The myth of muscle tone & something better to go after
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
There is basically no such thing as muscles becoming “toned”, at least not in the way in which it is referred to with regards to appearance. Muscles either shrink (atrophy) or enlarge (hypertrophy). Your body’s appearance will obviously change as you improve fitness level and diet. You will either lose fat and thus the muscles become more visible and their shape more apparent, or your muscles will increase in size. Ideally for most people both the loss of fat and increase in muscle will happen, that may result in what many refer to as 'toned'. *TONUS (OR MUSCLE TONE): WHAT IT REALLY IS. I think the word tone actually comes from the term 'tonus' which is used by physiotherpists and other physical and medical professionals. As defined by the Collins English Dictionary tonus is: 'the normal tension of a muscle at rest.' While simply sitting there's a whole host of muscles lightly contracted to keep you upright and to keep all unonscious functions going that sustain life. There is a degree of tension in many muscles all the time. Due to factors such as poor posture and injury, muscles can have poor tonus in the form of low tonus (insufficent tension) or high tonus (tight, and even knotted muscles). Both can be problematic and require different approaches to correct i.e. low tonus requires activating, stabilising and strengthening exercises, while high tonus can be addressed with massage, stretching and even relaxation techniques. Conditions or disorders such as Cerebral Palsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder can also be cause of poor muscle tone. *WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Often people seek to 'tone up' by doing strength training exercises with light or very little resistance for a high numer of repetitions (15+). There can be the misguided belief that doing heavy or strenous weights will result in lots of muscle bulk. In reality, for most people this just doesn't happen, at least not without real deliberate effort in the form of eating lots of protein and working out intensely 3 or more times per week. As touched on earlier, to get that 'toned appearance' it is most often a case of simply removing the fat covering the muscles. This 'look' is not achieved by any special toning exercises, but can be/is best done in 3 ways: * Improved diet. Never has eating well become so confusing. I'm not going to elaborate on that other than to say it often involves eating less overall, while eating more fruit and vege and less processed food. * Doing cardiovascular exercise. Walking, running, riding, rowing, swimming are all forms of cardio. It all gets the heart pumping and burns lots of calories, whats more the calorie burning continues at a higher rate once the workout is done. * Increasing muscle. The more muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is going to be, this means even while you're sleeping you'll burn more calories! Plus of course the muscle itself results in improved appearance. Weight/resistance/strength training (which are all essentially the same) is the best way.
As touched on there are varying degrees to which people put on muscle and this is influenced by how much resistance training you do, how much you eat, how much you rest and hormonal factors. Women typically don't put on muscle as easily as men due to lack of testosterone. A moderate amount of resistance training, such as 2 x 30 minute sessions per week, is not going to have you looking like hercules. Plus there is mounting evidence that resistance training is also very good for your brain.
If you do want to really change body shape/ appearance exercises which are demanding and involve the large muscles of the body are most productive. e.g. push ups, squats, lunges, burpees, overhead lifts, jumps and all the variations and modifications of those movements.
If you see the physiques of the track and field athletes at the Olympic Games and note how defined their muscles it appear, it's primarily because of the whole body type of exercises they do. (Diet and total activity level count as well of course) While you may not consider yourself an athlete, adopting that mindset of simply getting stronger and fitter (while also eating well) is the way forward to getting that so desired appearance known as toned. Need help, guidance or training to get into the shape you desire? Why not get in touch or have a look at the options I offer in the form of Exercise Programs & Mobile Personal training.
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