Arms, Abs & Legs: 5 Summer Tone-Up Tips

woman working out at beach
Everyone has an idea in their head when it comes to looking their fittest and healthiest. For some, it’s fitting perfectly into a certain outfit, or walking on the beach in a bikini with total confidence.

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For others, it may mean seeing a defined midsection reflected in the mirror, or having strong, toned shoulders or legs. We all have our own goals for how we want to look and feel. Although your specific goals may be different from those of others, almost everyone wants to look and feel toned and fit.

But what does “toned” really mean? And is it different from “bulking” up? This article sets out to define just that—and to dispel some myths about toning, strengthening and bulking up.

What Is Toning?

When most people say that they want to “tone up,” what they usually mean is that they want to become leaner. Basically, they want to lose fat, and add a little muscle definition—but not so much muscle mass that they look like a bodybuilder (much more on that later).

In the fitness world, there is no real definition for toning that is greatly recognized. Rather, toning is a term used to describe the end goal, which usually results from a combination of basic weight-lifting and fat-burning.

What about Bulking Up?

Typically, men want to “bulk up” and women usually wish to avoid building big, bulky muscles. Although there is no strict definition, “bulking up” means adding a lot of muscle mass to the body and possibly (although not always) reducing one’s body fat, too. Bulking up harkens images of bodybuilders and big football players—usually male and usually beefy!

Toning, on the other hand, typically refers to aerobics instructors and Hollywood starlets who have lower amounts of body fat and some visible muscle, but not huge muscles.

So now that we have our definitions straight, let’s move on to facts and the fallacies about toning up and bulking up.

The 5 Most Common Myths about Toning and Bulking Up

Myth #1: Lifting light weights will tone your body and lifting heavy weights will bulk you up.

The Truth: I’m not sure who first pioneered this idea that heavy weights will bulk you up, but it has stuck over the years and erroneously makes many people—both men and women—afraid of lifting heavy weights. While there is some truth to the idea that lifting lighter weights for more reps does a better job of increasing the muscular endurance, lighter weights will not help you “tone” better than heavy weights. In fact, because heavier weights build the strength of your muscles (and the size to a small degree—no Hulk action here), thereby helping to increase your metabolism and burn fat, lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (8 to 12 on average) and working until you’re fatigued is more effective at helping you reach your toning goals than lifting lighter weights. Not to mention that it’s more time efficient, too!

Myth #2: Building muscle and bulking up are one in the same.

The Truth: If you’ve been avoiding weights because you think that building muscle means that you’ll bulk up, think again. When you lift weights that are challenging, you actually create micro-tears in the muscle fibers. These tears are then repaired by the body (this is where soreness comes from!) and in that process the muscle becomes stronger and a little bit bigger. However, because muscle tissue is more dense than fat, adding a little bit more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat actually makes you look leaner—not bigger. To really bulk up, you have to really work with that goal in mind. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights, along with eating a very strict diet that promotes muscle gain. The average person’s workout and diet—especially a calorie-controlled diet—doesn’t’ result in the same effects.

Myth #3: Lifting light weights won’t help you get stronger.

The Truth: When it comes to lifting weights, the secret to really getting stronger isn’t about how much weight you’re lifting. Instead, it’s all about working your muscle to fatigue where you literally cannot lift the weight for another repetition. A recent study that proved this found that even when subjects lifted lighter weights, they added as much muscle as those lifting heavy weights. However, the time it takes to reach fatigue with light weights is much longer than the time it takes to reach fatigue with heavier weights. So, if you’re like most people and extra time is a luxury, it makes more sense to go heavy and then go home!

Myth #4: Women and men should lift weights differently.

The Truth: I see this one all the time at the gym. It’s pretty common to see women lift 3- to 5-pound dumbbells to do biceps curls while men pick up the 20-pounders to do the same exercise. Although men are genetically stronger than women, they aren’t that much stronger. Second, most women tend to stick to the weight machines or basic leg-work that target the rear end and abs (women’s “vanity” muscles), while the guys at the gym are more likely to be seen working out with free weights or using barbells and—most often—focusing on their vanity muscles: the biceps and chest.

Obviously gender differences exist and everyone has different goals (like we discussed in the beginning). But if you really want to lose weight and get lean—no matter if you call that toning or bulking—people of both genders should have a strength-training plan in place that works every major muscle in the body at least 8 to 12 times, using a weight that is heavy enough that the last two repetitions are darn hard to lift. Only then is the body challenged enough to change, grow and adapt, making you stronger and leaner no matter if you’re male or female. Lifting this way is also a great way to lose weight.

Myth #5: Certain forms of exercise build long, lean muscles.

The Truth: Many forms of exercise claim to lengthen the muscles or develop “lean” muscles, not bulky ones. But here’s a truth that may be shocking to some: To put it another way, no form of exercise makes muscles “longer” because your muscles do not—and will not—respond to exercise by getting longer. It’s just not how they work. Muscles are a certain length because they attach to your bones. A wide variety of movements and exercises can help you strengthen your muscles without necessarily making them bigger. In fact, you can develop a lot of muscular strength without your muscles ever increasing in size.

That said, exercises such as yoga, Pilates, dance and barre classes can help to increase your flexibility (improving your range of motion at certain joints) and your posture, which can give you the illusion of feeling and looking longer or taller. But lengthening? Not possible. Claims like these are just trying to appeal to people who fear bulking up.

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7 Steps To Sex Satisfaction

A sexy couple cuddling in front of a bed
You probably already know that one of the key aspects of any healthy relationship, and even just general happiness, is a fulfilling sex life. But, with work, children, and all the daily obligations that demand so much of our attention, that’s easier said than done, right?

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Though there will always be mojo challenges, the below seven steps will help you bring sexy back into your life (and keep it there):

1. Stay healthy, fit and vibrant. It not only makes us outwardly attractive and alluring to others, but helps us feel sexy, desirable and confidant as well. That confidence creates sexual energy, a seductive charisma guaranteed to awaken and maintain a partner’s sexual interest.

Naturally, the most obvious way to stay healthy and fit is to take care of yourself, use alcohol moderately, control your blood pressure and weight, eat a well-balanced diet, get regular exercise and adequate rest. And remember, regular check-up visits to your physician must be an essential part of your sexual fitness program.

Also, couples who work to stay healthy together enjoy the added benefit of building emotional closeness (a must for the bedroom) while sharing a sport or fitness activity. Taking brisk walks together, for instance, gives couples an opportunity to talk, to share ideas and feelings, and to relax their nervous systems while enjoying a healthy workout.

2. Think young, fun and yes, sexy. When you watch someone who is enthusiastic, youthful, jovial and having a good time, do you even notice how old that person is? Probably not. Most likely you just want to get to know that person and be part of the high spirits. And when you keep your attitude and behavior youthful and playful, you’ll be the person others are attracted to and want to know.

Regardless of age, an adult’s personal approach to sex is supposed to be similarly positive, titillating, erotic and creative. Whether you’re 25 or 50, feel and be sexual without guilt! Loosen up and be inventive! Go ahead and have let yourself have fun!

3. Plan on having good sex. Good sex also requires good timing. Are you a morning person? A night owl? What about your partner? The best time to make love is when you and your partner are the most responsive (as men mature, that time is usually in the morning, but many women enjoy sex more in the evening). So, good sex also requires some planning.

As often as possible, clear everybody out of the house so you and your partner can be as uninhibited as you want to be. Get rid of the kids for a while, send the grandkids home to their parents (for a change!). Once alone, take time to enjoy yourselves. Turn off the TV. Turn down the lights (or turn them all on). Why not light candles? Add music. Share the tub or shower. Play an erotic and seductive board game. Watch a romantic or sexy video. Give each other relaxing, sensual massages. Have you ever used whipped cream in the bedroom? Or peanut butter? You can’t imagine the fun you can have with ice cubes! Take off all your clothes. Or put on costumes! Make love in the kitchen. Or on a blanket in the backyard under your favorite tree at midnight. Then do it again at high noon! Let your imagination and your sense of sexual adventure lead you and your partner into a glorious world of new sensations, and favorite joys. When you run out of ideas, there are plenty of books and videos on the market to help you discover new ones. Sex will never be boring again. And neither will your life. All it takes is a little creativity, time and planning. So start!

4. The cardinal rule: Just do it. And do it. And do it! Masters and Johnson, those famous sex researchers, claimed that continuing to have sex was the “cardinal rule for preserving sexual vigor beyond middle age.” Post-menopausal women who are sexually active have less shrinkage of the vagina and higher levels of naturally produced sex hormones than sexually inactive women. Men who are sexually active as they pass through middle age and beyond maintain higher blood testosterone levels than those who stop having sex. The bottom line? If you keep on doing it, you’ll continue to be able to keep on doing it! In other words, use it or lose it! It’s really that simple.

5. Send sex messages in as many ways as you can. The key to the best relationship (sexual and otherwise) is honest communication. If you don’t talk about your sex life and feelings with each other, then how can you get your message across and let your desires be known? Sex therapists encourage open, caring communication, as well as an affectionate relationship, as some of the most important keys to enhancing sexual happiness. Achieving a closer, more loving relationship with your partner is a crucial component of your sexual fitness program, as it’s difficult for sexual harmony to co-exist with marital distance and conflict, submerged resentment, basic incompatibility or lack of positive feelings toward one another.

Any barriers to communication must be addressed because they increasingly inhibit sexual feelings as we grow older. If poor communication is a problem in a relationship, a couple should seek the help of a therapist to develop deeper levels of intimacy, love and understanding, and greater shared physical enjoyment. The reward can be a richer, fuller, more exciting life.

Remember, too, that we also send sexy messages in very simple, ordinary, even nonverbal, ways, including being relaxed and interested in each other; not drinking too much alcohol; paying special attention to body and oral hygiene; and learning new ways to touch and please one another.

6. Expect it to be different, but expect it to be good. There’s no question: our bodies, and our bodily responses, change as we age. But those changes shouldn’t concern or worry us. We just need to be aware of them and understand that these changes are normal and don’t mean the end of a satisfying sex life.

As a woman ages, her clitoris is not affected and her capacity for orgasm and sexual interest normally remains unchanged. But increased thinning of the vaginal walls can contribute to painful or uncomfortable intercourse, as can an inability to adequately lubricate; but, many of these conditions can be reversed with advice from her physician.

For men over 50, erections will usually be sturdy and reliable, although they might take a little longer to achieve and won’t be as hard as those of a man in his twenties. The forcefulness of ejaculation and orgasm may be slightly less than in the past, and more time may be required between repeat performances. The older man, in particular, might require more direct stimulation of his genitals to be ready for sex (unlike during his younger days, when his reaction and response was spontaneous, immediate, and frequent).

Understanding, accepting and working with these minor and normal bodily changes can definitely help a couple create and enjoy a satisfying sex life. There are now many resources available to help couples with this process.

7. Get help for specific sex problems. The most common sex problems that exist today are, in fact, treatable. In women, these include the inability to orgasm, painful intercourse and low sex desire. In men, these include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and low sex desire.