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Bodybuilding VS Toning: Straight Talk Excuse Busting

Each week I hear conversations at the gym about body building and toning. Moreover I talk to female clients who are interested in losing body fat and interested in building muscle but do not want to lift weights. Somehow they have the perception that they will “bulk up”. That “talk” reeks of a lack of knowledge and fears and is using ‘bulking up” as an excuse.

Women associate bulking up with body building and toning with a slender, lean physique. Honestly the terminology is mostly represented this way: body building is almost always synonymous to muscle development, while toning is associated with getting a slender physique.


Toning is talked about more with women’s fitness while body building is discussed relative to men. Oh yes there are “body building” women (drug induced – ok my opinion) but you see more of that in muscle building books aimed at a male core audience. Please don’t get me wrong as I am not expressing any feeling either way I am simply trying to provide (our mainly female) audience with information. At this point I must explain I am not leaving out our male readers, I just find that men will lift weights without being concerned with labels. Men will lift as heavy as they can as often as they can without any stigma of any kind. In fact I heard one guy in the gym say “go heavy or go home cuz this is not place to tone”, and I laughed. I laughed because he pissed off more than a few women in the weight room that day, BUT HE WAS RIGHT!   He did not make me mad because “heavy” is relative. Yes relative to the person lifting. My 160 pound bench press is heavy and has “toned” me but clearly would be like him bench pressing a sandwich. So I laughed and kept it moving.

Toning is an ambiguous word with no clear definition in fitness. Everyone uses it and no one knows for sure what it really means. It is a bastardization of the word “tonus” which means the tension in a muscle at rest. Many women interpret that to mean lighter weights and many many repetitions (this could be another post on its own). Using lighter weights you will only succeed in having muscle endurance. A muscle that has endurance, can go on and on and on and on, like the Ever Ready battery rabbit. You will not achieve strength and you will not reap any benefit from having more lean muscle mass, because you will not achieve any with light weights and 20 plus repetitions.

BOTTOMLINE: both words (body building and toning) reflect actions that focus on strength and resistance training, as well as putting emphasis on adequate rest and food intake. Strength training doesn’t have to be scary. When you lift in a safe, sensible way, lifting weights can act as the boost you need to jump-start your body fat loss and body composition goals. Strength training also helps to make daily activities much easier to accomplish when you have more muscle to work with. This type of ”functional fitness” is more than just trying to get a six pack; it’s about helping your body work more efficiently as a complete unit now and in the years to come. So, women, embrace the weights and watch your body change before your eyes. Let go of labels and let the following “excuse busters” lead you to a well muscled body.

I’ll gain weight and get bulky and have boy muscles. EXCUSE BUSTER: Boy muscles…really?? Not likely. It is almost impossible for women to build the same kind of muscle mass as men because of hormonal differences. Men have higher testosterone levels than women do, which is the major reason why men have so much more muscle mass. We just don’t have enough testosterone in our bodies to build bulky muscles. In fact, instead of adding bulk to your look, combining resistance training and cardio workouts will help women look longer and leaner as they get stronger. Strength training is also a key part of body fat loss and weight maintenance. You may gain weight but it will not be fat and it will not be at a very fast rate. It takes time to build quality muscle so don’t think that you will be packing on muscle weight immediately. In fact we gain muscle weight so slowly with consistent fat loss you likely will not notice until you start to see muscles pop in various places. So don’t let that frighten you. And even if you do pack on a little muscle weight and you may be a little heavier, you will be a much smaller tighter package. Ten pounds of muscle takes up much less space than 10 pounds of fat. Muscle mass will also burn an extra 10 calories per day – how awesome is that, a lean, mean and revved up machine. And a challenging strength training regime will have you burning calories even when you’re not exercising.

I am trying to lose weight so I need more cardio.

EXCUSE BUSTER: When it comes to weight loss, a calorie burned is a calorie burned. And the whole idea behind losing weight is cutting calories through both diet and exercise but not just cardio exercise either. Many strength workouts like bootcamps (yeah my favorite), kettlebell training and circuit or interval training can count as cardio and help you burn even more calories than easy or moderate intensity cardio routines. Also strength training adds muscle to your body, which boosts your metabolism, as muscle burns more calories per ounce than fat. It can also help to reshape and tighten your body. Resistance training, strength training, and weight lifting all the same things are the only activities that will RESHAPE YOUR BODY. Yes I said it. If you have an apple shape, cardio weight loss will only make you a smaller apple – not the look you are going for. But with strength training you can actually reshape your body, tightening your waist building shoulders, leaning out your upper body to balance your lower body to take you from apple to hour glass. WooHoo.

Strength training is a snoozer……..boring.

EXCUSE BUSTER: If you like activities that are a little more fast-paced and engaging or get bored very easily, then strength training really is for you—the sky is the limit. From group classes that pair lifting weights to fun music, to suspension training with the TRX, workout DVDs, free weights, circuit training , kettlebells and even using your own body weight. You can do it in the gym, at home, outside or just about anywhere. Partner training with your significant other works tool. The options are endless and definitely not boring. You Tube is definitely and option once you know what you are doing. Mix it up and have fun.

I am clueless and am intimidated by the weight room and scared I may get hurt. 

EXCUSE BUSTER: Many women fear looking foolish in front of others (especially the men in the weight room) because they don’t know how to lift weights properly. If you don’t know how to use the weight machines, or you don’t know how to do a certain exercise correctly, schedule some sessions with a personal trainer or talk with your facility to see if they have (no cost) personnel dedicated to showing patrons how to use equipment. They can show you what you need and possibly create a healthy strength-training plan that matches your goals. This personnel should demonstrate how to correctly do each exercise so you don’t get injured. Just make sure the person that you enlist to help you has the appropriate credentials to help and has experience in helping others. Just because someone has muscles does not mean they know how to help you get muscles. So be careful with whom you choose to help you.

Hiring a certified trainer is also another way to help make you feel more comfortable in the weight room when you first get started. It really may feel like other people are watching you but nobody is paying attention to you they are focused on their own workouts. Focus just like they do and get it done. Before you know it you will feel comfortable and you will forget all the other people around you.

Once you know what you should be doing get a partner, someone with the same goals as you to meet up with you at your place of workout. This also allows you to focus on your workout with your partner and not anyone around you. Having a partner just makes the unknown easier to navigate.

I don’t have time for cardio, lifting and stretchingoh my.

EXCUSE BUSTER: The best thing about strength training is that it can double as cardio if you do it the correct way. There are three basic ways to do this. One way is that you can add some cardio moves, such as mountain climbers or jumping jacks or marching in place or burpees, between different strength exercises to get your heart rate up and keep it elevated through your entire workout. Or, another way, is that you can do a circuit training or interval training type format where you have no rest between exercises and perform moves that work major muscle groups (such as lunges, squats and push-ups which target multiple muscles). This too keeps your heart rate elevated, giving you a high calorie burn and working your cardiovascular system. Another option is doing strength moves that work the lower body with the upper body (for example a lunge with a bicep curl), to really get your heart pumping – we call these compound or combination moves.

A strength training video by XHIT Workout/Kelsey Lee: Welcome to the Gun Show Upper Body Resistance Workout

No excuses – we need muscle building workouts no matter what you call them: strength training, weight lifting, resistance training, body building or toning – step up and just do it, it will do your body good.

Remember consistency is key. Life is going to happen, live it, love it, embrace it and make a daily workout part of your plan.

Until we meet again… yours in fitness




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