"Despite common beliefs, there is no such thing as 'lean muscle'. Muscle is muscle and fat is fat. We can't say that there is 'lean muscle' any more than we can say there is 'fat muscle' or 'lean fat' "
Without a doubt, one of the most common goals people have in the gym is to get 'toned' or 'cut'. To appease this demand, many gyms offer 'toning' classes and many trainers prescribe 'toning' exercises to their clients, despite knowing that this is all B.S. These exercises typically involve low weight and very high repetitions and many people have accomplished absolutely nothing because of it. The reason is simple; there is no such thing as toning exercises. Let's take a look at what being 'toned' actually means and some common toning myths.
Understanding Body Composition
Being 'toned' can be thought of as having a high degree of muscle definition, or how prominent your muscles seem to be underneath your body fat. Most people can agree on this, but what most people don't understand is what causes a muscle to appear more prominently on the body. The truth is it boils down to body composition: how much muscle mass you have vs. how much body fat you have. Regardless of the training method, the only ways to get more 'toned' are to increase muscle mass without gaining fat or decrease fat mass without losing muscle. Let's use an example. If a person who is overweight loses a significant amount of body fat while maintaining their current muscle mass, they will look more 'toned' because there is less fat covering his muscles. Oppositely, if a skinny person gains a significant amount of muscle mass without gaining fat, they will look more 'toned' because there is more muscle underneath their thin layer of fat. Unfortunately, most people trying to get toned don't keep their muscle mass in mind and end up losing a ton of total body weight, which includes muscle. You never want to lose muscle, which is why high-intensity resistance training is so critical.
Why 'Toning' Exercises Don't Exist
What are toning exercises anyway? Well, basically some evil genius started this myth that by using low weight and high reps (15-20+), some type of intramuscular magic occurs and poof! More muscle definition without gaining any "bulk" weight. However, we just learned that increased muscle definition occurs when we have more muscle or less fat. Low weight, high rep training does not accomplish either of these things! Gaining muscle is best achieved with higher-intensity resistance training and although resistance training does indirectly aid in fat loss, there is no added benefit of high repetitions for this. As if this myth weren't bad enough on its own, it has also sparked a second myth: that of the much desired 'lean muscle'. Despite common beliefs, there is no such thing as 'lean muscle'. Muscle is muscle and fat is fat. We can't say that there is 'lean muscle' any more than we can say there is 'fat muscle' or 'lean fat'.
If you are one of the many people trying to get toned, know that your goal can be accomplished if you train smart avoid the common myths of 'toning exercises' and 'lean muscle'. It should also be pointed out that this goal (like most) relies heavily on your diet. It doesn't matter how smart you train if you go home and eat 70 donuts. Also, some body fat is essential to maintain normal physiological functions so don't go overboard; set safe goals for yourself. If you eat well, train smart, set reasonable goals, and avoid the myths of 'toning', you'll be looking great in no time.