Muscle tone; it’s something you hear constantly in the gym. I know Mike Chang, as a personal trainer, must have heard this question at least a thousand times. How do you increase muscle tone? Ask the wrong person that most basic of questions and you might get a less than desirable response. Work out more, eat nothing but celery, wrap yourself in cellophane and do the ‘Hokey Pokey’… All of these methods could possibly produce the results you’re looking for, but perhaps the fault lies in the query. An even better question might be this:
What is the safest, most effective way to increase muscle tone?
There is a simple fact about muscle tone that, surprisingly, a lot of people don’t realize. There are only three things muscles can do. They can grow, they can shrink and they can stay the same size. Muscles themselves cannot tone. A muscle is already defined by its size, no matter what that size is. The only factor that determines whether muscle definition is visible is how much fat lies between the skin and the muscle. Thus the only way to increase muscle tone is to decrease body fat. Below we’ll discuss the safest and most effective ways to do that.
Low Intensity Cardio in the morning
For the most part, Mike Chang doesn’t believe in cardio workouts, especially low intensity ones, but there is one time when he highly recommends it. Early in the morning (or whatever time you wake up), on an empty stomach, cardio can do wonders for muscle toning. It’s the best way to burn off extra fat because there is no sugar in your system to burn. Instead, your entire cardio workout focuses on the fat that’s already in your body. A low intensity cardio workout would be anything from a normal, steady paced walk to a brisk speed walk, depending on how your body reacts.
The key to the safety of this workout is keeping it low intensity. You are working on an empty stomach, and have given your body nothing in the way of energy. Thus your body is not going to react well to a high intensity cardio workout. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you will lose body fat quicker by progressing to a higher intensity. You must keep your heart rate at a nice, normal level. The moment your heart rate gets too high, your body will stop breaking down body fat and start breaking down muscle, and we don’t want that!
To start, walk 3 times a week, 10-15 minutes a day. You can increase this to 4-5 times a week, 20 minutes at a time as your body gets used to it, so long as your heart rate stays low. You don’t need to go out and purchase a heart rate monitor, either. You will know if your heart rate is moderate if you can hold a conversation without becoming out of breath. If you do start to lose your breath, lower the intensity until your heart rate drops back down. Having someone to walk with in the morning will make it easier, so you don’t look like some crazy person talking to your ‘invisible friend’. Maybe a heart monitor isn’t such a bad idea for some…
Don’t work out every day
That’s right, you should not be working out every day if you only want to tone up your current muscles. In fact, even those who are trying to bulk up should be careful not to work out the same muscle groups on a daily basis. Most muscle groups should only be attended to twice a week, at most. Only the abs and calf muscles can be worked daily without adverse effects (i.e. burning off muscle).
Muscles grow during the rest period, not during exertion. If you were to do deadlifts or presses every single day, you would actually burn more muscle than you would develop. That rule applies to toning up the same as it does bulking up.
Utilize the ‘Afterburn Effect’
The “Afterburn Effect” is a proven technique that causes the body to continue burning calories for 24 hours or more after you’ve finished working out. During a normal 45-60 minute workout, your heart rate jumps, your body temperature is high and you’re burning calories like diesel fuel at a tractor pull. But the moment you stop working out, the heart rate drops, the core body temp lowers and the benefits of your workout cease completely. Unless your day job has you constantly moving, that leaves 23 more hours in the day to burn nothing…
If your just starting to work out, it will take about two weeks to build yourself up to a point where the afterburn effect will actually kick in. So for two weeks, you need to be doing exercises that incorporate the most muscle groups at one time (i.e. bench presses, which incorporate 3 muscle groups, instead of cable pulls, which use only the chest muscle group bulk up your pecks). Keep your rest time between reps at 60-90 seconds and workout consistently 4-6 times a week. After two weeks, lower your reps and increase the weights you’re lifting, decrease rest time to about 20-30 seconds and increase to 6-8 sets. You can learn a lot more about the Afterburn Effect, how and why it works, by reading my other page, Mike Chang Fitness: Fake or Real, wherein I conduct my own study on the true nature and results of the afterburn effect.