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What is Muscle Tone and Why should I Care

If you are putting the time in at the gym, doing the work, and committed to getting fit you certainly have some specific goals in mind. Men tend to be after strength training; women often seek fit and toned muscles. In either case, muscle tone needs to be part of your fitness goals. 

Muscle tone is the result of firm and fit muscles that appear flexed even when they are at rest.

Muscle tone indicates more than just looking good. Well developed muscle tone is a real sign of health and fitness. For most of us, muscle tone is the payoff of a good solid workout. But the reality of muscle tone is much more. 

While it is possible to remain slim without muscle tone, simply being thin is not necessarily healthy. Being thin without muscle tone is, in fact, a sign of poor health. What is more, it is not enough to build muscle. You can still retain fat while developing muscle. Muscle tone comes from low fat to muscle ratio, and this proportion is the ideal most people are going for in their fitness training. Still, muscle tone can be a little beyond the reach of just working out. 

The fact is, defined muscle tone is mostly a feature of genetics. Some people are genetically predisposed to having well-defined muscles. Others simply cannot attain that obviously toned form that so many of us are after. But the bottom line is that muscle tone is primarily a feature of a healthy body more than it is an aesthetic issue. 

There are some misconceptions about muscle tone. Some people seem to view muscle tone as a side benefit of working out, while others view muscle tone as something they can simply do without. The truth is that muscle tone is a necessary feature of our physiology. Muscle tone not only facilitates movement on the most basic level, but it is also a feature of skeletal health. 

What is Muscle Tone?

In the simplest terms, muscle tone is the capacity for your muscles to resist stretching while in a passive resting state. Muscle tone ensures that even when you are at rest, the muscles are at least partially contracted. The technical term for muscle tone is spasticity, and it is a measurable quality of muscles. 

There are three crucial functions for muscle tone:

  • Muscle tone helps maintain posture and helps muscles resist the forces of gravity. This is simply your ability to remain centered and balanced while at rest. The less muscle tone, the more uneven you are physically and the more prone you become to injury or muscular-skeletal stress. 
  • Muscle tone stores energy. It retains energy and makes it possible to release that energy when you need it. This is the case even for something as simple as walking. 
  • Muscle tone operates like a spring. Toned and fit muscles help absorb shock and stress even from ordinary movements. For people who exercise, this type of function can be crucial for further muscle development and to avoid injuries. 

It is helpful to recognize that muscle groups are all connected and interdependent. The way we maintain balance and the ways in which we compensate for uneven stress on the body is largely dependent upon muscle tone. By having a basic tension in the muscles, our bodies are able to move and exert without running the risk of injury or undue strain. 

As we can see, muscle tone is far more than a matter of looking good. Properly toned muscle has everything to do with your balance, with the elasticity of your body, and for your ability to engage in other physical activities. 

Why is Muscle Tone Important?

Again, muscle tone involves much more than just having slick-looking muscles. Tone contributes to physiological function over the entire body. Some of the key areas that make muscle tone important are:

  • Posture: Muscle tone ensures that your relaxed state maintains a balance posture. Without muscle tone, stress on the spine and skeletal system begin to weigh in varying directions. This can result in spinal problems and back pain. Properly tones muscle scan even decrease the likelihood of osteoporosis. 
  • Stamina and fights illness: Muscle tone tends to reduce weight and body fat. This leads to a healthier heart, increased stamina, and flexible joints. This reduces the likelihood of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Skeletal-muscular balance: Muscle tone serves to balance the strains over the body. Rather than allowing one set of muscles to bear the burden of physical stress, tones muscle distributes these stresses over the muscular-skeletal system. This reduces the strain on muscles, ligaments, and tendons. 
  • Better sleep: Muscle tone is linked to REM sleep. REM sleep cycles, or rapid eye movement, is part of the natural sleep cycle. This also the time during sleep that muscle tone completely relaxes. A lack of muscle tone will impact the quality of REM sleep cycles and this will have a negative effect on sleep overall. The danger here is that a lack of muscle tone will negatively affect REM sleep, and this will tend to reduce muscle tone. It becomes a cycle. Fit and tone muscles will promote better REM sleep.  

Muscle tone has a holistic effect on our bodies. Well-developed muscles with low fat to muscle ratio offer an even distribution of tension across the entire body. Muscle tone plays a key role in everything from posture and balance to cardiovascular health. It can even affect our sleep which of course has everything to do with our overall health and fitness. 

The best way to work on a defined muscle tone is simply by eating a healthy diet and working out. There is no magic formula for developed muscle tone. 

Well-proportioned muscles will come as a natural outgrowth of strength training. Weight training in which you steadily increase the weight with fewer repetitions is the best program for muscle definition. 

You can also try circuit training that combines cardio with weight training. This will burn more calories along with a steady build of muscle bulk. Focus on specific muscle groups, allow short rest periods between, and you burn calories that build fat while increasing muscle definition. 

Since muscle tone is largely genetically determined, there is no specific workout routine that will produce more muscle tone. There are some myths about building muscle tone. These should be dispelled so you do not waste your time and energy.

  • Higher reps do not produce muscle tone. 
  • Working with lighter weights. There is a prevailing belief that lighter weight training will tone muscles. This simply is not true. 
  • Machines also do not tone muscles any more than weights. 
  • Avoid any supplements and machines that claim to produce muscle tone. These are scams. 

Sticking with the workout routines that already work is your best bet. You will develop muscle tone just by maintaining that low fat to muscle ratio. Remember that no matter how attractive it may be, muscle tone is mostly a feature of a healthy body more than an attractive body. 

In the long run, muscle tone is largely out of our hands. Once a muscle is extended for a few times, it generally reaches its full expression of muscle tone. While the exercise combinations described above will increase the likelihood that you will reduce the fat to muscle ratio in your muscles, the degree to which your muscles take on that toned look is genetically determined.  

Low Muscle Tone

Low muscle tone is a serious condition. While anyone who lives a sedentary lifestyle will likely have low muscle tone, the problem of low muscle tone is much more serious than people generally are aware. 

The most common low muscle tone condition is called hypotonia, or “floppy infant syndrome.” Hypotonia is most often diagnosed at birth and can often be detected within the first 1 to 5 minutes after a child is born. However, hypotonia can become noticeable around six months.  

Children are generally born with good muscle tone. Muscle tone makes it possible for them to r limbs almost immediately at birth. A child born with hypotonia will not be able to flex or move their limbs. Children with hypotonia will not be able to lift their heads while on their bellies. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Poor head control. The neck muscles are so weak that the child will not be able to move their neck or hold up their head properly, and their head will tend to fall backward or to the side.
  • Limpness. Hypotonia will cause a child to feel limp when they are held (thus the name, “floppy infant syndrome”). They will slide down when held by the arms and can fall through your hands.  
  • Arms and legs at sides. Normally, babies will hold their arms and legs in a partially flexed position. Children with hypotonia will dangle their legs and arms and they will simply fall straight from their bodies. 
  • Hypotonia can cause difficulty swallowing and sucking. The child’s joints may also become overly flexible. 

The causes of hypotonia can be something of a mystery. However, there are a few known causes:

  • Brain damage due to low oxygen at birth. 
  • Brain development problems. 
  • Nerve disorders
  • Achondroplasia (a bone disorder that leads to dwarfism)
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Severe infections

These conditions are serious and require the intervention of medical professionals. But it is important to keep in mind that hypotonia is not always a sign of something serious. Children who are born prematurely will often demonstrate hypotonia, and they will catch up in a matter of weeks. 

While anyone who leads a sedentary lifestyle will suffer compromised muscle tone, true hypotonia in adults is a sign of serious medical conditions. The most likely causes of hypotonia in adults are cerebral palsy and neuromuscular disorders.

Excessive Muscle Tone

Muscle tone is regulated by electro-chemical signals from the brain that control the flexing and tension of muscles. In a healthy body, there is a balance between the signals from the brain and the tension in the muscles in a resting state. If the regions of the brain and/or spinal cord are damaged in certain ways, these signals to muscles can become disturbed. This leads to excessive muscle contractions during a resting state. Muscles become stiff and rigid, and it can be difficult to move. This condition is called hypertonia, or excessive muscle tone. 

Hypertonia can be caused by stroke, brain injuries, and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy. 

Hypertonia can limit one’s ability to walk. Limbs become stiff and inflexible. In severe cases of hypertonia limbs and joints can become frozen and immovable. 

Like low muscle tone, hypertonia is the result of serious medical problems. The prognosis for hypertonia depends largely on the severity of the condition. People with low hypertonia can often lead healthy and normal lives with few problems. Severe hypertonia is generally immobilizing. It can lead to fragile and brittle bones, infection, and pneumonia. 

Wrapping things up

When we talk about muscle tone, what most often mean is that well defined and cut look in which muscles are clearly shaped. We tend to see muscle tone as an outward feature of a healthy and fit body, and we all want our workouts to show some clear and obvious results. 

In fact, muscle tone is much more than a sign of looking good. Muscle tone is really a baseline feature of muscular-skeletal health. The basic balance of tension and rest that exists in our muscles even in a relaxed state does far more than show others how fit you are. Muscle tone maintains balance and equalizes muscular stress across the body. Muscle tone essentially provides the weight distribution necessary to perform everything from simple walking to more strenuous activities, including weight training. 

What is more, problems with too much or too little muscle tone are serious medical conditions that can be debilitating. Problems with muscle tone do not come from a simple lack of exercise. These issues are symptoms of profound neurological illnesses. 

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