If you quickly Google the word “toning,” the first page of search results is a mishmash of both pro-toning and anti-toning blog posts. The fitness world loves the word toning. It’s schismatic (how’s that for SAT vocab?) and makes for good blog content. Heck, isn’t that why you clicked on this post in the first place?
And I have a confession: for a while, I was a fitness purist.
I believed that, whenever somebody came to me looking to “tone up,” it was my job to correct them. I needed to explain to them that toning is a myth and that muscles only get bigger or smaller and that bodyfat is what really matters. Then I’d dive into a quick soliloquy (I’m crushing the SAT words today) about rep ranges, percentages, and how we were going to program so that they got exactly where they wanted to be.
But at the end of the day, they just didn’t want the “stuff” on the underside of their arm to jiggle as much.
I’m not technically wrong
Toning is a myth. I mean, the definition of toning is to give greater firmness to something and there’s really no scientific way for a human being to change the density of any one bodily tissue.
If you’d like to have the appearance of being firmer, you need to build a better ratio of lean mass to fat mass. Muscle is still firmer (read: denser) even before you flex. Hence, building a little more muscle and losing a little bit of fat will make you appear more “toned.”
You don’t need to reduce yourself to 5% bodyfat either. You can lose as much or as little fat as you’d like to look the way that you want.
There aren’t any special toning exercises, rep schemes, or workouts. You can build some muscle at 5 reps just as well as you can build some muscle at 20 reps. Just get stronger over time, recover from your workouts, and be consistent.
But does any of this really matter?
Yes. One part does. Read that last sentence. And again. And again. Especially that last part. There is only one thing that matters: be consistent.
This is true in toning, muscle-building, fat loss, and learning calculus. You must be consistent.
So if you’re looking tone up for the beach this summer or just shed a few pounds to look better in a bridesmaid dress, your first objective is to be consistent. No exercise program in the world will give you the results that you’re looking for if you aren’t consistent. And I mean three or four days each week consistent.
Since lean mass provides tone, it will be important that you build some of it. Don’t worry about getting too big, it takes years and years of weight lifting (and oftentimes drugs) to get as big as a bodybuilder or strongman. It won’t happen overnight or by accident.
The second piece will be to reveal your newfound lean mass. This is done through fat loss. You may take it slow, one habit at a time, or dive head first into the deep end of the pool and track your macros on MyFitnessPal or some other similar app. But you must clean up your diet. No more Dunkin Donuts sandwiches on the way to work and no more nightly glasses of wine. If you want to look fit and healthy, you must do things that fit and healthy people do. No matter what you choose, we do both at our gym and can even recommend where to start.
My current thoughts on toning
Here’s my professional thought for other fitness professionals out there: if you’re still talking about the myth of toning and explaining to your own members that they can’t tone their muscles, you’re doing both yourself and your members a disservice.
Providing a counterargument for toning will, at best, provide somebody with a marginal understanding of human physiology. At worst, that same person might leave, instead choosing to search for the fitness professional that believes in toning.
Remember, the human mind loves confirmation. If a potential new member walks into your gym and explains that they want to tone up, your only response should be, “Great, when can you start?” It’s not your job to try and qualify somebody else’s fitness goal.
Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what it’s called. We can call it fat loss. We can call it building lean mass. We can call it toning. For all I care we can call it floofing.
It just doesn’t matter.
What matters is that, in the grand scheme of all things fitness, almost everyone that enters your gym or studio or box (let’s call it 99.9%) needs to build a little bit of muscle, lose some (or a lot) of bodyfat, and just be kinder to their body in general.