Muscle Tone: The TRUTH About How To Get A Toned Body

Do you want more muscle tone? Of course you do!

Maybe you want to tone up your legs, or your stomach, or your arms, or your back, or your butt. Hell, maybe you want to tone up your entire body.

And that’s why you’re here. You want to know all of the best tips, tricks, and secrets for how to get toned as quickly and effectively as possible.

Sound about right? Cool.

Here’s the first thing you need to know…

Everything You’ve Heard About Tone Is Bullshit

What I mean is:

  • Nothing tones a muscle.
  • Nothing defines a muscle.
  • Nothing sculpts a muscle.
  • Nothing makes a muscle ripped or cut or slim or lean or any other silly adjective that essentially means the same damn thing.

Confused? Don’t worry. This will make perfect sense once you learn what these words actually mean. In fact, let’s define them right now.

What Is Muscle Tone?

In this context, muscle tone refers to having a sufficient amount of muscle mass, plus a low enough body fat percentage for that muscle to actually be visible.

So, the less fat you have covering your muscles, the more “toned” and “defined” and “sculpted” you will look. The more fat you have covering your muscles (or if there’s simply not enough muscle present), the less visible your muscles will be and the less “toned” you will appear.

In a nutshell… Muscle – Fat = Tone

So, whenever a person says they want to “tone up,” they’re really just saying they want their muscles to be more visible than they currently are.

How do you make this happen, you ask? By either:

  • Losing more fat.
    This is the most common reason why someone isn’t as toned as they’d like to be. Their body fat percentage is too high and there’s a layer of fat sitting on top of the muscle they want to see. This makes the person look “soft” and “flabby” rather than lean and toned.
  • Building more muscle.
    Other times, the person will have a low enough body fat percentage, but they’re just lacking a sufficient amount of muscle mass. This makes the person look “thin” and “skinny” rather than lean and toned.
  • Doing a combination of both.
    And in other cases, it’s a little of both. The person is lacking muscle and has too much body fat.

Most people are surprised to hear all of this, because they’re under the impression that getting a toned body is this special thing that happens some special way using special workouts, exercises, methods, and techniques.

But… it’s really not anything like that at all.

To show you what I mean, let’s go over the 4 most common myth-based approaches people use when trying to get toned.

4 Stupid Myths About How To Get Toned

  1. Lighter weights make you toned.
    This is the idea that heavy weights build “big and bulky” muscle, whereas lighter weights that aren’t challenging for you at all (e.g. 3lb pink dumbbells) build “toned” muscle. This is a myth.
  2. Higher reps make you toned.
    This is the idea that lower rep ranges (e.g. 1-8) with heavier weights will make your muscles bigger and bulkier (fun fact: muscle can be built in every rep range [source]), but higher rep ranges (e.g. 10-30) with lighter weights will tone and sculpt your muscles. This is a myth.
  3. Certain types of exercises make you toned.
    This is the idea that free weight exercises and/or compound exercises are for building muscle, but certain machines, isolation exercises, and/or special “toning exercises” are for burning fat and getting toned. This is a myth.
  4. Certain types of workouts make you toned.
    This is the idea that some workouts are specifically for men because they’ll make a person big, muscular, and manly, and other workouts are specifically for women because they’ll make a person lean, toned, and feminine. This is a myth.

Do any of these sound familiar? I bet they do. And they’re all bullshit.

Because in order to get toned, you need less fat and/or more muscle, and this sort of myth-based crap is ineffective at both.

Here’s The Truth About Muscle And Fat

The truth is, in terms of your appearance, the only thing you can do to a muscle is make it bigger or smaller.

That’s it.

You can’t tone it, or sculpt it, or shape it, or define it, or [whatever else] it.

Nor are there different types or textures of it (bulky, lean, toned, etc.) you can build. That’s all nonsense

Muscle is muscle. You can only increase or decrease how much of it you have, or increase or decrease how much body fat is covering it.

And, like I explained earlier, getting “toned” is all about building enough muscle and losing enough body fat so the muscle you’ve built is sufficiently visible.

And since the stuff on the list above isn’t good for building muscle or burning fat, it’s mostly just a big waste of time in your quest to get toned.

Allow me to elaborate…

How Muscle Is Actually Built

Research shows that building muscle requires a particular type of stimulus – specifically tension, fatigue, and damage (source) – and the typical “light weight, high rep, toning workout” nonsense is laughable at providing it.

Building muscle also involves gradually getting stronger over time (aka progressive overload), and using the same super light, not-at-all-challenging weights over and over again for months/years is the opposite of that.

In addition, muscle is most effectively built when using a well-designed weight training program that incorporates optimal amounts of volume, frequency, and intensity. The typical “toning workout for women” takes none of this into consideration.

(Additional details here: How To Build Muscle: The 15-Step Guide For Men And Women)

How Fat Is Actually Lost

Losing fat has just one requirement: a caloric deficit, which means consuming fewer calories than you burn.

And what we have on the list from before is a collection of training methods that rely on “spot reduction” being possible. It’s not.

You see, spot reduction is the idea that you can burn fat from one specific area of the body by doing exercises that target that area. For example, arm exercises will supposedly target the fat on your arms, and leg exercises will supposedly target the fat on your legs.

And this will supposedly burn the ugly body fat that’s covering your muscles, thus revealing those pretty muscles and making them look toned.

Unfortunately, this isn’t actually possible, because exercises target muscles, not the fat on top of those muscles.

Spot reduction is just another myth that has been disproven over and over again in the real-world, as well as in studies (sources herehere, and here). This makes every training method built around it a myth just the same. (Details here: How To Lose Fat From Your Stomach, Arms, Thighs, And More)

The reality is that you’re only capable of losing fat from your entire body as a whole. Exactly where on your body you lose fat from first, second, third, etc. is predetermined by your genetics and can’t be changed by the workouts, exercises, or amount of sets and reps you do, or the amount of weight you lift.

Will light weights make me toned?

So, How Do You Get Toned?

It’s a simple 4-step process…

Step 1: Ignore The Myths

Ignore all of the myth-based “toning” nonsense you often see. It’s useless at best, and counterproductive at worst.

“Toning workouts” and “toning exercises” and “light weight/high reps” are all bullshit concepts marketed (primarily) to women that perpetuate a variety of weight training myths that only prevent those women from getting the results they want. Ignore it.

Full details here: The Toning Workout Routine For Women

Step 2: Understand That Muscle – Fat = Tone

There’s nothing all that magical or complicated involved here. It’s just a matter of building enough muscle and losing enough fat so the muscle you’ve built is sufficiently visible.

Step 3: Determine What Needs To Improve

Why aren’t you as toned as you want to be? Is it because you have too much body fat, not enough muscle, or a combination of both?

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ll know what you need to focus on going forward.

(By the way, if you’re not sure about which goal you need to focus on, feel free to check out The Results Crew. Myself and another experienced coach will provide you with all of the personalized guidance and support you need.)

Step 4: Take The Proper Action

If you need to lose more body fat, here’s everything you need to know:

If you need to build more muscle, here’s everything you need to know:

If you need a well-designed muscle building workout, here ya go:

If you need to lose fat and build muscle, the stuff linked above will cover the majority of what you need to know. In addition, I’d also recommend:

Summing It Up

The only (natural) ways of improving how your body looks are by building muscle and/or losing fat.

And being toned? That’s just a matter of getting that combination where it needs to be so there’s a sufficient amount of muscle built + a low enough body fat percentage to allow that muscle to actually be visible.

So if muscle tone is your goal, you need to focus on losing additional fat and/or building additional muscle. Everything else – like the typical myth-based “toning” nonsense most people do – won’t help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.