This one is for the ladies. One of the most common comments I get from women when it comes to changing their physique is “I don’t want to add bulk; I just want to ‘tone.’ “
What does that really mean? Most people think that toning means getting more definition and firmer muscles without adding any size. But this is simply not possible.
Unfortunately, people have taken “tone” to mean how defined a muscle appears. Women go to the gym to “tone up,” often fearing the idea of bulking up, while men go to the gym to “build.”
But muscles gain size and strength when they’re required to do more than what they are used to doing on a daily basis. (Similarly, they’ll shrink and weaken if underused.) Muscle doesn’t turn to fat or vice versa. When you train a muscle, you can’t help but “build” it.
The shape and appearance of your muscles are predetermined by genetics, along with factors such as gender, stature, body composition and fat storage, which give some individuals a more “defined” appearance.
That doesn’t mean we can’t change our body’s appearance — but the body doesn’t know how to “tone.” When a muscle is asked to work at a higher intensity, it will build.
So why be concerned about using the word “toning”? Because it leads to an underlying belief that we can “spot reduce.” The only way to see muscle definition is to exercise, including resistance training to develop strong muscles, and to reduce body fat so that you can see the muscle.
If you are eating a healthy diet and you are burning more calories than you are taking in, your body will reduce its stored fat — from wherever the body decides to take it and not necessarily the area you are targeting.
So, let go of the idea that women tone and men build. Instead, focus on the whole body and on gaining muscle strength through resistance training, cardiovascular activity and a healthy, balanced diet.
Helen Vanderburg is a fitness trainer and international corporate wellness speaker: heavensfitness.com.