People (women mostly) say they want to be more “toned”. Meaning they don’t necessarily want to build more muscle mass, but they want the muscle that already have to look more in shape, toned, and defined.
How most people screw up trying to get “toned”
Most people totally screw this up. They try to get toned by “going for the burn” when working out. They do this because
- Someone told them heavy weights make you big…
- Their muscles feel and look toned after they “Feel the burn” when working out with high reps.
Here’s why you shouldn’t “go for the burn” when working out… if… you want to get toned…
The Burn is Lactic Acid.
The reason you feel hard during and after the ‘burn’ is the same reason a corpse is stiff. Your muscle fibers are like mouse traps—they go off by themselves, but need energy to be reset to contract again. A dead body is out of ATP, the energy compound that relaxes the muscles, that’s why their muscles are permanently contracted.
A high rep workout exhausts ATP in your muscle and leads to a temporary hardness very similar to what happens to a dead body. But you probably don’t want to be dead, and yet you still want to be toned. The solution?
Real Muscle Tone = Tension
To get lasting tone, you need to train your nervous system to keep your muscles half flexed when you are relaxed. This is what muscle tone is—residual tension in a relaxed muscle! The kind of tension that comes from neurological activity, and not energy exhaustion.
Increased muscle tone is not a physical transformation of your muscle. It is the result of the nervous system being more alert. It keeps the muscles partially contracted all the time.
Strength = Tension = Tone
Strength and tone training is the same thing. If you learn to generate tension to gain strength, instead of building more muscle, then the stronger you are, the harder you will be. This means you need to focus on strength training to get that hard bod you want. Max tension = max strength.
- Want buns of steel? Heavy, high-tension deadlifts work your butt WAY more than butt squeezes, ‘fire hydrants’, or similar silly moves popular in ‘muscle sculpting’ classes…
- Want toned abs? Heavy, high-tension deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, ab wheel routines, planks, etc force your abs to generate high tension
- Want toned, sleek, sexy hips and thighs? Deadlifts, squats, and other full body movements done with high tension, heavy weights are the ticket.
- Want a Big Chest and Shoulders? Heavy, High Tension Overhead Presses and Bench Presses will get you there…
- Want a barnyard back? Weight Pullups and Bent over Rows to build those lats…
- Ripped Abs? Squats, Deads, Overhead Squats, Overhead presses, Ab Wheels and planks like the ladies…
- Want big arms? Heavy presses and other overhead work.
You Can Strength Train and Not “Get Bulky”
Here’s how you strength train without getting bigger: keep the volume low. And you will get stronger, harder, and more toned without getting any bigger. Keep the total number of reps low per workout. A general rule is 10 reps or less. So two heavy sets of 5 would work with the major exercises.
If you want to get big, and build muscle: Lift more volume during your workout. Keep the reps low though so you’re still able to lift with maximal tension and build more strength. 5 sets x 5 reps as an example for each major exercise.
So there you go. If you want to get more toned, more ripped, more “hard”… then you need to build strength.