If you’re looking to stay strong without getting swole, here is some good news: no one accidentally gets huge. Those bodybuilder physiques are the result of intense training, calculated metabolism boosting, and high-protein diets involving roughly 4 dozen eggs a day. That’s a bit of a stretch, but the point remains: no matter how many reps you add, there’s no way you’ll suddenly wake up one morning looking like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
That being said, if you’re going to the gym hoping to build that lean muscle mass, here are 5 things to keep in mind while creating your training plan to help you get there.
1. ‘Toning’ is a buzzword (and not necessarily a good one)
In the fitness world, ‘toning up’ is a bit of a hot topic. Ask any fitness professional and they’ll tell you: there really is no such thing as toning your muscles. You can’t tone muscles; you can just build muscle mass. That’s how muscles work: you’re either building them, or you’re not. So when people are looking to ‘tone up’, what they mean is they’re looking to build muscle mass and lose enough fat to start to see that muscle definition, appearing more toned. Basically, you want to lean down your body and build up your muscle mass.
2. Get lean with cardio
To get lean, you’ll need to burn fat by creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you eat). Here’s how:
- Figure out how many calories you need to consume to support and maintain healthy energy levels. Age, weight, and physical activity should be taken into account, but an average women will need roughly 2,000 calories a day to maintain, and the average man needs around 2,500.
- Determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (the calories your body is burning at rest) with an online calculator like this one.
- If Step 1 is higher than Step 2, incorporate cardio exercises to burn off those additional calories. Let’s say we end up with Daily Calories Consumed of 2,000 and a BMR of 1,800. You’d want to incorporate cardio exercises to burn off 200+ calories.
Aerobic exercises burn calories (by increasing heart rate) and fat (by using fat as a primary fuel source). Running is a great lower body aerobic workout and a 125lb person can burn up to 240 calories in a 30-minute run. If you prefer something more low-impact, try cycling or swimming: 30 minutes of cycling outside will burn 240 calories for that same 125lb person, or 30 minutes of breaststroke can burn between 300-400 calories. Mixing in a cardio workout will burn those calories and help you get that leaner physique.
3. Build muscle and burn fat with weight training
Now it’s time to build muscle mass to get you that definition. Please do not be scared of the squat rack: lifting weights will not make you look like a stereotypical ‘weight lifter’. Like we mentioned, those physiques are the result of intense training and (most importantly) high-calorie, high-protein diets designed specifically to bulk. If you’re creating that caloric deficit with your cardio exercises, your body simply won’t be able to bulk up.
Lifting weights builds the strength of your muscles more than it builds the size. Lifting creates tiny tears in the muscle fabric which the body then repairs, building strength by adding more muscle mass (and, incidentally, making you sore). Muscle tissue is both more dense and more metabolically active than fat, meaning it needs more calories to sustain itself. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn throughout the day — even when you’re not active.
Remember to exercise caution when starting any weight training, but when you’re ready to get started don’t be afraid to (safely) push yourself. Generally, heavier weights (ie. your last two reps should feel almost impossible) and more reps (8-12 is perfect) will get you closer to your ‘toning’ goals than lighter weights and lower reps. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell workouts are a great way to burn more calories and increase exertion, as they work the entire body.
4. Give yourself a helping hand
Make the most of every workout with pre/during/post workout supplements. Specially designed for maximum efficacy, these supplements will help you maximize your endurance, push yourself harder, and optimize recovery to ease soreness. They also contain BCAA’s to help build that lean muscle mass!
You can further support your muscle growth with collagen, a key structural protein. Collagen is like a band-aid for active bodies, helping to support lean muscle growth, strengthen your connective tissues (like ligaments) to keep your body supple, and support joint health to help keep joint pain at bay.
5. Give yourself a break
The most important piece of information in this article is coming up right now: the best thing you can do for your toning goal is to be realistic. Your new workout routine has to be sustainable, and keep you motivated long-term. Avoid workout fatigue by trying something new once in a while: pilates, yoga, and barre classes are a great way to stretch and strengthen your muscles, while also working your posture to help you stand taller and look leaner.
And remember: don’t be too tough on yourself. Going too hard at the gym and overly restricting calories is a sure-fire way to burn out, give up, or even get injured. So ease into your routine, set realistic goals, make sure you're fuelling your workouts with the right foods, take a rest day when you need it, and always make sure you’re cutting calories safely.