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Light Weights and Steady Pace Cardio Won’t “Tone Up” Your Body

Weight training makes me look too big!!! And I just want to “tone up”

Does it sounds familiar to you? I bet it does because most of us are trying to achieve this magical “tone up” effect with exercising. And then we all seem to know the “recipe”– we are hitting the treadmill first and then we do a few exercises with 3 or 5 lbs weights… and then… and then… and then nothing really happens:(

So we are hiring a trainer or following someone else’s routine that involves weights that you never knew you could lift before! After your first workouts you are barely walking and even driving causes you pain. A few weeks later you got used to occasional soreness but another problem arises out of nowhere – instead of looking leaner you are actually looking bigger then you were! “OMG!!! I’ve got to stop it! Another month and I’m ready for Ms. Olympia competition!” – you think. Nope, let’s go back to the science again, ladies!

Training with light weights for high repetitions (which you’ve probably tried before on your own) WON’T TONE YOU UP. Muscle toning can only be achieved by “activating the type II motor units and muscle fibers responsible for hypertrophy and definition.”1 Type II muscle fibers are able to generate large amounts of force unlike the type I muscle fibers that are involved during your steady pace cardio sessions and light weight training.Also, type II fibers are larger in diameter than type I and has a potential to increase in size.3 Therefore visually noticeable muscle tone is attained through resistance training with significant weights enabled by type II muscle fibers.

Enough science, right? Let’s get back to your story where you’ve trained with heavy weights and yet didn’t reach that lean appearance you’ve wished for. How did this happen? Did you go too far with weight lifting? Most likely you didn’t…The muscle by itself is always lean and usually not as big as you imagine it. The problem hides in a layer of fat that’s located right on top of your muscle and visually increases its volume. Therefore the weight training shouldn’t be blamed for your “bulky” appearance! Instead, you should focus on decreasing your body fat by:

  • Adjusting your calorie intake (weight training tend to increase our appetite so we easily become guilty of overeating)
  • Doing at least 2-3 cardio workouts a week to increase calorie expenditure and dig into those stubborn fat deposits.

And of course, continue with your resistance workouts! No one said it’s going to be easy but it surely worth it!


2Bryant, Cedric X. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 4th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, 2010. Print.

3Bryant, Cedric X. ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, 2010. Print.

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