheers – John – your Active Ageing Coach and Activist .