I was recently contacted by someone who wanted to ‘tone up’ in a month running up to her wedding.
I dislike the expression ‘tone up’.
I’m never quite sure what is meant by it, to be honest, so I looked up the Oxford Dictionary definition:
- (of a person or body part) became stronger or firmer. “his leg muscles had toned up”
- give greater strength or firmness to the body or a muscle. “exercise tones up the muscles”
I was dubious of what it was possible for her to achieve in a month. As a Personal Trainer, I like to be clear in what I can do to help a client and I was honest with her as to how realistic her goal was..
However, I said I was happy to help, and suggested that she would need to be meticulous with her nutrition and to be doing resistance training 4 times per week, not just the odd training session with me.
The Reality of Muscle Gain
In reality, building muscle requires significant work and commitment to see results. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a few weeks. There is limited research investigating lean muscle gain over the course of a month, but it has been shown that it MAY be possible to gain 2-4 pounds of lean muscle mass in this timeframe.
Noticeable muscle gain is more likely to take YEARS and the amount of muscle gain possible in a month is quite small. That said you will likely gain more muscle during the initial one to three months of training, than in subsequent months (initial gains).
The rate of muscle gain varies based on age, sex, physical condition, genetics, nutrition, and the training programme.
Your hormonal profile and genetic makeup will also affect your ability to gain muscle. As we age, hormone levels can drop, leading to decreased muscle or a harder time gaining it.
Women are also at a slight disadvantage when it comes to quick muscle and strength building due to genetic and hormonal differences.
How do we build muscle?
Muscle is built by stressing muscle fibres to the point that they must adapt, which they do by building or recruiting more muscle fibres. To gain muscle, resistance training is essential. The most important factor for increasing muscle mass is to continue stressing and challenging the muscles so that they must adapt and grow.
Research has shown that the most important factor is to focus on high-intensity resistance exercises in the 8–12 rep range
Compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press work multiple muscle groups at once, improving exercise efficiency and stimulating muscle growth.
In addition to compound exercises, isolation exercises to target specific muscle groups are of benefit.
Altering weight loads, repetitions, volume and frequency of training provides the challenge to stress the muscles that leads to muscle growth.
While cardiovascular exercise is important for overall health, it does not play a major role in muscle gain.
In addition to your exercise regime, you need to eat enough calories and especially protein, to fuel muscle growth. You need to be in a calorie SURPLUS to gain muscle!
For the best results, it’s recommended that you eat 10–20% more calories than your metabolic rate, which is also known as your total daily energy expenditure.
Experts recommend getting 20–40 grams of a high-quality protein, meaning protein that contains all essential amino acids and is easily digested, within 2 hours of resistance exercise to maximize muscle gains
While protein powders are not necessary, they can serve as an excellent tool to help you meet your daily protein needs, especially if you have trouble reaching them through your regular diet.
A common error that women make is to try and ‘tone up and lose weight by reducing calorie intake while trying to gain muscle. These goals are not congruent.
See my blog on training goals
So this explains my doubt that someone can ‘tone up’ in a month.
Lose weight yes, and perhaps this can give the impression of ‘toning up’ as less fat covering the muscles can give the appearance of gaining muscle.
I would suggest that if someone has a short-term goal of looking better, it makes more sense to focus on fat loss, not muscle gain, and this is mainly achieved by a consistent reduction of daily caloric intake.
Rachel Law is a personal fitness trainer based in New Malden, Surrey. Qualifications: ActivIQ Level 3 Personal Training; Burrell Education Pregnancy Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education Advanced Pregnancy Wellness Practitioner; Burrell Education Advanced Post Natal Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education 3rd Age Women Optimal Health and Nutrition; Burrell Education Peri Natal Athlete; Burrell Education Pelvic Flow and Freedom; Olympic Weight Lifting; Premier Global Kettlebells; FIE Level Assessment and Mentoring