Home Lifestyle Kamal Singh CSCS: Toning versus building muscles

Kamal Singh CSCS: Toning versus building muscles


“I don’t want big bulging muscles; I prefer the slim but toned look.”

As a trainer, the above statement sets my teeth on edge. Probably because I have heard it so many times – I have spoken about it, written about it but this faux notion of toning refuses to go away. Women seem to be particularly susceptible to this idea because of all the fitness and “slimming” products that are marketed by lines like “build long and lean muscles”, “be toned”, “for that toned look” etc. When I hear that I wonder what are “long muscles”, how do you get a toned look without building muscle? Men have also taken the bait of “toning” though the terminology changes to wanting “cuts” or a body like Bruce Lee!

Myogenic or muscle tone

The Medical Dictionary defines myogenic or muscle tone as a partial state of muscle contraction or activation which helps maintain posture. That might be the medical definition but for the fitness person a toned muscle appears hard even at rest and is firm to touch. That would be the result of proper strength training but unfortunately in the popular press toning workouts are different from strength or muscle building workouts. These toning workouts are supposed to be done with tiny weights or light bands but with higher number of repetitions, thus supposedly developing the “long and lean look”. Nothing can be further from the truth!

Training for the “toned look”

Training for the toned look is not different from the regular muscle building training. And for the last time nobody repeat nobody can build huge muscles unless they have a genetic predisposition and spent a number of years working out and eating to get big. These are the steps you would take to look fit and muscular:

Training for the toned look is not different from the regular muscle building training (Shutterstock)
Training for the toned look is not different from the regular muscle building training (Shutterstock)

•Build muscle – this is done by lifting weights in the 8-15 repetition range. You must take the set to momentary muscle failure – at the end of the set you would not be able to finish another repetition by yourself. Beginners can gain muscle on a full body program while others might need a body part split. Eat enough protein to help the body build muscle and recover from training. The usual recommendation is 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. For example, if you weight 65 kgs, then eat 130 grams of quality protein every da-.

•Reduce body fat – If your body is covered by a layer of fat, getting the toned look is difficult. The simplest way to do this is to eat clean – stay away from sugary drinks, desserts and alcohol. Add easy cardio like fast paced walking or play a sport like football, badminton and basketball.

•Rest – to recover from the hard workouts, rest days should be part of the training week. Train 3-4 days of the week in the gym and do two days of cardio. One day a week should be a day of rest. Also get 8 hours of sleep at night.

•The above three points are also what leads to “cuts” and not high repetitions. You need muscle to have a lean and defined body!

The toning myth for ladies and high repetitions for cuts for men has been around for a long time. Knowledgeable trainers have been trying to put this myth to rest but somehow it refuses to go away. I hope this column helps the readers in understanding that creating a lean and fit body is the result of intelligent training, good nutrition and proper rest and not made-up terms like toning, long lean look etc. Now go and do it.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, September 19, 2021

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