Saturday, June 12, 2010

Muscle Tone Myth

Disclaimer: Today's blog is going to be a bit of a rant.  

I've had to start ignoring other people when they work out or discuss fitness for one simple reason.  The things that some people do and say are enough to drive me batty sometimes.  One of the things that just gets under my skin is people without half a clue talking about "muscle tone."  It's really not a complex subject but some jerk in a marketing department somewhere has seen fit to completely muddy the subject for laypeople, and I think advertising is largely to blame for the confusion (though we are all responsible for our own ignorance).

First off, what IS muscle tone?  Muscle tone is defined as: "The continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles.  It helps to maintain posture and readiness for contraction."  A healthy muscle never fully relaxes, there is always a little bit of tension in it.  This property keeps you standing upright, keeps you balanced, and helps your muscles react quickly when called upon to do so.  Except in certain rehabilitation scenarios, it's not terribly desirable or beneficial (or possible) to increase this property in a muscle.  Doing so would likely slow down recovery after exercise, cause a constant state of fatigue, and hamper flexibility.  

Why would anyone think they want more tone?  The tone of a muscle is the reason why it feels firmer than the fatty tissue around it, so it's not terribly illogical to think that increasing tone would make them feel firmer, a state many people desire.  But the flabbiness people seek to remedy is not typically caused by too little tone, but rather by too much fatty tissue.  What many people refer to as "toned" would more accurately be called "lean."  How do you achieve that look and feel marketed as toned?  Build muscle mass and burn fat.  There is nothing mystical about it; more muscle and less fat leads to shapely, firm features.

More than a few times I've overhear people (typically women) say they want "to get toned, but don't want to bulk up."  I want to throw things when I hear that because someone has misinformed these poor people and caused them to waste so much time perusing misguided goal.  Most women (and men for that mater) simply wont be able to get "bulkier" (in terms of muscle mass) than they want to be, and next to no one ever does on accident.  I have yet to talk to anyone, aside from VERY specialized athletes, who felt like they had too much muscle mass.  To build more muscle, you need to lift heavy weights (heavy relative to your ability), and chances are you won't wake up looking like this overnight wondering what happened.  

Even if they wanted to, most women could NEVER look like that.  And the few that can have to train specifically for that goal for years.  And here's the thing many people seem to overlook, if by some freak chance you start to get more muscular than you want to be, just back off the weight training a little bit......

Since we're on the subject, a myth related to "toning" is what's referred to as "spot reduction."  AKA, losing fatty mass from a specific location.  
"I just want to tone up the flab on the back of my arms."  
"I'm doing crunches to loose my belly flab."
It can't be done, the only way I know to remove fat from a specific location is surgery.  Either cut it our or use liposuction.  Otherwise you have to reduce your total body fat.  I won't go into great detail on how to do that today, but reducing the amount of fat in your body as a whole will reduce the amount of fat in those specific spots eventually.  Different people tend to gain and lose fat in different areas.  Just because that woman lost her stomach fat right away doesn't mean you will.  Your body might want to use more fat from your hips first.  There's nothing you can do to control where you're going to burn fat from.  You just have to do the diet and exercise things needed to burn it until you see the results you want.  

In summary, quit trying to tone your muscles, and start building some muscle and loseing some fat.

-Now, go do some push-ups-


  1. Pity post. Maybe your followers forgot you were still blogging.

    How many pictures of muscle-bound women did you go through before you chose the one above?

  2. Pity Post. Maybe your followers forgot about your blog since it has been a while since your last entry.

    You think anybody thinks I'm a failure because I go home to Starla at night? Forget about it!

  3. If you must know, she was my second.