It's fine and dandy to get into a treadmill routine, hopping to it every time you hit the gym. But if you endeavor to build strong, sculpted limbs and get fit like first lady Michelle Obama, take toning seriously and spend time doing targeted machine workouts. Toning machine exercises bolster strength and build muscle and connective tissue to enhance athletic performance and help you keep muscle mass as you age. Remember, 1 pound of muscle burns much more fat per day than 1 pound of body fat. Toning muscles also enhances balance, flexibility and stability. What's key is working all major muscle groups in a given week, so rotate upper- and lower-body circuits and add in core.
Consider devising your toning routine so you focus on upper body one day and lower body another day, adding in core chiseling when you're ready. Allow one to two days in between workouts for muscle repair. Upper-body toning machines to pinpoint at the gym include the biceps curl, chest press, lat pull, overhead press and triceps extension. The seated row machine, which provides fantastic total body toning, is also included in this group. Start by completing one rotation, doing 12 reps per machine. Over time, as you strengthen, increase your toning workout so that you complete two, three, up to four sets of 12 reps per machine. Always rest one to two minutes between each exercise.
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Lower-body toning machines to scout at the gym include the abductor and adductor machines, which target the outer and inner thighs, respectively; as well as the calf raise, leg curl, leg extension and leg press. Start this workout by completing one circuit rotation, doing 12 reps on each machine. As this becomes easier, increase to completing two, three and up to four rotations, completing 12 reps per machine.
When targeting your abs -- yeah, baby, you knew this was coming -- look for the ab crunch machine at the gym. The first time you try this machine you may find it extremely tough -- most people do -- as it brings the burn to your abdominal muscles. Aim to work up to eventually completing one set of 15 reps. But start slowly, first completing just 10 reps per seating. When you feel up to it, you can tack this machine onto an upper- or lower-body circuit. Over time you may find you can complete more reps, possibly two whole sets of 15, at which point your abs will be steely.
Set realistic expectations, says certified fitness instructor JJ Virgin, who wrote "Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy." Few women actually build muscle easily, she says, so the more achievable goal of toning is to "build muscle on the body in a balanced way so the muscles work like metabolic Spanx, holding everything in tighter and giving shape while boosting metabolism and enhancing fat burn." To determine the right amount of weight per machine, select the weight you can lift comfortably for about the first nine or 10 reps, but that is hard to lift after that. Once you can easily lift all12 reps, it's time to add more weight.
- Fitness Blender: Weight Machine Workout Routines
- Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy; JJ Virgin
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."