Fitness Advice & Exercise Ideas

What ‘Toned’ Really Means and How to Achieve It

What ‘Toned’ Really Means and How to Achieve It

If you’re getting into weight training or you’ve been going to the gym for a while, I’m certain you’ve heard the word ‘toned’. When I ask people what their goal is, more often than not it’s something along the lines of ‘get toned’ or ‘tone-up’.

But, do these phrases actually mean what people think? Let’s discuss…

The definition of toned

Because of the popularity of this word in this sense, it has actually become a new dictionary definition. Looking at it from a clinical perspective, “Muscle tone is traditionally defined as the tension in the relaxed muscle…” (1).

There’s even confusion amongst the meaning in medical research, Muscle tone is arguably one of the most commonly used and least commonly defined notions in studies of movement, posture, and movement disorders…The lack of a clear and unambiguous definition for muscle tone has resulted in much misunderstanding in the literature and the emergence of various devices that claim to measure muscle tone objectively.” (2).

However more commonly, muscle tone is assessed by examining its response to passive stretch based on movement assessment. A lack of motor neurons firing due would mean lack of muscle tone, such as after a stroke (3).

What the meaning is more commonly known as

It’s likely that you’re more familiar with the word toned being associated with visible muscle definition. A further problem with this is that many are led to believe (through no fault of their own) that there’s a certain way to get toned, which doesn’t involve muscle gain.

There are many people in the fitness industry who still believe that light weights and high reps are the way to get visible muscle definition when that’s simply not true.

The toned look that many of us desire is simply an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in fat so we can see that muscle. An increase in muscle mass is required and that is achieved with adequate training.

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What you need to know about muscle gain

First and foremost, weight training (or more specifically, training with heavy weights,) will not make you bulky.

I know the image coming to mind is something of the likes of a female physique athlete. But think about it, someone who is a competitive female bodybuilder has been training for a long time, consistently, and works hard to get that muscle.

There may also be extra additions to their supplement intake, if you know what I mean…

Key Takeaways

  • You need resistance training rather than cardio for visible muscle definition as well as fat loss.
  • Muscle definition is achieved by adequately challenging the muscles.
  • You’re better off aiming for more gym floor time as your average gym class is more cardio based.

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1 – Campbell W.W., Barohn R.J. DeJong’s The Neurologic Examination. 7th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; Philadelphia, PA, USA: 2019. Muscle Tone; pp. 467–474.

2 – Mark L. Latash, Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, in Biomechanics and Motor Control, 2016

3 – A.A. Ramahi, … M. Devereaux, in Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences (Second Edition), 2014

By Kim

Hi, I'm Kim! I'm a Fitness & Nutrition Coach from the UK and owner of Barefaced Fitness.

I help women achieve their goals through effective training methods and creating healthy balanced diets. I offer a strong focus on strength, movement and simplified nutrition for a healthier lifestyle.