Stop toning and start building

Most people by this point have grown immune to the worst of the “weasel-word” ads for fitness and nutrition. Generally if you see “one weird trick” or “5 minute whatever” you can be sure that either the author is being ironic or they’re trying to sell you something.

What is a “weasel-word”? Usually it is a word or phrase that sounds like it is important or useful, but upon closer inspection either means nothing or is such a misrepresentation of what the casual observer would interpret it to mean, that it may as well be an outright lie.

Chatting with a friend the other day (who, by the way, has now lost 25lbs on her way to losing 50lbs and isn’t slowing down one bit, yay!) she mentioned her trainer was going to shift their focus from straight cardio to burn calories to a more “strength & toning” routine. I cringed.

The strength part? Love it. Strength training, whether through body weight or kettles or other weights, is fantastic. Honestly it probably should have been a part of her training from the start, but hey, I’m no trainer. And the results thus far seem to speak for themselves, though that’s coming more from my pal’s drive, determination and work ethic than anything else.

The “toning” part though makes me just twitch. Let’s look at that word, shall we? What does it mean to “tone”? In physiology, muscle tone  is “the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles, or the muscle’s resistance to passive stretch during resting state”. OK probably not what most people think of. Ostensibly, this is generally (though incorrectly) a reference to the visible curvature and size of muscles. Cool. Wrong, but sure, let’s go with that. Taking that as the commonly understood definition, how does one increase the visible curvature and size of muscles?

There’s the age old question, right? The answer is, through work, proper nutrition and time. It is not complicated, though it seems a lot of people try to make it seem so. Remember, something doesn’t need to be complicated to be difficult.

We increase the visibility of muscle curvature through lowering body fat levels while simultaneously building the size of the muscles themselves. There’s where the weaseling comes in. If you think you can “tone your midsection” by doing core work, you’re half lying to yourself. Yes, those planks ROCK for building core stability & strength, and the muscles will grow (both in density and volume). But fat comes off the body from the outside in. First it comes off the arms/legs, then the thighs, buttocks, upper chest and finally from the lower abdomen (and from the inside of the abdomen for those of us unlucky enough to store fat there). You can do all the crunches you want (though, honestly, don’t… there’s way better core strength movements) but they aren’t going to make your abs magically pop out.

Toning is a lie. Stop saying it, stop believing it. If you want a well shaped body, you must burn more calories than you take in (to reduce overall body fat levels to a point where the ab and other muscles become dramatically more visible) and you must do movements and work which stress and challenge your current musculature such that it forces it to adapt by growing. Period. No pill will do this. No magic powder. No idiotic machine you kneel on and do uncomfortable twists with that is now available, for a limited time, for $29.95 plus S&H. Stop it.

Unfortunately it seems that women are too often a target of this marketing. For some reason they are afraid that if they strength train they will end up looking like male bodybuilders. Look, let’s get this out of the way. First of all, having muscles visible on the female form is a very good thing. But more than that, 99.9% of females are simply biologically incapable of building enormous muscle mass. Even males, whose bodies are chock full of testosterone, can’t get to monstrous sizes without “help” or insane amounts of work.

The infomercials have poisoned our minds, their talk of “10 easy minutes per day” to look like the fitness models they hired to hawk their wares is a lie. I’ve talked to some of those models, at least one of whom you’ve definitely seen on TV. You know how many times he used their machine? Once. That day, while shooting the commercial. They had to spray him with water and oil his body up to shine and look like it was sweaty because, newsflash, the machine didn’t do a damn thing. You know what his workout is? Kettlebells. TRX. Olympic lifts. Running. Box jumps. Burpees. Oh, and a TON of eating clean. His thoughts on this amazing machine? “I get a better workout going to grab my mail in the morning.” #dropsmic

OK so, let’s say you’re a woman, and you want to start strength training. But you’re a bit overwhelmed, nervous or just downright intimidated by the weight section of the gym. Like… what do you do? How do you do it? How often? Which movements?

Obviously the best way to go is to hire a trainer that specializes in that, but most folks don’t have the cash to drop. Understandable. Trainers can cost a lot (though, and I mean this, they are 100% WORTH IT). Sometimes you can cut the costs a bit by joining a group fitness class, but added in to the cost of the gym membership, even that can add up.

Another option is to purchase an online training program. Tons of them out there though, so let me help. This is the one to get:
Essential Guide to Weightlifting for Women

The trainer who developed it, Emma Archer, knows her stuff. Here’s a great article from her on the benefits of strength training as it applies to women. She is @PTEmmaArcher on Twitter. Hop on there and ask her about her program.

The bottom line is, do it. Add strength training to your life. It will stabilize your body, increase your capability, improve overall fitness and performance in both sports and just life in general. And yes, it will help you get that “toned” body you’re wanting (as part of a balanced fitness and nutrition program, of course). Get it. Do it. Become the best possible version of yourself. Today.

Leave a Reply