Why You’ll Never Be Toned: A Tome Against “Tone”

Looking to “tone up?”

I cringe every single time I hear the word “tone” escape from someone’s mouth. Every. Single. Time. I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve heard queries from people looking for advice on how to “tone up” certain problem areas: belly, butt, thighs, etc. As someone who works in the fitness field, it’s my goal to help others achieve the bodies they desire, but, the only problem is— how do you respond to this question when what they want, to “tone up,” simply doesn’t, in technical terms, actually exist?

A fitness industry myth

To be fair, the fitness industry self-perpetuates this myth. Fitness magazines are filled with articles about how to “tone” this, that, or the other thing. Television commercials tout fitness products that claim to spot reduce fat on common trouble areas of the body. Worst of all, misinformed and uneducated fitness professionals further fuel this myth by not being forthcoming with people about what is realistic when it comes to fitness. And toning up (AKA spot reduction of fat)? Simply is not, and never will be, realistic!

Arnold Schwarzenegger is quoted as saying, “it’s simple: if it jiggles, it’s fat.” As much as these are harsh words for many people to hear, unfortunately these words are 100% true. A common issue many present to me is this: “I don’t need to lose weight. I just want to tone up.” These people then proceed to tell me that they want to “tone” their love handles, jiggly butt, flabby arms, or what-have-you. The fact is, however, fat loss can’t be targeted to a certain area, and there is simply nothing that will make you lose fat in the belly, butt, or thighs alone— while not losing fat in other areas. When we shed fat, it’s lost throughout the entire body, not just in one specific area.


A two-fold strategy

When people imagine someone who is “toned,” they envision someone who is physically fit— with good muscle definition. Unfortunately, so many people believe that this muscle definition comes from exercises that target a certain area. I.E., if you want six pack abs, then you need to do exercises targeting the abs. Or, if you want a firmer behind, then you need to do exercises targeting the glutes. While this is true to some degree, target exercises only tell half of the story, and they’ll only ever get you half of the way there.

What most people deem to be “toning” is, truly, a combination of not only strength training that targets specific muscles, but, moreover, also includes cardio activity to reduce fat to allow those muscle to be seen— thus creating muscle definition. Think of it this way: to get those six pack abs you’ve been coveting, you could do countless ab exercises, and, yes, you’ll more than likely build up your ab muscles in the process. But what does that truly matter if those ab muscles are hidden underneath a layer of fat— preventing those ab muscles and, as such, any muscle definition in the abs from being seen? Clearly, in terms of exercise (that’s not even counting nutrition— which is also crucial), a two-fold strategy, one combining strength training and cardio activity, is ideal.

The skinny on fat

Your body fat percentage, in large part, determines the amount of muscle definition you’ll see. For men, at roughly 10-12% body fat, you’ll begin to see some serious definition. For women, that range is around 15-17% body fat. A person’s genetics and body type, however, play a large part in this as well though. Someone who is a pear shape who tends to carry fat in the thigh, hip, and butt area will typically see arm, back, and ab definition before those fit quads and firm butt become apparent. Likewise, someone who is an apple shape who tends to carry fat in the belly area will find that ab definition comes slower than definition in other areas of the body. Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to target fat loss to specific areas, we just can’t.

Free Weights

Re-think your ideal body

All in all, you can achieve the ideal body you want. It’s just a matter or re-thinking your ideals, as well as moving away from the misconception that you can “tone” by spot reducing fat on your body. It’s time that we toss out the word “tone,” because the fact is, you’ll never be “toned,” because toning— spot reduction of fat— isn’t real. This way, people can become more informed about how to achieve their goals: in the case of achieving muscle definition, through strength training and cardio activity. Otherwise, we run the risk of people who are truly trying to achieve their goals giving up when they inevitably become discouraged because they aren’t seeing the results they want— simply because they’ve been misinformed about the work required to make those results happen.

I fully believe that you can, no matter who you are or where you’re starting from, achieve your goals; armed with this information, hopefully you are just one step closer to achieving them.

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