Opinion

What Is Toning? 6 Exercises That Actually Tone Your Muscles

Quora Quora .

How many sets of pushups and curnches are appropriate for toning,

and how long should the break in between the sets last?

This question originally apeared on Quora. Answer by Bart Loews, Fitness Expert. 

There is no such thing as “toning.” Technically, muscle tone refers to the ability of muscles to reflexively contract. The baby has low muscle tone because it is unable to reflexively hold it’s head up.

Toning Explanation An explanation of what low muscle tone works. Photo courtesy of Bart Loews

Colloquially, however…

The word tone has taken on a life of it’s own. It’s used to refer to someone who has muscles and maintains low body fat so you can see the “muscle definition”.

Muscle Tone Muscle tone refers to maintaining low body fat. Photo courtesy of Bart Loews

Based on your other comments you have indicated that you’re a new resistance trainer and are trying to bulk a bit.

Push ups are a great place to start, though I’d throw in a word of caution about crunches, more on that later. If I could provide two more exercises that you should work in, it would be pull ups and squats.

Now, the major principal you must adhere to in order to achieve consistent muscle growth is Progressive Overload.

Progressive Overload Explanation of a progressive overload for muscle growth. Photo courtesy of Bart Loews

The key points with progressive overload include pushing yourself past what you’ve done in the past and giving your body enough time to rest afterwards to recover fully before working your muscles again.

You can achieve this by lifting external weights, holding poses for extending amounts of time or by doing more and more repetitions.

With calisthenics we work primarily with repetitions.

Before asking how many sets you should do, ask how many should you do in a set? To build muscle you should do them to technical failure. This means that you might be able to do one more rep, but you’d sacrifice your form to get it done. Stop at that point. Your muscles should be screaming anyway.

How many sets do you do? It really depends on how you feel. There’s been some research into ideal numbers of sets based on various stimulation, but I’d advise anywhere from 4 to 8 sets depending on how you’re feeling.

Give yourself 30 to 90 seconds rest in between sets.

Do pull ups using the same guidelines, to get started with pull ups, check this answer out: Bart Loews' answer to How do I increase my level of pull ups step by step?

Pull ups are an amazing upper body exercise and are the only body weight exercise that can work your biceps. Definitely work them in.

For a similar pushing drill, you can look into dips.

Crunches are not a great exercise. They put a tremendous amount of pressure on your lower back and are generally not very effective. Here’s a great walk through from Darren Beattie on how to do a proper, safe crunch [ Crunching - White Belt Fitness]

With that in mind, it’s still effective to do activities like planking and twisting to improve your abdominal strength.

Body Squats How to do a proper body squat. Bart Loews

Body squats are effective at building leg muscles also, follow the same principles outlined for push ups in terms of sets and reps. Even with no weight, it’s essential to use proper form to prevent back and knee damage.

For more ideas on exercises to do without a gym see my answer here:  Bart Loews' answer to How can I stay fit without going to a gym?

Most of gaining muscle is about diet. You need to eat more than you think you do, even if you’re eating a lot.

If you aren’t gaining mass, you’re not eating enough, even if you’re eating a ton. Some tips, don’t alter your diet, but pound protein shakes in the morning and before you go to bed. Drink a lot of milk. Gaining weight is a good time to drink your calories, but make sure you’re going to stuff that has a good amount of protein in it. Not fruit juices.

 

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