I want to get toned, how do I do that?
People often ask this question without understanding what muscle tone actually means. Muscle tone is the amount of tension a muscle maintains when it’s at rest. It is a neurological phenomenon, and if one wanted to increase muscle tone, the most efficient way to do it would be to lift heavy weights for low repetitions, increasing neuromuscular efficiency.
However, many people use the term “toned” to refer to a person with visible muscle definition. In this sense, there are no special “toning” exercises for your muscles. Fitness advice for women is often guilty of purporting to have the “secret” to a toned body. For men, the question is often ‘how do I get ripped?’
The answer, in fact, is extremely simple: build up muscle mass and lower your body fat.
Fat people may have huge muscles, but they will never be “toned” unless the fat is removed to reveal the muscle underneath.
Skinny people have an easier time getting “toned”, as any muscle they put on is not covered by fat. However, it is often harder for a skinny person to add muscle.
Number 1 myth: Higher reps (over 15) will get you “toned.” This is completely untrue. Higher reps help with muscle endurance, which may be useful for some sports. However, if your goal is to get “toned,” you should be focusing on increasing muscle size. The larger the muscle, the easier it will be to see. Do not worry about getting bulky. It’s not easy to put on muscle, and it is very doubtful that you’ll accidentally put on too much. Even if you do, it’s not hard to shrink down to your desired size.
Tips on how to put on muscle are addressed in more detail elsewhere, but generally you should focus on compound lifts in the 8-12 rep range.
Diet: To get more “toned” you will need to have a low body fat percentage. Too much fat and you will look flabby, bloated, or bulky, no matter how big your muscles are. Fat cannot be “spot reduced” on the body, thus preventing you from toning just one body part. A healthy diet is necessary to lower your overall body fat, making your muscles more visible.
A note to women: Often I hear about women who are averse to heavy weights as they don’t want to “bulk up” or “look like a dude”. The fact of the matter is most women will never get as bulky as guys because they lack sufficient testosterone. The female professional athletes you see with large, “toned” arms got that way through of a much more vigorous workout routine than you will ever attempt. A woman’s lifting routine should not be that different from a man’s. This is how women who lift weights like a normal human being look.
Just remember the simple formula: increased muscle size + lower body fat = “toned” body.