Walk into your local gym and tell the instructor that you want to know how to “tone up” a particular area of your body.
Chances are you’ll be given the stock answer, which is almost certain to involve light weights, high repetitions and lots of pink equipment.
Don’t be fooled.
The sort of exercise that’s going to stand a chance of helping you tone up your body is a long way from what most people are told to do in the gym.
I came across this quote in my Practical Programming book the other day, which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject…
The term “muscle tone” or tonus describes an electrophysiological phenomenon, a measure of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. It can be thought of as the muscle’s readiness to do anaerobic work. The more fit the muscle, the more electrophysiological activity it exhibits at rest.
Lack of exercise leads to poor tone, aerobic exercise improves tone a little bit, low-intensity weight training improves tone more, and high-intensity training improves tone the fastest.
As a test, go poke the traps or quads of an elite weightlifter at rest, if she’ll let you. They’ll be as hard as rock. The same muscles of an elite road cyclist at rest will be firm, but not hard. Then compare the athletes’ muscle tone to that of a sedentary person. The results will be quite enlightening.
Most exercise programs that claim to improve muscle tone are actually low intensity hypertrophy programs and are only moderately at effective improving muscle tone.
If “tone” is the goal, strength is the method.
Of course, most women are afraid that lifting heavy weights will turn them into the female equivalent of the Incredible Hulk, with legs like tree trunks or shoulders like bowling balls.
Avoiding heavy weights because you’re afraid of suddenly getting “too big” is like staying away from work just in case you turn into a millionaire. It’s not going to happen.
Truth is, it takes years of hard work and an almost religious obsession with exercise and diet to develop the kind of muscular female physiques you see in the magazines.
Gaining muscle is hard to do. It takes hours of training with heavy weights, eating a lot of food, and getting plenty of rest.
Men have a lot more testosterone in their body than women. If it’s not easy for a man to put on muscle, then it’s going to be extremely hard for a woman, who has much less of this muscle-building hormone.
I can’t guarantee that you’re going to look as good as Lauren Plumey (below). But I think you’ll pleasantly surprised by the results you get from a proper strength-training program.
It’s almost impossible to change your shape with aerobic exercise alone. If you’re pear shaped, all aerobic exercise will do is make you look like a smaller pear. Strength training gives you the power to sculpt your body the way you want it to look.
Muscle takes up a lot less space than fat. So instead of getting bigger, the exchange of fat for muscle will make you look smaller and shapelier. You’ll probably drop several dress sizes.
Not only will your thighs shrink, they’ll also take shape. You’ll see a small “hint” of muscle definition in your arms and legs. You’ll be leaner.
Like the man says, if “tone” is the goal, strength is the method.
If you enjoyed this post, there’s a good chance you’ll also like Truth and Lies about Building Muscle: 10 Muscle Myths Debunked By Science.
It's a FREE 20-page special report (PDF) I put together to debunk 10 popular myths that are still widely believed, despite all the evidence to the contrary. You can download a copy here.
SHAMELESS PLUG: Muscle Evo wraps up all my best ideas and advice into a complete science-based training program that you can use to get the "lean, strong and athletic" look without spending unnecessary hours in the gym. Click here to learn more about Muscle Evo.
About Christian FinnChristian Finn holds a master's degree in exercise science, is a certified personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine. You can contact Christian using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or via e-mail.