19 Nov Tone It Up – The Truth Behind “Toned” Muscle
Tone It Up – The Truth Behind “Toned” Muscle
Take a look around your gym. Look at how much muscle the lifters have and what their muscle looks like. Look at what kind of workouts they’re doing. Take note of how many of those guys are doing high reps, burn out sets,
forced reps, and all that “show me the money” stuff.
Try not to be creepy as you stare at all of these guys.
Now, remember back when you first started working out at the gym and really think if any of those guys have gotten any bigger since you first stepped through the door – barring those with a certain ergogenic aid.
Saying things like “feel the burn” is just plain funny but theidea of training for that burning feeling is not outdated. You’ll still see
lifters do it and teach it to others.
Let’s be frank about what the “burn” is. It’s from the build-up of waste products in your body and has nothing to do with the muscle growing. For now I’m not even going to get into things like lactate or lactic acid, just understand the body uses fuel and turns it into waste products and you feel a “burning.”
So what about the guy who says that his muscles feel hard during and after a workout after he gets the burn? Remember that thing about your body using fuel? Muscles need energy to contract. The fuel that it uses primarily during weight training is ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate).
The flip side is that muscles need energy to relax too.
When we die, our bodies obviously have no more energy to use and ATP production ceases. This is when rigor mortis occurs. Our bodies become stiff and hard for a while because the ATP is gone.
Ready to have your mind blown?
When you do high reps to failure you “exhaust” ATP stores. This is causing a temporary rigor mortis of the worked muscle. The hardness has nothing to do with muscle growth and development.
If your mind wasn’t blown just now I don’t care. I’ve always wanted to say that and I’ve just lived my dream.
Turn It On
When you flex a muscle, your nervous system sends a signal for the muscle to develop tension. Go ahead and flex those biceps of yours. They looked pretty “toned” when you flex them, right?
I bet you would look pretty toned if you were always flexing. We all would.
Well, guess what?
Muscle tone is residual tension in a non-flexing muscle.
Non-flexing — yes I think I just made that word up but you get the idea.
By training the nervous system, your muscles keep residual tension and essentially are half flexed even when you actively relax. If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, I think you know where this is going.
We train our nervous system by lifting heavier weights and getting stronger. So, the stronger you are the more tension will remain in your muscles, which means they will be harder and more “toned.”
This, of course, is provided you are lean enough to even see any definition. Please no angry letters from Mr. 30% bodyfat with a thick coat of winter blubber over your entire body. If you don’t lose some bodyfat, no amount of residual tension is going to help you look more better.
The Power of Less…and 6
I read a very popular book a while back called the The Power of Less by Leo Babauta that talks about simplifying your life.
There’s no doubt that optimizing performance calls for a great deal of scientific understanding but sometimes things just need to be simplified. According to the traditional rep range scheme, 6-8 reps is optimal for hypertrophy.
So in order to simplify my life — and yours if you listen —I’m going to stick with doing sets of 6 reps.
I can use around 83% of a real or imaginary 1RM for 6 reps. This means more stress. So I can use a heavier load which means I get more stress which means I get bigger. The higher percentage allows me to build some strength too in the process.
Now does this mean that I actually find a 1RM in something like a dumbbell lateral raise or a triceps pushdown?
I just use a weight that feels a 90% effort for however many sets I choose.
I will admit that higher rep sets do have some benefits but for the beginning and intermediate lifter sets of 6 with some heavy weight is not only going to get them bigger but develop that tone due to the residual tension.
Try doing 3-4 sets of 6 reps for a few weeks with your favorite mass building lifts with my 90% effort method and come back and tell me how it goes.
What are your thoughts on all this? I want to hear them. Let me know in the comments.
Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam.(Thanks toTim Ferriss and Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)