Do higher reps get you "ripped" or "toned"?

Posted by Shaun LaFleur on

What Exactly is "Ripped" or "Toned"?

When this question is asked, it’s important to first start out by defining what “ripped” or “toned” refers to. Ripped and toned refer to the same thing, which is simply a physique that has low enough levels of body fat so that the muscles are easily visible. Before we can answer the question of whether training with higher reps can achieve this look, we first have to discuss how getting “ripped” or “toned” actually occurs. Hint: it's not through specific exercises or styles of training.


How Do You Actually Get "Ripped"?

The process of getting "ripped" or "toned" is a direct result of lowering your body fat levels enough to see the muscle underneath. Building or maintaining muscle mass can help speed up this process, as a larger muscle will show more prominently when body fat levels are reduced. This means that there are two main goals that must be achieved to get "ripped" or "toned".

First, you have to adhere to a low calorie diet so that you can actually reduce overall body fat levels. Second, you need to build or maintain muscle (novices can build muscle while dieting, advanced trainees can only hope to maintain) so that the muscle can be developed enough to push through the body fat and become more visible, creating a more athletic looking physique.

There is no such thing as toning workouts

The training part, I believe, is where most of the confusion and misinformation comes into play. The claims of "toning exercises" make it appear that there is a special way of training a muscle that makes it more "toned". This is typically suggested to be done by using higher reps. However, the truth is that there are no difference between the various rep ranges in the context of losing body fat or building muscle to get "ripped". [Most rep ranges build muscle at the same rate], and resistance training itself burns very little calories overall and is thus not the main tool used to reduce body fat.

When most people say that they are doing "toning exercises" or "toning workouts", they're simply wrong, because there is no special way to train a muscle that would lead to faster "toning". Toning exercises simply do not exist. This is a common myth that has propagated across the fitness industry for years and is similar to the idea of spot reduction. Spot reduction is the belief that if you train a muscle, you will burn fat on top of that muscle. However, you can't remove fat over a certain area of your body by working the muscles in that area. For example, doing a bunch of ab exercises will do nothing to help you lose belly fat.

"Toning exercises" or "toning workouts" simply don't exist. Resistance training, which should be your primary form of exercise if you want to get ripped (and we'll touch on why later), burns very little calories overall, so no matter how you look at it, your resistance training workouts are not the primary driver of getting you more toned, your diet is.

Diet is what gets the job done

As your body fat levels decrease from being in a calorie deficit, your muscles will slowly begin to look more "toned" and become more visible. This is, again, a result of simply reducing overall body fat levels by dieting and has nothing to do with the way that you train your muscles. As long as your training is stimulating your muscles enough so that you don't lose any muscle as your body fat levels drop, you will slowly inch your way to becoming leaner. The resistance training that you perform does not need to be higher repetition work and can be any routine that is intelligently designed with muscle and/or strength as a goal.

In order to reduce body fat levels, you must follow the rule of energy balance. This is often referred to as CICO, which stands for Calories In Versus Calories Out. In simple terms, this means that in order to lose weight, you need to make sure you're consistently consuming less calories than your body burns in a day. If you do not eat less calories than your body burns in a day, it doesn't matter how much cardio you do or what type of exercise you perform, you will not reduce body fat levels. There is no way around this simple fact. It is simply a numbers game, and total calories consumed is the ultimate deciding factor beyond everything else.


Why resistance training is more important than cardio.

resistance training

As previously mentioned, resistance training plays a very important role in getting lean. This is not because it helps you burn fat, but because it helps build or maintain muscle mass during a calorie deficit. When you're dieting, your body is going to use it's own tissue for energy, and this can include muscle mass. If you diet without resistance training, then you'll have a much more difficult time getting lean for one main reason.

If you don't resistance train, the weight that you lose will be a lower percentage of body fat and some muscle loss is likely to occur. This will negatively affect your body composition, making getting leaner even harder. If you want your muscles to show through the fat, you definitely don't want them shrinking while dieting! By resistance training, your body will avoid consuming its muscle tissue and will use predominantly body fat as a fuel source. Add to this the fact that resistance training can also make your muscles BIGGER, then you're on the fast track to getting leaner. While the diet eats away at the fat around the muscle, resistance training makes the muscle grow so it can push through the fat more prominently.

All this being said, it's important to note here that you shouldn't just choose one or the other when it comes to cardio and resistance training - doing both is usually the best choice. However, if you're strapped for time or simply too fatigued (or lazy -- that's okay too!) to do both, always choose resistance training. The fat loss benefits from cardio can be replicated by simply eating less, but there is no replacement for resistance training.

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