Toned. It’s exercise-speak for “looking fit, but not buff.” It’s that coveted status among fitness seekers, and a valuable buzz word for publishers looking to sell magazines.
As a personal trainer, the word “toning” pops up frequently when I ask new clients about their fitness goals. It’s a word that has become a compulsory part of the “let’s get in shape” vernacular, one that can be applied to almost any part of the body to describe the state in which one is fit without being bulky.
But what is toning, really, if not a self-diagnosis from clients who are afraid to look like the Incredible Hulk?
In a nutshell, toning is a lowering of body fat to reveal the muscle underneath, and there actually being muscle underneath. Get it? More often than not, the muscle has shape, it’s just covered by excess calories so you can’t see it. If I took the biggest meat castle in the gym and put an extra 10% body fat on him, you’d see a reduction in toning.
Sweet, so if I just diet, I’ll get toned, right? Wrong.
When you’re dieting, the body tends to lose muscle as it loses fat. This creates that “skinny fat” look you sometimes see in those fancy types who think sweating is gross. Sure, they have less fat, but they also have less muscle. The result? Not toned.
So here’s the mathematical breakdown:
No workout + Diet = less muscle and less fat. Same perceived level of toning, just with smaller size.
Workout + No Diet = more muscle and the same amount of fat. Same perceived level of toning but now with bigger arms that you hate and you blame your trainer for making you look like Miss Olympia.
Workout + Diet = EQUAL muscle and less body fat (since you’ll be losing muscle as you lose fat but then gaining it back as you work out for a zero sum loss). Also known as nirvana, mecca, the golden ticket, the big dance, the bee’s knees… You get the idea.
So why don’t the magazines give you this breakdown? Well, they need to keep selling magazines. So they forego the nutrition stuff and just repurpose workout tips and tricks, which are valuable but only effective in achieving “toned” body parts if paired with a good diet.
Listen, I’m sorry if this hurts like that time your older cousin told you the Easter Bunny was a fraud. But someday you’ll thank me.
P.S. Need a quick at home workout? This was filmed for a Thanksgiving spot with Suzie Wargin, but why not share it with you now: