Recently I spoke to a girl who said she wanted to tone up and when I asked her if she was lifting weights, she asked, “But won’t lifting weights make me look bulky?”
And my answer? No way, Jose! Women don’t have the biology to “bulk up” just from lifting weights. At least, not unless they’re trying (very hard) to specifically do so.⠀⠀
The truth is, even bodybuilding men who want to gain a bunch of muscle for the competition stage have to put in a LOT of work to “bulk up”.
For everyone else, they will make you strong, keep you young, and give you some killer curves, but I PROMISE lifting weights won’t make you bulky.
“I don’t want to get bigger muscles, I just want to look more toned”
Technically speaking, toning is a myth.
You can’t get a toned body by doing special “toning workouts” or techniques. All you can do is build lean muscle mass and reduce body fat in order for that muscle to then be visible.
If you have a higher body fat percentage, that body fat will sit on top of existing muscle, so it won’t show through. If you don’t have a lot of lean muscle mass to begin with, even if you lose that fat, you may still have a soft and cuddly kind of look, rather than looking lean and toned.
(And there is nothing wrong with looking soft and cuddly, by the way, but if you’re here because you want to look more toned, keep reading.)
You can’t tone, define or sculpt the muscle that’s already there. All you CAN do is build more muscle and lose body fat in order to make your muscles more visible.
“But won’t using lighter weights for higher reps make me look toned instead of bulky?”
No, not necessarily.
The amount of muscle you build over time will give you a “toned” look. And the only way to build muscle is to challenge it.
The amount of weight that you’re lifting, per se, isn’t going to be the deciding factor between bulking up vs being toned. This is because technically being “toned” isn’t a real thing.
In order to get that toned look, you have to build lean muscle mass. If your muscles aren’t being challenged sufficiently in order to grow, it’s just really not likely that you’re going to get that toned look you’re after.
Now if you’re using a lighter weight and those last repetitions feel like a challenge, as long as you’re not doing more than 30 reps, you may still see some gains. But let’s face it – it takes a lot more time in the gym to lift a light weight 30 times than it does to lift a heavier weight 8-15 times, doesn’t it?
“I’ve recently started weight training and my arms feel bigger – HALP”
Regular resistance training builds lean muscle mass, which gram for gram, takes up less space in your body than fat. This means with consistent weight training, your body size will actually shrink, not grow.
However, when you first start a resistance training program, you may gain lean muscle in that area before you start to lose body fat in that area, leading to a “bulkier” or “bigger” appearance.
Don’t worry, this is temporary!
It’s because resistance training only builds muscle in the area you’re working – it doesn’t burn fat in that area.
There is, unfortunately, no way to spot reduce fat.
With a healthy, balanced diet and regular cardio and physical activity, your overall body fat levels gradually reduce over time from EVERYWHERE on your body, and your arm size will shrink, but maintain a “toned” appearance.
The benefits of regular weight training for women
Listen, if you’re not lifting weights, you’re doing yourself and your body just such a massive disservice. Not only will lifting weights give you that physique that you’re after, it makes you stronger, improves your bone density as you age, and even revs your metabolism.
Disclaimer – Lift Safe, Always!
Of course, I need to qualify all of this by saying that you need to be careful when you’re working with weights, especially when you’re challenging yourself, so make sure that you’re doing so safely.
It’s perfectly fine to use light weights or body weight alternatives until you’re sure that you’ve got your form and your mind muscle connection on lock.
There a whole bunch of videos on YouTube and articles online to learn the proper movement and form of each exercise in your program.
You need to be focusing on your mind muscle connection and proper form and once you’ve got it down, then you can start introducing your heavier weights and really challenging yourself in the weights room.
Form wins over heavier weight all day long, so if you just not sure whether you’re doing an exercise correctly, it always pays to book in a session or two with a qualified personal trainer who can show you how to do the exercises safely and effectively … because I mean, who wants to be in the gym wasting time?
Lifting weights will NOT make you bulky! Don’t be afraid of them!
If you want to get that toned look, it’s a combination of leaning out and building your muscle mass so that that muscle looks visible. Cardio and a good diet will help with leaning you out and reducing your size, but the shape of your body is built with weights.