We are constantly flooded with information about exercises that “work” to tone certain areas of the body. We are told how we can “get” a body that looks a certain way. It can provide motivation to exercise, (for a while anyway) believing you can change the look of your body. But, what does it mean to tone?
Spot reducing is the idea that you can exercise a certain part of your body and burn more fat in that area. Most people I talk to know this is a myth. But what many do not realize is that “toning” or “working” certain areas is just another name for spot reducing. It is doing an exercise to change the look of a certain part of your body.
The problem is, this is just not how our body works:
- Fat: Exercising a muscle does not make it burn the fat in that area. The muscle gets its fuel from what is stored in the muscle and the blood supplied to it. It does not use the fat around the muscle to fuel it during the exercise.
- Muscles: Whether the shape or “definition” of a muscle shows on the outside depends on many factors including the genetic make up of your muscles (this is the main one!), the intensity and consistency of your strength training, and the amount of body fat you have in that area. The fact is, we just don’t have that much control over how much muscle definition we see. Yes, you can work a muscle hard to strengthen it, but it does not mean you will see more definition.
- Skin: There is some evidence that strength training can help tighten the skin. While this is limited, it is the only evidence we have that you have any control over your skin. So do strength training for your skin if that motivates you, but don’t expect huge changes.
Then, what does happens when you “work” an area of the body?
You miss out on the chance to teach your muscles to work as a team. “Toning” or “sculpting” and bodybuilding style strength training mainly trains muscles individually, separating areas of the body. (ie: triceps exercises, thigh exercises, core exercises) In life, muscles work together.
For example, the core muscles stabilize and allow the hips and shoulders to be stronger for lifting and carrying and reaching. They do not work alone in daily life. Doing core work to “tone” your middle means these muscle miss out on doing their job of stabilizing while you move your arms and legs.
You are also likely to miss out on your motivation. Since “toning” is a marketing term, backed by many Photoshoped images, doing those exercises isn’t likely to give you the “results” you want. This is a sure-fire way to lower your motivation to exercise over time.
If you try to tone while doing cardio, you could be missing out on the stamina building benefits. You could also be putting more strain on your joints. Using weights during walking or aerobics strains the shoulders and does not “tone” the arms. Choose the type of cardio you do that feels best for your body, not because it will “work” certain areas.
Lets stop chasing the “toning” dream and missing out on the benefits that add so much to life. Do strength training to improve your function and keep your muscles, bones and motivation strong as you lose weight. Exercise in the way that lets your body know it is not “a problem to be fixed”, but a miracle to be celebrated!
Keep Moving, Be Well