2

votes

How to "tone" muscle?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 13, 2012 at 6:11 AM

Now I know the common response to this question is muscle tone is just a product of muscle mass with a low level of bodyfat, which of course I agree with. Some will even say "high reps" for muscle tone, which I believe is nonsense.

Beyond a low bodyfat percentage and a degree of muscle mass, isn't "muscle tone" really the continuous contraction of muscle at a resting state? And to optimize this "continuous contraction at a resting state" wouldn't you want to optimize strength (ability of nervous system)? So basically the opposite of high reps?

I'm someone who likes to lift weights but I would like that lean athletic look and not the huge size of a bulky bodybuilder (think of a gymnast's physique vs. a bodybuilder). Should I stick to sort of low reps and longer rest periods while avoiding "the pump" of a bodybuilder at higher volumes? Explosive lifts better than slow and steady?

324bf94d3d6f9322d6e4dba4becfaab1

on January 23, 2012
at 09:51 PM

Show me a person who is really big, but not strong and not on steroids. No such person exists. Compare David Abbott to Ronnie Coleman. Abbott is ~260 lbs with a huge belly and can bench 625 lbs. Coleman is ~300 lbs lean and can do a couple half-reps of 500 lbs. Ronnie is 40-50% more LBM yet he is weaker. You can't get anywhere close to the lean body mass of pro BBers without steroids, even if you're benching 600+ lbs. If you never increase weight your gains will slow quickly and soon stop.

56e59609362978a9dcb390fdeb45427f

(576)

on January 23, 2012
at 08:43 PM

Thanks for that, I was the original poster and you articulated what I was trying to say better than I could. I'm glad someone like Mark Rippetoe backs up what I thought was a possibility. Strength is a function of the nervous system. The more efficient the nervous system (stronger you are) the more residual tension you will have at a resting state (muscle tone).

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:58 AM

Hey Bill - it's been a long time but I remember getting 160kg / 352lbs... just a hair over half of my best squat. Not breathtaking like Leistner or Marunde's 405x20, but it was one of the hardest things I think I'd ever done in my life. I couldn't deal with the one impact of 20-rep squats twice/week - my immune system was absolutely crap, and my son was in preschool at the time so I was sick pretty much constantly. I was also putting down about 4000cal/day and continued to lose fat.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:56 AM

Hey Bill - it's been a long time but I remember getting 160kg / 352lbs. Not breathtaking like Leistner or Marunde's 405x20, but it was one of the hardest things I think I'd ever done in my life. I couldn't deal with the one impact of 20-rep squats - my immune system was absolutely crap, and my son was in preschool at the time so I was sick pretty much constantly.

1c67bc28f4e44bbb8770b86df0463df3

(6719)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:02 AM

What poundage did you get your 20 rep squat up to?

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 02:55 AM

+1 for the Sandow pic...

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 02:38 AM

"The concept of high reps for mass doesn't work unless you're on steroids" Really? I'm not pro high reps, but that's no serious justification. Same as the "You will also not get big without steroids". Both totally bunk, seriously.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 14, 2012
at 02:39 PM

Thanks James. Yeah, you can do them with almost any exercise and with dumbbells or barbells, shouldn't matter.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on January 14, 2012
at 01:31 AM

I think your right for the most part. I also hate to cite Tim Ferriss but in this case he has the actual results of genotyping from 23andMe and Navigenics and all three (one under a pseudonym) confirm he has the R577X variant of the ACTN3 gene on both chromosomes. Yet he has been able to put on some pretty serious muscle, according to his genes he should excell at endurance sports. Not proof of anything but interesting at least.

5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on January 13, 2012
at 10:51 PM

Believe they're called 21's, although I think they were with a bar and not dumbbells.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on January 13, 2012
at 09:25 PM

I think that you might need some gene therapy (or a different set of parents) in addition to steak and chicken breasts to look like the guy in this picture!

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11 Answers

3
34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on January 13, 2012
at 06:24 AM

Read this if you haven't already: Fuckarounditis

I think you had it right at the start; muscle mass + low body-fat percentage. Try the body builder style workout/diet but stop eating steaks and chicken breasts like it's your job when you look like the following picture or whatever level your satisfied with.

how-to-

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on January 14, 2012
at 01:31 AM

I think your right for the most part. I also hate to cite Tim Ferriss but in this case he has the actual results of genotyping from 23andMe and Navigenics and all three (one under a pseudonym) confirm he has the R577X variant of the ACTN3 gene on both chromosomes. Yet he has been able to put on some pretty serious muscle, according to his genes he should excell at endurance sports. Not proof of anything but interesting at least.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on January 13, 2012
at 09:25 PM

I think that you might need some gene therapy (or a different set of parents) in addition to steak and chicken breasts to look like the guy in this picture!

2
73b0562fe80ea3c1343202377af1e929

on January 23, 2012
at 07:38 PM

Muscle tone exists. Rip explains it in BBT..... Muscle mass and fat mass have nothing to do with it.

It's talking about the resting tension in the muscle. Lift heavy you will have greater tension while at rest.

The example used in the book is this:

Poke the traps of an olympic weightlifter, they'll be hard as a rock. Then poke the traps of a cyclist, they'll still be firm, but nto quite as hard. A sedentary persons traps will be like goop. This is tone. Lift heavy = tone.

56e59609362978a9dcb390fdeb45427f

(576)

on January 23, 2012
at 08:43 PM

Thanks for that, I was the original poster and you articulated what I was trying to say better than I could. I'm glad someone like Mark Rippetoe backs up what I thought was a possibility. Strength is a function of the nervous system. The more efficient the nervous system (stronger you are) the more residual tension you will have at a resting state (muscle tone).

1
246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 02:50 AM

"There is no firming and toning, only stronger and weaker" - Mark Rippetoe

Another great quote that's thrown around is "Strength is made in the gym, abs are made in the kitchen.", but I have no idea who came up with that one.

To get mass, you have to eat well, sleep well, and train like you mean it. To keep that mass from being fat, you need to be very solid about what you put in your body, and how you spend your time out of the gym.

As far as what to do? Well, in the words of Daniel John, everything works - for awhile at least. Frankly, P90x and a good diet will go far to give you a gymnast physique. So will olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and pretty much any other endeavor that will make you work hard. What is the most efficient way to put on mass? If anyone had the definitive answer they would put all the muscle rags and supplement companies out of business. I built most of my LBM through 20-rep squats and copious amounts of food, at least a decade ago, and this was what the old timers did... but I eventually stalled and had to change it up.

Fact is, any sort of resistance training, done well, and combined with a solid diet, should eventually bring you to your genetic potential. Except maybe a bowflex.

What would that solid diet be? I'm kinda partial to CKD for the purposes that you are looking for... Low carb throughout the week and a carb heavy day around training. A "depletion" workout done on very low carbs (this would be medium weight, higher reps) will make you feel like goo, but will get the furnace burning.

I suggest you read up on CKD with some of Lyle McDonald's stuff, or look up the Dave Palumbo diet. Tweak it to your needs. Once it stops working or progress stalls significantly, change it up...

1c67bc28f4e44bbb8770b86df0463df3

(6719)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:02 AM

What poundage did you get your 20 rep squat up to?

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:58 AM

Hey Bill - it's been a long time but I remember getting 160kg / 352lbs... just a hair over half of my best squat. Not breathtaking like Leistner or Marunde's 405x20, but it was one of the hardest things I think I'd ever done in my life. I couldn't deal with the one impact of 20-rep squats twice/week - my immune system was absolutely crap, and my son was in preschool at the time so I was sick pretty much constantly. I was also putting down about 4000cal/day and continued to lose fat.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 03:56 AM

Hey Bill - it's been a long time but I remember getting 160kg / 352lbs. Not breathtaking like Leistner or Marunde's 405x20, but it was one of the hardest things I think I'd ever done in my life. I couldn't deal with the one impact of 20-rep squats - my immune system was absolutely crap, and my son was in preschool at the time so I was sick pretty much constantly.

1
47b7b14e8c69a659623b54c0b06cc203

on January 14, 2012
at 06:55 AM

Hi there, While I do not profess to be an expert in this I think a lot of the stuff being thrown around is just complicating a simple situation.

If you want muscles, you gotta hit the gym and go heavy. That will create the demand for muscle growth.

If you want to lose fat then you'll have to watch what you eat.

I know that look you're looking for and honestly it is the best / most healthy look in my opinion. My theory is to go heavy and don't eat too much proteins. That'll help you get that super ripped look.

Ryan.

1
1c67bc28f4e44bbb8770b86df0463df3

on January 13, 2012
at 04:52 PM

"Now I know the common response to this question is muscle tone is just a product of muscle mass with a low level of bodyfat," <-- you answered your own question.

Beyond a low bodyfat percentage and a degree of muscle mass, isn't "muscle tone" really the continuous contraction of muscle at a resting state? <--- No. Muscle is either contracted or in a resting state, but not both. One will not look like someone who is flexing in a picture without flexing and that same person can not walk around all day 'flexed', although I suppose some people attempt to do this.

For instance, if one were 5% bodyfat and went for a walk with no shirt on, to anyone viewing this he/she would appear like they are flexing even though they are not.

I'm someone who likes to lift weights but I would like that lean athletic look and not the huge size of a bulky bodybuilder (think of a gymnast's physique vs. a bodybuilder). Should I stick to sort of low reps and longer rest periods while avoiding "the pump" of a bodybuilder at higher volumes? Explosive lifts better than slow and steady? <-- I agree with the other answer regarding reading fuckarounditis by Martin.

1
25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on January 13, 2012
at 06:24 AM

From an aesthetic standpoint, the muscle you gain on your biceps by doing one set of 6-8 reps of barbell curls to failure 2x week will be indistinguishable from the same amount of muscle mass gained any other way.

So...my advice would be to chose a method which 1) minimizes risk of injury, and 2) minimizes exercise time.

Various forms of HIT would fit the bill.

The differences between the physiques of bodybuilders and gymnasts have to do with differences in genetics, training (gymnasts barely train their legs, and it shows), and drugs. If you look at pre-steroid bodybuilders from the waist up, they are indistinguishable from the more muscular gymnasts. how-to-

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 02:55 AM

+1 for the Sandow pic...

0
56e59609362978a9dcb390fdeb45427f

on February 02, 2012
at 06:32 AM

Yes there is such a thing as increasing muscle "tone" or density"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvgHKQfFCso&feature=channel_video_title

skip to 1:15 in the video for explanation

0
324bf94d3d6f9322d6e4dba4becfaab1

on January 13, 2012
at 09:17 PM

The concept of high reps for mass doesn't work unless you're on steroids, and even when you're on steroids it's still not the best way to train. Most people will do best with 7-8 sets of 3 or 5-6 sets of 5, 2-3 times a week per exercise. Unless you're genetically exceptional or on steroids your body will not be able to handle much more than that for more than a few weeks before you get injured, even if it's just a small one that you need to take a week off for.

You also will not get big without steroids. I'm 5'9" and I have about 15.25" arms flexed, and I can bench 300+, and I'm still kinda fat. Once I get from my current 25% BF to 15% or so, my arms will more than likely be below 15". Last year when I was 35-40% BF my arms were almost 16.5", so you lose a lot of size when you drop fat. They're big enough for people so know that I workout, but most people would never guess I can bench over 300lbs because they have the idea that you have to have big 20"+ arms to be benching 300.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on January 23, 2012
at 02:38 AM

"The concept of high reps for mass doesn't work unless you're on steroids" Really? I'm not pro high reps, but that's no serious justification. Same as the "You will also not get big without steroids". Both totally bunk, seriously.

324bf94d3d6f9322d6e4dba4becfaab1

on January 23, 2012
at 09:51 PM

Show me a person who is really big, but not strong and not on steroids. No such person exists. Compare David Abbott to Ronnie Coleman. Abbott is ~260 lbs with a huge belly and can bench 625 lbs. Coleman is ~300 lbs lean and can do a couple half-reps of 500 lbs. Ronnie is 40-50% more LBM yet he is weaker. You can't get anywhere close to the lean body mass of pro BBers without steroids, even if you're benching 600+ lbs. If you never increase weight your gains will slow quickly and soon stop.

0
96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 13, 2012
at 03:59 PM

If you're looking for definition, as opposed to bulk, you might try a super-set. Now, I've seen the definition of this very from person to person, so this is likely going to be different than what you've seen before.

I've picked this up in high school, from the gym teacher there, and he was an old body builder, but in great shape.

So, say you're doing bicept curls, you'd take a lower weight than you normally use, maybe 1/2 the weight, or 3/4s the weight you'd normally use. A normal bicept curl would raise the weight from 0 degrees (dumbbell is next to your leg and arm is parallel to your body, to the top, where the dumbbell is near your shoulder, let's call this 180 degrees, though it's not quite all the way there.)

You then split the movement in half, i.e. raising a dumbbell from straight down 0 degrees (parallel with the body) to 90 degrees (perpendicular to the body), and do 10 reps of that.

Then, without any rest, go from 90 degrees (perpendicular) to all the way up (180 degrees) and repeat for 10 reps. Then, without rest again, do the full, normal movement of a bicept curl for 10 reps.

He recommended doing this kind of superset only once per week.

Weird thing is I've never seen this type of movement referred to anywhere else. If you know what this is called elsewhere, I'd love to know the official name. :)

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on January 14, 2012
at 02:39 PM

Thanks James. Yeah, you can do them with almost any exercise and with dumbbells or barbells, shouldn't matter.

5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on January 13, 2012
at 10:51 PM

Believe they're called 21's, although I think they were with a bar and not dumbbells.

0
15480ad0efe9168bc518967b9a2e240d

on January 13, 2012
at 03:33 PM

I think I read somewhere the maximum muscle one can gain in a year is like 5-10 lbs with normal weight lifting (no bulking up and no steroids, etc). If you lift heavy and do less reps then you will get pretty lean and "toned." Bodybuilding.com has a lot of great workout programs. Like previously stated, if you don't want to become bulking, definitely don't increase your carb intake. I recently realized that the reason why bodybuilders become so big is because they increase their food intake with oatmeal, egg whites, and other lean meats. This consequently adds more fat along with muscle but then the cut in order to get lean.

You can skip all that non-sense and just lift heavy. It might take longer since you're not bulking up but in the long run I think that method is much healthier and sustainable.

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