The myth of the “toned body”
When it comes to fitness and the whole lifestyle around it, there are countless myths and misconceptions floating around. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to fall into that trap when you are still new to all of that. So let’s tackle one of the most widespread delusions, especially among women, namely – the idea of getting “toned” by doing a high number of reps with little to no resistance at all. Not gonna lie – every time I hear that from a woman, it’s as if someone poked my brain with a pencil.
A popular misconception for the term “toning”
What most women usually mean by setting themselves the goal of a “toned body” is that they want to have a firmer and more defined body, as well as getting rid of the characteristic “jiggle” that comes with storing some extra fat.
But here’s the thing – there simply isn’t such a thing as “toning” – you either grow muscle tissue or you don’t, there is no in-between. Muscular definition and firmness come from growing your muscles and achieving a low enough percentage of body fat so that that definition becomes visible.
And when you think about it – it makes a lot of sense. It’s also quite simple – in order to achieve a more defined and firm body, you need to 1) build muscle and 2) lose enough fat. There is just no way around it, despite what all the ridiculous commercials everywhere would have you believe: the promise of abs by just putting a warming belt on.
The good thing is that both processes complement each other – contrary to popular belief, strength training can be much more beneficial for losing fat than your regular cardio. Why? Muscle requires a lot of energy just to be sustained. The more muscle mass you pack on, the higher your resting metabolic rate is, which means that you burn more calories every minute of the day, even when you are just chilling on the couch. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
But how is muscle built?
Muscles are in a relatively constant changing state and react to the stimuli they get. When a muscle isn’t being used at all, it becomes smaller and weaker – a process called atrophy. And the opposite, if a muscle is being trained and challenged, it adapts and gets stronger and bigger – a process called muscle hypertrophy. Just on a side note here – stronger muscles means stronger bones as well, which becomes even more important as we age.
But back to the question – what exactly triggers muscle growth? As with most processes in our bodies, the process of muscle growth is a complicated one. To put it simple – muscles grow as a result of stress and damage.
Every time you put more stress on your muscles than they were previously used to, you cause damage to your muscle fibers. The body naturally reacts by initiating a repair and replace cellular process, in which new myofibrils (muscle cells) are built. The important thing to note here is that damage happens during a workout, repair (growth) happens while you rest. It’s essential that muscle protein synthesis exceeds the muscle protein breakdown.
What can you do to achieve hypertrophy?
- Lift heavy enough
How heavy is heavy enough? The general rule is that you need to be lifting at least 60% of your 1RM (One Repetition Max), in order to stimulate muscle growth.
- Eat and rest well – growth happens while you rest.
Take breaks that are adequate to your workouts’ intensity, eat and sleep enough. We all know how important protein is for muscle growth, but don’t shy away from carbs – your body needs fuel and energy to grow.
- Adapt your numbers according to your progress
Adapting to a certain weight is great, however, once your muscles get used to it, you want to progressively increase the resistance, so that you keep your progress going. For example, if you start with 60% of your 1RM, you should be able to complete between 15 and 20 reps. Once you begin to easily complete more than that – it’s time to increase the weight!
And finally, keep in mind that muscle hypertrophy is a relatively slow process for the majority of people. There are many factors that influence it, such as genetics and hormonal balance. Make sure you’re giving your muscles the best conditions to grow – challenge them, eat well and take enough rest – and results will surely come.