It's time for Part 3 in our 5 Things that don't work for your fitness program series . Up this month is " I just want to tone so I'll use light weights because I don't want to get too bulky". This really applies to the ladies, but sometimes to the less than manly men.
When I hear people say they want to tone, it says to me that they don't have a clear cut goal and without a goal you can't get results. You are walking around aimlessly.
What is "tone"? Well, it's basically a state of involuntarily electrical activity in your muscles. Muscle tone is loosely defined as minute muscular contractions that constantly exist in skeletal muscles. So if your goal is to tone up, you just don't have a goal. Get one. A real goal is more like losing 10 pounds of body fat or gaining the ability to run a 6 minute mile. Those are goals. Get one. They are free.
When most people say they just want to tone up, they usually mean that they want to look better. They want firmer muscles, but not added bulk. The majority of people who lift weights do not want to look like a bodybuilder. That's fine. Not having a clear goal isn't and not training properly has no excuse.
Here's the thing, weight training is called progressive resistance by many and this is a pretty good definition. Progressive resistance means that you need to progress constantly. Progression can come in many ways, more weight, more reps, more sets, less reps with more weight and a thousand more. If you don't progress, you are maintaining at best, at worst you are backsliding. You must always strive to be better today than you were yesterday at everything you do. All the time.
When we hear people say they will use light weights because they don't want to get too bulky (especially girls) and it is more frustrating than you can imagine. Using light weights doesn't do much. It's better than nothing so I guess that's something, but who wants to be better than nothing? I can't tell you how many girls I train that lift a lot of weight that are not bulky at all, they look like lean, healthy athletic girls.
The myth of "light weight for tone" stems from old school gym nonsense and the mainstream media. A lot of "advice" has been passed down in gyms for many years and much of it is bad information. The media is guilty of giving out whatever story sells magazines or gets viewers to watch. They should be in the business of journalism, but that's a whole other article.
Light weights to increase tone is also frequently given out as advice by doctors. Sure they are smart, but do they know much about strength training? Most do not. Doctors don't get any fancy book learning on fitness in med school. They learn how to fix you when you are broken. My job is to keep you from getting broken by teaching how to be healthy. How's this, I'll give out fitness advice and I won't try to practice medicine if doctors stop giving out advice like "lift 5 pounds for 20 reps". Just a pipe dream.
I've written time and time again that there are different types of strength. The most important type of strength for ALL goals is limit strength. This is loosely defined as how much you can lift for one all out repetition. Limit strength is a key component of fitness. You must lift something heavy. Raising limit strength is crucial to making gains everywhere else. This does not mean that you have to squat 1000 pounds. It does mean that you need to challenge yourself with weights that are near your limit (with excellent form for whatever reps scheme you are doing) in order to progress. The more you can lift for one rep, the more you can lift for multiple reps. The more you lift for multiple reps, the more calories you burn during and AFTER your workout. This is called EPOC. EPOC is simply how many calories you burn after exercise.
More on limit strength: let's say that you can squat 75 pounds once, and you can squat 55 pounds 5 times. If you get your squat up to 100 pounds once, you will squat more weight for 5 reps. Doing this requires more energy (calories) thusly allowing you to burn more fat all day as long as your diet is in order.
Lifting light weights for tone does not challenge you unless you are a raw beginner. The challenge does not last long because your body will adapt to the stress you put on it. This is called the SAID principle. SAID is Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands and it means that as you do anything with your body, it gets better at doing it. This applies exactly to the subject of our article. It is a scientific LAW. I didn't make this stuff up. It is simple, basic legit science. It has been proven, it cannot be disputed. Another thing with raw beginners is they get very strong fast. This is due to the SAID principle and the body learning how recruit more available muscle fiber and using the nervous system more efficiently during exercise.
Think back to when you first started lifting weights or if you've ever seen a beginner do a dumbbell bench press with a very light weight. They flail around with their arms wiggling and can't control the weight. As the workout goes on, they get better form one set to the next. Did they just get super strong after the second set? No. Their body learned how to do what was being asked of it. This is the SAID principle at work. If you stick with the light weights, you will not make any progress. No, I am not saying that you should all try and work up to 150 pound dumbbells for reps. I am saying that you must constantly try and improve your performance. This is easily done by increasing the weight in small amounts, or doing a few more reps, or an extra set. You can't stay on the 10 pound dumbbells forever. Start light, start right and add weight when you can.
I hope I have busted this myth for you. Stay tuned to the TPS site for the next 2 article in the series.