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The Two Types of Muscle Tone and How to Really Tone 


For years, women have been told that losing weight through diet and cardio was the way to look great in a bathing suit. The result was a lot of women who were thin but flabby and without the shape, definition and curves they were hoping would magically appear through fat loss alone.

Now, women, and the media that informs them, are finally beginning to understand that weight-training is the real answer to a sleek, strong, sexy body. Yet there are still so many misconceptions and so much misinformation about how to use weight training to get that body.

You Have to Know What You’re Working with before You Can Work It!

The last thing you want to do is to walk into the gym without a thorough understanding of the two types of muscle, how they’re stimulated and shaped and what each of them does for your appearance. Wandering from machine to machine, trying a little of this and a few of those is not going to get you the body you desire. However, that body is more attainable than you probably think. Once you understand the composition of your muscles and how to reshape them, you’ll be able to go into the gym (or even into your home workout space) and actually redesign your body very quickly.

The Two Types of Muscle Tone – Myogenic and Neurogenic

muscle toning exercises for women

muscle toning exercises for women

There are two types of muscle tone in your body and they determine how your muscles look at rest and how your muscles look when they’re being flexed or worked. Here’s a really simple visual illustration: Your arm hanging loose as you prepare to lift a weight = myogenic muscle tone. Your arm as your curl a dumbbell toward your body = neurogenic muscle tone.

Myogenic tone determines how your muscles look when they are at rest. Basically, it’s the residual tension in your muscles and is based on the density of your muscles. It’s a permanent change in your muscles that is there even while you’re lying still on a beach towel or curled up reading a book. The density of your muscles is affected by stimulating the contractile proteins actin and myosin, with moderately heavy weights and relatively low reps, between 8-15 reps to be more specific.

Neurogenic muscle tone determines how your muscles look when they are working. By “working”, I mean anything from reaching for your child to running up a flight of stairs. Neurogenic muscle tone determines how hard and defined your muscles look during movement. You change your neurogenic muscle tone with heavy weight/low rep exercises. (By low reps, I mean between 3-7 reps per exercise.)

This type of program works by improving the efficiency of your CNS or central nervous system. Specifically, it increases the sensitivity of the gamma and alpha motor neurons.

Why Working with Heavy Weights is the Way to Real Muscle Toning

In other words, that waist to hip ratio that gives you a sexy, hourglass shape and that full, round tight butt are the result of myogenic muscle toning and those defined arms and diamond-shaped calves you want to see when you’re lifting something or walking are the result of neurogenic muscle toning. As you can see, you want both.

Working with heavy weights actually improves both myogenic and neurogenic muscle tone. It increases the density of your muscles (which is what gives your body its actual shape) through hypertrophy (growth) and increases the sensitivity of the gamma and alpha motor neurons to give your individual muscles that hard, defined tone you’re looking for.

You’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to deadlift 200 pounds to do this, nor do you have to spend a lot more time in the gym. Working out with heavier weights and lower reps achieves so much more than endless low-weight/high-rep routines and in much less time.

Burn Fat While You’re Building Muscle and Redesign Your Body

Now, some of you are probably thinking that you need to work on losing body fat first, before you can think about building muscle. Let me explain why that thinking is a little bit backwards.

Adding lean muscle to your body actually helps you to lose fat faster and it does this in a few ways. First, it boosts your metabolism, helping you to burn more calories throughout the day. Second, it helps regulate certain fat-burning and fat-storing hormones in your body so that you

can lose stored body fat. Third, weight training to the point of muscle fatigue with heavier weights will actually cause your metabolism to burn even more calories for as many as 48 hours after you work out.


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Building Muscle Increases Your Calorie Deficit


You’ve probably heard that your base metabolic rate is based on how much you weigh, but that’s only partly true. It’s also based on your body’s composition, which is the ratio of muscle to fat. A woman who weighs 120 pounds with 22% body fat does not burn calories at the same rate as a woman who weighs 120 pounds but has only 18% body fat. Muscle tissue burns calories; fat tissue does not. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories you need each day. This makes it much easier to lose stored fat through a calorie deficit, without having to cut your intake so low that you’re starving and fatigued.

Building Muscle Regulates the Hormones that Burn or Store Fat

Adding lean muscle to your body also helps to regulate and balance several hormones that either store or burn the fat you now have. In particular, increasing lean muscle tissue helps to regulate insulin secretion by making your body’s cells more sensitive to that insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. It’s next to impossible to lose stored body fat if you are insulin resistant, because the presence of insulin in your bloodstream actually stimulates fat storage. This is true even if you’re eating a strict diet.

One of insulin’s main jobs is to transport glycogen through the phospholipid layer of your muscle cells’ membranes so that it can be burned as energy. The less sensitive to insulin that those cells are, the less glycogen they can absorb. That leftover glycogen is then turned back into glucose and stored as fat, particularly around your tummy. This is why metabolic syndrome (insulin insensitivity) is marked by excess belly fat.

The more muscle you have and the more you work that muscle, the more glycogen your body can absorb and burn and the less fat you store. Not only that, but as your sensitivity to insulin increases, the amount of insulin you need to transport glycogen decreases. Less insulin in your bloodstream will then actually stimulate your body to start burning off that stubborn fat you already have stored. In essence, building muscle turns your body into a fat-burning factory.

Training to Fatigue Burns Calories Long After Your WorkoutWorkout dumbbells

The old school of thought on weight training for women was to work out for long periods with low weights and high res. This method may burn more calories during your workout than a much shorter, heavy weight/low rep routine, but one you’re done working out, you’re also done burning calories. This is because it demands very little of your muscles and doesn’t result in muscle fatigue.

Training with heavy weights and low reps doesn’t burn as many calories because it takes a much shorter time to complete your workout. However, it does get your muscles to the point of fatigue, which results not only in muscle growth (hypertrophy) but also increased oxygen uptake after your workout. This means that your body is burning calories at a higher rate throughout the rest of the day and for as long as 48 hours after you leave the gym. In other words, you burn far more calories in the long term, even while you’re relaxing or sleeping.

The Real Way to a Lean, Sexy Body

If you really want to transform your body in the shortest period of time and with the most dramatic results, you need to lose fat and build muscle simultaneously. You also need to stop focusing on how much you weigh. It’s not how much you weigh that determines how you look; it’s how much fat and muscle make up that weight. In fact, you could end up gaining weight when all is said and done, but look a thousand times better. This is because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue, but takes up much less space because of its density. Let me give you an illustration.

iStock_000012302455SmallImagine filling a plastic bag with one pound of rocks and then twisting it tightly shut. That plastic bag will fit easily into the palm of your hand. Now imagine filling a plastic bag with one pound of Styrofoam packing peanuts. You might not be able to wrap your arms around it! This is why a woman who stands 5’4 and weighs 115 pounds with 16% body fat is rocking those skinny jeans while another woman of the same height and weight but 26% body fat is hiding her body in sweatpants. A pound is not a pound, ladies.

If you focus on burning fat through interval cardio and building lean muscle tissue (both myogenic and neurogenic) through heavy weight/low rep training, you’ll get that lean, curvy, sexy body you’re looking for, without starving yourself and without working out for hours on end every day.

Eat more, work less; look incredible. How great a deal is that?


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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Debi says:

    I agree with what you have said, but many of us who are older are not able to do much of an interval type cardio. I never see anything recommended to loose fat anymore other than interval training. This surely is not the only way. I have purchased many programs but am now of the mindset these are all for the young and healthy. With your nursing background it would be appreciated if guidance for troubled knees, and older athletes who have some handicaps could be shown how to achieve this desired look as well.

    • Maja says:

      Hi Debi!

      I, myself am an “older woman.” I have weight trained for a year and have lost 2 inches all over. I have lost 1 inch in my thighs alone! I agree with you that interval training is very difficult for those above 40 to do, so I usually get in 45-60 minutes of hard cardio (swimming 80 laps/lengths, running 4 miles or biking 10 miles) then I spend another hour doing the weight training. I break Flavia’s program “Curvilicious” up into 3 days since those are the only days I have extra time. Arms/back day 1, core/waist day 2 and butt/legs day 3.

      Many people have complimented my figure. I have not lost in pounds, but I have toned up in inches and am wearing a size 2 in skinny jeans! My measurements are 36-26-37 and thighs are 21 inches. I am 5’5″. My weight 128 and am around 19% body fat.

      Even though we are older we CAN do it! We CAN look fabulous! : )

      You can do it too! As an older athlete, you may have to compensate for some of those troubled knees and handicaps, but the stronger I become, the less I am prone to injuries.

      • Anna says:

        Very well said Maja!
        HIIT can be taxing on the joints as well. You can still do HIIT, but do it in a more controlled manner if you will. For example you can do HIIT on the treadmill by increasing the incline and switching from a very fast walk to medium walk rather than doing sprints. 🙂
        Hope this helps!
        Anna, CPT, FF Specialist

  • valerie says:

    I have full-body-licious. How is Curvalicious different?
    It seems to me that FBL is more about low weight, high reps, moving quickly without rest to burn more calories. Would it be better to modify and do the same exercises in FBL but to increase weight and lower reps? I feel like I am working out a ton doing FBL but not seeing the fat loss or muscle gain. Thanks for your advice.

    • Heather C says:


      I have Curvalicious and I’d say its geared towards muscle building but not necessarily fat burning (uses heavier weights and much lower reps). Instead of full body workouts, each day is dedicated to target a specific muscle group. She includes beginner variations and home workouts to replace gym workouts if that’s not an option for you. You will need equipment as Curve is really a progressive workout plan. I feel so strong after I complete a curve workout! Some of the moves of certain muscle groups I wasn’t able to do because they caused me pain but I went to her YouTube channel and substituted certain moves for others. Curve isn’t great for cardio though (for me at least) and I substitute a cardio program in on days I don’t do Curve. I would absolutely reccomend investing in this program! You will see and feel gains you haven’t before (I’m able to do 2 unassisted chin ups so far!). I’ve also learned a lot about planes of motion and order of exercise. I really hope this helps answer your questions.

      -Heather C.

      • Anna says:

        Thank you Heather! Valerie, I agree with Heather. Make sure your nutrition is spot on as well. Proper nutrition is one of the main contributing factors when losing fat.
        All the best!
        Anna, CPT, FF Specialist

  • Holly says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve been doing my own training for the past 3 years. I do a mix of interval training with weight training. I tend to mix it up just to keep my body guessing. Over the last year I’ve been focusing more on my weight training and learning more about what works for me and what doesn’t. I really enjoy adding Flavia’s workouts to my own. I can’t say I’ve seen quick results but I have seen results. In the past year I’ve lost 10 pounds and have toned up quite a bit. I’m 6’0 and 172 (not sure my BMI). I’d like to be able to see more of my muscle tone. I seem to have come to the point now where I can’t lose any more and I’ve been over training. Any suggestions on how I can fix this problem? Diet? Split up the days I weight train verses the days I do intervals? Heavy weight/low reps? Any suggestions would be welcomed.


  • Anna says:

    Hi Holly,
    If you are overtrained take a week completely off of weight training and intervals. Some yoga and stretching would be good to do during this time. Diet is the biggest contribution factor when trying to lose fat. Check this out for more info:
    As far as training goes it is good to do a mix of heavy weight, low rep/light weight, high rep You want to take short rest periods and keep your heart rate high during your weight training sessions as well. Splitting up the days you do weights and intervals would be good or if you can do your weights and intervals at separate times during the same day that is good too. 🙂
    All the best!
    Anna, CPT, FF Specialist


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