Side Plank: The Science of ‘Toning’

What is Muscle tone? There is no scientific definition of ‘muscle tone’; it is more of a perception.

At Chilli Pilates, we perceive, in conjunction with our members’ goals, a ‘toned body’ to have ‘a certain’ amount of muscle mass along with a low enough body fat percentage so that your muscle can clearly be seen (good muscle shape). The more muscle you have and the less body fat you have covering it, the more ‘toned’ and ‘defined’ you will appear. The more fat covering your muscle complemented with a low muscle mass %, the less visible the muscle will be and the less ‘toned’ you will appear.

In this article we are going to focus on how a muscle grows and gets stronger, rather than on how to reduce your body fat.

Resistance training is a very effective method to build and shape your muscles. We believe this is best achieved through a series of body weight exercises and spring resistance training from our reformer bed machines. The way resistance-training increases muscle mass is through a very specific process. When a muscle experiences tension it is not used to, e.g. from an exercise not done before or from a heavier weight/resistance, the muscle experiences a lot of stress which causes micro tears within the muscle belly. If the tension created is at a higher level than the muscle is used to, then micro tears will keep occurring; hence why you always need to find new/different ways to continuously challenge your muscles with higher tensions/stress levels. This could be done through higher weights/resistance, higher reps, slower tempo, technique tune up and so on.

Ever experienced that soreness 1-3 days after your workout? That’s due to the micro tears in your muscles. The soreness is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). In response to these micro tears, the body recruits amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to repair your muscle and its micro tears.However, the body predicts that this muscle will be subject to this type of ‘damage’ again so rebuilds the muscle to be bigger and stronger to adapt to this new stimulus. This is exactly why you need a sufficient amount of protein in your diet when you are trying to build muscle/tone up. If there are inadequate amino acid levels in your body, the micro tears in your muscles are going to take a lot longer to repair and rebuild, compared to if you had a high level of amino acids. The slower the recovery, the less you can train.

Side plank is a fantastic exercise to help strengthen and build muscle around the side of the stomach. These muscles are called your obliques. The muscle micro tear process explained above occurs in the side plank inour classes. If you are new to the exercise, even holding the side plank in a static position can cause these micro tears as the muscles across the side of your stomach are not used to this tension/stress.

If you are experienced with side plank you will need to find new and more challenging methods to over stress the obliques to cause these micro tears. In our classes this can be done through the up & down and rotation/thread the needle progressions shown in our video. These progressions result in the obliques having to control movement under tension, so having to work a lot harder compared to a static hold.

Another way to make the side plank on our reformer beds more challenging is through different spring settings. The yellow spring is standard in both the kneeling and full version of the side plank. To make it more challenging you would change to a blue spring, which has less tension so the carriage would want to fall away from the platform with a lot more ease. This would require you to contract the side of the stomach and your back muscle (latissimus Dorsi) to a greater extent to keep your carriage in, resulting in more tension in the muscles.

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