The Myth of Toning Workouts

The term toning has floated through the fitness lexicon for at least the 20 years that I’ve been a personal trainer. Articles in fitness magazines use it as a selling tool, home fitness contraptions have come and gone promising to “tone and sculpt” and group fitness classes hold it out as the reward for faithful attendance. But the concept of exercising for toning is misleading. I hope to dispel the myth of toning workouts while giving you the real story of how to look and feel better.

When I talk to people about toning, our conversations always uncover the same thing; the desire to look better, which invariably translates to loosing body fat and shaping muscles. The problem with using a toning workout to pursue that goal is that it’s almost never going to work. To be clear, I’m talking about workouts that call for lots of repetitions done with light weight. That strategy will affect muscle endurance, but not much else. Noticeable change calls for a different approach: lifting weights that are challenging. Generally that means you can only lift a weight 8-12 times in good form before fatigue prevents you from continuing.

I promise you won't get arms like this...

I promise you won’t get arms like this…

The main reason for lifting light weights has always been a fear of getting big muscles. It’s a fear repeated mainly (and understandably) by women. But, for the overwhelming majority of women, building big muscles really isn’t possible, even if that is the goal.

Female physiology just doesn’t provide the right environment to support huge muscle growth. Now, I’m not saying women won’t build any muscle, but building some is a distinct advantage in looking better.

Muscle is a large driver of metabolism; more muscle burns more calories. So extra muscle is a really good thing in helping to lose body fat and trim down. Also, filling out muscles a bit gives arms and legs the shape and sweeping lines everyone wants. Some other great benefits are reducing the risk of osteoporosis, muscular injuries, insulin resistance / diabetes and even heart disease. Even if all of that isn’t super important to you at this point, you’ll be stronger and more fit. Building strength makes everything you do on a daily basis easier!

I want to leave you with this takeaway – don’t be afraid of lifting weights that challenge your muscles. Pick exercises that work lots of muscles at the same time, like lunges, rows, deadlifts and pushups. Do up to 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each exercise with challenging weights and increase weight as you get stronger. You’ll get much better results than lots of reps with light weights!

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

2 Responses to “The Myth of Toning Workouts”

  1. Robin says:

    Thank you Mike! This article and today’s talk was a good opportunity to get questions answered and refine my focus. Thank you for sharing your expertise.