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“So what are your goals with this? What would you like to see happen in the next 3-6 months?”
Without a doubt, the most common response I get when I ask this question is “I’d like to tone up and build muscle at the same time.” Or replace dropping toning up with “drop bodyfat” or “get leaner.” Regardless of what words you use, the principals remain the same.
But can this actually be done? Is it possible to tone up, yet pack on some muscle simultaneously?
Training age & Genetics
My answer is - it depends! (Don’t you just hate when someone responds to a question like that?!) But I’m not just gonna say it depends without fleshing it out. So here we go.
The reason I say it depends is because your training age and genetics will have a big role to play in how successful you are. Now, we can’t control our genetics, so I’m going to leave that one aside. But when I say training age, I’m referring to how long you’ve actually been lifting in the gym. Why does this matter? Anytime I’ve had a client who is untrained or relatively new to lifting weights (less than 12 months experience) it has been 100% possible for me to help that client tone up and build muscle at the same time.
(Note: Gym experience also is context dependent. If you have been working out instead of training since you started lifting, it is definitely possible to drop bodyfat and build muscle.)
Why? Because the stimulus of lifting weights, the tension it places on the muscle, all of the different exercises are completely new to that client. It’s likely something they’ve never done or encountered before. Think back to when you first started lifting or even the first week of starting a new program, that muscle soreness & that ‘good pain’ arises because of the new stimulus you’ve placed on your body! Or even think back to your first football or hurling session back on the pitch after the layoff from winter. On the very first night, we all think to ourselves how unfit we are because running is something we probably didn’t do much of over the winter! But usually after the third hard session back, the muscle soreness and recovery side of things get easier because your body starts to re-adapt to where it was at the end of last season.
But for someone who is just starting out, this adaptation does not come after 3 sessions. It comes after weeks and even months of training because mentally (developing new motor skills) and physically (dealing with the new training stimulus) it takes time for your body to adapt.
What’s my point? If someone is new to lifting weights, if enough tension is placed on the muscle & if that individual is eating in a calorie deficit, it is possible for him/her to tone up and build muscle at the same time.
Note: (If you’re unsure how to calculate your needs, I wrote a blog post in the past on it here.)
What if i've been training a couple of years in the gym?
I knew you’d ask that question! But don’t worry; I can address this one too. It does get a little trickier however.
Before we dive into it, I would suggest it’s better to decide if you want to build or lean out instead of trying to do both. Why? Because building muscle is optimally done in a caloric surplus whereas getting leaner is achieved by getting into a calorie deficit.
However, if you do insist on doing both, there are some things I have found that work well. Everybody is different so instead of offering specific guidelines, here are some general guidelines I like to adhere to:
And there we have it! These are some of the tips and tricks I like to implement when a client approaches me and insists on doing both. The methods will vary for the individual but the principles hold through.
If you’re new to lifting or relatively untrained, it is certainly possible to tone up and build muscle at the same time. If you’ve been training for a couple of years, it gets trickier and I’d recommend you to pick one – not both. But you choose your path, not me!
Thank you for reading.
P.S. If you’d like to be part of a growing community where I offer more training tips, tricks and insights, click here join my FREE Lean 4 Life Lifters Facebook group now.
Adrian McDonnell -
Eat This to Tone Up & Build Muscle
Learn how to create the perfect meal with this simple 5 step guide.