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3 Solutions to Look More Toned Without Getting Big

02nd February 2015
improve muscle tone


One of the reasons people avoid lifting weights or doing strength training is that they don’t want to “get big”, although they do want to improve their shape and look “more toned”. Still, toning is often misunderstood and what people call muscle tone may actually refer to lowering the body fat percentage so as to achieve a leaner appearance.

In physiology, muscle tone is the contraction of muscles or the residual tension which is present when muscles are at rest, and which makes them feel and look firm. When you contract the muscles, they become firmer even if your fitness level isn’t excellent; when the muscles are completely relaxed, the small amount of tension or firmness that is still present is the muscle tone.

However, when you hear someone saying they want to exercise in order to get toned, what they actually want is to reduce the amount of fat on the thighs, belly and glutes, so as to achieve a firmer appearance. As strange as it may sound, you can have a good muscle tone without looking toned, as the purpose of muscle tone is not to make you look better but to keep your muscles always ready for action.

This partial contraction that is present even when you rest helps in maintaining the posture and balance, and prevents injuries. Muscle tone decreases during sleep, but this doesn’t change your appearance, does it? Your body doesn’t look less firm at night just because the tension in the fibers decreases slightly.

Now, one of the simplest ways to improve muscle tone is to lift weights that are heavy enough to increase the residual tension in muscle fibers. However, one of the reasons lots of people and women in general avoid lifting heavy weights is that strength training can also increase the size of muscles, making one look bulkier. So what should one do in order to look more toned without getting bigger?

How to look toned without bulking up

We’ll discuss three different strategies you can adopt for achieving a firmer look without the bulk, and we’ll start with the most obvious solution, that refers to decreasing the layer of subcutaneous fat. The fat tissue that is located right underneath the skin is responsible for the soft appearance of the skin.

By reducing the body fat percentage, the layer of adipose cells thins out and this makes muscles more visible. If your muscles are already nicely shaped and the fat layer gets thinner, skin will be pulled tighter around the muscles therefore you will look thinner and leaner.

But what if your muscles are weak and not big enough to give you a muscular appearance once you reduce your body fat percentage? The second solution for looking more toned is to switch to strength training and to replace the light weights with heavier ones. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the low weights-high reps that make muscles grow bigger and stronger, but the heavy weights and reduced number of repetitions.

If you lift heavier weights but limit the reps to 4-5 per exercise, then you can create enough resistance for your muscles to get a thorough workout and your body will look leaner overall. Still, keep in mind that the focus should be on strengthening the muscles, not on causing them to grow and bulk out. By doing fewer reps you can prevent fatigue while improving the strength of your muscles, as opposed to their size or endurance.

As an alternative, if you’re afraid you will get too big by lifting heavy weights, you can try body weight training or whole body vibration. Vibration training also stimulates the muscle contractions just like weight lifting, but the resistance forces occur as a result of the vibration waves that are sent vertically throughout the body by the tilting platform.

Given that vibration machines increase the gravitational load and create a hypergravity environment, your body has to work harder to perform exercises like squats, lunges or triceps dips, and this increase in G-force and load causes the muscles to get stronger without looking bulky.

Moreover, whole body vibration training stimulates the circulation and lymphatic drainage, helping in the removal of excess fluids from the body. Excess water contributes to the soft appearance and can make cellulite look worse, so by improving your blood and lymph circulation you can reduce the appearance of cellulite and look leaner and more toned overall.

Thus, if you’re ready to start an exercise program in order to get stronger, drop the extra pounds and look more toned, the three strategies above can be of great help.

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