Time to Retire the Term “Toned”

While the incidence of, “I don’t want to get bulky” is no doubt WAY down since we opened in 2011, it’s still by far and away the most common statement we get from new members when we exchange emails regarding goals. To make the battle even more uphill, it’s usually followed by the dreaded, “I just want to get toned instead…what should I do?”

Fuck.

Why oh why do we fear adding the healthiest tissue we can add to our bodies? The tissue that correlates to longer life, increased metabolism, and more human ability in absolutely everything that our day demands. Why? Why do we resist the concept of adding health?

Easy: fear + predatory marketing

Together, they are a dangerous duo that wreaks havoc on the consumer’s ability to make sane decisions when it comes to health and fitness. Together, they keep sleazy fitness operations alive that urge you to pursue the highest amount of calories burned in forty five minutes as possible, to chase Splat Points by going harder, to put down the weights in the name of “lengthening” your muscles instead (whatever the fuck that is), and convincing you that your heart rate is the single key to unlocking a good workout.

Fear and marketing have made many folks become so afraid of touching heavy weights they continue to exist in a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are carrying too much fat and not enough muscle, and they solve that by continuing to perform workouts that will support carrying too much fat and not developing muscle. These places know it’s better business to keep you addicted to the pursuit rather than easily fix what ails you. The obvious choice in front of you that is responsible for more positive metabolic improvement than any.

Strength.

And we’re afraid it’s physiologically indisputable.

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Strength training increases the density of our muscles and the amount of fibers, resulting in the the addition of functional, athletic muscle. Excessive cardio strips it and light weights don’t build it. It increases your likelihood of living longer. It increases your metabolism since the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn (making it so you don’t even have to do those idiotic 800 calorie workouts). Strength increases your fitness and helps you do things like more pull-ups, push-ups, run faster 5Ks. It helps you carry your groceries, get your bag down from the overhead big, and project more self respect. You name it, strength and muscle do it. In fact, probably the only thing that strength doesn’t do?

Make you “bulky.”

If you don’t like strength training “because you’re trying to tone” then you’re making a grave error.

But while I have you on topic, do you know what does make you bulky?

Fat. Garbage diet. Fat takes up substantially more volume per pound than muscle. One pound of fat bulges 18 percent more than a pound of muscle, and fat occupies 1.1 liters per pound while muscle requires just .9 liters per pound so if you really don’t want to be bulky you’d be best served by no longer eating like shit rather than fearing strength training.

The unfortunate irony is the “toned” look that is so often sought after is actually the product of a stronger body that has on it more muscle. After all, your leanness is the direct proportion of your body’s muscle to fat composition, so by adding muscle and while simultaneously reducing fat, you are in fact becoming “toned.”

Here’s a more clear example.

  • You start out weighing 145 pounds with 31% body fat.

  • Five months later you weigh 140 pounds with 22% body fat.

Your end aesthetic? “Toned.” But in reality, you did not “tone” at all. You added muscle to your frame while also reducing pounds of body fat. Not major net change but a huge yield in health and aesthetic difference. A highly common trade off where the end result is adding health, longevity, and ability. In fact, every single one of these success stories has on it more muscle than when it started.

All of them.

As we’ve said countless times over the years, strength training does not mean training to hit 1R maxes on barbell lifts. Hell, it doesn’t even have to mean choosing the strength focus on RFG days! It just means picking up the heavier bell, going up the harder band, and yeah, putting some more weight on the bar every now and then to continue to ensure you’re progressively overloading your tissues.

With fitness, you have a choice. You can choose fear of developing your physique and settling into a routine of burn, burn, burn where you never actually achieve the aesthetic you want and often work against it, or you can get off the treadmill hamster wheel, clean up your diet, and choose strength.

Ultimately, you are a product of your environment. Choose wisely.