Often female fitness enthusiasts can be seen performing their exercises in the gym just going through the motions with too light weights and unnecessarily high repetitions, hardly ever taking any of their sets close to the point of momentary muscle failure. They often try to justify their failure to work hard with the excuse that they just want to get “toned” and don’t want to get “too bulky”. The term “toning”, is, however, merely a made-up term, which does not have any scientific basis and can not be found in any physiology book; muscles either shrink or grow, but they do not “tone”.

When examining a muscle cell under an electron microscope, it is not possible to discern, whether this particular cell comes from a female or a male organism. As there is obviously no difference in the anatomic make-up of female and male muscle cells, there is also no reason to believe that they need to be trained differently: training principles are universal and not based on gender. Training programs and concepts for women and men should therefore generally be quite identical in orderto be effective. To provide any muscle with the optimum training stimulus to promote continuous adaption requires to progressively overload that muscle over time. Striving to challenge and slightly exceed yourself in each subsequent work-out by either increasing weight resistance where possible, adding some reps, shortening rest periods between sets, or occasionally including one or the other additional exercise in your work-out routine is the way to go. This applies to women as well as to men, if they are serious about achieving their fitness goals.

Women may not be able to handle as much weight as men, as they usually have less lean body mass than men. However, on a basis of lean body mass, many women are capable of proportionally becoming as strong as many men. Entirely different is, however, the effect of weight-training on men’s and women’s physical appearance. Although male and female muscle cells are anatomically identical and therefore ought to be trained according to the same training principles, the achieved training effect in males and females is very different due to their physiological differences. Women produce 10 to 35 times less testosterone than men, and as testosterone, the “male” hormone, is mainly responsible for increases in muscle size, it becomes apparent that females, who are afraid of becoming too muscular, have nothing to worry about. Although women become stronger in response to systematic weight-training with progressive overload and high intensity, their muscles do not tend to increase much in size due to the naturally low levels of testosterone present in the female organism. Weight-training rather tends to make women’s muscles stronger, firmer and tighter, and over time usually leads to a reduction in the circumference of their body-parts and limbs, due to gradual fat-loss throughout the body. As muscle tissue is much denser than fat tissue, women are soon able to wear smaller clothing sizes as a consequence of sincere weight-training efforts. Such reshaping of their physique is what females should generally look forward to achieve, as it makes them look slimmer, healthier and more attractive. Increased muscle development also brings about a valuable increase of metabolism, which prevents any potential future fat accumulation on their bodies.

The excessive muscular development of certain competitive female bodybuilders, as seen in bodybuilding magazines, can only be achieved by very few genetically gifted female athletes. Apart from exceptional genetics, it takes them many years of dedicated training, strict nutritional discipline, and the use of performance enhancing supplements, drugs and chemicals to build such extraordinary physiques. It is completely impossible for any woman to accomplish such excessive muscle development unintentionally or accidentally merely by following a sensibly designed weight-training routine as part of a healthy fitness lifestyle.

Whether male or female, and whether you may just want to “tone-up” your physique or may have other fitness-goals, you should always challenge yourself in the gym and adhere to an effective work-out program designed in accordance with your individual goals and your current training level. If your goal is to just generate a “well-toned” physique, performing your sets with 10-15 repetitions for most exercises may be an option, as long as you take your sets close to momentary muscle-failure and keep your intensity high with just as much rest between sets that your heart-rate stays elevated throughout your entire work-out. Relying predominantly on “heavy” compound-movements will allow you to use sufficient weight-resistance to make an impact and will also be most suitable to achieve a “toned appearance”, as they burn far more calories than “easy” isolation movements; this will contribute to shedding the fat-layer covering your muscles.

Remember, a low intensity/high volume “toning” approach is an ineffective training-method, as it hardly affects any muscular adaption. The result of such exercise is a waste of time and energy and will not significantly improve your physical appearance, but may at the most slightly improve your muscular endurance.


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