"I Just Want to Tone..."

Maria: “Hi, new client, nice to meet you! What are your fitness goals?”

New client: “Hi, Maria! I want to get toned!”

Maria: “Okay, sounds good- I’m going to prepare you a cardio and lifting regimen to help you build muscle and get stronger!”

New client: “...I don’t want to get bulky though. I just want to tone…”

Maria: *face palm*

While that was not an actual, real life conversation between a new client and myself, it is awfully similar to ones that I have had! The amount of times “toned” has come to me as a fitness goal from a client is innumerable, and more times than not, a fear of lifting heavy and becoming “bulky” accompanies it.

But, what is this magical word- toned- anyway??

When people talk about being “toned” they are often referring to a firm, athletic, feminine body with muscle definition and shape. They generally want to become a leaner version of themselves by losing fat and seeing definition. All of this is well and good, but a person with these goals needs to understand a few basics first…


1. Muscles don’t “tone”

This is just simply not how muscles develop. They shrink, they grow, but they do not TONE.

The idea of wanting to “tone” muscles simply means that people want to train their muscles to increase (grow...) in density (muscle hardness) while decreasing body fat. We all have muscle, we just need to reduce overall body fat for it to show. As well, we need to put on a healthy amount of muscle mass for it to be prominent when the fat is no longer there.

In other words, we need our muscles to grow in order to appear “toned”.

2. Muscles need to be stressed

The thought out there behind toning is that, so long as you’re doing light weight or body weight moves at high reps, you’ll get toned. HOWEVER, if you were to lift heavier with more resistance, lower reps, and reach muscle fatigue, you’ll get bulky instead!


False. False. False.

Just because you are not looking to get “bulky” doesn’t mean you should avoid stressing your muscles with challenging weight! Your muscles need to be stressed in order for them to change and grow. Think about it, if you are not pushing them hard enough, and are simply going through the motions of your workout, then they are not being challenged. If they are not being challenged, then they are being stagnant-- right?? Those muscles have no reason to adapt and change from their current condition!

Give them a reason. Train with enough resistance to get to a point where muscle fatigue is being produced between 8-12 repetitions. That doesn’t mean call it quits after the 8th or 12th rep, though-- it means get yourself to a point where there is no way you could possibly do one more rep no matter how hard you try.

That is stressing your muscles, and that is how you force them to change and grow (which is the goal for appearing “toned”, remember?).

3. It is really, really hard to get “bulky”, “manly”, and “too muscular”

The notion that lifting weights will cause a woman to appear bulky and manly is far from accurate. Just ask any person, man or woman, that’s ever actually tried to bulk! Weight training is the easy part, but unfortunately not the part that matters most- force feeding yourself thousands upon thousands of calories every day for a long duration of time is!

Extreme muscle gains are not something that just happen out of the blue, You have to really work for it AND eat for it! It is pretty safe to say that muscle gain is significantly harder than fat loss for most people.

As well, as a woman it is important to remember that we do not have nearly as much testosterone in us as men do- in fact, men have about TEN times more than us! This means that, even if you did put in the time to eat an absurd amount of food and lift insane amounts of weight, it would still be about ten times harder to look like a man/gain like a man.

Taking all of that into consideration, we really have no logical reason to fear muscle growth, do we?

4. Fat loss doesn’t happen just through exclusive cardio training

We talked about the 2 keys to “toning” in point #1- muscle growth and fat loss. One of the best ways to promote fat loss: cardio.

BUT! Your strength training and cardio don’t need to be separate- you can get the cardiovascular and fat burning benefits from just strength training, alone!

This happens both indirectly and directly.

Indirectly because increasing your muscle tissue (adding more muscle) through strength training causes a greater basal metabolic rate (resting metabolism) meaning you can burn more calories and fat at rest.

Directly because using challenging weights to tax large groups of muscles with short rest periods causes your heart rate to elevate. This elevation results in immediate calorie and fat burning just like that of traditional cardio exercise.

You can kill two birds with one stone by simply stressing your muscles during your strength training workouts! Just be careful- no challenge and just ‘going through the motions’ means no cardiovascular, fat-loss effect and no increase in muscle tissue.

Put in the effort. Keep the rests short. Burn, baby, burn.

5. Your diet is just as important as exercise.

If you want to stimulate muscle growth (which you do...because, again, that’s how you get the muscle definition you’re seeking…) then you need to make sure you are providing your body with fuel! In other words, EAT!

“Getting toned” and “semi-starvation” seem to go hand-in-hand in the minds of those uneducated in health and fitness-- those that get their “fit tips” from the various forms of skewed media out there.

You do not need to be in an extreme caloric deficit to get “toned”. You do not need to cut out every single carb from your diet, you do not need to do a “tea-tox” every few weeks, you do not need to limit your portions to that of a toddler. Please, for the love of the toning god, eat!

A sound diet is just as important, if not more important, than exercise, and eating the right types of foods will help your progress!

Protein rich foods are of the utmost importance as they are necessary for recovery and protein synthesis (muscle growth), carbohydrates are necessary to fuel the body and aid in recovery (and muscle growth), and fat is essential for hormone production. As well, fruits and vegetables should be incorporated to hit your body with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber necessary for everyday bodily functions.

Food plays a very crucial role in achieving a leaner, more defined look, so don’t neglect it!


Now, assuming “new client” from above has since read this blog post- let’s take a moment to revisit that conversation, shall we?

Maria: “Hi, new client, nice to meet you! What are your fitness goals?”

New client: “Hi, Maria! I want to gain muscle and reduce fat to look more lean and defined!”

Maria: “Okay, sounds good- I’m going to prepare you a cardio and lifting regimen to help you build muscle and get stronger!”

New client: “That sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to add an appropriate amount of muscle mass to my frame through challenging weight lifting and proper nutrition to help me achieve my goal!”

Maria: *jumps for joy*

THAT is more like it ;)

Be just like the NEW “new client”- push yourself in the gym, fuel your body appropriately, don’t fear “getting bulky”- and before you know it, you’ll see your muscles tighten up, firm, and become more prominent giving you that “toned” look you’ve been longing for!

Are you like new “new client”?

Are you ready to start changing your body through lifting, cardio, nutrition, and an all-around healthier approach to living? Then send me an email now and let’s get you started on a customized plan so you can reach your goals!




Set goals! Set both long and short-range goals to keep yourself motivated. Be sure that the short-range goals will eventually lead you to your big-picture, long-range ones. Consider them stepping stones on the path towards something bigger.



Do what you like to do. Don't just start doing something because everyone else is; find what you truly enjoy and do that. In the end, if you don't have a genuine interest in your workouts and lifestyle, you're going to hinder your progress.



Switch things up! I know this may sound kind of funny after just reading #2, but as humans, we can get bored of doing the same thing over and over. As well, our muscles can get "bored" and we can plateau. Do not be afraid to try new things and incorporate change to keep you entertained and your muscles guessing!