Summer is coming! It’s right around the corner, and you’re ready to start buckling down and getting your beach body ready. You have a plan. You’re going to tone up. You don’t want to get that “bulky” look, so you know to stay away from the heavy weights. It’s all about using lighter weights and higher reps. Couple that with a bunch of cardio, and you’re golden! How else are you going to lose the fat to show off your new “toned” muscles? It’s a simple recipe for success and everyone knows it, so why am I wasting your time with this article? Because, frankly, that’s all a bunch of bullshit.
Let’s start with “toning up”. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine because it doesn’t really mean anything. If you ask ten people to define it, you’ll probably get ten different answers. Simply stated, there is no such thing as “toning up”. Muscle tone is a real thing, but it’s not what you think it is. Muscle tone, or tonus, is simply the ability of a muscle to maintain a constant, low-level contraction to hold you upright and maintain posture. We all have muscle tone, otherwise we would just fall to the floor in a heap. I get what people mean when they say they want to “tone up”. Most of them, in some capacity, want a leaner, more slender look. How do we achieve that look? You lose fat, build muscle, or a combination of both, depending on the person, but again, there is no such thing as “toning up”.
To achieve this leaner look, many people feel that they must lift light weights and for many reps. Lifting heavy weights, they think, will make them too muscular and bulky looking. This myth is mostly prevalent among women, but there are plenty of men out there as well who have this fear. In theory, it makes sense. Lifting heavy weights is indeed the way to get large muscles; but it’s not that easy. It takes many years and a ton of dedication for men who want to attain a “bulky” physique to reach their goals, and that’s with the help of naturally higher testosterone levels. Women typically don’t have the testosterone levels to achieve large muscles naturally (at least not what they’re thinking when they say “bulky”), so don’t expect to look like She-Hulk from lifting heavy weights a few times per week. What you can expect from the muscle mass you gain is increased strength, bone health, and reduced risk of injury. Increased muscle mass also means an increase in your metabolism. This is a huge benefit if your goal is to achieve a “toned” look. An increased metabolism means you burn more calories throughout the day even when you’re doing nothing. This makes it much easier to shed extra fat.
Speaking of shedding extra fat, there is an assumption many have that in order to lose fat, you have to do lots of cardio. This, thankfully isn’t the case (I HATE cardio). I won’t deny that cardio does indeed help many people shed the extra pounds, but then again so does anything that has you burning more calories than you previously were (such as lifting heavy weights and building muscle). While the notion of “calories in vs. calories out” is not quite that simple (read more of our thoughts on the topic here), in general, simply burning more calories than we consume will see most of us lose weight. There are a million ways to make that happen, and some are more effective than others, but no single method is absolutely necessary or required in order to see results.
There is a lot of bad information out there regarding health and fitness, and it’s difficult to sift through it all and pick out the good from the bad. It can be really tough to figure out exactly what you need to do to reach your goals, but it’s important to remain an informed consumer. Don’t take things for gospel just because you’ve heard it a million times. The long and short of it is this; the most effective form of exercise is the one you’ll do and stick to. Yes, I’m slightly contradicting myself because it’s been said a million times, but it’s still true. If you’re really into something, you’re going to give it your all and get results instead of suffering through it. If that’s cardio for you, by all means do it. Please don’t be offended if I don’t join you.