The Fallacies of Muscle Toning

The idea of fact or fallacy is not my own! It comes from the late great Mel Siff, author of Supertraining, and also a lesser known text called, coincidentally Facts and Fallacies of Fitness. It’s a great read, and a little easier to get through than Supertraining.

So there’s the inspiration! However the content will be based on the things that get said over and over by fitness enthusiasts, and perhaps is somewhat misguided in terms of factual backing shall we say!

The first in the series is as the title suggests, about training for muscle tone! Every female athlete in my gym now knows my thoughts on this subject and therefore it doesn’t get mentioned very much. However, I know from people outside of my gym telling me that the question still gets asked and therefore people still believe that you can train high reps for tone and you train high load for bulk…right? WRONG! In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is toning anyway?

In the words of Siff  “Toning is believed to be the lesser evil than strength or resistance training, or worse still, bodybuilding. Its magical qualities mean that muscles do not bulge or grow, but just become exquisitely honed and toned and without strain”. What is the goal of ‘toning’ type exercise sessions anyway? It is generally to maintain muscle mass but somehow ‘show’ these muscles off in a better way…is this not a body composition issue rather than a resistance training modality?
By far the best way to ‘tone’ up is to lose excess bodyfat through dietary interventions and build some muscle to replace where that fat used to be!

In terms of developing muscle mass through heavy loads, what about Olympic weightlifters who compete in weight categories? Those men and women lift maximal loads every day of the week and do not put on muscle mass. Your body adapts to the loads imposed on it.

Mike Boyle, a well known strength coach from the states always uses his female athletes as examples. They look like the picture perfect female, great physique both lean and athletic, but far from a bodybuilding type of appearance, and yet they all train with heavy resistance, do conditioning, speed work and utilise many other training modalities.

So please don’t think that the classic 15 -20 reps prescribed by many trainers is going to produce that ‘toned’ appearance many people seek. The time under tension in these protocols is actually quite significant. A combination of good diet to reduce body fat, muscle gain in the right areas, which can be achieved through many different set and rep schemes including heavy load resistance training and some hard work and strain, will go some way to achieving the physique that many people perceive to be desirable.

Let us know what you think about these ideas by commenting on our blog or Facebook…