By Holly Ridgeway
The myth of spot training
Contrary to popular belief, it’s hard to target muscle tone in a specific area by concentrating on particular muscle groups, or so-called “spot training.” The misconception is that you can increase muscle tone and lose weight in one body region only — for instance, your upper legs or the backs of your arms — by simply targeting those areas when lifting weights.
But, in fact, fat is lost unevenly throughout the body depending upon your genetic makeup. If you have your grandma’s pear shape, you’ll likely lose the bat wings before the thunder thighs. Alternately, if you inherited your mother’s apple figure, you’re more apt to lose the lower body fat before the upper.
How building muscle tone helps you lose weight
First, you can burn just as many calories while working to increase muscle tone as you would on a bike or the elliptical. This is particularly the case with circuit training, where you are performing exercises back-to-back with minimal rest. The burn is especially strong if you use free weights, as opposed to machines. Not only will you have to stabilize yourself, but you’ll have to perform many exercises while standing, which burns more calories than sitting. And, because circuit training provides a more efficient workout, you might actually spend less time at the gym!
Second, muscle burns about three times more calories than fat. Think of your body as a furnace; your muscles are the burners. When you increase muscle tone, you add more burners to the furnace, which causes you to burn fat more efficiently. This equates to lost pounds.
Finally, if you increase your muscle tone, you’ll also increase your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, which is the phenomenon of elevated metabolism after (not during) exercise. By building muscle tone with resistance training, you’ll actually burn more calories while watching TV following a resistance workout than you will after a cardio workout alone.
How to increase muscle tone
For the goal of weight loss, the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends doing resistance-training exercises consisting of two sets of 12 to 15 reps at 60-75 percent intensity. It’s best to perform exercises in a circuit so you can minimize your rest interval between exercises and burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. Rather than doing two sets for the same muscle group back-to-back, do an exercise for each body part once, and then do each one again in sequence.Yoga and Pilates are also beneficial for increasing muscle tone, and group exercise can be more motivating if you’re trying to lose weight.
And ladies, don’t worry about bulking up. Unless you’re a woman who has an unusual excess of testosterone, you are not going to turn into a bodybuilder by lifting weights. You can increase muscle tone without increasing muscle mass. So don’t fear the iron if you’re trying to lose weight — embrace it!