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  • Emily Ledford

Strength Training for Fat Loss? What "Toning Up" Really Means

For any of you looking for that "toned" look, please understand what that means. It is muscle. It is having a body fat percentage that is suitable for allowing muscle definition to show through. Anyone can lose weight on the scale. But what happens when you lose that weight, and you find yourself looking like a smaller version of your previous self --with still no "tone" to show? Chances are that any muscle you DID have has disappeared with the weight loss. I see it happen so often!

Allow me to explain what I mean:

Putting on muscle will make fat loss easier and THEN, you will be able to see the definition [tone] you have been aiming for.

If your workouts in the gym ONLY look like circuit training, minimal rest between exercises, going until you can't go anymore, aiming to sweat as much as possible, or just doing tons of cardio-- you are not training in a manner that allows you to develop enough strength or muscle to match the goal of seeing the definition [muscle]. And a LOT of women, in particular, are training this way while trying to eat like baby birds. Well, not REALLY eating worms I hope, but you get my point.

People have become so focused on monitors for everything. They feel the proof of a good workout is not just how much they sweat but in how many calories they burn during the session. I can hear them shouting:

~~"Where's the heart rate now?! We gotta do everything we can to make it stay there! Let's burn all the calories at ALL COSTS! They are evil! And we gotta record it all and post it on Facebook--or it didn't happen and doesn't count!"

Sound familiar?

Maybe you are wearing yourself out but the process is not helping you achieve your desired look or maybe you can't lose the weight--even with ALL of the cardio. Heck, maybe it did work for a few weeks and now you wonder why your appetite is OUT OF CONTROL. You have days you feel like: "I really may eat that kitchen sink".

So what's a better way to exercise to get lean and to LOOK like you workout? You'll need to lift heavy enough where you will HAVE to REST between sets.

Seriously, boot camp lovers. I'm talking to you.

Rest is required for building muscle mass and a significant amount of strength that will hang around even when you lose body fat. And that muscle mass is what will improve your metabolism, aid with fat loss and improve body composition. And boot camp is cool, but y'all...let's do something else for a minute!

You see, anytime you lose weight or diet, you are going to lose some muscle. It just is. The thought makes me sad, but the good news is that you CAN lessen the muscle loss by heavier lifting. So, what is lifting heavy? Some think they are lifting heavy after it starts to BURN after 30 reps or just because they are breathing hard.

And it doesn't help when celebrity trainers tell us not to lift anything heavier than our purse because we will get "too bulky". Another show of nonsense in the fitness industry that makes me almost lose my mind.

Lifting heavy for strength is generally considered 1 to 5 reps and NEEDING at least 2-5 minutes in order to recover enough to lift THAT again for the same amount of reps.

Oh, that's all? That sounds easy, right? 5 measly reps! HA!

No "ha-ha's" about it if you are lifting heavy enough. You'll also want to work in higher rep ranges to reap the benefits of increasing muscle and having a well rounded program- generally around what's heavy for 8-12 reps...and occasionally a little higher.

So back to those other types of workouts that are super fast paced and sweaty. Are they BAD?! No!

And they can be great when placed in the right amount-- which is probably less than you think. And then, probably even less than THAT thought you just had. I'm in your head.

Try doing a few sets of a couple lower rep compound lifts at the start of your workout.

Examples: Squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead presses, push up, pull up variations, or rows.

Add in some accessory exercises to enhance muscle growth after those main lifts--something that is heavy for 8-15 reps there with the last 2-3 reps being VERY challenging but still good form.

Examples: lunges, hamstring curls, isolation exercises, glute and core work. You'll need less rest with this rep range, 1-2 minutes depending on the individual.

When you are a LIFTER OF HEAVY, you get RESULTS. You realize that wow, sleeves are ACTUALLY stupid!


You don't have to have beat-you-into-the-ground sessions every workout. I promise that won't make you a Superhero. Take my word for it. Tried that once upon a time. Still Emily. Though, since I changed the way I train from years past, I am now healthier, more energized, stronger, leaner and more bulletproof to injuries. It feels GOOD to be strong. Everything is easier- even cardio! ;)

Remember, more is not always better. Better is better.

And yep, Nutrition is still #1.

Need help with a structured program with major support, nutrition guidance AND fun?

Go check out the 80+ reviews here from the 5 x 20 Challenge monthly group training subscription. Hope to see you there!


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