Despite having been thoroughly debunked, the myth that you can get “toned” persists in magazines, on fitness websites, and in the minds of people starting exercise regimes. If your goal is to get the look associated with being toned, you don’t need to obsess over doing hundreds of reps with tiny weights, but you do need to lose weight while building muscle. On the other hand, if you’re going for overall fitness, you just need to find the workout that works for you and do it, whether that’s mixed martial arts, boxing, or CrossFit.


Yes, toning is a myth

Muscles don’t go from soft to hard; they go from small to big. Where they are between those points depends on how much weight or resistance you’re using in your workouts, but whether you looked “toned” depends on how much body fat you’re carrying. So, if you are just getting started on an exercise program, it’s better to know now that just because you start working out doesn’t mean you’re going to emerge one day looking like a fitspo Instagram model.

Also, muscle doesn’t turn into fat when you stop working out, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

What’s true, then?

That exercise is enormously beneficial to all areas of our lives, which you also knew, but that it is not the answer to looking “toned”. Many distance runners often look quite cut without any sort of weightlifting. Rather, all their muscles are engaged in their sport and they are metabolic machines with just enough body fat to keep them alive.

Mellow out to lean out

Yes, there are some people who train constantly and have the physique you’d think of. There are others, however, for whom constant time in the gym and stringent eating still leaves them with a little extra around the middle. Cortisol is partly to blame. It’s an important hormone, giving us energy and helping us respond to stressful situations, but when it’s constantly pumping out, we suffer for it. Cortisol actually directs the body to move fat around in response to stressors, and because there are many cortisol receptors, you’ll find yourself unable to remove fat effectively if your stress is constantly indicating to those receptors that your needs their support.

The mechanism that regulates our cortisol production is complicated, but the most important thing you should know for fitness purposes is that exercise without enjoyment or with undue stress can up your cortisol level. The solution can be multi pronged, but requires you to first examine all your routines to see where you’re creating unnecessary stress.

If you need and love that daily dose of movement, go for it, but if you’re forcing yourself to the gym, boxing or martial arts centre when you’ve had only four hours of sleep and constantly depriving yourself of certain foods but still seeing some belly fat, you need to mellow out. Allow for rest and days when your workout is dancing with your toddler or playing with the dog, and find ways to reduce your daily stress level.