Okay, ladies. It’s time for a little #realtalk #toughlove from yours truly. There’s a myth circulating in your gyms, in your conversations with your girlfriends, and in the back (or front) of your minds that needs to be addressed, and I feel like it’s my job to bring it all out in the open! Since it’s such an important (and misunderstood!) topic, this post is going to be a little long because I’m going to dive deep and do it justice. So grab your water and settle in!
I get told ALL of the time from women just like me and you that they’re freaked out about weightlifting because they don’t want to build “too much muscle.” They’re afraid that if they lift weights, they’ll get too bulky and end up looking “manly.”
So what happens? They tend to avoid weights altogether and become cardio bunnies. They run and run and run…and they never stop running with the goal in mind to “get toned but not build muscle.”
Strong Does Not Equal Bulky
Ladies. It’s not possible, okay? YES, you can tone and lean out your body, but in order to do so, you have to build muscle first. And let’s get something straight—”building muscle” does not equate to “bulking up.” As women, it’s NOT physically possible for our bodies to bulk up the way men are able to, we simply do not have the genetic make up or the amount of testosterone needed to build that kind of muscle.
FACT: The more lean muscle we have, the more fat we’re going to burn consistently throughout the day.
Lifting weights and building muscle boosts our metabolism so much so that it gets us to a point where our bodies actually become fat-burning machines. It helps our bodies become capable of burning fat even during periods of rest. So in essence, “building muscle” actually equates to leaning out and toning up.
Strong Is Sexy
Before I go any further though, I must hit on the most important lesson to be learned from all of this, and that is this: STRONG IS SEXY. Sexy does not have a size. Sexy does not have a certain look.
Sexy is confidence in who you are. Sexy is how you feel.
No amount of lifting or toning will ever get you to where you want to be or to how you want to feel until you make the decision to love and appreciate who you are NOW. Exactly as you are.
This is why I love Under Armour as much as I do. I love their initiative to empower women through strength, and I am kind of obsessed with their new line of clothes and shoes (I’m wearing in these pics here) that help me FEEL strong and FEEL confident just by putting them on.
I FEEL beautiful and sexy. And it is true that the better we feel when we step foot in the gym, the harder we work. And the harder we work, the better we feel. The cycle goes on…
Resistance Training 101: How to Tone
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Bulking up is a very conscious decision, and unless that’s your goal and that’s what you’re working toward, it’s just not going to happen. Do some people have a genetically “gifted” part of their body the tends to get larger faster? Of course. But we can totally work around that by not focusing on that single area, and instead, by working on surrounding muscle groups to achieve the results we want—ie. thinner appearing thighs can be achieved by building the glutes.
Let’s talk benefits. Lifting weights and resistance training has so many benefits as a result of making your body a “fat-burning machine.” Here are just a few:
- Lose More Body Fat: Since muscle burns around THREE times more calories than fat, adding as little as 2-4 pounds of muscle can equal an extra 100 calories burned EVERY day. Plus, a high-intensity resistance routine can pump up your metabolism by 20% for several hours AFTER you’re done working out. MORE FAT BURNED!
- Look Leaner & Fitter: Muscle has a denser volume than fat, so you can look leaner EVEN if the scale doesn’t budge and even if it goes up! A word of caution here: As you start lifting weights, you probably will see that number on the scale go up. In order to build muscles and make them leaner, they first get broken down and then have to build back up. As they’re broken down, they actually retain fluid, which is totally normal. This is the body’s way of healing those muscle fibers. Instead of focusing on that number on the scale, look ahead to the long-term benefits of how you’re feeling, the quality of your workouts, and how your clothes are fitting. **More about the scale at the end of this post!!**
- Overall Health: Lifting weights has the ability to actually help you decrease your risk of injury and can affect your overall health by improving blood pressure, lowering bad cholesterol, raising good cholesterol, preventing back issues/pain, decreasing the risk of getting sick, fighting the aging process, improving your body’s response to processing sugar (which can reduce the risk of diabetes), increasing bone density, and decreasing your risk of osteoporosis! Did I mention it fights the aging process?!
Let’s focus on that last one for a bit because I don’t think a lot of us really have any idea how important our bone health is not just for today, but for 20, 30, 50+ years from now. It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s going on right now that we lose sight of the fact that a lot of the things we are doing now (or things we’re not doing now) will affect our quality of life years, and even decades, from now.
Muscle and bone density/bone loss is a real thing that affects everyone as they age, especially women. They say it all starts to go “downhill” in our 30s….and they’re not entirely wrong (whoever “they” may be!). In our mid-30s, our bone development reaches its “peak bone mass”—the stage where our bones have reached their maximum strength and density. We then start to lose 5-10% of our muscle strength and 3-5% of our muscle mass each decade.
Once we hit menopause, our bone loss becomes more rapid, which can lead to osteopenia, and then to osteoporosis. I know for some of us, menopause seems soooo far away! But I have several friends who have gone through surgical menopause earlier than they expected (in their 30s and 40s), so their stage of rapid bone loss comes much sooner than planned.
Where does that muscle strength and mass go? Well…it’s replaced by fat, and usually by a decline in our functional ability in our daily lives. Even if we’re active, we can still be losing muscle. Muscle is like a coat of armor: Our muscles protect and support our bones as we age, and with regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise (like walking, running, resistance training, hiking, dancing, walking, climbing stairs, etc.), that armor continues to strengthen, protect, and support our bones even better.
Think of it this way: Regular resistance training, in addition to all the benefits I’ve already mentioned, will help us be able to do all of the things we want to do once we reach our 80s and beyond! And that’s what we all want, right? To still be active and able to experience life and all the things we love for decades to come!
Weight Training Principles Made Easy
Now that we all understand the importance of resistance training, here are some general recommendations for setting up your own resistance training program if you’re not already following one. Before starting any new exercise program, it’s always important to discuss it with your healthcare team first; especially if you have any pre-existing health issues!
Lift the Right Amount of Weight:
Here’s another MYTH that needs busting: Lifting light weights will help you tone and keep you from getting bulky. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Lifting with too little weight is really a waste of time because it’s not going to challenge your muscles enough to help them get healthier and stronger. On the flip side, how do you know if you’re lifting too much weight? Here’s a trick I recommend: Brace your core during every exercise, and if you find yourself losing that tight core, you need to reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting.
Train Multiple Muscle Groups, Strategically:
When you do begin, you should train both your lower and your upper muscle groups. Ignoring any muscle group can lead to muscle imbalances—a sure-fire way to get injured! And always give your muscle groups 48-72 hours of rest in between sessions. Those muscles need time to heal, repair, and get stronger before you work them out again.
Sets, Reps, and Rest Periods:
- General muscles fitness: 1-2 sets, 8-16 reps, 30-90 seconds of rest between sets
Muscular endurance (so you can do activities for longer periods of time): 2-3 sets, less than 12 reps, less than 30 seconds rest between sets
- Muscular hypertrophy (to get those shapely muscles you want): 3-6 sets, 6-12 reps, 30-90 seconds of rest between sets
- Muscular strength (so you have the strength to do the activities you want to do): 2-6 sets, less than 6 reps, 2-5 minutes of rest between sets
Tip: If you’re new to resistance training, start slowly with the general muscle fitness guidelines, and then slowly add in the other recommendations as you feel confident in your form and fitness level. In fact, incorporating all four types into your workout routine can help you get the all-round fitness, endurance, shape, and strength you want, which is so important!
Frequency (and this depends on your goals):
- General muscular fitness: 2-3 times/week.
- Muscle building and toning: 3-6 times/week
Wear the Right Gear: Not only does having the right (ahem, cute!) gear make you feel like you can take on the gym with a whole new attitude, it’s actually important to invest in the right gear for weight training to give you the best results possible and avoid injuries—especially when it comes to SHOES! Here’s what you’ll want to consider for your resistance training gear to keep you both motivated and safe on your weight training program:
When you’re weight training, you need to feel stable, grounded, and as connected to the floor as possible. Every lift starts from the GROUND UP. Under Armour’s new technology maximizes ground control with three points of contact for a low, stable base that still allows natural foot flexibility.
Sports Bra Fave: Armour Crossback Sports Bra
As you guys know from my recent sports bra blog, support is everything, and this medium-impact bra delivers. It’s super breathable, and the HeatGear® not only wicks away sweat, but it gives you a great next-to-skin feel (aka, like you’re wearing nothing and somehow supported…because magic 😉).
Compression Gear Fave: HeatGear Armour Ankle Crop Edgelit Leggings
Whether you’re lifting, jogging, or even doing yoga, having good compression gear is important. You want full range of motion without feeling weighed down, and UA’s compression gear checks all of the boxes. Plus, its super fast sweat wick means this Arizona girl is comfortable and dry. Bonus: These booty hugging leggings will make you look and feel like a million bucks!
A Few Last Things..
So one more thing, ladies. We need to talk about the dreaded scale. I know how easy it is to become emotionally tied to that number on the scale! But here’s the thing…and I’ll be honest, it’s taken me MANY, many years to learn this: That darn number on the scale can LIE to you and is NOT a true reflection of progress—especially when you’re building muscle.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll put this one out there. The me on the right is 20 pounds heavier than the me on the left. Which one looks healthier and happier? I encourage you to take those before photos! Take your measurements! Those are far, far FAR better methods than paying attention to the changes and transformations in your body than the number on the scale!
And look at that—two myths busted in one post! #winwin What other commonly-held beliefs are you wondering about? Leave ‘em below, and maybe I’ll do a future post on them with all of the facts!
**Thank you, Under Armour, for sponsoring this post! The opinions shared and discussed in this post are my own.**
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