People have very different goals when it comes to exercise and fitness.
Some people want to get big and muscular, others want to focus on just losing some pounds – whereas others still are most concerned with something commonly known as ‘toning’.
In the latter case, this basically means that they want to develop visible muscles, which have a nice shape, without appearing too bulky.
So, with this goal in mind, it would obviously make sense to search out toning exercises that they can do in order to sculpt and tone the relevant muscles.
Well, if this one of your main fitness goals, then I have some bad news…
There are no such thing as toning exercises.
Yup, they don’t exist. Sorry.
Now I’m being a bit facetious here, since you can achieve that ‘toned’ look that you’re after, but it won’t be a specific toning exercise that gets you there. I can promise you that much…
Let me explain.
Why You Can’t Actually Tone Your Muscles
To explain why muscle toning is a bit of a myth – albeit a pretty persistent one – it’ll help to first define what goes into creating that ‘toned’ look.
When you really break it down, having toned muscles requires 2 things: having muscles that are reasonably developed and body fat that’s low enough so that they are visible.
That’s really it.
You see, when it comes to the first part of the equation (muscle development), you can’t really do anything to change the actual shape of a muscle as you develop it.
That is, you can’t choose to make it longer, or shorter, or otherwise change any aspect of its fundamental shape.
Instead, your muscles can only get bigger (or smaller) through a process known as muscle hypertrophy.
This is because a muscle’s length and overall shape is determined by its specific insertions into your joints, and the length of your tendons attaching the muscle to the surrounding bone.
Basically, to be clear, you only have control over the size of your muscles, not their specific shape.
The latter part comes down to genetics, which is why people often have a different overall look, even with the same level of muscle development and body fat.
Now the second factor that you can control is body fat – and in many cases it is this that really changes your muscles from looking bulky to looking toned.
When you see people with bulging, bulky muscles, more often than not, they are also carrying higher levels of body fat.
Therefore, the second component of achieving that toned look, after sufficiently building up your muscles, is to get down to an appropriate level of body fat so that they are visible.
This, of course, comes down to energy balance (as I’ve discussed before), which is often best achieved by controlling your diet rather than with any specific set of exercises.
And as I’ve mentioned in another article, you can’t spot reduce body fat – so when you do go about losing fat it needs to happen across your entire body, not just a specific area.
How To Really Achieve That ‘Toned’ Look You’re After
So now that we’ve clarified what goes into creating that toned look (sufficient muscle development and low enough levels of body fat), let’s move onto specifically how you can achieve it.
First of all, I can tell you right now that you can do all the classic toning exercises in the world until your face turns blue and not get much out of it.
They typically aren’t very effective at either building muscle or losing fat, which are the 2 required components of achieving that toned look.
So instead of wasting your time trying to find the best toning exercises, you should follow a progressive overload based strength training program, designed to build muscle properly.
Then, in order to take care of the fat loss part, you should focus primarily on your diet, by ensuring that you’re eating at an appropriate caloric deficit (also known as ‘cutting’).
There are many different dieting approaches that you can take, but we recommend ‘flexible dieting’, since it allows you to still eat the foods you enjoy most while losing weight in a controlled, reliable way.
But let me be clear, achieving that toned look you want is NEVER going to be the result of doing some random toning exercise in isolation.
Instead, it is always going to be a natural consequence of both properly developing your muscles and getting lean enough so that they are clearly visible without the bulk.