Gus you’ve posed a tricky question.
I get sort of stymied when I hear the word “tones” because I really don’t understand what you are trying to express when you use that word.
What I will say is that according to the science, when one uses light weights and performs many repetitions the outcome is muscular endurance.
Whether it is better is dependent on the fitness goal. A long-distance runner might be more suited to train with light weights and high reps as opposed to a sprinter. The long-distance runner would be more concerned with have strong muscles that endure and a sprinter would be more concerned with being able to produce power quickly for a short time.
I hope this has answered your question.
I would definitely agree with Joanne that this is a tricky one. I’m going to assume that by “tone” you mean “create lean, sleek muscles.” Is that fair?
I get this question or concern a lot from women, in particular. Usually what is meant is that the person would like to “see” muscles and have a firm appearance and feel. There are a number of factors that go into actually having sleek, defined, hard muscles.
Hormones and water retention might be the two things that have the biggest impact on this. People with higher levels of testosterone tend to have “harder” muscles in that they do “feel” harder when they are flexed. Remember that all muscles are “hard” when flexed. Estrogen level is something that can affect water retention. More estrogen generally leads to more water retention. This is potentially one of the reasons that it is much easier for males to get “toned” than it is for women, generally. It’s also one of the reasons that males can build so much more muscle. Without going too much into the science of it all, testosterone can convert to estrogen, but the testosterone/estrogen ratio is higher in men, and the estrogen/testosterone ratio is higher in women. Simple enough.
Water retention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Muscles need to be hydrated. A healthy person who is extremely fit may appear average depending on the level of hydration. More fluid in your muscles translates to a smoother look. I think some people call this “Swoll.” =) Being “Swoll” results from your body shunting blood and fluid to your muscles during exercise. This effect wears off quickly once training has concluded. If you don’t stretch and do a proper cooldown, some of the fluid built up in your muscles doesn’t have an opportunity to redistribute, and that can lead to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
1.) In regards to higher reps and less weight for toning, I can tell you that the tendency for people who train with heavy weight and fewer reps is to have bulkier, smoother muscles. This training is good for hypertrophy, or increasing size of muscle cells. People who train heavy can also experience a small boost in free testosterone levels.
2.) People who tend to train lighter with more reps tend to have sleeker, defined muscles. I remember reading somewhere, I can’t give you a source on this, that there is some debate over whether or not this type of training can be used to encourage hyperplasia, or increase in number of muscle cells. Natural hyperplasia doesn’t tend to result in much “bulk” gain. Notice I said natural. Hyperplasia is not common after puberty. By the time puberty is over, you more or less have what you’re going to have. The research shows that people don’t tend to create more muscle cells after a certain period of time.
As Joanne mentioned, the first method of training is more for power, the second method of training is more for endurance. Endurance athletes tend to be leaner and “skinnier” than power athletes. They also tend to have a moderate level of definition.
Probably the best middle ground that I demonstrate here is bodybuilding. Bodybuilders find that relatively high weight with a moderate amount of reps (8-12) is ideal for building both mass and definition in muscles. Bodybuilders often do 4-6 exercises per muscle group with relatively high weight, a moderate amount of reps, and a healthy number of sets 3-6.
Someone looking to tone might also consider diet. Certain foods are not conducive to sleek musculature. The amount of sodium in your diet tends to be a big factor relating to excess water retention. I believe 2000 miligrams per day is the current recommended dietary allowance.
To answer your question, I would say that there is no definitive answer as to whether or not higher reps with less weight would be good for toning. I wouldn’t be comfortable with saying that there is a cause and effect relationship here because I can’t be certain of the science on this matter at this time, but I will say that in my experience, there is a strong correlation between toning and training with lighter weight and more reps (12-18 reps).
Everybody is unique and Every Body is different.
Does this help at all?
Hi Gus. I agree with what has been said here. The term “tone” is one of those ambiguous words that our clients often use. By itself, it doesn’t have much meaning, but taken in conjunction with your client’s stated goals, it becomes a bit clearer. Suffice it to say that both forms of resistance training will help develop lean tissue, but as has been stated by others, heavier lifting will work more towards developing muscular strength, whereas the lighter weights and more repetitions will work more towards developing muscular endurance. Again, both will work to build lean tissue. But to answer your direct question about which is BEST for “toning,” a definitive answer can’t really be given absent more information (e.g. what does the person wishing to “tone” mean by that?).
The previous answers are all on the mark. What I can add is the research seems to be clear in suggesting that in order to become noticeably “stronger” it is important that the targeted muscles be taken to temporary failure during the exercise, typically with a weight that can be taken to 8-12 RM. This applies to a general fitness strength training program. Of course, for performance athletes (such as the bodybuilder in LaRue’s answer) many factors need to be considered when designing the athlete’s strength training program.
Also, as I’m sure you know, including a complete stretching program in conjunction with strength exercises is most important. It appears that stretching following the strenth workout is the most effective.
Most clients want to tone up, which means they want to lean out. Very rarely they will say that want muscular endurance or they want hypertrophy in their muscle. In reality, it is all about diet! If they already have the muscle mass, then looking at their food intake and cardiorespiratory exercise will be the next section to investigate. When toning up or leaning out, muscle mass is going to be lost, so one thing that you have to let clients know who want to keep as much muscle as possible, when you tone up or lean out, muscle loss will occur (counteract with resistance training) and food intake & aerobic activity will be monitored on a regular basis. Doing high repetitions throughout the your activity will create some sort of an aerobic affect, and doing a certain duration will help in achieving the overall goal, but it is not the cure all solution to toning or leaning out.