I’m Over 40 and I Just Want to Get Toned!
When you hear people talking about getting “toned” or trying to be “leaner”, have you ever stopped to ask the question, what does this actually mean?
For many middle-aged people, achieving this “look” is often an important and motivating goal for their training. The unfortunate reality is that they think that to get toned all they need to do is hit the weights room and perform very high rep training with some light weights which is usually combined with moderate to long rests between sets for a bit of recovery time. This is certainly the impression you get from certain fitness magazines and definitely if you spend any time watching the pumped lads in your local gym, but unfortunately for those of us going to the gym for HEALTH and fitness, this fast paced pumping technique only works when you add some “chemical” aids to your training.
So if we want to stay away from the steroids then that style of training doesn’t work. So…
How Do We Get a Toned, Lean Body Once We’re Over 40?
Let’s start by defining what we mean by these terms. When people talk about being “toned” what they are referring to is a firm body with muscular definition and shape. This is generally a fitness goal that many women have with the majority of their emphasis usually on their arms or more specifically their triceps. Lean, is generally considered the male equivalent of toned but the male emphasis is usually on the arms and chest.
When researching how to achieve these goals, you will come across the training techniques outlined above (very high repetitions and very light resistance) but there will be very little advice about cardiovascular training or the impact that diet will have on achieving your “new, toned look”.
The Truth of Toned and Lean
If “toned” and “lean” are only a words to describe a look, what then, is the physical state that is required to achieve this look? There are two main components of this look. The first is muscle size. Muscles do not go from soft to hard or hard to soft — they either shrink or grow in size. Muscles themselves do not “firm-up” or “tone”. Therefore, the firming-up or toning requires an increase in muscle tissue. Secondly, in order to get rid of the “jiggly” bits and show off our muscles we require a low enough body-fat percentage to see the definition and shape of the muscles.
It’s All About Strength Training and Fat Loss
You know where this is going.
In order to achieve the look of muscle tone or a toned (lean) body you need to hit the weights for some appropriate strength training as well as diminishing the layer of fat covering your muscles.
If getting “toned” or “lean” is your goal, then you need to develop and effective three-pronged attack. Traditional resistance training alone doesn’t produce the desired look, especially when if you train in the fashion mentioned above with unnecessarily high repetitions, little resistance, and little if any stress on the muscles. The three aspects of your training that you need to get right are an effective resistance training program that builds muscles and fights age related muscle loss. The right type of cardio needs to be introduced that will support the burning of excess body fat while not ruining our muscle building efforts, and finally you need to be in an adequate calorie deficit in order to shed some of the subcutaneous body fat (the excess fat under the skin).
Build Muscle Without the Bulk
Just because you are not looking to get “bulky” or add muscle mass doesn’t mean that you should shy away from stressing your muscles with relatively heavy weight (this is true for both women and men).
It takes some real effort in the weights room and your muscles need to be stressed in order for them to change and grow. Finding excuses, training “light” and simply going through the motions will produce little if any results. You may as well stay on the treadmill because if the muscle is not being stressed enough it has no reason to adapt and change its current condition and you see no change in the mirror.
If you’re just starting out or coming back from injury, training with a resistance that produces fatigue between 8–12 repetitions works well for most people. That doesn’t mean that you can give up after the 8th or 12th repetition while continuing the chat with your training buddy- it means that there is no way that you can get out the 13th rep without dropping something.
If you can do the 13th rep, then the resistance is not enough. If you’re keen to learn more then check out his article: How Many Reps Should I Do in A Set?
To burn those extra calories and take a little pressure of your meal planning then don’t forget to include cardio conditioning into your fitness program in addition to your strength training.
Proper Strength Training Also Burns Fat
Strength training and cardio don’t necessarily need to be exclusive from each other — you can get a cardiovascular and fat burning benefit from strength training both directly and indirectly.
Indirectly, the more muscle tissue that you add through strength training the greater your basal metabolic rate (resting metabolism) will be and therefore you will be burning more total calories and fat at rest. This is an important aspect for the over 40s as our bodies are already predisposed to lose muscle as part of the ageing process (read about Sarcopenia here).
Directly, if you use large body movements and keep rest periods short you will elevate your heart rate and therefore be getting the same immediate calorie and fat burning benefits as traditional cardiovascular exercise.
Once you’re into midlife, it is essential that every weight loss program include some adequate weight training to ensure we maintain adequate muscle size and health.
And if you put together an effective program, you can kill two birds with one stone — you can get the resistance training benefits as well as the cardio benefits in one short and sweet workout.
If you think that sounds like a good idea then checkout how you can Introduce Supersets into Your Training and Burn More Calories.
Based on the guidelines for beginners above, you should use repetitions as low as 10 and no higher than 15 for most exercises and muscle groups. You generally should be taking short rest periods in-between sets (ideally no longer than 30 seconds for most exercises and muscle groups) as this will help keep your heart rate elevated while giving the muscles a brief rest with an adequate recovery period before the next set.
The key is that you should always come to failure at the end of every set and not just be going through the motions. Don’t be afraid if you can’t complete as many repetitions as you did the previous set — that is to be expected because the rest periods are so short that the metabolic by-products haven’t had a chance to be completely removed from the muscles and will make it harder to push out the last reps. This is a good thing!
If you fall below 8 to 10 repetitions, you should decrease the weight so that you keep your sets in that 10–15 rep range. Having a simple stopwatch or keeping your eye on the second hand of the clock in order to time your rests may be a good idea in order to stay on task when beginning this type of training.
Remember that this is for the beginners. If you’re an experienced gym goer, then you can be increasing the weights and reducing the reps to achieve maximum muscle growth (hypertrophy). Learn more about the different rep ranges in the article Hi Rep, Low Rep. Good Rep, Bad Rep.
Other Ways to Mix It Up
In order to have a shorter and more efficient workout as well as ensuring your heart rate is elevated and remains elevated, you may want to consider trying circuit training. I really enjoy this type of training and do it at least once every week.
Circuit training is where you have a series of exercises where you go straight from one to another with absolutely no rest — hence the name “circuit training”.
You may take a brief rest if need be only after each circuit. This type of training is ideal in a group environment and it is extremely effective at burning fat and building strength, endurance, and muscle health.
Will You Get Toned?
Please remember that all training carries risk of injury and that if you are getting back into it after a break, make sure you have the OK from your health professional. I also recommend having a chat with a reputable personal trainer to develop the best exercises for you with your individual goals in mind as well as to show you how to perform all the exercises properly.
So can you get lean and toned? Provided you train with resistance which is sufficient enough to create fatigue, your rest periods are kept short, you add some HIIT cardio, and you have a solid meal plan, then you’ll see your muscles tighten-up, firm, and become more pronounced giving you that toned look you desire.
Article originally published on thebestshapeofyourlife.net