Question – I want to build muscle mass by quite a considerable amount whilst also keeping my fat low, my partner wants to tone and lose weight. We have both been doing weight lifting exercises for some time now and wondering if we can achieve these goals with different diets but the same workout routine?
Answer – Yes!
Keep working out together. Keep strength training together. It is a myth that women will “bulk up” by lifting heavy. It is also myth that men will get big from lifting heavy. Men will get bigger than women, for sure, but men are limited by their own genetics. “Toning” is code for “I’m afraid I’ll get bulky.” Your wife won’t. Actual toning comes from an increase in muscle and decrease in fat. That takes strength training with higher weight, lower reps.
Working out together is fantastic. It will keep you both at the gym instead in front of the television. This is what my husband and I did when we were both fat. We canceled cable and made work outs our social activity. We both lost weight, gained strength, gained new friends and better habits. That was 10 years ago, and still going strong. I still lift heavy at 52 years old, 5′1″ and 120 pounds.
Men gain size when they lift heavy — but not as much as most believe without adding enhancers — only as much as your own genetics allow. (The models and celebrities you see, and even many of the locals you see at the gym, use supplements and extreme diets to get these extreme sizes and ripped abs that often don’t last past the photo shoot.) Your natural testosterone and muscle fiber composition are higher and exercise increases your volume. Women have less testosterone and fibers and exercise actually shrinks them, because the same amount of muscle is smaller in volume (but higher in weight) than the same amount of fat.
The literature is out there, but we proved this to ourselves in our training studio this summer when our small group did assessments, 12 weeks of a high volume body building routine, and assessments again. All the men gained around arms, chest, and legs (but lost in the waist). All the women lost around arms, bust, hips, waist, and thighs.
Lifting HEAVY is what everyone should be doing if they want the benefits of strength training. Light weight and high reps do little to help with improving insulin sensitivity, with increasing lean body mass, dropping fat, and controlling hunger. High reps will not “tone” but may cause overuse injuries and increase hunger (moderate vs high intensity exercise does this). Real “toning” — shapely form and low fat — is about developing new muscle and that takes progressive muscle overload. Women should use a weight heavy enough that they can’t lift more than 6–10 reps without rest. If they can do it 12+ times, the weight is too light and they’re not going to reach their goals.
And if you two can stay working out together, you have better odds at maintaining your healthier lifestyle and your marriage, as well. I always ask my new clients about their home life and support. Those involved in the fitness lifestyle together are the most successful.