Every time I set out on a new phase of lifting my levels of health my mind gets filled with images of how my body will look. The lean, toned look with a narrow waist and pecs that look nothing like the dreaded ‘man-boobs’!
To be quite frank I have no idea who that person would be because it’s never going to be me. Not least because I know I’m not driven to go that far but also because my body is not shaped the way it appears in my head! I’m pretty certain I suffer from a decent chunk of body-dysmorphia.
However, that doesn’t mean that my body will not change, doesn’t mean that my muscles will never look toned again, doesn’t mean that my waist cannot get smaller or that I cannot achieve a better body than I ever had before.
But muscle tone is an interesting one. We all know that muscle tone seems to decrease as we get older – just look at your dad – but does it have to? What can you do to improve and maintain muscle tone through you 40’s, 50’s and 60’s?
The answer is quite a lot actually.
Obviously exercise is key but it might surprise you – or not given that this is me writing this – to know that exercise alone will not cut it. Muscle tone is the state that a muscle develops in it’s resting state and this is a direct result of exercise. But what exercise?
Take the chest for example. Exercises that work the chest muscles will improve the resting tone and overall strength of those muscles. But what will that do for your man-boobs?
If you train your chest to the exclusion of your back and your posture then the likelihood is that you will develop slightly rounded shoulders and your chest panel will also drop down (think of your breast bone dropping to face downwards rather that lifting up towards the sky). The result is that your chest will look less toned. It might be firmer to touch but will actually look worse. So your exercise regime needs to focus on the whole body. Really good posture will amplify whatever gains you make and improve the look hugely.
Then you have the choice about what type of exercise to do. Weights or cardio, high reps or low reps, intense or well rested, cross-fit or pilates, hot yoga or ashtanga. The answer to this can either be very simple or really complicated.
The simple answer is to mix it up, all the time. I like doing short periods of something and then changing it to something else. The 2 main benefits of this are that it keep my boredom threshold in check but it also keeps my body responding.
Because the biggest weakness in most people’s workouts is that they do not change it up often enough. The body responds less to a workout every single time it is repeated to the pint where the improvement gained fro the workout becomes almost negligible. Once a workout has been dome 10 times then it needs a decent overhaul.
The more complicated answer is that you have to find the exercises that you respond to the best. I know that my body responds well to lifting weights, but my brain gets pretty bored with that quite quickly. Sets of about 5-8 reps are my sweet spot. I enjoy running for about a month and then it drops off. I hate circuit classes and my body doesn’t respond to the high reps low weight workouts.
I love doing some yoga but no more than once per week. And I also know that my body recovers so much better with a massage or 2 each month.
Knowing all that it’s actually pretty easy to then build up a workout programme. The only bit of technical knowledge I really need is to understand how I can improve my posture with my weights and how to tweak my programme every 3-4 weeks to keep it fresh.
You may remember that I started saying that exercise was key? And it is but it is my no means the only thing to consider.
Diet is obviously important, you are what you eat at the end of the day. So if you’re eating saggy, flabby, fatty foods then you’ll become that way. If you’re eating strong healthy vibrant foods then you’ll equally start to look that way, too.
Hydration is also critically important.
But the most over looked element is that of lifestyle. Not enough people understand that muscle tone is actually controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The part of your nervous system that control all automatic functions in your body. Everything from how often you blink and how you digest your food to how fast your heart beats and how much you sweat.
There are 2 sides to the autonomic nervous system and to keep it simple we’ll call them the ‘fight or flight’ side and the ‘repair and digest’ side. Think of it like a see-saw. Both sides are in the game at all times but one is usually having more input than the other.
Why does this matter?
Well too much ‘repair & digest’ and your muscles will lose some tone. Too much ‘fight & flight’ and you’ll have too much tone and your muscles may well start to wither away. It’s about getting the balance right, for you.
How do you know if you’ve got it all right?
Look in the mirror and you’ll see that toned, lean and upright body that you had in your visions at the start.
Enjoy the view looking back at you.
P.S. Finding the right balance can be tricky but it is not actually all about the destination. The journey is where the real fun is to be had. Your body’s response to your exercise regime may be affected by external factors in your life such as your relationship, job issues or sleep issues. Maybe you’ve just had kids or your kids have just come back home after being gone for some time. Look on these as chances to learn about how you react to these situations.
However, if you feel like you’re going nowhere fast and are starting to get fed up of it all then you are very welcome to come and discuss your situation with us and we’ll see if we can help with a few short cuts.
Just email me.