The truth about toning up

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the statement, “I just want to tone up”, I would be a very rich woman. I may have even said it myself once or twice, even though I know better.

What most people think of when they hear the term “toned body” is a lean, healthy, fit looking body with some muscle definition showing through.


The truth is you cannot “tone” a muscle and you certainly cannot “tone” fat.

  • you can build muscle, you can lose muscle or you can maintain your current muscle size.
  • you cannot lengthen a muscle, despite claims you may have heard. It’s just not physically possible.
  • an under-used muscle is not floppy or saggy. It is simply smaller and weaker than a trained muscle.
  • you cannot “tone” fat. You can increase body fat, you can lose body fat, or it can stay the same.

fat and muscle

For most people to “tone up”, they need to do one or both of these 2 things….

1. Build some muscle

2. Lose some body fat.


1. The best way to build muscle is to lift weights or your body weight, to an extent that it is outside your comfort zone and feels hard.

Most likely you will feel some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness for the next day or two after your session. (DOMS)


A common myth is that training with light weights and performing high repetitions is the answer to toning. This is sometimes referred to as the pink dumbbell myth. This type of training can build muscle, however it will take much longer to get to that “really hard” phase.

Lifting heavier weights with less repetitions of around 8 – 12 would be ideal. Not to mention you get the job done in much less time.



2. To lose body fat, you need to be in calorie deficit. 7000 calories = approx. 1kg.

You can achieve this by


If you are happy with your muscle size and strength and you simply want to reduce the amount of body fat that covers those muscles, you could concentrate on losing body fat via a calorie deficit.

I would still recommend performing some resistance work to maintain your muscles and not lose them. Oh and don’t forget that resistance training can be a great way to help you burn off extra calories.


If you are already quite lean but would like more shape, then I would recommend adding some muscle strength and size via resistance training 3 – 6 times per week.

** There are many forms of resistance training. It does not have to mean lifting weights in a gym.

Or maybe you could benefit from a little bit of both.

However please know that that you are working on 2 separate parts of your body.

Reducing body fat and increasing or maintaining muscle size.

Please view this simple video demonstration on muscle and fat

*** oh and yes, I even use the word “tone”, even though I know better.

One important last note…

You cannot lose fat from one particular area of your body, often known as “spot reducing”.

Your body and your genetics determine where the body fat will come from and in what order. (thanks Mum and Dad)


Toning up = building or maintaining some muscle and / or  losing some body fat.


Related posts 

ditch the diets change habits instead

Chriss TinslayChriss Tinslay has been a fitness and weight loss coach for 20+ years.

She coaches regular people how to reach and maintain their healthy, happy weight and shape by making one small habit change at a time.

Chriss doesn’t believe in strict diets, excessive exercise or ALL or NOTHING approaches. She believes in making slow and sustainable progress for long term success.

She runs Healthy, Happy Habits – a revolutionary new coaching program that teaches you how to listen and trust in your own body and internal voice again.

When Chriss is not teaching fitness and weight loss, you can find her hanging out with her family, listening to 80’s music or laughing out loud to Kath n Kim re-runs