I’m on a roll lately with debunking fitness myths and misconceptions.  One of my favorite, nonsensical fitness myths is the concept of the toning workout.  There is no such thing.

The toning workout is promoted as having the ability to strengthen and “tone” muscles without adding bulk.  Right.  Those who don’t have a clue about the nature of muscle and don’t understand the definition of “muscle tone” have promoted the toning workout myth.

Muscle tone is the amount of tension or resistance needed to produce movement in a muscle, and is what allows us to move our bodies, keep good posture and hold a static position.  Changes in muscle tone allow us to move.  So when you bend your arm the biceps muscles shorten – which increases the tone of the muscle –and the triceps muscles lengthen – which decreases the tone. To produce movement the tone in all muscle groups involved must be balanced. 

“Tone” is just another word for “tension.”

So what does this have to do with how a muscle looks?  If you’re paying attention, you’ll know that the answer is, “Nothing.”

Along the way, the term muscle tone was used to refer to a lean appearance, where muscle was present, but not “bulging.”  Other equally mythical pursuits are muscle shaping or sculpting workouts, muscle definition workouts, muscle lengthening and cutting workouts.  These phrases come from bodybuilding, where the drugs – not the workouts – allow competitors to build muscle and reduce fat.

Hand-in-hand with these myths that have been pawned off as secrets, is the idea of spot-reducing.  Fitness hucksters popularized spot reducing approximately 20 years ago, and while it has been debunked, the notion of a toning workout is really just a new riff on this old, discredited fiction.

Anyone who tries to sell you on the idea that there are toning workouts should be avoided.


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