Muscle Building 101

“How to get a toned body!” the title screamed at me from the magazine cover. Maybe I shuddered a little.

I don’t like that word. Why? I’m not sure exactly.

Maybe because it’s vague? What is “toned”, really?

Ok I know what they mean. I’ve even had people use it in regards to my physique.

What it really implies is having muscle under your skin so you are filled out, sleek or have shape and definition.

Through conversations I’ve learned it’s a look many women want but aren’t quite sure how to go about getting there.

I’m not talking body builder status here. That is an entirely different animal that requires a whole lot of weights,  food micro managed and discipline to get to that point.

No, I’m talking about having some muscle on your body that gives shape or the “toned” look that people often reference.

I want to offer some encouragement and suggestions in this post if that thought has crossed your mind on occasion.

Maybe a starting point for you.

I’ll tell you this. When I started on my journey, having some muscle was probably the last thing on my mind  at the time.

I mean initially, it was all about losing some fat.

I never gave it a thought, having muscles. Well, I should say,  having more muscles than woman usually are wearing.

Weirdly as my athletic endeavors continued along, the muscle, almost became a side effect from much of what I was doing. Meaning, I wasn’t spending long hours a week in an attempt to build it. The growth came from activities I was pursuing and enjoyed.

And it has taken time… understand if your an average person plugging along.. it takes time. I have taken photos in my fitness journey.  For example, I can look at my arms in a photo for one year, but compare a photo from a year or so later and the difference is quite apparent.

I should maybe make a little disclaimer here that my body seems to respond well to adding muscle. It’s important to know if you start, what body type you have. This will give you a bit of understanding if it takes you longer than a friend to see results.

I remember when I did Crossfit one of the trainers teasing me I was a freak ’cause she’d been intentionally working on muscle building and I wandered in off the streets with really no formal training or work with weights and carried more muscle than pretty much most people who were already there.

Know your body type

There’s a reason why. My body type is a mesomorph ( that kinda sounds like a Power Ranger, doesn’t it ? 😉 ) it’s really just a fancy way of saying I’m a bit more predisposed to gaining muscle than maybe some of my leaner, slimmer counterparts.

body type
Do a quick check to identify your body type

 

Because of my body type, I’m already genetically wired to build on it. Now if I never applied myself, obviously I wouldn’t change. But with exercise and weights I can make that work for me. And basically, I might not have to work as hard to see results as someone with a endomorph or ectomorph body type.

Once you understand more of what you’re working with you can decide how you want to train or what you want to work on. You can build muscle with body weight exercises as well as weights. I personally love and prefer free weights over machines.

I sometimes get the “oh, where do you train?” question and I love telling them in the back of a barn with yard equipment and old furniture 😛

Seriously though, my body has no idea if it’s in a fancy gym or at home. It just knows the work it’s put through.

Yours will too. You don’t need to get fancy to yield results. You just need determination, dedication and consistency for results.

Ready to get started ?

if you’re going to be at home, you’ll need some type of weights, whether you buy them or make them. I’ve found sites where people sell items purchased  full of good intentions, that they are getting rid of, and you can get them cheap. Try and get some free weights that are heavy enough to make you work… think 6-8 reps before you can’t lift it. You can go to a sports store and test them there.  And heaven help me.. if you buy those little tiny pink or blue ones that weigh less than a shoe… I will find you…. and beat you with it hahaha

Think about items you lift in your day. A jug of milk. Grocery bags. A heavy bag of dog food. Baskets of laundry.

Don’t get weights that aren’t heavy enough and expect results.

** on the cheap**…. save milk jugs… fill with sand or water… weigh them to get a idea of what you are lifting. You can increase as needed.

What can I do with my fancy weights?

I find a lot of people want to work on their arms/shoulders. And why not? Nothing looks stronger than rocking some solid arms and shoulders and they can be an easier body part to train.

I heard a line on a TV show as I was preparing this that made me laugh.. but it’s also true.

“Why did you purchase a sweater with no sleeves?!”

The response?

“Because my arms look amazing!”

I’ll be honest here. Most of my wardrobe has no sleeves. I love having strong arms and I don’t hide them.

With some work and consistency you can have strong arms too.

Below are some of my favorite go to moves for a strong upper body. For the sake of space in this post, my commentary will be limited. I strongly encourage you to learn more about these moves and variations that come with them 🙂

bicep-curls
Bicep curls
bent over row
Bent over row
shoulder_press
Shoulder press
overhead-extension
Overhead tricep extension
bent over flies
Bent over flys
tricep kickback
Tricep kickback
chest press
Chest press

Once you determine the weight you will use, you can begin with sets. Usually a “set” can have anywhere from 8-12 reps. You then repeat the sets 2-4 times depending on your level on fitness. It’s best to start low and let your body adapt and then increase reps and sets.

What about the rest of the body?

I will admit, I don’t over work my legs on strength training days. Between running and cycling it keeps them in pretty good shape. I do incorporate some moves though that cover the whole legs and butt area and also helps to keep me loosened up.

Here are some body weight exercises that will work the legs/ glutes area.

Again, I will encourage you to learn more about each move and then you can make your own “plan” to use.

The squat, jump squat ( weirdly one of my fav’s to do), the lunge, jump lunge, side lunge, sumo squat ( this always feels so powerful to me) are all body weight moves you can do anywhere.

The glute bridge ( perfect for those who might physically not be able to do squat type moves) I love adding a 25lb weight plate to my belly when I do them.

glute_bridge
Glute bridge

 

I do believe what has become one of my favorites is the single leg dead lift. Not only is it great for your balance it also isolates one hip/glute area at a time which is helpful for making sure each leg is strong. Your core should be tight and engaged as you do this.  If you’re a runner, you want to learn this one.  Oh yeah… are you wanting a rounder bottom? This is one of the best things you can do 😉

Single-Leg-Romanian-Deadlift

I use a 35 lb kettle bell doing this exercise.  You can use nothing at all in the beginning, work on keeping your balance (keep your eyes fixed on something directly in front of you to help balance) and having good form. If you want to add some weight to your hands as you get stronger, even better.

Note: almost all of these exercises can be used with dumb bells as well to make it a bit harder.

Abs, please ?

I get it. Some people will never care in the least if they see a defined muscle in their belly or not. For others, it’s a pursuit and a reward of our labors to have some obvious muscle in that place.

Not all abs are created equal. Some will effortlessly attain them, others will have to work like crazy ( hint, remember your body type)

Then there’s the obvious. If you have to much fat over them you won’t see them no matter how many exercises you do.

I’ll tell you there is truth to the saying “abs are made in the kitchen”. What you eat has a huge impact on the leanness of your belly and those hidden muscles. A diet high in veggies, fruits, and lean meats can definitely help reveal them.

And crunches… forget those. Our abs ( our “core”) are made up of many layers and need to be worked in different ways for results. The muscles that make up our abs are the rectus abdominus, with several other core muscles, including the obliques, transversus abdominus, and serratus.  You can see where just the age old “crunch” isn’t going to work all of those groups.

Here are a few body weight moves to consider

The plank and side plank

Russian twist ( again I like using a weight plate doing this)

russian twist
Russian twist

 

 

ok… another for you…  the bicycle crunch

bicycle crunch

And one of my favorite ones. I usually do them till I can’t do them anymore.

butterfly
the butterfly crunch

This was a move I took out of Crossfit. You really need to suck your bellybutton into your backbone as you come up. Keep the move very controlled on the way back down. Your core should feel tight and engaged. For extra fun, yeah, here comes my standard 25 lb weight plate I hold while I do them.  Again, the focus should be on knowing where you are and what you can do and doing it in good form. Don’t push for more than you’re ready for.

The bottom line ?

Man or woman, for great abs you need to be lean and have good core development.

In summary a little head to toe movement using just your body ( hey we all have that!) or some free weights is a good way to start working on those muscles.  Use these ideas to start or feel free to look up your own and build a plan.

Remember the biggest key to success and building a little muscle is time, consistency, and discipline. With some patience there will come rewards for your efforts.

Do you have any favorite exercises for muscle building? What has worked best for you?

Motivation And Muscles

The question came at me again. I get a lot of questions but this one comes up often….

“How do I get abs?”

Realistically we ALL have them.  The strong muscle structure that supports our back and inner organs come as standard equipment on all human bodies.

I know what the well intending person means.

How do I get defined abs? ones that show and pop ?

This really depends on your goal, what you’re wanting to achieve. For many people on their weigh loss journey, just losing fat off of their belly is all they want. Less around the waist, nothing rolling over the top making that awkward “muffin top”. Less around the middle is better for your health even if you don’t care if you ever see a defined ab muscle.

Excess fat around the belly can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Aesthetics aside… losing it off your middle is in your best health interest.

But… what if you do care and want to see those clear cut and chiseled ab muscles ? or  muscles of any kind?

You ready ?

It takes work, dropping enough body fat and having a wicked eye towards your nutrition.

Muscles are simply not visible with to much fat.

There’s this little saying that ab’s are made in the kitchen and it’s true. What and how you eat definitely comes into play in the muscle game, especially with your abs.

And what you eat is crucial to dropping fat while striving to maintain muscle mass.

But in the process of losing weight it’s important that you are building muscle.

If you diet down without building a solid foundation of strength and dense muscle tissue you’ll end up “skinny fat” ( it means you are under lean, your body has less muscle than fat) , weak and unhealthy.

What does that mean for someone wanting to have muscles that show up ? It means even if you are packing some extra weight, you are working on building muscle. It means you have a good strength training plan to build muscle mass while you work at cutting fat… so when you’ve slowly and steadily dropped that… you will have a muscle base to show up.

No matter how thin you get, if you haven’t built the core muscles in your abs you won’t have the results you are wanting. In fact if you haven’t built muscle anywhere, it won’t be there when you drop the fat.

I have been my own sort of experiment these past few years. I see magazine pictures of people like “before/after” but I don’t know them. I don’t really even know how they got to where they are today. But I do know myself and understand what it’s taken to get me where I am and the fact it’s taken time to achieve it, and I know it will take more time and discipline to further myself.

 

Jan '10 tummy
Fall 2010

 

225592_179313034_XLarge
Moments after the finish of my second marathon Dec 7, 2014

 

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After a long ride earlier this year

 

 

You have to understand, I am a fairly ordinary woman who has done this on her own with no coaches, trainers or anyone else. I work hard, read a lot, use things I think are helpful for me, reject what I don’t think is helpful and I’ve continued to move forward a little at a time.

Do I want to be stronger ? Yes. Do I know I can have better muscles and definition? Yes. Do I understand because of where I am now it will take more disciplined work and time?

Of course I do. I’m ok with that since I know it’s a process.

The same goes for you. You won’t have visible results without a strong foundation. You will need significant muscle mass before you see abs and  work before you see other muscles.

But hey, remember in the process, you are getting stronger for living your life and that is a total bonus 🙂

What about you? Do you seek a strong, muscled or what people refer to as a “toned” look? Is that a goal? Or are you happy just being strong enough to cart the groceries in with less trips to the car ? 😉