Ask the Personal Trainer: Toning Muscles?

How to use weights for better muscle tone.
Bill SukulaAsk Personal Trainer
In our weekly fitness Q&A series, William Sukala, MS, CSCS, answers questions about fitness, from whether to eat before exercising to how to treat sore muscles.

Q: I try to work out 4-5 times a week. And my goal in doing so is to tone the areas that need work. I have heard that the best way to accomplish this is to do less weight and more reps. Is this true?

A: You didn't say exactly what your workout encompasses, but since you address weight and repetitions, I'm guessing your focus is on resistance training. You also mention that you want to "tone the areas that need work." But the word "toning" is a bit ambiguous. In this context, it appears that you're looking to achieve muscular definition in specific areas, commonly referred to as "spot reduction."

Let's take a look at the issue of weight and repetitions. The "less weight, more reps" strategy is something of a myth. Muscular adaptations are specific to the type of lifting performed. That is, if you do light weights and high reps, your muscles will have more endurance. If you do heavier weights and lower reps, your muscles will grow stronger. But whichever you choose, neither one is going to yield muscular definition until you lose the stored body fat between the skin and muscle. Definition, or "toning," is merely the appearance of tight skin over the muscle.

Contrary to what late-night infomercials would have you believe, "spot reduction" is a myth. Excess body fat comes off in the reverse order it appeared, eventually reaching those specific problem areas. Your best bet is to stick with reduced-calorie eating and regular aerobic and weight training exercise.

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