The issue isn’t why you need to lose fat to tone muscle as much as it is why you need to lose fat to SEE toned muscle. See the difference? In other words, you could still have muscle tone, but if it is hidden beneath a layer of fat under the skin, nobody will see it.
First let’s start off with not worrying about getting to a certain number on the scale. The point is you want to look good. If you are a 5’ 2” female, you can do that at 130 pounds as well as 110 pounds – in fact you’ll look better at the heavier weight. Instead, focus on your body fat percentage and getting it down to around 15% for a female and 10% for a male.
Second, don’t worry about spot reduction – losing fat from a particular part of your body – because it is impossible; the body does not work that way. As you lose body fat, it’ll come off of all parts of your body, including the part you are trying to tone.
To reduce body fat, you have to burn more calories than you eat; a deficit of 3,500 calories per week will result in a loss of one pound. Cardio training, such as jogging, running, biking, tennis, racquetball, etc., along with eating a healthy diet, is the method most people use to reduce body fat. And if that gives you the look of toned muscle look you are trying to achieve, that’s great. However if after losing the body fat, you still are not looking as toned as you would like, then you have to move into the building muscle mode.
Toning muscle is really a misnomer as most people think they can “firm up” the muscle they already have and look toned. But the reality is muscles don’t get “soft”, so what you really are doing when “toning” is building muscle. The other thing to know about building muscle is a muscle will only develop to the point it can handle the load put upon it.
With that said, the way to develop muscle is through a training method called progressive overload.
This method involves working your muscles to failure by lifting weights heavy enough so that you can’t finish the last set. For example, let’s say you are doing 3 sets with 15 repetitions per set. If you can’t finish the last repetition or two of the last set, you are using the right amount of weight. Once you can finish all three sets, then add 5 pounds of weight and you should again not be able to finish the last set. This is progressive overload. You are doing it right if you are gaining about 0.5 to 1 pound of weight per week with no increase in body fat percentage.
By using the progressive overload system and keeping your rest between sets to 30 seconds or less, you can get the cardio effect while strength training and both reduce body fat and increase muscle size. And if you are female, don’t be afraid that you’ll bulk up; it won’t happen due to the hormonal differences between males and females. So lift away, eat right, and look good!