Many people who take up running and cycling are looking for some good exercise that will help them lose weight and tone their muscles. Hard-core racers might not care about their looks, but I would bet that most recreational cyclists and amateur racers want a nice physique as one of the benefits of their training.

And chances are, no matter what your racing level, you are doing some sort of strength training to improve your performance. (If not, then you should be!)

So you’re probably lifting weights, and as far as physical appearance goes, you’re looking for results that equate to a “toned” physique, rather than getting big and bulky. (You need to maintain that power to weight ratio!)

I’m going to explain how to tone your muscles, rather than get big and bulky, but first, we have to look at what toning even is…


What is Toning?

What is toning anyway? How do you describe it?

The common perception of a toned body is one where you can see dense, defined muscles. In other words, a lean, muscular body.

Think Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in Fight Club. He is lean and muscular and looks great, but definitely wouldn’t get confused for a bodybuilder with his shirt on.


Muscle Tone: The Basics

So let’s look at how to get toned. In reality, toning is nothing more than losing body fat. As you lose body fat, your muscles stand out much more, which gives you that toned look. It’s as simple as that.

You could also go one step further. By both increasing the size of your muscles and decreasing the amount of fat hiding them, you really get the toned look.

So you don’t actually “tone” the muscle. You just change your muscle to fat ratio, which allows you to see your muscles more easily.

I like to sum it up with this quote from Nate Green in his book, Built for Show: “You can make a muscle bigger or smaller, but you can’t ‘tone’ it.”

There is a more advanced definition of muscle tone (best described in Visual Impact by Rusty Moore, or in Pavel Tsatsouline’s books,) but that doesn’t really matter unless you need extreme toning for a physique contest, so we can skip that today.


Understanding Muscle Growth

What we should discuss though, is muscle growth. There are two main types of muscle growth to become familiar with before trying to tone your muscles. They are:

  • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – The growth of the fluid in the muscle cells.
  • Myofibrillar hypertrophy – The growth of muscle fibers themselves.

The best way to look at it is this – muscle fiber growth (myofibrillar hypertrophy) creates smaller, dense muscles and increases sports performance with minimal, if any, weight gain.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy just makes your muscles look bigger. They might be a bit soft, and there is really no benefit when it comes to sports performance.

Obviously we are going to concern ourselves with the actual muscle fiber growth.


How to Tone Your Muscles

Now it’s time to talk about how to actually tone your muscles. There will be two components here: fat loss as discussed at the beginning of this article, and muscle fiber growth, just discussed in the previous section.

Fat Loss

There are two main sub-components to fat loss: diet and conditioning.

Changing your diet is the fastest way to fat loss. For beginners, look at this fat loss article for the basics. For more advanced techniques, you might want to consider some of the Paleo Diet principles as well as carb cycling and nutrient timing.

Basically, changing up your diet can easily lead to a 500-700 calorie deficit each day, plus allow your body to operate properly.

Your conditioning will come from your running and/or cycling training, which should consist of various sprints and interval workouts.

Muscle fiber growth

Muscle fiber growth is a slow process, so it’s not your #1 priority when toning your muscles, but it should be in your long term strategy.

It’s not that complicated to train for, but the mainstream media get it completely wrong, so pay attention!

Your weight lifting workouts in the gym should use moderately heavy weights and a fairly low number of reps. Each exercise might only be 3-5 sets of 2-5 reps each.

That simple strength training strategy will help you tone your muscles without leaving you too sore to do your sport-specific (i.e. on the bike) workouts!

If you follow the advice in mainstream fitness magazines about doing light weights and high reps, you’re either going to get no results (at best) or make negative progress since those workouts will fatigue you, leaving you too tired for your other important training!


Toning Summary

When it comes to getting a toned physique, remember these key points:

  • Losing body fat by eating a clean, healthy diet will help you look more toned.
  • Losing body fat by doing interval training on your bike will help you look more toned.
  • Strengthening muscle fibers by lifting heavy weights for low reps will help you look more toned.

A Different Approach to Fat Loss!

I highly recommend watching this totally FREE 5-part video series from Dr. John Berardi, one of the sharpest minds in sports nutrition and fat loss.

pn fat loss video

Just click play!

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