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The best way to get a toned body is to lift a lot of lighter weights, to make your muscles harder and more defined, without growing them too much…right? After all, if you want a subtle, lean look, then lifting light weights just makes sense.
Am I blowing your mind when I say this is a hundred percent WRONG?
Yep. The idea of “toning” your muscles is actually a myth.
Now, let me be clear — muscle tone is a real medical concept, but it does not refer to the process of fine-tuning muscle tissue to a desired shape (which, again, is a myth).
Instead, “muscle tone” actually refers to how much tension muscles are able to have and how much they’re able to contract. Hypotonia is a condition often found in babies that give them “floppy” arms and legs, so they can’t sit or stand on their own. But it isn’t that they have less muscle, or less “defined” muscles, than the other babies. It’s that their muscles don’t tense up properly.
So to conclude our medical lesson for today…the real “definition” here is that muscle tone means, how well is your muscle able to tense up?
Nothing to do with the size or shape of the muscle. Why do I bring this up, other than to point out that people are using the term “muscle tone” in correctly?
Well, because I believe that this emphasis on “toning” your muscles instead of “growing” them has led to some erroneous beliefs, ESPECIALLY for women!
Many of us think that if we want “toned,” “lean looking” muscles, light weights are the best for a toned body workout plan.
We think that heavy weights will make us look big and buff, and grow our muscles too large…
But the truth is, you can’t “tone” muscles by “hardening or firming” the edges.
Instead, your entire muscle either grows, or shrinks. Those are the only two options for muscles.
So, what makes your muscle grow? Muscle STRESS. That means that when you’re strength training your weight has to be heavy enough to damage some of your muscle fibers so that your body replaces them with new, stronger fibers. Now, that’s a true toned body workout plan.
Please don’t think that I’m recommending for you to overexert and hurt yourself, though! When I say to lift heavy weights, I mean “heavy” relative to the individual’s size and current skill level. More specifically:
Choose an amount of weight that you can lift for 6 – 10 reps, then rest for 60 – 90 seconds. Do about 3 sets. For an example for women who are beginners, this might be doing curls with 5 or 8 lb free weights, or bench pressing 50 lbs.
So don’t try and do a curl with a 50-dumbbell…but also, be aware that your 2-lb weights won’t lead to any changes in the physical appearance of your arms.It’s strength training, along with body fat % loss, that will lead to the appeared of defined muscles.
Now, I am not saying to toss them in the trash, either!! Those light weights are perfect for building muscle ENDURANCE, which is great if you enjoy swimming, rock climbing, rowing…having muscle endurance, of course, is great for reducing muscle fatigue during long periods of activity.
Exercise physiology Dr. Michele (hey!!) Olson from Auburn University recommends using light weights that you can lift at least 15 times in a row, but if you aren’t feeling any strain by rep number 30, then it’s a “pointless exercise”!
However, doing high repetitions of light weights, your muscles will not be changed, because muscles require stress and just a wee bit of fiber damage to grow. And they can ONLY grow — not simply “firm up.”
The reason I said that the concept of “muscle toning” is damaging to women is that, it promotes the idea that lifting heavy weights will make women too “bulky.”
This is wrong because lifting “heavy” weights is actually the only way to grow and change your muscle at all! (Again, heavy weights are defined as whatever you can lift 6 to 10 times in a row comfortably, then take a break for a minute, and do 3 sets.)
And plus, even though it won’t make you bulky, I totally think we should embrace that body type for women for the beautiful look that it is!
Instead of looking for a toned body workout plan…experiment with lots of different exercises and see what makes you feel healthiest and happiest. What helps you Find Your Flow?
For lots of women, it’s found in the weights section of the gym!