“I Just Want to Tone up a Bit”: Why the Tone-Up Lie Is Keeping You From Achieving Your Fitness Goals

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I hear it all the time.  

“I just want to tone up a bit”

“I don’t want to get too muscular, I just want to tone my arms a little bit.”

What in the world does “toned” even mean? Seriously, I have no idea.

What I do know is that “toned” is used to sell magazines, DVDs, and online subscriptions. That it is used to convince people that fat burners or monthly challenges will help them sculpt the body they’ve always wanted.

But it’s not a real thing.

All “toned” really does is perpetuate the myth that you can somehow lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Or that there is some middle ground between losing fat and gaining muscle.

But it is impossible. To lose fat, you must have a caloric deficit (provided you are eating enough, but we can cover that another time). To gain muscle, you need a caloric surplus.    

I’d like to do my part in combatting the sheer amount of misinformation out there with this blog post and cover a few of the myths that help perpetuate what I call “the toned up lie.”

1) You Won’t Get Bulky by Accident… I promise.

While men are victims of the tone up lie too, it is more commonly directed at women who are worried if they lift weights they will get bulky. As a result, they stick to cardio and single digit dumbbells. Sorry to say it, but these alone aren’t going to help you meet your fitness goals.

To build bigger muscles, you need to support them with fuel. A lot more fuel.

You will never get bulky by accident. Men with far more testosterone than you still struggle and have to work extremely hard to put on “bulk.”

What lifting heavier weights will do is strengthen the muscle you currently have. It will make your muscle more dense and bring you that much closer to achieving your fitness goals.

Please ladies, lift.

2) Spot Reduction is bullshit.  

You know what I’m talking about: “5 Moves to sculpt amazing lower abs.”

Has anyone ever been successful with any of these bullshit programs or challenges??

It is impossible to reduce fat in a specific spot. There isn’t an ab-only workout on the planet that will give you Ryan Gosling’s 8 pack.   

In fact, doing crunches is the dumbest thing you can do to get abs.  If you have excess body fat around the midsection and you do not decrease your body fat through an intelligent caloric deficit, you will slowly (but surely) create an increase in abdominal tissue which will only push excess fat out further, thereby making you look fatter…not smart.

I’ll concede that “spot reduction” does lead to increased blood flow and fat needs blood blow to burn properly, but this creates such a minimal difference that it’s not worth it.  

Science tells us that unless you time cardio-based workouts with the contraction of specific locations of desired spot reduction AND the redirection of blood flow, there is no added benefit. This is assuming you are also taking in the proper amount of nutrition consistent with your specific fat burning goals.  

Point being, you would only theoretically be able to spot reduce if you were on a bodybuilder style regiment (and successful at such a strict diet/exercise plan), but in that case you would already be lean with plenty of muscle to show. The nonsensical things commonly repeated about spot reduction simply do not apply to the average gym goer.

Where to Focus Your Efforts

When someone wants to get “toned”, what they are really asking for is fat loss from strength training.  

They want their muscles to show and be strong, but don’t want to look like a cardio queen or a meathead.  The best way to achieve this is to maintain a calorie deficit, and lift heavy weights for 4-10 reps for 10-12 sets per muscle group. By challenging the muscles with relative heavy weights within this rep range, you will stimulate strength based muscle fibers, as well as hit the volume necessary to create a larger calorie deficit.   

A generic workout that would achieve these goals with structured fat burn and strength training:


Total Body Workout: 30-60 sec rest between sets

1.Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets 4-8 reps

2.Seated Cable Row  2 sets 4-8 reps

3.Dumbbell RDL’s 3 sets 10 reps

4.Flat Dumbbell Press 3 sets 4-8 reps

5.Cable Pull downs 3 sets 10 reps

6.Split Squat 3 sets 10 reps per leg


Still want to “tone up?” Contact us and we’ll design a workout that does what you’re actually asking for.  

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