Light weights to get ‘toned’?

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Most gym goers have the goal of getting ‘toned’. This often happens in phases: first bulking (building muscle mass), then cutting (losing fat). When cutting, some switch to lower weights and more reps. However, that is not wise.

The main points:

1.   Muscles grow in response to resistance training, but the aesthetics or appearance (that is, what people define as “tonus”) doesn’t change instantly.

2.   You get more muscle definition by achieving muscle growth on the one hand, and by losing fat on the other. This can be done by bulking and cutting, or by body recomposition.

3.   Both heavy and light weights can promote equivalent muscle growth if sufficient effort is made within a set.

4.   In practice, light weights are not optimal: they require a lot of central fatigue that may leave you too far from muscle failure. Central fatigue also causes a lot of unnecessary discomfort, while not discomfort, but mechanical tension is the driver of muscle growth.

5.   Very heavy weights are also not optimal for bodybuilding purposes.

6.   So keep training in the range of 6 to 15 reps.

7.   Do the same in the cut: don’t suddenly switch to a very high or very low rep range. Continue to train with 6-15 reps. Don’t turn strength training into cardio.

8.   Advanced users can benefit from doing some sets in very high and very low weights in the training schedule. However, do this for no more than 25 percent of the total number of sets.

WHAT IS GETTING TONED?

Becoming toned means that you get more muscle definition: on the one hand because your muscles get bigger, on the other because you lose fat mass. It then seems as if fat mass has changed into muscle mass, but that is of course not the case. However, the ratio of muscle mass to fat mass has changed and optically improved.

Getting toned can be done in two ways. The most common is bulkingcutting. The other way is to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, also known as body recomposition. However, ‘recomping’ is only feasible for beginners and people with a high fat percentage.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRENGTH TRAINING IN THE BULK

Whether you’re cutting or recomping, you’ll need to keep stimulating your muscles through strength training. Because only in this way does your body ‘notice’ that it is necessary to maintain your muscle mass, even in the event of a long-term energy shortage, as in the cut.

TRAINING TO BECOME TONED

Many decide in the cut or recomp to train in higher rep ranges. More reps = more exercise = more fat loss, the reasoning goes.

In addition, sets with many repetitions cause a lot of metabolic stress. That gives your muscles a burning sensation, which is associated with more stimulus.

MECHANICAL TENSION

However, muscles grow primarily not on the basis of metabolic stress, but on the basis of mechanical tension. That’s the amount of muscle tension a muscle must deliver when it has to resist dumbells, barbells, or other heavy weights. Most growth stimulus is in the last reps before muscle failure. In order not to tire a muscle unnecessarily, we usually train to one or two repetitions of muscle failure.

CHOOSE A REPRANGE

In principle, it makes no difference to muscle growth whether you train in high or low rep ranges, as long as you train close to muscle failure and thus continue to produce that mechanical tension. Once you have determined a rep range for an exercise, you have to increase that exercise over time. by adding weight to it: progressive overload. So you stay within your rep range, but with higher weights.

In practice, for muscle growth, it is best to choose ranges of 6 to 15 repetitions, because that is more pleasant and therefore also more effective training than very high or very low rep ranges.

THE DOWNSIDE OF HIGH REP RANGES

Very high rep ranges, for example 20-30 repetitions, cause a lot of discomfort, partly due to the metabolic stress that we already mentioned. After all, imagine how a set of six reps for muscle failure on a biceps curl would feel compared to a 20 reps for muscle failure. In both situations, it’s about the repetitions you do just before muscle failure, also called the effort or relative intensity. And how much discomfort you experience in a set doesn’t reflect how your muscles will respond. In short:

discomfort ≠ effort

Many people confuse their perception of discomfort with their perception of exertion. For example, you may have to stop your set long before muscle failure because of the central fatigue that occurs and not because of the muscle failure. On balance, you will then produce less effective repetitions and build up less muscle mass.

PERSEVERANCE

Once you have determined a training schedule with exercises, sets and reps, try to stick to this schedule for a longer period of time. As long as you make progress, you don’t have to change anything, not even to ‘surprise’ your muscles.

TRAINING IN THE CUT

You don’t have to change your training schedule when you start cutting. You continue to train in the same way as in the bulk as much as possible. Coach Eric Helms about this:

The more you train in the cut for muscle growth, the greater the chance of muscle preservation.

So you also continue to train in the same reprange as in the bulk. If you don’t (you switch to a higher or lower rep range), you may lose adaptations you made in the previous rep range. You also have to deal with unnecessary discomfort: central fatigue with high rep ranges and sets that are too short for low reps.

So stay in the cut and train like in bulk. With a longer cut, it’s okay to use a slightly smaller training volume (about two-thirds of your normal volume). In addition, you should not train too much until muscle failure.

WHEN TO TRAIN WITH HIGH WEIGHTS

We also do not claim that low weight/high rep is out of the question. In this article you can read why it is good to do some work in the high rep range (>15 reps) and in the low rep range (<5 reps) as an advanced player.

This is because you may address different signaling pathways for muscle growth, optimize different types of muscle growth (myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy), and/or optimally stimulate all types of muscle fibers.

Low rep ranges for pure strength also make you stronger and that in itself may also be beneficial for building muscle mass.

But again, this is something for advanced users and at most for about 25 percent of the training.

Beginners and intermediates, however, should be able to handle sets of between 6 and 15 repetitions.

All of this excludes metabolic strength training, such as circuits, body bump, CrossFit, boot camp and so on. This is, like cardio combined with strength training and you do this on top of your regular strength training. It could also simply be some metabolic finishers. However, do it in moderation, otherwise it will be too much at the expense of your recovery.

CONCLUSIONS

  • Muscles grow in response to resistance training, but the aesthetics or appearance (that is, what people define as “tonus”) doesn’t change right away.
  • You get more muscle definition by achieving muscle growth on the one hand, and by losing fat on the other. This can be done by bulking and cutting, or by body recomposition.
  • Both heavy and light weights can promote equivalent muscle growth if sufficient effort is made within a set.
  • In practice, light weights are not optimal: they require a lot of central fatigue that may leave you too far from muscle failure. Central fatigue also causes a lot of unnecessary discomfort, while not discomfort, but mechanical tension is the driver of muscle growth.
  • Very heavy weights are also not optimal for bodybuilding purposes.
  • So keep training in the range of 6 to 15 reps.
  • Do the same in the cut: don’t suddenly switch to a very high or very low rep range. Continue to train with 6-15 reps (assuming your rep range is in the cut). Don’t turn strength training into cardio.
  • Advanced users can benefit from doing some sets in very high and very low weights in the training schedule. However, do this for no more than 25 percent of the total number of sets.

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