About 85% of clients that walk through my door are women; all with different body types, genetics, training routines, training histories and limitations and yet there's one common question I hear... how do I tone my arms? Bare in mind that a lot of these women have already been exercising for months or even years and despite feeling much fitter and stronger, they aren't necessarily happy that all those push ups aren't being reflected in the mirror.
Now if you've read my blogs (or know me at all!) you'll know that I'm all for the 'stronger and fitter' part without putting too much focus on appearance BUT I understand that when you work hard and lift weights, you want that to be reflected on the outside as well. So why is it so difficult for some women to see definition and can everyone achieve 'toned' arms?
The short answer is yes. To be honest, some people will find it easier to achieve tone due to their genetics (to do with fat storage and muscle fibre type) but every woman can achieve better tone in their arms if they are training and eating correctly.
"Toning up" is an expression we often read in fitness magazines or see on gym advertisements but the definition of toning up is really just building muscle mass and stripping body fat. To do this, we need to focus on a few different things such as lifting heavy enough weights, eating the right diet and balancing out weight training with cardio or aerobic exercise for fat loss. It's a lot to think about, I know!
A lot of women I work with worry about heavy weights turning them into Schwarzenegger but the reality is that it can be quite difficult for women to achieve bulky arms due to our genetics. Certain body types can develop a thicker frame or more defined shoulders from weight training BUT if you balance that out with cardio or high intensity training to burn body fat, you're on the right track to achieving tone.
So how do you know if you're lifting heavy enough weights? Your trainer should give you an idea of what weight to be lifting and if they don't, ask them. Either way, the weight should be challenging. For example, if you're performing a set of 10 overhead presses, the last 2-3 repetitions should be tough. If you can complete 10 repetitions with ease then you might want to think about upping the weight. The principle of weight training is that you need to overload the muscle to make it stronger so the weight needs to be heavy enough to do that.
Fat storage plays a big role in seeing muscle definition which is where nutrition comes in. Every body stores fat differently based on body type and that's why some people may see definition in their arms more easily than others. If you tend to store more fat in your upper body then you'll need to have a stronger focus on eating the rights foods to grow muscle mass and lose body fat.
Eating enough protein is important to building muscle mass because if you don't have the right fuel to repair your muscles after exercise they will start to deplete. Eating enough of the right foods such as protein, vegetables and low GI carbohydrates will help to fuel your muscles during and after training sessions as well as helping to reduce extra body fat. Don't focus on eating less or cutting calories, just stick to good, wholesome foods and the results will come.
Aerobic exercise or 'cardio' does not necessarily mean jogging on the treadmill for 45 minutes. In fact there are ways to raise your heart rate and burn fat without any equipment at all and in a much shorter time period. HIIT or high intensity interval training is a popular way to exercise using intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 2 minutes that raise and lower your heart rate intermittently. HIIT has been proven to have a similar or even greater effect on the body than longer periods of moderate aerobic exercise. This style of training has so much variety and can be done using body weight exercises like squats, push ups and sit ups that require little space and no equipment. The best part is that it's suitable for anyone especially those who are time poor.
A varied training routine is best but if you are focusing on toning up your arms then you might want to add some more upper body movements into the mix. Most gyms offer a free exercise program as part of your membership so make the most of that and get a program written up that focuses on upper body strength training. Participating in a group class can be a great way to add more cardio into your exercise routine plus it's always easier to get your heart rate pumping when someone else is telling you what to do ;-)
Exercise should ultimately be about gaining fitness, strength and keeping your body healthy. You don't need to have super toned, Madonna-esk arms to be strong however, if this is your goal then you might need to start rethinking your training and nutrition. Challenge yourself to lift heavier weights and add more high intensity training to your weekly routine and you'll start to see and feel a change in no time.
Here's to a happy healthy, and 'toned' you ;-)