Friday, December 7, 2012
Article # 103. What is Muscle Tone?
It's not uncommon to overhear the occasional person engaged in resistance training state that their goal is to develop muscle tone, rather than muscle size or muscle strength. And, more often than not, it is a woman striving to achieve muscle tone rather than a man, given our conventions of what is considered to be a desirable body type for women. For the most part, women "don't want to get big," they "just want to get toned." But what is muscle tone? Can you achieve muscle tone without getting big muscles? Keep reading to learn the honest truth about muscle tone.
What is Muscle Tone?
There are really two definitions for muscle tone. There is the actual true, physiological definition, and the popular, conventional definition.
The Actual Definition of Muscle Tone
Muscle tone, also known as muscle tonus or residual muscle tension, is an unconscious low level contraction of your muscles while they are at rest. Essentially, muscle tone is what makes your muscles still feel somewhat firm while you are resting and not intentionally tensing them. You know how your muscles feel much firmer when you intentionally tense them? And how you feel a decrease in firmness the less you tense (i.e. contract) them? Well, that small remaining amount of firmness that you feel in your muscles when they are completely relaxed, with no intentional tensing, is your muscle tone.
The Popular Definition of Muscle Tone
In its more conventional use, the term "muscle tone" refers to muscles that are visually clearly defined and have a firm appearance. In this usage muscle tone is desirable simply because it looks good.
What is the Purpose of Muscle Tone?
The primary purpose of muscle tone (as per its real definition) is to keep your muscles primed and ready for action. The always activated state of partial contraction maintains balance and posture, and it also functions as a safety mechanism that allows for a quick, unconscious muscle reflex reaction to any sudden muscle fiber stretch. Think about how your head automatically jerks up straight when you are falling asleep in a sitting position. That is an unconscious reflex reaction that is made possible by the presence of muscle tone. Muscle tone also generates heat and keeps your muscles healthy. If the nerve to a particular muscle is damaged, it may no longer be able to stimulate the muscle contractions necessary to maintain muscle tone and the muscle will become flaccid and eventually it will deteriorate.
Here we'll assume here that, by "get toned," you mean that you would like to achieve the popular, conventional definition of muscle tone, rather than the actual definition. To be more specific, you would like your muscles to be clearly defined and to have a firm appearance. And, if you are female, you also probably want to ensure that your muscles "don't get too big."
There are two things that can and should be done to acquire muscle tone. They are as follows:
1. The first thing that you must to do acquire the popular definition of muscle tone, and this is an absolute requirement, is reduce your overall body fat. Reducing body fat thins out the subcutaneous fat layer under your skin, bringing it closer to, and pulling it tight around the contours of your muscles.
After completing just this one fat reduction step, some people will find that they've achieved the muscle tone that they desire, because they already have a well developed musculature hiding beneath their fat. The vast majority of people, however, will find that they aren't entirely happy with the appearance of their muscles once they have reduced their body fat, and so step number 2 below becomes necessary.
2. The second thing that can be done to develop muscle tone is strength training. For a lucky few people this step might not be required, from a purely aesthetic perspective, because they already have well proportioned muscles under the fat layer removed in step 1 above. But for most people a strength training program, in addition to body fat reduction, is necessary to develop muscle tone. The optimal training program for developing muscle tone must focus on improving muscle strength, as opposed to muscle size or muscle endurance. This type of training requires that you lift heavier weights for fewer repetitions..