Today we are going to cover one of my biggest pet peeves in the gym: the misunderstood word “tone.” No doubt by now if you are a big time gym goer and have spent any amount of time pumping iron you have heard someone at some point say the phrase, “I’m just trying to tone up.” If you have not, consider yourself blessed. Today we are going to go over in an educational way why you should never, ever tell anyone you are wanting to tone, or that you are in any way participating in any kind of “toning” exercise.
The misuse is almost never the users fault
The first thing we have to understand when addressing this issue is that the misuse is almost never the users fault. Rather, the gym user probably does not understand the principles of losing/gaining body fat versus losing/gaining muscle mass. There are two major myths we need to lay to rest before going into detail about why toning is actually impossible. The two myths are as listed below:
1. You cannot burn body fat by targeting it on your body.
Example: you cannot burn belly fat by doing 100 crunches.
2. Your body burns fat in the order in which it was stored least to greatest.
Example: ballast tanks on a sinking ship fill up one at a time so the ship can stay afloat longer, the body does the same thing when storing energy, or excess body fat.
How does toning fit into all of this?
Now you may be asking yourself, “How does toning fit into all of this?” The problem comes up when people think that if they do crunches, they will lose body fat, or some people think that putting on lean muscle is only going to make them look bulky. I understand, it is not the goal of many people to look bulky, or add a bunch of muscle, but you have to understand that it is very difficult to lift enough weight the right way to look genuinely bulky.
Since we now know that you cannot target body fat to lose it, how then can we lose body fat and get the physique we want?? This is done by cutting down the body fat using HIIT training. Raising your heart rate and expending a lot of energy is going to cause your body to drop down in body fat, and then you can build lean muscle mass in that place!
The bottom line here is that in order to “tone up,” you have to lose body fat and build muscle mass in place of the now gone fat! That’s it! There is no targeting fat, and you will burn your body fat in the order that your body stores it. The word toning implies that you are doing two things at once (building muscle and burning fat) when in reality, these two processes are very different and happen one at a time.
So next time your trainer is making you do rope slams, burpees and cone shuffles, you should thank them because THAT is toning in its truest form! You now have my permission to politely explain to anyone that you meet that when they say they want to tone up that they are completely wrong and that they cannot burn fat and build muscle at the same time, and then you can nicely point them in the direction of NoCo Fitness.