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Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.


What is the difference between toning and weight training?

Surprise! There is absolutely no difference between toning and weight training at all! If anything, these are gender-based terms: women "tone," while men "weight train." Personal trainers and many exercise enthusiasts often use the word "toning" to keep from scaring off the women who believe they will grow huge muscles if they lift the smallest weight. Instead of handing a woman a ten-pound dumbbell and saying, "Let's build those triceps," a trainer may take an approach such as, "Here, let's tone the back of your arms so they'll never look like your granny's" - and the woman will still get handed the very same ten-pound dumbbell.

(Article continued below.)

When you are "toning" any part of your body, you are building muscle, the same as if it were called "strength training" or "weight training." The difference is in perception, that's all. When someone is "toning" her body, it means she wants a little bit of definition, but not so much that you can actually see the muscle's shape - think having a flat stomach as opposed to an all-out six-pack. Shapely shoulders and lean legs are the goal, as opposed to big biceps. Actually, 95 percent of the women who "weight train" (as opposed to those who "tone") are going after the same thing - a healthy, strong, nice-looking body. The other 5 percent? They're fitness competitors who spend many hours in the gym, transforming their bodies to fit the unrealistic standards that the contests demand of them.

Is it possible to "tone" the body without weights? Of course - exercises like squats and push-ups can be done just using your body weight alone, although the results won't happen as quickly or be as gratifying as a targeted weight-training program. The same with Yoga and Pilates - you will definitely see "tone" if you practice these exercise styles four or more times a week, but the results will be even better if you add a bit of weight training to the mix. Unless a woman works very, very hard at strength training, chances are she will never achieve more than what anyone would call "tone." Any woman who is concerned about developing too much muscle should be able to solve the problem by backing off on either the amount of weight being lifted or the amount of time and/or days spent working out. But the problem needs to develop first - until proven otherwise, it's safe to say that you will be able to "tone" or lift weights three times a week for 45 minutes to an hour without looking muscle-bound.

It really doesn't matter what you want to call it - picking up a few weights two or three times a week is a very good thing, especially if you are over 35. Unless you remain active, you will gradually lose muscle mass and this will cause you to weaken and look flabby. Much of that flabbiness is caused because there is less muscle under your skin than was once there. Young adults, even those who are less active, have a more filled-out look because they naturally have more muscle. That advantage vanishes with time and diminishing muscle mass - unless something is done to keep the muscle tone up. The fastest, easiest way to keep muscle mass, strength and tone is through lifting a few dumbbells or hitting the weight machines at the gym.

So call it what you want - "toning," "weight training" or "the magical method to stay young and active" - it's all the same thing. Picking up a weight now and again gives you shape and definition. Just give it a name you're happy with and go do it!

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