Slim, toned, firm, tight, all words we often connect to women’s fitness goals. These words are plastered across the covers of women’s magazines, headlining numerous articles, and saturating our everyday media, so it’s really no wonder that this is what many women aim to achieve in their fitness endeavors.
But how then should women go about achieving this “toned” and “slim” look? The media might have one think that through exhausting hours of cardio exercises or short circuits using darling five pound dumbbells the ultimate female physique will be reached. The issue here though, is that this image is slightly misleading.
It’s not to say that doing that circuit from your favorite magazine or clocking in an hour on the elliptical isn’t beneficial to your health, because exercise is exercise after all, but don’t expect to obtain that “toned” physique from that alone.
When we look to the science behind it all we see that cardio exercise and strength training possess different benefits to our health. Cardio, or cardiovascular, exercise is the type of exercise that gets our heart rates up, gets us sweating, and gets lots of oxygen going through our blood. Think jogging, elliptical, biking, etc. This type of exercise is key to our heart and lung health, gets us ready for higher intensity workouts, and can act as a stress and anxiety reliever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend adults get anywhere from 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity per week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio activity per week. Moderate-intensity being a five to six out of ten on an individuals personal scale of perceived exertion, and vigorous-intensity being a seven or eight out of ten. Of course you can feel free to mix and match your weekly workouts between moderate and vigorous activity.
Strength training is any exercise that utilizes and strengthens our muscles using weights (think dumbbells or bodyweight) or resistance (think resistance bands, or fitness balls). The CDC recommends adults include at least two weekly strength training sessions in their workouts. These sessions should aim to work all major muscle groups (shoulders, back, chest, arms, legs, hips, and abdomen). The difference lies though in strength trainings benefits to our health from increasing lean body mass, to decreasing fat mass, and increasing our resting metabolic rate (how many calories we burn in a day). More lean muscle tissue means our bodies will burn more calories and fat each day, even when we’re at home sitting on the couch. Not only this, but muscle takes up less space in our body than fat, even though it weighs more. Meaning the scale may go up as you gain muscle, but your jeans will be fitting a little bit looser.
A simplified way of looking at it, cardio results in a smaller version of the body you already have, while strength training results in a new shape of your body. Cardio will aid in weight loss and will benefit your health, but ultimately it won’t give you that “toned”, “tight” look all on its own. Strength training will also aid in weight loss, but it will allow you to shape your body and give you the muscle needed to obtain the “toned” look. So then you want to change the look and shape of your body, you need to include not only cardio, but strength training too.
Aside from the aesthetic effects of strength training, women can and should consider the other benefits. Gaining strength can allow women to feel more empowered in their everyday lives. Whether it be carrying in multiple grocery bags, lifting up your toddler, or simply feeling stronger and more powerful from day to day.
So what’s holding you back? Too often we see in the media or hear women’s concerns that strength training will result in a manly figure or a bulky physique. This idea is misplaced and misleading for women. Too put it simply, women just don’t have enough testosterone to gain the same level of muscle as men.
With that all being said, the next time you find yourself running the opposite way of the weight room, think again, strength training could be the answer you need for your fitness regime to not only give you that “toned” and “trim” look you desire, but to give you numerous health benefits and new a sense of power and strength.