When it comes to strength training, the idea of becoming bulky is off-putting for some people.
If you don’t want big muscles, a class or weight routine that claims to target muscle toning may seem appealing.
But exercise physiologist Whittney Thoman says muscle toning is a marketing ploy and you don’t need special classes.
“Exercise professionals hate the word toning because it’s not different from normal strength training,” says Thoman. “The term ‘toning’ became popular when trainers wanted to market their classes to females, because females have historically had a fear of strength training and getting bulky.”
Here are four things Thoman wants you to know about strength training and toning.
1. Toning is strength training with weight loss
When you lift weights or do resistance exercises like push-ups and lunges, your muscles get stronger and firmer. How you look comes down to how much lean muscle mass you have versus how much body fat you have.
“In order to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat you should strength train 2-3 times a week, incorporate at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise like fast walking or swimming, and eat a healthy diet,” says Thoman. “Keep in mind that we do need some fat on our bodies to be healthy, and women more so than men.”
2. You don’t need special toning classes
Strength training is all about the number of repetitions of each exercise you do. You may get a more toned look by using a light yet challenging weight and doing higher repetitions.
“When people use the word ‘toning,’ it generally means working on muscular endurance, not size,” says Thoman. “It's exercises that you can do for 12 to 20 reps, which doesn't cause a whole lot of muscle size gain.”
3. Women don’t need to train differently than men
Even lifting heavy weight likely won’t lead to muscle size gains for women. The bulky look that men often aim for requires the male hormone testosterone. Women don’t have enough testosterone to build large muscles easily.
“Women should pick the kind of strength training that they like and will do consistently. Then feel confident that they will look and feel better,” says Thoman. “Strength training is a key part of staying healthy and pain free as you get older.”
4. Strength training is important
Strength training is essential for your health because it makes daily tasks easier, boosts your metabolism and keeps your bones strong as you age.
“The most important reason to do strength training is not how it makes you look; it’s what it helps you do,” says Thoman. “Strength training makes it easier to get up out of a chair, to lift your groceries or to carry your children or grandchildren.”