It’s not uncommon to overhear the occasional person engaged in resistance training state that their goal is to develop muscle tone, rather than muscle size or muscle strength. And, more often than not, it is a woman striving to achieve muscle tone rather than a man, given our conventions of what is considered to be a desirable body type for women. For the most part, women “don’t want to get big,” they “just want to get toned.” But what is muscle tone? Can you achieve muscle tone without getting big muscles? Keep reading to learn the honest truth about muscle tone.
There are really two definitions for muscle tone. There is the actual true, physiological definition, and the popular, conventional definition.
The Actual Definition of Muscle Tone
Muscle tone, also known as muscle tonus or residual muscle tension, is an unconscious low level contraction of your muscles while they are at rest. Essentially, muscle tone is what makes your muscles still feel somewhat firm while you are resting and not intentionally tensing them. You know how your muscles feel much firmer when you intentionally tense them? And how you feel a decrease in firmness the less you tense (i.e. contract) them? Well, that small remaining amount of firmness that you feel in your muscles when they are completely relaxed, with no intentional tensing, is your muscle tone.
The Popular Definition of Muscle Tone
In its more conventional use, the term “muscle tone” refers to muscles that are visually clearly defined and have a firm appearance. It’s what we mean when we say that someone is “toned.” In this usage muscle tone is desirable simply because it looks good.
What is the Purpose of Muscle Tone?