"TONING" 101 for the Female Athlete

Female Athletes who want to be “Toned”

Emily R Pappas, M.S.


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What does being “toned” even mean?

Often when females claim they want to be toned, they usually mean they want to slim down. At the same time, they’re looking for definition—it’s all about appearing “firm.” In other words, they want muscle, but not too much muscle. They want the strength, but not the bulk.

To realize both, you have to focus on two main things:

  1. If your aim is to become leaner, you’re going to need to start looking at what’s on your plate. Diet is the biggest determinant when it comes to your body fat percentage.

  2. If you want to have more definition, you’re going to have to start lifting weights.

So, How Heavy Should You Lift?

One of the biggest myths about “getting toned” is that you should avoid heavy lifting—this will only make you “bulk up.”

FALSE. The amount you lift is only relative to the strength of the athlete.

Lifting weights is the STIMULUS your body requires to put on muscle. When you lift, your body responds by building muscle—it realizes muscle is the only way to deal with such a challenge. So, the more you lift, the more muscle you build and the more weight your body can handle.

In order for you to build muscle, the stimulus (or weight) must be great enough to disturb the body’s current state. Otherwise, why would it go through the trouble of increasing muscle?

This means, if you lift a weight with a technically sound movement pattern and perceive it to be light, it’s probably not great enough to create a disturbance. Remember that, without a big enough stimulus, your body is not being challenged enough to respond or adapt. Lifting only light weights isn’t going to do much for your strength or your definition.

Instead, to get that firm and defined look, you need to push your body to build muscle. Only then will you be on your way to “getting toned.”