Toning Muscle! Is It a Thing?!
The actual word toning is very subjective and essentially a nonsensical term. So why are companies/trainers still using the term to promote products/workouts? It's not as simple as it first seems. I and the Chat Sh*t Get Fit team take a look at toning from multiple angles so if you'd prefer to listen to our thoughts in a podcast format then listen down below.
Can you tone muscle?
As I mentioned before the term toning is very subjective. If you believe toning muscle is where your muscles look more defined and you proceed to achieve that you may say "I have toned muscles". In reality, though all you have done is grown muscle tissue and lowered body fat % in order show said grown muscles. You don't need a "toning" workout or "toning device" to achieve that as that isn't really a thing. It's marketing.
The difference is is that the word toning is more marketable and friendly and in most cases aimed at the female population. If you told someone "I need you to do some hypertrophy sets to promote muscle growth and then ensure you are in a controlled calorie deficit to lose fat and reduce body fat %." That could mean very little for some and incite minimal excitement however if you say "Do this bums and tums toning workout to really show off that figure!" It's all about sounding appealing.
Another example of why I think this word is mainly marketed at women is if you take the exact same workout with the same movements but give them two different names. "Get shredded six-pack abs with this core blasting workout" or "Super tone your abs with this awesome core workout" Now if I asked men and women to chose which they'd rather do I don't think the results would be surprising. This isn't the case for all men and women and will vary with individuals.
High Reps Low Weight for "Toned" Muscles
This a common statement for toning muscle. It's normally the basis for toning workouts. If I asked you if this statement was correct your answer is right or wrong depending on your understanding. Bottom line is high reps low weight is not inherently going to tone muscle. You could "tone" muscle by lifting low reps at a "heavy" weight if you fancied it. In essence, all you need to do is partake in some form of resistance training that will promote muscle hypertrophy and make sure that your body fat % is low enough to show off the muscles. This will ultimately come down to diet. If you're overweight and doing 100s of "toning" workouts but not in a calorie deficit chances are you will not see toned muscles. Once again toned being subjective.
In the podcast, Tom made a good analogy of if you spend loads of time building an impressive structure but cover it with loads of sand you're not going to see the impressive structure. Doing "toning" workouts or using toning devices will perhaps build this structure however if it's covered in fat you won't ever see it.
You can't build muscle with high reps low weight!
The argument for this is that we've already established you need to build muscle in order to have something to show (look "toned") and in theory if you have someone doing high reps but with low/no weight they are essentially building muscular endurance, not muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle size). This is where things get interesting as we now have data to suggest that you can promote muscle growth even at really high reps/low weight AS LONG as it's taken close/to failure. Down below is an abstract from said study. A name that may be familiar is Brad Schoenfeld.
The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of low- versus high-load resistance training (RT) on muscular adaptations in well-trained subjects. Eighteen young men experienced in RT were matched according to baseline strength and then randomly assigned to 1 of 2 experimental groups: a low-load RT routine (LL) where 25-35 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9) or a high-load RT routine (HL) where 8-12 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9). During each session, subjects in both groups performed 3 sets of 7 different exercises representing all major muscles. Training was performed 3 times per week on nonconsecutive days, for a total of 8 weeks. Both HL and LL conditions produced significant increases in thickness of the elbow flexors (5.3 vs. 8.6%, respectively), elbow extensors (6.0 vs. 5.2%, respectively), and quadriceps femoris (9.3 vs. 9.5%, respectively), with no significant differences noted between groups. Improvements in back squat strength were significantly greater for HL compared with LL (19.6 vs. 8.8%, respectively), and there was a trend for greater increases in 1 repetition maximum (1RM) bench press (6.5 vs. 2.0%, respectively). Upper body muscle endurance (assessed by the bench press at 50% 1RM to failure) improved to a greater extent in LL compared with HL (16.6 vs. -1.2%, respectively). These findings indicate that both HL and LL training to failure can elicit significant increases in muscle hypertrophy among well-trained young men; however, HL training is superior for maximizing strength adaptations.
Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(10):2954-2963. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958
For me personally, I'd rather work with lower reps/higher weight not only for time efficiency but also for the "HL training is superior for maximizing strength adaptations." So yes if someone was to say yeah high reps low weight can tone muscle with this data you can argue that they are right due to the fact you can build muscle. This must, however, be paired with the right diet protocol.
Don't be afraid of heavier weight! You will not get bulky! The reason you will get bulky is if you go into a serious calorie surplus!
We can't talk about toning without mentioning some big boy toning products.
AB Flex Toning Belt - Vibration Toning Plate - Slender Tone Toning Pants
Where to being. We've established that in order to look in better shape which is what most mean by "toned" you need to build the structure underneath and ensure you aren't covering it with fat. So when I spoke about marketing earlier. Let's look at the ab flex. It costs £64.99 on Amazon UK and comes with an impressive description!
Nobody has time for the CONSTANT ab workouts that are required for board-flat, chiseled abs like you see in the magazines. But this HIGH-PERFORMANCE AB BELT stimulates your muscles with powerful electric pulses that automatically tighten and tone your abs, just as if you had done a workout!
This Really WORKS! We wouldn't be able to stay in business if it didn't. We sell thousands of these - mostly to the family members and friends of those who OWN one and swear by it now!
You'll see and FEEL immediate results. You'll get "hooked" on the feeling of tighter ab muscles - not the "FLAB" muscles you have now!
Your overall health will improve when you lose your gut! Give yourself a "boost" with the power of electricity!
Lot's of buzz words there. This, however, comes with no nutritional advice. At least the toning plate comes with a nutrition guide (wouldn't pay £170 still). Of course, this device is doing something and we even mentioned on the podcast that in a rehab scenario it has its uses, however, the problem is is that it's promoting you don't need to do any work and can sit on the sofa and get "abs". To get abs the most important work is the work in the kitchen and a point I made in the episode was that if these people are already reducing the work they have to do in the gym by buying these belts then are they really going to put the work in in the kitchen. Perhaps not.
What annoys me most is that your everyday gym goer is being steered towards these expensive products with the use of clever marketing. You may be saying "but all these people are happy look at the reviews!" Buyers bias is a thing and especially a thing when you're spending a lot of money. You may be convinced it's making a difference and it may be doing something especially if your diet is on point however you'll most likely be emphasising the effect that the product is having. These products are not magical. Keep it simple. Sort the diet to ensure you're body fat % is low enough to show your physique and make sure you are engaging in some form of resistance training to build the physique to show!
Final Point. If you want to look in better shape and perhaps "toned" then stop spending money on devices that try to take away the hard work. To get real results it takes hard work and is a journey you should enjoy. If you want further help/guidance on anything we've spoken about then please leave a comment or get in touch via the contact form. Hopefully, hear from you soon.