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The myth of toning

This is a usual fitness tag line for a fitness class or personal trainer " get to toned " or someone will say "I only want to get toned". Unfortunately you can't get toned, you either have muscle and low body fat or you don’t, you can't tone what you don't have.

Definition of tone:

Muscle tone, this is when the muscle is under tension as when it is used to perform an action or when it is tensed such as flexing your bicep.

So what do people mean when they say they want to get toned, normally they want to increase their muscle definition. For most people this means increasing their muscle mass and decreasing the fat layer over the top. The normal advice, especially for women, is light weights and high reps, so out come the pink 0.5 KG dumb bells and do 20 reps+ and you're done. Unfortunately for most people this will do absolutely nothing for them, as the weight is too light and the reps to high. Light weights and high reps (20+ reps) are used to build muscular endurance, but the weight still needs to be sufficiently heavy to tax the muscle for the last few reps of the set. Half kilo dumbbells will not do this for most people, so training this way will have very limited effect on most people. The second most popular programming is the 10 reps for 3 sets range, mostly for men, with moderate weights. This again will not challenge the muscle enough to stimulate growth or burn fat & most people who train this way just sit in their comfort zone making no progress.

So how should we train to get the results that we want, i.e increased muscle definition and lower body fat,

  1. Build muscle: this does not involve bulking up but learning to lift

correctly and increase basic strength. This is best done through periodised training phases. Starting with a 5x5 program this will add lean muscle and help a beginner learn correct lifting form. This is followed by hypertrophy training to shape and define the muscles. This should be balanced out with a functional fitness training phase.

  1. Good Diet: this means eating as clean as you can and getting the correct nutrition you need. This means eating enough calories to feed your muscles & making sure you eat to your goal so if you are trying to lose weight restrict your calories or if you are trying to gain muscle increase your calories slightly.

  2. Targeted cardio: doing the right amount of cardio at the right time, mixing HITT and steady state.

So stop using the pointlessly small weights and high reps that are commonly prescribed for "toning", understand what you need to get healthy and fit, to burn fat & build muscle. Lift Heavy, Eat Right, Move Often

John Personal trainer

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