Tone vs. strength

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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  When it comes to resistance or strength training, there are two principal categories of exercise. Today I’d like to explain to you the difference between these exercise styles in terms of their effects on muscle strength, size, and composition. While both involve lifting weights or using resistance to challenge muscles, they present different goals and outcomes. 

Strength training is focused on building muscle mass and increasing overall strength. It typically involves lifting heavier weights for a relatively low number of repetitions, with longer rest periods in between sets. The objective of strength training is to progressively overload the muscles, which gradually increases the weight or resistance over time to challenge the muscles and stimulate growth. 

Tone exercises, also known as endurance or condition training, typically include low-to-moderate intensity exercises that focus on improving muscular endurance while reducing body fat. With respect to tone training, it’s important to understand that the term “tone” is actually a misnomer. There really is no such thing as “tone” training, in that what most folks refer to as toning is actually the process of building muscle, then reducing body fat to create a leaner appearance.

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Strength training exercises , on the other hand, focus on increasing muscle size and strength through the lifting of heavier weights with lower repetitions. This style of training is often favored by  bodybuilders and powerlifters who seek increased muscle mass and a more muscular physique, and typically involves exercises such as heavy weight lifting, compound lifts, and progressive overload. 

With regard to these two typically popular forms of resistance exercise…there is plenty of gray area. For example, muscle building does not necessarily mean muscle size. Building muscle strength involves improving the ability of a skeletal muscle to generate force against resistance. Creating muscle mass (also known as hypertrophy) requires increasing the size of individual muscle fibers through exercise. While there can be an overlap between these two standards, the training protocols for each are generally different. Accordingly, it is possible to build strength without gaining muscle size, and it is feasible to achieve muscular size without improving strength. 

The choice between toning and muscle building exercises ultimately depends on one’s goals and preferences. If your ambition is to improve overall fitness and muscle definition, muscle toning exercises might be your better choice. If your desire is to enhance muscle size, while increasing strength, muscle-building exercises might be more appropriate.

In conclusion, muscle-building exercises aim to increase muscle size and strength through high volume and moderate to heavy weights, while the goal of muscle-toning exercises is to increase muscular definition and create a leaner appearance by reducing body fat and improving muscle tone through the utilization of lighter weights with higher repetitions. It is important to note that both strength and tone training exercises have their place in a well-balanced fitness routine. Depending on your goals and fitness level, you may greatly benefit from incorporating both types of exercises into your fitness regimen. 

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at or text to 864-494-6215.