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 essentially refer to the same thing, which is 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 and dispel myths about "toning exercises".
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). The second 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 some special benefit to training with higher reps that makes the muscle show through the fat more. Truth is, there are no special benefits to high rep training in the context of losing body fat or building muscle to get "ripped". Most rep ranges build muscle at the same rate. So in order to build or maintain muscle, all you need to do is perform resistance training in nearly any rep range that allows you to stimulate your muscles.
As your body fat levels decrease, your muscles will slowly begin to look more "toned" and become more visible. This is, again, a result of simply reducing overall body fat fat levels and has nothing to do with the way that you train your muscles. As long 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 more toned.
"Toning" Is Bullshit
When most people say that they are "toning" their muscles, they aren't referring to the act of losing body fat, but "toning exercises" or "toning workouts". This is bullshit, because specific exercises do not reduce body fat over the muscles being worked. This is a common myth that has propagated across the fitness industry for years. You can't reduce the fat over a certain area by working the muscles in that area. Doing tricep pushdowns and arm workouts are not going to make your arms more toned or reduce any flab you have in that area. Sure, you can become "toned" if you lose body fat, but "toning exercises" or "toning workouts" don't exist, because it's not the exercises you're performing that are inducing fat loss, your diet is. Resistance training, which should be your primary form of exercise if you want to get ripped, burns very little calories overall, so no matter how you look at it, your workouts are not "toning" you, your diet is. Saying that a given exercise or workout is "toning" you is a misnomer.
Higher Rep Training Is Still Beneficial
This doesn't mean that higher rep training has no place at all in your training programs. They come with many great benefits and build just as much muscle as the lower rep ranges. Higher rep training produce more overall muscular endurance, are less fatiguing and can be an easy way to accumulate training volume during a dieting phase without tiring yourself out. Check out our article on The Benefits of Higher Repetition Work.