The Myth of Muscle Toning

When I hear someone say they want “toned muscles, not bulky muscles” it’s like nails on the chalk board. I’ve learned to deal with the phrase, I’ll even use it in my vocabulary while training from time to time, because hey, that’s what people want to hear! Today, however, I’m going to break down what a “toned muscle” really is and how to achieve it.

Muscles do not know how to shape themselves. They can grow, or they can shrink. You either have more muscle or you have less muscle. You cannot, however, have a “toned muscle” or a “bulky muscle”. You cannot shape a muscle by changing how you exercise it. How you train your body can determine how quickly you add muscle, but it won’t change what the muscle itself will look like.

“Ok, but how come I see these people with “toned” muscles? How do I get that? I want my muscle to be long and thin! Not short and bulky.”

So, what actually is a “toned” muscle? A “toned” muscle is a well-developed muscle that isn’t surrounded by a lot of fat. Period. That’s it. It’s nothing more. To have a “toned” muscle, you need to have a lot of muscle and a very good body composition.

“Fine!”, you say. “But what about bulky muscles! I don’t want that! What do I have to do to avoid bulky muscles?”. When someone looks “bulky”, it’s usually a combination of three components. 1. The first component, is your genes. Some of people put muscle on much easier than others. For most, however, adding muscle is going to take quite a bit of consistent work. 2. To get “bulky” muscles, you’re going to have to spend a lot, and I mean A LOT, of time training. No one is going to add a ridiculous amount muscle by strength training 3 days a week. Really, you’re not giving the “bulky” people the credit they deserve the countless hours of work they put in to look that way. 3. The final component of what makes someone look “bulky” is their body composition. If you took a “bulky” person and leaned them out, you’d probably change your opinion of their look from “bulky” to “toned”.

So what does it mean for training? How do I look toned? Simple. Since a toned muscle is “a well-developed muscle”, you need muscle! The quickest way to add muscle is by strengthen training compound, multi joint movements at a moderate weight for 8 to 12 reps with multiple sets. The second part of the equation is eating a diet that will keep you lean! Do not be scared of bulking up, unless you put on muscle as quick as Arnold, train 2 hours a day 7 days a week, or eating pizza for every meal. Hit the weight room, add muscle, keep your food clean, and you’ll be rocking those toned arms come summer!

Andrew Leonard- trainerAndrew Leonard
Personal Training Manager
Lincoln Square Athletic Club