Achieving a sexy, toned physique requires a mix of weight lifting, cardio and diet. Lifting weights gives you firm muscles that when combined with a low body fat percentage, results in visible muscle tone.
Sets of higher repetitions are known to be beneficial for muscle toning, but there is considerably more you need to know about weight lifting for lean muscles.
Higher Reps Are Just the Beginning
It is considered common knowledge among weight lifters that using low repetitions with heavy weights builds large muscles. Conversely, using lighter weights and a higher rep count creates muscle tone. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s training manual, NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, lifting weights creates various results that are determined by exercise variables, such as reps, sets, workout frequency, and rest periods. The right variables are essential for success.
Exercise Variables for Muscle Tone
• Repetition range of 8 to 12 reps
• Three or more weight training workouts per week
• At least 1 rest day between weight training workouts
• Four sets per workout
Remember to lift weights for every major muscle group to achieve total body toning. Nobody likes a toned upper body with scrawny chicken legs.
Selecting the Right Weight for Results
Performing a higher number of reps means you have to use lighter weights, but “light” can be misleading. Light weight means light relative to what you would lift when doing fewer repetitions.
Determining the correct amounts of weight requires some trial and error. A good rule of thumb for weight selection: start with 70 percent of your 1 rep maximum (1RM) and adjust from there. Your 1RM is the maximum amount of weight you can lift 1 time for each exercise.
In terms of repetitions, “high reps” is also misleading. A high repetition range of 20 to 25 reps is appropriate for muscular endurance training. One to 6 reps is best for strength gains. A moderate range of 8 to 12 reps is ideal for muscle toning.
Why Most People Cannot Bulk Up
The good news if you want to increase muscle tone without looking like the Incredible Hulk is that most people cannot develop big, bulky muscles lifting weights, at least not without steroids or a Hulk-sized dose of gamma radiation.
High levels of testosterone are necessary to get huge, but that is only one factor. Some men and women do not have enough testosterone or the genetic predisposition to build bulky muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise. They can lift extremely heavy weights and down protein shakes between sets but still not bulk up. However, everyone can increase muscle size through weight lifting.
Does this mean it does not matter how you lift weights? Absolutely not. You still need to use the right exercise variables for muscle gain or your body will not respond. What it boils down to is that a fear of getting huge should not cause you to hold back during workouts.
The final thing to remember is that weight lifting is never going to make you appear toned if you have fat covering up your muscles. Eating right and engaging in consistent cardio exercise gets rid of excess fat and keeps it off. However, if you only do cardio and avoid weights, you may be able to squeeze into your skinny jeans but you will have no muscle tone.
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Sárka-Jonae is a health writer, novelist, and retired personal trainer. She has more than 4,000 articles published online and in print. Sárka was certified through NASM and AFAA as a personal trainer, plus received certifications through APEX Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness for personal training and group exercise instruction. To learn more exercise tips and to get a great Beachbody Fitness Workout DVD, click here.