Build Muscle Tone?

by Caleb Lee on November 25, 2008

If you’re wondering how to build muscle tone, then you’re reading the right article because I’m first going to destroy all the myths out there about “toning” muscles… and then tell you what to do instead to get that toned look you want.

Myth #1: You CAN Tone Muscles.

You can’t actually “tone” a muscle. Muscles only do a couple of things: They get bigger, they get smaller, they get stronger or they get weaker… in the most simplistic of terms…

Toning is not something they do. So what happens to a muscle when it looks toned then? It’s when you’re walking around and your muscles are always “half on”, which means there’s residual tension left in the muscles which gives them a “half flexed” look. That’s what a toned muscle really is.

So there is no specific exercise for toning this or toning that… that’s all nonsense.

Myth #2: High Reps Tone Muscles

High reps do NOT tone muscles… at least not for long. Want to know what happens when you perform high reps of an exercise? You get lots of build up of lactic acid.

Lactic acid builds up in the muscles and they TEMPORARILY become stiffer, harder, and more full… then your body clears the lactic acid build up and your muscles return back to a normal state. A corpse body on the other hand builds up lactic acid and has no way to clear it from its muscles (because it’s dead) and that’s what makes a “stiff”… stiff.

So high reps aren’t the answer either…

Myth #3: Heavy Weights Make You “Bulky”, Not Toned

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard this one… Basically the theory is that “I don’t want to get too big, so I’m not going to lift heavy weights because they’ll make me bigger!”

But that’s not true. You need two things in addition to heavy weights to get bigger, 1. Lots of volume and 2. Lots of food. As long as you’re not lifting those heavy weights a LOT (like 3 sets of 3 or 2 sets of 5 for each exercise) and you’re not eating like a horse… then you’ll never gain appreciable size.

You really think those guys on bodybuilding magazines got that big without actually TRYING? Or without pharmaceutical help (a topic for another time)?

How To REALLY Build Muscle Tone

So how do you get that toned look you really want? You need residual tension left in the muscle right? And it can’t come from high rep “pumps” because the lactic acid produced that way quickly clears the muscles… so what to do?

Build strength – Lift heavy weights – as often as possible – but with low volume during each practice!

The more strength training you do, focusing on high percentages of your 1RM (80-95%), done for low reps/sets (3×3, 2×5) of compound exercises (like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses), fairly often (from 3-5 days per week.

The overall volume is kept low, the frequency is high, and the tension is high… and you get that “toned” look!

The other part of the equation:

You Can’t Out-Train The Kitchen Table

You won’t look toned if you have a lot of fat covering those muscles, so you should control your diet (at least a little bit) and do interval training for fat loss.

If you take these tips to heart it’ll be quite easy for you to build muscle tone.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick Andrade November 26, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Good article. I can’t believe how many times one of my clients has refused to touch free weights because the didn’t want to get “too big”. Give me a break! If building muscle mass was that easy don’t you think that everybody would be walking around with a muscular physique?

As to your advice on how to tone your muscles, you are spot on. Focus on building lean muscle mass. Train with free weights 4 – 5 times per week . As you begin to gain muscle, you’ll notice a corresponding decrease in body fat. And more firm muscles all over your body. This is the quickest way to achieve a lean muscular and “toned” body.


Caleb Lee November 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm

@ Nick: Right on! I like your website, looks good :)


Tyrone June 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

GOOD article, to get rid of weight lifting silly myths. Building lean muscles come with dedication and consistence weight loss.


Ervin July 8, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Great point I always tell people for toning you dont need to be able to lift 300 pounds.


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