The Lie You’ve Been Told About ‘Muscle Toning’

strength training
Quick question for ya:


What do the following 2 things have in common?


1.) Dinosaurs were sent from outer space to help Egyptians build the pyramids

2.) Lifting light weights for high reps will increase muscle tone


Well the answer is that they’re both not true. (I think- I wasn’t around for the building of the Pyramids). 

A lot of people (and formerly me) believe that if they lift heavy weights they will ‘bulk up’ like the dudes they see on weight-lifting infomercials.


This belief, teamed with Natalie Portman’s under-nourished ballet bod in ‘Black Swan’ circa 2013, spawned something called ‘The Bar Method’- a fitness craze that uses light weights, multiple repetitions, stretching, and ballet inspired moves that will supposedly lead to a thin, toned ballerina physique.
 natalie portman black swan ballet bar method
Meanwhile, a kettle bell crazes and ‘Cross Fit’ are sweeping the nation- gaining a rep for pushing disciples to their limits, using military style moves, and heavy weights to get a strong, athletic physique.



My Experiment: Bar Method vs. Boot Camp


Without bias or agenda, I wanted to KNOW:

What really is the best way to get toned and lose weight as quickly as possible?

Is it true that using light weights will keep my muscles dainty and limber?
Will doing kettlebell squats and deadlifts make me look like She-Arnold?


I made it my mission to find out. For two months, I went under cover to experiment with both exercise cults.


Here are my enlightening results:


Experiment #1- Bar Method:

Can the Bar Method get me these results?

Can the Bar Method get me these results?


My first day at Bar Method, I swung by the immaculately white, carpeted studio that could have doubled for a Park Avenue living room. I’m not gonna lie, I was fully prepared to embark on my childhood dream of becoming a ballerina, or at least excited to pretend to be one for an hour. 


A mostly-mommy demographic handed off their toddlers off to be whisked away mysterious baby room. 


I purchased a pair of over-priced pink $20 socks (required apparel) with the words ‘Superhero’ printed near my toes. They do make me feel like a superhero a little.


20 other women and one seriously ripped, tatted up body-builder man (clearly comfortable with his own masculinity) started busting alternating knee lifts to a poppy iPod shuffle. This was probably the most exerting cardio for the entire hour.


The next ensuing 60 minutes of ‘The Bar Method’ wasn’t easy, and involved working every muscle of my body with ‘micro-movements’ which are never-ending repetitions lifting 3-5 pound weights.
The most deadly? A series of squats and leg lifts done at the ballet bar, intermingled with rigorous stretching.


With furrowed brows and sweat tears beading on their foreheads, I watched the poised pseudo-ballerinas shake their way through agonizing tip-toe squats with the concentration of an operating neurosurgeon.
The sport requires serious focus: anything less than perfect form and you won’t even feel it.


Watching these ladies (and gentleman) suffer in silence with a heroic poise (no grunts or screams) was impressive. 50 reps of these squats are just as agonizing as any pull-up or bench press I’ve ever done.


During class I barely broke a sweat but definitely felt sore afterwards. Working out in PJs and socks is fun and easy. I wasn’t seeing crazy  results from my daily 60 minute sessions, but had lost a few pounds.



What I Learned from Bar Method:


I loved feeling the burn, the heavy emphasis on stretching, and not having to deal with profuse sweating during class. My favorite part was the flexibility I gained.


I was about to brainstorm a way to re-budget my life to squeeze in a $160 monthly membership to ballet for adults.
But THEN…I went for a quick workout to my regular gym.


I’m not kidding you, I could BARELY bicep curl 5 pounds I had lost so much muscle.
It got me thinking: Had I actually lost weight- or just muscle?
And do I really want to be just ‘skinny’? Isn’t part of being healthy and in great shape, also having some muscle definition? And feeling strong and powerful?


Experiment #2- Boot Camp:

Strength Training

Fortunately, I scheduled a hardcore boot camp trial directly follow my Bar Method experiment.
Instead of luxe white carpet, patches of astroturf lined the hard cement floors.
Instead of light weights, bouncy balls, and pads, the toys at Boot Camp are barbells, TRX straps, kettle bells, and giant tires.
Instead of being baby friendly, this place was PUPPY friendly. 
I decided to go with a Boot Camp series instead of CrossFit because heavy weights intimidated me, and I felt I needed some hands on coaching. The gym I chose, Urban Fitness, gave me all this and more.


The moves with the heavy weights were definitely tough, but fun. I was teamed up with a partner and together we threw around medicine balls, swung kettlebells up and down, and crawled around on the floor a lot. At one point, I was challenged to pick up my partner and carry him down the block on my back. And I PULLED IT OFF. 


Aside from a few extra burly men, the class was equally divided between ladies and gents. Almost everyone there was in excellent shape. Buns of steel and washboard abs EVERYWHERE.
At first, I tried not to confuse correlation with causation. I assumed hardcore gyms attract hardcore fitness people, and that I would never reach the upper echelon of these beautiful, dedicated body builders.


What I Learned from Strength Training:

Boy, was I WRONG. 30 Days Later, after three 45-minutes sessions of deadlifts and kettle bell swings a week, I had lost a ton of weight and was stronger and more toned than ever.


Someone actually gave me a compliment on my ‘guns’, and I did my first real pull up EVER.


My mind was blown- the game had changed.

I did some research and here’s what I found out: 

Everyone benefits from lifting more. It doesn’t matter if you are man, woman, or bunny.


Lifting weights is especially great for women if they are aiming to look slim, curvaceous, and not overly bulky.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that the more iron you lift, the more fat you burn.
In fact, researchers found that lifting heavy weights will help you burn more calories during your workout and can even increase your resting metabolism BY 8 PERCENT.


That’s right. When you lift heavy weights, you can burn calories just by taking a nap . That 8 percent can add up to more than 5 pounds a year.


Another study from the University of Alabama in Birmingham showed that dieters who lifted heavy weights lost the same amount of weight as dieters who did just cardio, but all the weight lost by the weight lifters was primarily fat while the cardio camp lost a lot of muscle along with some fat.


Lifting light weights for high reps will only temporarily  “pump you up” 

If you’ve ever lifted light weights for high reps, you know what I’m talking about.


This is why body builders love to do endless sets of dumbbell curls right before a competition. It makes their arms look tight and buff. But this is only temporary, due to a build up of blood and lactic acid in their muscles.
After about 1-2 hours, that pump goes away and you will shrink back to your normal self. 


Have the ladies been cheated?



I’m not really sure who it was that decided women should be lifting 2 pounds weights and doing aerobics classes while dudes get to dominate the weight room. 

How can you really get more toned?

Now- not everyone’s body is the same. I don’t pretend to prescribe a one size fits all method for fitness.
But as someone who experiments a lot, and loves to try different forms of exercise, I now believe the best way to lose weight, transform your body, and increase muscle tone is to incorporate heavy weight into your workout routine.
And if getting “big and bulky,” is your fear, you can chill out knowing those heavier weights will only help your body process food better and fight off fat.

So how can you take advantage of this exciting new knowledge and strategy?

Next time you go to the gym, instead of doing 20 reps with a 5 pound weight, try doing 5 reps with a 20 pound weight.
This will allow your muscle to contract harder since you’re lifting a heavier weight. The harder  your muscle contracts, the more muscle tone it will display in the long run.
The best part? You can save a TON of time. Doing tons of reps with light weights is boring and beyond time consuming.
What is your experience with weight lifting? Have you had success with light or heavy weights? Let me know.