Having a great-looking, toned body requires more than cutting out the fat and keeping up with your daily walk. You need strong muscles to have that lean look, shapely arms, and a tight fill-in-the-blank. Building muscle mass does not mean becoming bulky; by changing a few routines, you can help your body gain muscle, lose fat, and get stronger.
Start using free weights. If you have a gym membership, put aside your fear of the free weights section where burly guys grunt and watch their biceps in the mirror. This is not a man’s domain; just start out on the smaller side of the weight spectrum and go for basic moves you can do well.
Schedule a session with one of the personal trainers to get a walk through on basic exercises to do with free weights, and start incorporating those into your exercise routine regularly.
Invest in a set of dumb bells at a weight you can manage. Start using those instead of doing your regular toning exercises: switch out your Pilates routine for a set of bicep curles, tricep dips, butterflies, and squats.
Create a routine that includes cardio and weight training. Focus more time on the weight training and less time on the cardio. Many women work out in the opposite way; they spend most of their time on cardiovascular routines, such as walking, swimming, or aerobics. In order to build muscle, however, it’s necessary to switch the focus. Spend less time on cardio and more time on weights during each workout, or switch back and forth; do weight training three to four times a week and cardio twice a week.
Keep challenging yourself. When you get to a level of ease with your current weight training routine, it’s time to switch it up again. Try new exercises or heavier weights. Include combination exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time: (calisthenic exercises: push ups, pull ups, etc)
Give your muscles both adequate fuel and rest. Muscles are made from protein; if you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, your body cannot form new muscles. Include plenty of low-fat protein sources in your diet, such as legumes and beans, lean cuts of meat, and low-fat dairy. You can also include, in moderation, higher-fat protein sources such as nuts, seeds, and oils. Just don’t overdo it on the fat and protein combination.
Eat carbohydrates before you work out for energy and proteins after to provide that muscle-building material to your body.
Get enough sleep every night; your body needs time to rest and rebuild after weight training and cardio work. As you ease into weight training, you may need to only work out every other day to give your body time to recuperate. The stronger you become, the more your body can handle, but don’t push yourself further than is comfortable. A fatigued body won’t be a good muscle-builder, but a body that is challenged, trained, well-fed and rested can quickly become lean and strong.