The Myth of Toning

I can't tell you how many times people talk to me about wanting to "tone". I'm not sure where the term came from or what in the hell it even means, but it's a buzzword that everybody seems to bring up whenever weights enter the fitness conversation. I've had men who find it surprising or unusual to hear that I lift weights make comments like "You don't want to [lift heavy/bulk up/build muscle] though, right? You're just trying to tone?" Hmm, nope. You're like, 100% wrong. I would LOVE to be able to increase the amount of weight I lift, and I strive for it in every workout. I would LOVE to have bigger muscles than I have right now. I've had women make comments that they don't want to get bulky. Women who express an interest in weight lifting, yet say they don't want to lift heavy weights, or lose weight, or build muscle; they just want to "tone". 

It's nobody's fault for thinking this way. Somewhere along the road 2 pound bright pink dumbbells were created and women were sold on the idea that those were "weights for women". We were told we should slave on an elliptical or treadmill to lose weight and never lift more than 10 pounds for fear our muscles will blow up and we'll be left looking like a body builder. So women often find themselves in a tough spot, both of which usually yield little results: 1) spend 1-2 hours on a cardio machine, because we've been lead to believe it's the key to fat loss or 2) introduce weights to our routine in amounts that are so small we might as well not be doing it.

I can vividly remember when I first started lifting weights in college and I was pretty pumped after a workout because I was able to increase the amount of weight I was lifting. And when I say I increased weight, I'm talking about going from 7.5 lb dumbbells to 10, which felt like a huge deal at the time. My upper body was extremely weak from years of believing I didn't need to be strong and my neuromuscular efficiency (the ability of the nervous system to recruit the right muscles to produce force while stabilizing the body's structure) was pretty much nonexistent. Anyway, I remember telling the guy I was dating at the time how excited I was that I lifted heavier than my previous workout. He looked right at me and said "You don't need to lift weights. What you need to do is cardio". Slap. In. The. Face. I felt so knocked down because I knew what he was saying without him having to actually come right out and say it: 1) cardio is for fat loss 2) you have fat to lose 3) women should do cardio 4) lifting weights is to get muscular 5) weights are for guys. For a second I really took what he said to heart and started to think he was right. But instead I got out of my own head and decided to stop caring about his opinion in relation to any and all things. We stopped dating shortly after :) 

Fast forward to the present. Now when I get these comments I just smile and nod, because I don't have the time to explain this to everyone and for some reason people don't want to believe me when I do. But here's the truth - and get ready because you might not like it.

1. Those sexy curves you want (the rounded shoulders that look great in a strapless dress, that arm definition in a sleeveless tank, or the firm, lifted booty) aren't going to come from slaving on a treadmill. To create curves you need convex and concave lines. To achieve those lines you need to a) lose fat and b) build muscle. There's no other way around it.

2. Cardio is not the most effective means of fat loss. Now I'm not saying you should cut out cardio entirely. But chances are the type, length, and amount of cardio you are doing is not the most efficient (I'll save that for a later blog topic). 

3. Lifting weights will not make you bulky. Women do not produce as much testosterone (the hormone responsible for increasing muscle size) as men. Those bodybuilder type women that you're afraid of looking like spend wayyyyy more than an hour in the gym. They spend hours upon hours in the gym, they work for YEARS to create that physique and most take hella supplements (or sometimes even anabolic steroids). It is not that easy to put on that much muscle. Take it from someone who is trying to get more rounded shoulders, bigger biceps, bigger hamstrings and bigger glutes (ME) - It ain't easy! I lift weights several times a week and yet people are still surprised to hear that I do because I, well.. don't look like a body builder.

4. Just because you have fat, doesn't mean you are fat. I feel like the whole body positivity movement (which is overall great by the way, sincerely), makes women afraid to admit they have fat to lose. So instead we've programmed ourselves to say "I don't need to lose weight, I just need to tone". Well, to "tone" (aka create definition aka lift weights aka lose fat) requires the loss of fat, period. And that's okay! I repeat just because you have fat, doesn't mean you are fat. You are beautiful.

5. Weightlifting increases your resting metabolic rate. Meaning once you introduce a weight lifting program to your regime, your body will burn more calories even when you are at rest. Score!

6. You do not need to do tons of cardio to cut excess fat before implementing a weight lifting regime. I have actually created a lifting program for someone before and when I checked in with her to ask how it was going, she said "I haven't been doing the weights. I feel like I need to do cardio to get rid of some fat before I start it". Noooooo!  Like I said in point 5, weights will make your body more efficient at burning fat.

7. Lastly, with or without excess fat, your body will not look healthy and fit without well-trained muscle tissue. That's as point blank as I can put it. 

The takeaway? Don't be afraid of weight lifting. Don't be afraid of building muscle. Don't be afraid to lift as heavy as you possibly can. Your future sexy, curvy, sculpted body will thank you!

Weigh in below: Have I convinced you to try a weight lifting program yet? If not, what's holding you back?


Disclaimer: I want to clarify this post is intended for beginners and intermediate weight lifters. Obviously you will get to a point where it is impossible to build muscle and cut fat at the same time. That is why serious body builders implement phases of cutting (calorie deficit to cut fat) and bulking (calorie surplus to build muscle). However, to avoid the risk of overcomplicating the issue, we will leave that out for now.