Myth Buster: ‘Toning Up’

“I don’t want to gain any muscle, I just want to tone what I have.”

“I want to turn my fat into muscle.”

Since 90-100 percent of my clients seem to have this goal in common, I thought I would take a second to address how to best approach it. First, you can’t ‘tone’ what you have. You can’t turn fat into muscle. ‘Toning up’ is gaining a little muscle and losing a little fat to make that muscle more visible.  You might end up a little heavier on the scale when all is said and done, but you’ll look like you want to look in the mirror.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, a new question arises:  Should you approach training differently if you’re trying to ‘lean and tone’ than if you’re trying to bulk up? Well – yes and no. A properly designed training program will address flexibility, strength imbalances and proper movement no matter what the end goal is. If anything we’re going to include the same ‘components’ of training, the mix is just going to be a little different.

These are what I consider to be be the essential components of a training program:

  1. Flexibility and Mobility:  This could include static stretching, self-myofacial release with a foam roll or ‘the stick’,, dynamic flexibility, etc.
  2. Core Strengthening: Specific strengthening exercises for the area from the hips and glutes all the way up to the cervical spine (neck).
  3. Plyos/ Reactive Training: Including things like squat jumps, box hops, etc.
  4. Resistance Training: Includes exercises with free weights, machines, kettlebells, bodyweight, etc.
  5. Metabolic Conditioning:  Running, biking, swimming, rowing, circut training, ‘met-con’ workouts, etc.

The way we program these different elements and the frequency with which we perform them is the main thing that is going to change with our goals.  If we want to gain muscle, we increase the frequency of resistance training and program certain variables, like rep range, rest periods, and intensity in a certain way.  We also might put a lower priority on the metabolic conditioning component.  If we want to lose body fat, we might put a higher emphasis on the metabolic conditioning component to burn more calories, and pay more attention to our diets.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on the fact that ‘toning’ doesn’t really exist, and that programming for this goal doesn’t really differ that much from that of gaining muscle.  Feel free to leave comments or questions and enjoy your week!

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