Tone is the four letter word of the fitness world. Do you say it? Here’s something to think about the next time you do.

The word “toned” is a huge pet peeve for bodybuilders and people who take working out seriously. Just go to any bodybuilding forum or workout community and you will get flamed for saying that you want to tone up. So why do they get so huffy and puffy about it? Well first of all, let’s dissect what the average person means when they say they want to tone up. Usually it implies looking slim and tight with slight muscular definition. You know, like a dancer or a yoga instructor. For those of you out there who use the term “toned”, am I correct in my assumption?

That’s all fine and dandy. The problem arises when it comes down to how you attain this “toned” physique. A lot of people are under the impression that you can reshape your muscles and your body to your liking by doing the classic “toning” exercises–high reps with low weights. ‘Cause you know, you don’t wanna bulk up.

I’m glad to break it to you that using 10 lbs to do 3 sets of 18 reps of triceps pulldowns isn’t gonna be NEARLY anywhere enough to get rid of your flappy flappers and tone up. And  doing 100 donkey kicks is not going to tighten those saddlebags.

According to this article, “Muscles do not go from soft to hard or hard to soft – they either shrink or grow in size. Muscles themselves do not “firm-up” or “tone”.”

And according to this very awesome website, “This school of thought says that if you lift heavy, you’ll get huge, and if you lift light weights with high reps, you’ll just “tone”. AAACK! The T-word again! Muscles only know how to grow one way, and just how big they get depends on gender and genetics.” (Seriously, read that site.)

The bottom line is that if you want to look “toned”, you need to burn fat to reveal the muscle you do have, and possibly increase the amount of muscle you have with quality strength training.

Even though he eats rabbit food, Sumo definitely isn't toned.

Although I do want to (sort of) clarify that the term muscle tone does mean something valid. What exactly that is, I’m not sure. According to Wikipedia, “muscle tone (residual muscle tension or tonus) is the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles, or the muscle’s resistance to passive stretch during resting state.” I dunno wtf that means, but if you can figure it out, please share.

So, back to the part about fitness enthusiasts getting pissy when other people talk about toning. The thing is that no one who is serious (yes, that needed to be italicized) about fitness uses the word “tone” when talking about working out. I’m referring to people who take their time to extensively research the things that are involved with building strength, muscle and athleticism. And fat loss too. I think the only time they do use the word tone is when they talk to someone who isn’t as knowledgeable about fitness to help them understand.

For instance, if I’m talking about making a physical body change, I speak in very specific terms. I say that a person is either losing fat or gaining muscle, or doing both simultaneously if they’re a lucky mofo. But I’d never tell someone who I was showing some workout moves to that it was going to help them tone whatever body part.

It doesn’t really bother me when other people say they want to tone because I know what they mean. But personally I try to stay away from saying it. It’s just the whole brainwashing context that’s behind it that gets to me. Toned is something that magazines and advertising companies use to sell gimmicks. Toned is the driving force behind the BS perpetuated by ridiculous trainers like Tracy Anderson. Toned is supposedly what the Shake Weight can do for you. Toned is infomercials and the newest weight loss fad. Whenever I hear someone say that they want to tone, I can’t help but think of all the empty promises they’ve been sold and all the lies they’ve been told, like light and easy workouts are the way to look killer.

They’re not. If you want to look killer and be killer, you’ve gotta kill yourself to get there. But if you still want to use the word toned, it’s all good. I certainly won’t kill you for it 🙂

So what do YOU think about toning up?

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