“I would like to tone up, but I don’t want to gain too much muscle.”
If you ever thought this, or even worse, uttered aloud such a completely idiotic statement (probably to a fitness professional who politely nodded while keeping a poker face and assured you that it would be fine), you should punch yourself very lightly (but firmly) in the nose.
But never fear, I am here to set you straight as to why such a thought is not only improper, but is a physical impossibility by more than 99% of those who think it.
In order to help you understand why this is so nonsensical, you only need to look around at people – both inside a gym and out. Does it look like our society has a problem gaining too much muscle? Did you ever in your life carry more muscle on your body than you wanted to? Of course you haven’t. That is because most people’s bodies are genetically predisposed to attain a ratio of body fat, bone density and lean muscle mass, and it is very difficult (not impossible) to change that genetic coding. You can see this argument being made by some doctors as to why so many people are overfat – it’s all genetic, people are programmed to be fat, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But without going into a science lesson, the age old question still remains: “If I start to strength train hard and eat right, what will happen to my body?” Women have been strength training incorrectly for decades citing that they would look too “manly” and men have felt they’d just be bulging at the seams with huge biceps if they really hit the weights. In order to give you my best advice, we’ll again as usual make a few assumptions:
-You are over 28 years of age and do not play a sport in a highly competitive (i.e. paid) environment.
-You are either what some people would consider “scrawny” (very slim without a lot of visible muscle tone) or “fat” (weigh 10 plus pounds more than you should, have visible fat on your midsection, sides or rear end).
-You may have been strength training for many months or more, but do not feel that you have changed your body sufficiently for the amount of effort you put in.
-When you flex your muscles, not much happens (or at least not enough that you might make a joke out of it as your first comment)
So here’s what you need to know: No matter your gender or age (over about 28 or so, unless you are a fairly unfit 25+ year old), you are NOT going to get overmuscled. Gaining large amounts of muscle are a function of eating a lot of high quality, protein laden calories (more than you can eat in a day without trying very hard) and your testosterone levels. Ladies, 99.5% of you are exempt already from the gaining too much muscle part. You will see those breakthough cases of females who gain muscle and look very athletic, but they are genetically predisposed to hold more testosterone and their hard work translates very cleanly to results. They usually eat very good diets as well.
But there is nothing that will stall any gains faster than the number one reason why people see no changes in their muscle tone, and that is people stop training too early. If you have a strength training plan that is 3 sets of 10 repetitions, I will challenge you to admit that it’s not enough. If you aren’t experiencing changes, then it definitely is not enough. The number 10 is a nice round number, but that number depends completely on how hard the work is. As a trainer, I am constantly asking people to not only stop counting repetitions, but add to the weigh loads they lift. For the average fitness enthusiast (that’s likely you) the correct number of repetitions is when you struggle to complete the last one. You probably grunt a little, hesitate a bit but don’t completely forgo your form and put your back in jeopardy to finish. If we had to define it, we’d say 8-12 repetitions should be sufficient, but again only if the last 1-2 repetitions are very very hard. I like to push the number of sets as well to 4 or 5. That way, I figure that the body part is really worked well and growth should occur. Strength train 2-3 times a week and do cardio based exercise the other days of the week.
Let’s recap the key points:
1. You can not gain too much muscle, but if you train heavy (to the point of your own limits) you will gain lean muscle, push fat out of your system, look and feel better with an increase in strength.
2. Muscle looks better than fat, so even if you are short and stocky, you will look far better to everyone else with some muscle on your frame rather than have a muffin top.
3. A smooth, skinny look is out – strength training is mandatory, not only to control fat gain, but also bone density, self esteem and encouragement to achieve goals.
4. If weight lifting isn’t hard, or you aren’t changing your physique, you are not doing it correctly, and should seek the help of a professional certified trainer.
Now get out there, and watch what you say!!!!