Monday, November 18, 2013

A Discussion on the Theory of Muscle Toning

Tell me how many times you've heard somebody, especially the ladies, say something like this:

"I don't want my muscles to get too big, I'm just trying to tone them."

Insanely low weight with insanely high reps for incredible muscle tone!!!!

.....Or something along those lines anyway. 

Personally, I've come across countless people in my years of bodybuilding and going to the gym who, upon discussion of what their fitness goals are, seem to believe this perpetuated theory that giving your muscles practically non-existant resistance and doing reps until you're blue in the face will stimulate your body into creating firm (but not large) muscle with great definition.......i.e. "tone" the muscle.

I don't want to pick on the ladies but, let's face it, this is a pretty gender-specific topic. Most guys who are interested in muscle manipulation aren't typically inclined to NOT want increase their muscle size and look aesthetically masculine and intimidating. So please excuse me if this blog post comes out sounding sexist in any way. This topic just tends to heavily overlap with one gender more than the other. I assure you that I'm not trying to single out and insult a particular gender here.

There is No Such Thing as "Toning"

Let's just go ahead and get it out of the way. Toning does not exist. There is no scientific phenomenon of your musculature and muscular development that will distinguish other muscular responses from something exclusively determined to be "toning". I think that the muscle firmness, tightness, and adequate size are the results of many other responses and lifestyle changes that actually do exist and are actual muscle training responses. In particular, I believe that what most people mistake as "toning" are the result of 3 bodybuilding phenomena:

Muscle Pump:

This touches on the "firmness" and modest increase in muscle size aspects of muscle toning. When lifting weights, especially when targeting specific muscle groups, the body rushes blood and bodily fluids to the muscle being stimulated. The result is an increase in muscle size and firmness from a filling of the muscle. One could confuse this with "toning", if they believe that such a thing exists, but in fact it's actually what bodybuilders and weightlifters refer to as a "pump". It's only increased muscle fullness from bodily fluids being rushed into the muscle group and will actually end within an hour after working out.


Nutrition / Leanness:  

This is another important concept to consider when concluding that you are "toning" your muscles. When individuals decide to workout, they often times also start to change the way that they eat. The definition that many people talk about when trying to "tone" their muscles is not a result of anything known as toning but rather the result of removing bodyfat from changing your nutritional scheme to one conducive for weight loss to achieve a lean physique. The only way to increase your definition is almost exclusively through dietary fat loss, with development of your muscles through weightlifting exercises thrown in. None of these concepts are related to anything called toning. 


Weight Training:
While I do not believe in any phenomena called toning, the techniques employed by those who workout with the notion that it does in fact exist do have some merit.

If the goal for working out is to increase muscle size and definition, a great concept to incorporate into your weight lifting routine is to aim for high repetition sets (high repetition = muscle failure for a given lifting exercise at 12-15 repetitions). However, the weight still has to be heavy enough to stimulate your muscles to grow. Weight that is too light will not provide a proper stress / load on the muscles, and thus a proper stimulus won't be achieved for muscle growth. Swinging around light weight violently and for an absurd amount of repetitions will not burn fat either. If you wish to burn fat, focus on nutrition first and supplement it with cardio. Weight training isn't optimal for this. Furthermore, lifting weight that is nowhere near heavy enough will result in a wasted workout from a weightlifting perspective. 



Myths Surrounding Muscle Growth in Genders

Alright, now let's get into something I've been wanting to talk about for a while. This is where it gets pretty gender specific.

I've stated that I have had countless people tell me that their goal is muscle toning. But I've had just as many women tell me that they are terrified of putting on slabs of muscle like men are capable of, and do not want that kind of aesthetic. I think that's where the latching on to the "toning" craze comes from, because it offers women some idea of an ideal cap to muscle growth while also keeping the leanness that they also desire. But let's get into some flaws with this way of thinking.

WOMEN DO NOT PRODUCE ENOUGH TESTOSTERONE TO GAIN THE SAME MUSCLE MASS OF A MAN OF THE SAME HEIGHT AND BUILD. It is important for you to understand that. Women are women and have feminine features because they produce more estrogen than testosterone. A woman can only become heavily muscular, to the levels of a male of equal build, if they supplement with testosterone through synthetic hormone usage. If you are a natural bodybuilder, or are weightlifting without the use of steroids / sythetic hormones, you will always have a cap on how much muscle mass you are able to gain.


This means that for women especially, the amount of muscle mass you could theoretically put on is much more limited to that of a male. You can work out and lift weights until you're blue in the face, but chances are you will never get to a level of muscularity that is overly dramatic and masculine or doesn't fit with your frame.

So to say that you are working out in a way that isn't conducive to growing large amounts of muscle will moreso limit your progress than build your aesthetic to something you want. By not stressing your muscles fully, and constantly pushing yourself to the maximum in the gym while weightlifting, you are impeding an already slow process and in turn will not see optimal results, and will take much longer to see any progress at all.

 "Muscle Toning" does not exist, and one should never build a workout routine around this myth. Muscle fullness and size, along with muscular defintion comes from dedicated weightlifting with proper stress on the muscle, along with sound nutrition that loses enough fat to see the muscle definition that you currently have. One should always push their weight maxes for maximum muscle growth. Women are not able to gain an outrageous and unwanted amount of muscle due to their lack of testosterone and excess of estrogen unless they are supplementing with synthetic hormones / steroids. Be careful not to spin your wheels in the gym with inadequate stress on the body that lead to a wasted workout.


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