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Posted by: ryangeorgefitness | March 5, 2009

Ask the Trainer: “Tone up without building too much muscle”

Question: “I am a woman and would like to tone up my arms without bulking up. Is there a way to build lean muscle without getting too big?”

Answer:  This is a great question which I am asked frequently. There are many misconceptions regarding women strength training and hopefully I can clear those up while answering this question. First, in order to answer this question, it is important that you understand what muscle tone really is. Simply put, muscle tone is the activation level of a given muscle while at rest. Even when we are not exercising, our muscles are active on some level, the more a muscle is trained and used, the greater the activation level. This level of activation, combined with  low bodyfat will result in the muscles appearing more defined or “toned.”

The second thing to note is the idea that there is a difference between lean muscle and bulky muscles. In reality, muscle tissue is muscle tissue and there is no way to train a muscle to become longer and leaner, your body will dictate how a muscle developes, this is in your DNA and there is no way to change that.

Now that we have those two things out of the way, I can better answer your question. In order to build muscle, we need a combination of resistance training and testosterone. Women don’t have the level of testosterone that men have so it’s very hard for a woman to put on a lot of muscle. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone but generally, you won’t have to worry about putting on too much muscle.

In order to have “toned” arms, you will need to train with weights in order to build some muscle on the arms and again, you will likely not put on excessive muscle. Secondly. you will want to lose bodyfat. The lower the bodyfat, the more your lean muscle tissue will show. Cardiovascular activity along with a low fat diet will assist in dropping the bodyfat.

The combination of exercise and diet will assist you in becoming more toned but if you want to take it to the next level then here is a great way. Train like an athlete! Athletes are toned because their bodies are trained to react immediately, powerfully and explosively. If you are healthy enough, I incorporating a lot of explosive movements, powerlifting movements, bodyweight exercises and high intensity work. This level of training will increase the activation levels of your muscles and you will look far more defined.

Hope this helps.

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