The One Word You Need To Stop Saying If You're Trying To Get Stronger

Photo: Christine Hewitt

We all want strong physiques that will keep us healthy and mobile well into old age. But spend 10 minutes browsing fitness content online, and you’re bound to come across one word at least a dozen times: "tone." Popular it may be, but when it comes to exercise, this is the most widely misunderstood concept out there. Let me explain.

The idea of "toning" implies spot-fat reduction—targeting a single area of your body to burn fat. As convenient as that would be, it's just not how our bodies work. When we burn fat, we do so evenly throughout the entire body. A set of crunches will burn just as much fat from your midsection as it will from your arms, your hips, and everything else. This is why when I hear people say they "just want to tone my [insert body part]," I feel compelled to interject.

How "tone" became a buzzword.

The reason the concept of toning has become so popular is probably because it sounds like a quick, efficient way to reach your fitness goals. But have you ever seen someone with lean, muscular arms...and that's it? Probably not, because while burning the fat necessary to have arms like that, you’re also burning fat everywhere else in your body at an equal rate.

The notion that higher reps lead to leaner muscle growth is a myth. Your muscles simply grow larger or shrink, they don't change shape. Dense, functional, and sustainable muscle can be built only through heavy resistance training. The best rep range for type-II muscle fibers (the kind you can see), is somewhere in the vicinity of 8 to 12 reps.

Think of them as miniature piles of building blocks, all of which are the same size and shape, piled on top of each other one by one. Now think of your adipose tissue (body fat) as water that is poured over these blocks. Your goal is to stack your building blocks high enough while draining the water low enough so that they peek out above the surface. In the end, your muscles are only revealed by reducing the amount of fat that covers them.

Looking at the big picture.

As with all things health-related, when it comes to being strong and lean, there isn't a quick fix. No amount of biceps curls will leave you with "toned" arms if you're neglecting the rest of your body. The best way to get a strong physique is to reduce the amount of fat on your muscles by burning more energy than you're taking in.

But before you hop on the treadmill for a quick 3-mile jog, remember that cardio is an inefficient means of minimizing your caloric intake. Your best bet? Eat a nutritious, healthy diet. Couple this with a workout regimen that focuses on resistance training, and you’re well on your way.

It’s a rather simple equation: Use weights to build muscle, and combine proper nutrition with the occasional cardio burst to create a caloric deficit and reveal said muscle. The result? A physique that’s strong, healthy, and, yes—toned.

Is the future of fitness looking lazy? Find out here.

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