When it comes to muscle tone and definition, it is fundamental to your results that the weights you lift and the technique you use sufficiently damage the muscle to allow repair to take place. Don’t be scared of ‘heavy’ weights and don’t think for one minute you will be become ‘hench’ like some of the men down the gym!
When you exercise, small tears occur within the muscle fibres, which cause inflammation and soreness. This is normal and a required element of training, as it is the subsequent healing of these tears that is fundamental to improved strength, tone and fitness. It is however, also important, to allow the muscles time to recover and repair to enable you to continue on your path towards your goal. If you do not allow appropriate rest you can easily end up with a strain or muscle tear that can force you into prolonged rest periods.
When you begin weight training, it is best to start with a basic full body routine that will work all the major muscle groups and allow the muscles to get used to lifting weights. You should also ensure that the weights you lift lead you to failure on your final set. An example of the exercises you should include in a basic plan is as follows: Bench Press (Chest and Triceps); Bent Over Row (Back and Biceps); Over Head Press (Shoulders and Triceps); Wide Squat (Thighs and Bottom); Narrow Squat (Thighs and Bottom). Failure in these exercises is easy to identify, the weight should feel heavy enough initially to make you concentrate on your technique and breathing. If you find that you can’t complete the first set, the weight is too heavy to begin with. If you don’t find it tough in the least bit, you will need to up the intensity (weight or reps)! Your failure point is the point where you are unable to perform the exercise to full range of motion! If you can’t bring the bar down in bench press so your elbows are at least to a right angle or you can’t press all the way up, it’s time to quit! When you are completing the third set, if you are not struggling, you should add a fourth set to avoid wasting the session. Between sets allow yourself 30-45 seconds rest and then start the next one. When doing a full body routine, allow 1 full days rest between workouts and aim to complete it 3 days per week.
After about 6-8 weeks and once you are used to doing a weights workout, you can think about introducing more complex training systems. My personal favourite is super-sets. You pair 2 muscle groups (i.e. back and biceps) and then pair up exercises for these groups, allowing no rest between muscle groups. This is a good way to improve your strength and subsequently tone and definition. When considering such training systems, you should ideally consult a personal trainer to get an appropriate routine worked out for you. This will ensure that you are performing the exercises correctly, are using appropriate weight and have a routine that suits your goals.
To summarise, a lady that lifts ‘heavy’ weights will not get bulky, we do not produce enough testosterone and we are unlikely to use size and muscle gainer supplements to aid in our journey towards our ideal body. Muscle pain is GOOD! If you don’t hurt after training, you probably haven’t damaged the muscle fibres sufficiently enough to promote the healing that will lead to strength and toning goals.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Personal trainers in the gym are there to help, so ask for guidance and have a few 1:1 sessions so you can fully benefit from your new programme!