Number one of the list of desires for 99 per cent of my clients is achieving a slim, 'toned' physique, with abs for Africa and curves in all the right places. To get there, so many women assume that the main goal should be weight loss, when it's actually far more important to take a closer look at reducing your body fat percentage and building lean muscle mass instead. Yes, those cream doughnuts are still going to play a part in preventing you from achieving this goal, but just as important is the way you approach your workouts day-to-day, week-to-week, creating a balanced lifestyle.
In response to this idea, a considerable amount of shying away from the word 'muscle' ensues. It insights trepidation and fear in women, coming with an assumption that you will end up too deep into the bulky end of the scale. Images of orange skin and bad heels are enough to put most of us off, but a healthy appreciation for building and maintaining muscle is the first step towards creating a 'toned' look. In fact, tone and muscle are one in the same, and to get there it's important to embrace body weight exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, and even weighted sets that push your strength to the limit at the gym.
Another mistake a lot of us makes is measuring progress based on what the scales are reading, rather than understanding the body and appreciating how we feel and look. One of the most important rules of 'toning up' is that muscle weighs more than fat; the total volume of one kilo fat is three times larger than one kilo of muscle. Plus a few unwanted wobbles. Consider throwing away the scales and picture your progress from the skin inwards - how close are your growing muscles to the surface of your body? Either that, or invest in a pair of scales that will give you a digital reading of where you body fat percentage lies.
When it comes to developing a training program, clients will often ask how they can reduce fat from particular areas - the stomach being an obvious one - and not concern themselves with much else. Unfortunately, what you may have heard before is completely true - you can't spot reduce fat. On a programme that is looking to build a toned body it's important to include a few cardio sessions each week as these will melt the fat from the inside out, though it will follow the natural distribution of your body's stored energy. What is possible is targeting muscle development in particular areas and things like the thighs, butt and arms can be worked on individually to promote muscle growth and tone. However, it's not a good idea to ignore any particular area.
It's all about balance, and if this is a goal that you have in mind there are a few important things to remember:
Resistance training: To build lean muscle mass you should be working all of your major muscle groups, focusing on each group more specifically in different sessions. Try body weight training in your favorite park, or hit the weights room and target the legs and butt, arms and shoulders, core and back in separate sessions. Aim for four sessions each week.
Cardio sessions: Extremely important for melting the fat that sits on top of your developing lean muscle, try and find a form of cardio that you enjoy and include three sessions each week. Running, cycling, sprint training, swimming, even walking are all going to do the trick.
Reduce your sugar intake: Nutrition does play a massive part in any programme that aims to lose fat, and usually a diet high in sugar or simple carbohydrates is the most obvious barrier. Switch your snacks to high protein, healthy fat options like nuts and seeds, and cut out the daily trips to your nearest café.
Fuel up properly: Make sure you're providing your body with enough energy both during and after your workout for the best results and recovery. Beforehand, small energy dense snacks that won't fill your stomach too much are key, and a good source of protein along with plenty of vitamins and mineral post-workout will do wonders.
Create a lifestyle, not a programme: Yes, starting off with a workout program that will specifically map out your daily exercise is one of the best ways to get started. But changing your perspective from 'this is a daily chore' to 'my life will always include exercise' is what will keep you fit, healthy and happy long into the future.