The Truth About Tone

By Chris Carlsen

Starting today, I will post weekly fitness facts on exercise techniques, program design and or researched information to improve your training performance. The information is based on over a decade of education and results of my students and myself. Post will include information on strength exercises such as the bench and squat , flexibility, injury prevention and weight loss to name a few.

To kick off our Weekly Fitness Facts. I would like to talk about being toned. Everyone wants to be toned but we need to know what tone is first in order to achieve it. Tone is the tension in a relaxed muscle.  Your nervous system keeps your muscles half flexed and half relaxed without losing energy. My Somatic training calls this sensory motor efficiency. The only way to facilitate tone is through properly executed strength training. Strength is equal to tension, which is equal to tone. In Pavel Tsatouline book Power To the People, he states "The Stronger you are, the harder you will be - provided that you gain strength by learning to generate tension rather than by building muscle. Strength and tone are the same thing" (pg 24) . Efficient tension is long and strong. When the nervous system senses strength it gives the body more length. Your nervous system now knows that you have the strength to be safe with the extra range of motion. We may lose efficiency if we muscle a weight instead of grooving a pattern.

In the strength community we know that strength is a skill. If exercises are not executed probably, we will find an imbalance in tension that will become visible in our posture. This could be from an imbalanced program or a faulty movement pattern. When we have a faulty movement pattern, we will get what your massage therapist calls a hyper-tonic muscle. This a muscle not half flexed/ half relaxed but one that is overly stimulated. This is due to a weakness in the body that causes the nervous system to overcharge a synergistic muscle into protection mode and causes tightness. An example would be a tight pectoral muscle. The pec is a driver , but when the stabilizers that control the scapular blades are not up to par with the pec strength and or firing correctly, we will see unwanted tightness of the pec. The pec is then doing two jobs. Driving and stabilizing. This a confused muscle. We then must not just pick up heavy weights but do it correctly. Strength is a skill of totally body synergy. 

The main tool we use to teach tone is the kettlebell. Why the kettlebell ? The center of gravity is constantly changing, but your core is essential and acts as your center point to the body for proper function. The kettlebell assist with identifying a foundation causing the body stabilizers and connective tissue to create more TENSION (TONE). This will create the tone we are looking for and will set up future barbell lifts.

The first exercise I use to teach tension is the plank. The plank teaches you how to stack your joints, use your core as a transmitter of force and use the power of your breath as a driving force of core activation and bracing. The plank is the greatest reference exercise and will have a carryover to every lift. It will make you stronger. I break down the plank and demonstrate the Secrets of Strength in a twelve minute video. The good news is, the video is free when you subscribe to my blog. You will learn how to master the plank and take your workouts to the next level. You will also have a better understanding of my future blog post by watching the video. You will see how the plank pertains to every lift and have an easier time understanding the harder total-body tension exercises, such as the turkish get-up.

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