How to get Toned | The reality of the concept.

by Marianne  - June 11, 2013

Over recent months I have seen an increasing trend with in the fitness circle in belittling the desire or goal to be “toned” or vilifying the word “toned”.  The problem with doing that is you are alienating most of the general population by making them think their goal is somehow invalid, all because the fitness industry has become snobby about using its own jargon to define things.

How about, instead of taking a concept that *clearly* holds meaning  to many people out there (including me) and stamping on it, we take that concept and teach people HOW to get it.  Because, regardless of whether we agree on the term’s accuracy, it does describe a certain look or feeling that people wish to achieve for their body composition. And that is what matters.  

Besides,  aren’t fitness professionals in a job because people there is a demand for something?  Picture this for a conversation:

Trainer: “What are your current fitness goals?”

Potential Client: “I just want to lose a bit of weight and tone up”

Trainer: “Oh really? “TONE” Up?  Honey, there’s no such thing as being toned!”

Potential Client: “There isn’t?”

Trainer: “Nope, what you want is to build muscle and lose body fat ….”

Potential Client thinks: *Hmm, did they just tell me what I should want?*

… and they walk away and find a trainer who *will listen to them* and take their goal seriously without imposing their arrogance on them!

At the end of the day, we have to understand our client and we must understand the goals they are describing, as they are describing them and then help them achieve it. Along the way, we can help them learn how to get the toned appearance they want.  They may come in with the idea that they need to do a bunch of cardio to get that look, but they hired you for that, not to redefine their goals based on what jargon is cool that month! 

I IZ Toned!


Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts in action on this topic:


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  1. Whenever I see articles or websites that are supposed to show us how to get toned or look hot or sexy, I tend to steer clear of them.
    these are just gimmicks.
    Strong and healthy will make you look toned or firm or whatever they are labeling it now a days. Also training for a goal or a sport not a look should be the approach to exercise. Not looking cute in workout clothes. It baffles me to see all this crazy superficial stuff.

  2. The fitness industry is tied up in marketing and distorting language. When I first started out I felt totally lost what is HIIT? I thought ‘it doesn’t sound good’ and what is tabata? ‘sounds like a kind of middle eastern dish to me’ and ‘paleo must be a dinosaur epoch’ and that was before I tried to picture what the exercises meant. Took me a while to grasp fitspeak.

  3. I picked up a copy of People magazine when I was at an appointment. The cover story was something like, 20 Best Bodies. I checked them out (your body beats any of the women pictured in the magazine), most of the female bodies were ‘toned’. Slight musculature, some soft pudge, no striated muscle, not on the women. The men, on the other hand, they had real muscle definition. I could hear your words in my head. So glad to have your words to counteract mainstream cultures hoopla.

  4. Hi Marianne! Still bustin’ butt here and finally able to truly follow the program I purchased from you awhile back. So yeah, people use that ‘toned’ term so often, I think it stems from the 70s or 80s lol…with leg warmers and thonged leotards. I used to use that term ages ago, now, i use the word ‘firm’….I just want to be firm and I know that for me, firm means to have some muscle definition, whether it be in the delts, abs, or calves…heck anywhere there is definition on my body is awesome at my age as I’m working so hard for it, but I agree as well, that trainers should ask what ‘toned’ means to their client when asked about his or her goals. It would clear up much of the trainee’s confusion. This was certainly an interesting article, but then all your articles are a great read! Thanks for bringing them 🙂

  5. Marianne,

    I’ve heard “toned” meant having the “cut” look. I’ve heard that if you want to “get toned”, you need to strength train and cut back on cardio; the flip side to that was reading an article that said “getting toned” meant adding more cardio and less strength training to your routine. I’ve heard that “getting toned” meant to cut back on using weights and perform more functional bodyweight training. And I’ve, also, heard that getting a toned look requires you to change your diet but not necessarily in the healthiest way, with unhealthy detoxing or severely cutting back on necessary foods. I remember talking to a female friend a while back who was just starting to go to the gym; she told me “i don’t want to lift too much weight, I just want to get toned”. So you can imagine with all of these different meanings, people will be lost.

    1. Denise, I think you have just highlighted the difference between understanding that “being toned” is the end result, not the “how”. People will have VERY different *opinions* about how to get to a goal, but that is not the same as them all not understanding that being “toned” means having lower body fat to the point that it reveals a desired amount of muscle definition. How much definition (how toned) will be up for the individual to decide. In reading each one of the example you listed, you showed a *very* good example of another prevalent problem in the fitness circle … which is myths and un-evidenced opinions about how to safely and effectively lose body fat while preserving lean mass and over all health.

      In other words, you have given me more fuel to my fire about trying to call these trainers/gurus out for this mass of confusing information. Just because something worked for them, does not mean it will work for everyone else in the same way.

      The reality is that each one of the above ideas has *some* truth, but they will depend so much on individual factors, that no-one can predict how well the results will stick. Many trainers/gurus will opt for more extreme approaches to encourage radical “immediate” results so they can show transformations to sell themselves as good trainers. I bet if you followed up with those poor clients who detoxed on 800kcals per day they would have gained everything back with interest.

      The problem is that trainers/gurus think if they all sing from the same hymn book, they won’t stand out and won’t have anything unique to sell… so instead, they sell hype and they sell extremes and exaggerations (none of which represent reality) and they are competing with other trainers in the industry instead of working together to actually help people. Some of the confusion gets worse when someone tries to tell the truth and show people that keeping things simple is the best and most realistic approach, no matter what your goal.

      Clearly, I better shut up, before I end up writing a whole other blog.

      Thank you for writing your concerns and your experience. I value input like this and I think your feedback will resonate with many other readers. So, to anyone else, please feel free to chime in on this. I want to gather your opinions up because it is this exact method to getting business that I can’t stand!

      Hope this didn’t sound like a rant at you … just the way things are 🙂

      1. You are so right about the fitness industry! I was going to add my two cents about that but didn’t want to overwhelm the post with my comments (or venting). Thanks for your honest and wise response. I appreciate how real you are about fitness! Until next post…

  6. Hey Marianne! I’m not a personal trainer or certified to train but I am serious about my workouts and health. I try to do as much research as I can to understand about the body to reach my fitness goals. I totally understand what you are saying but at the same time I know that there are many people out there that have no clue on what to do as far as training and what it means to train. So when it comes to specific fitness terms, many of these terms are used loosely and with lack of understanding. When I talk to people who want to get “toned”, I always ask “okay, what does that mean to you?” and many have said “i’m not sure exactly”. I think the best thing would be to definitely not get self-righteous about terms but at the same time not allow for people to continue to “get toned” without understanding what that means. To be honest, because I’ve heard that word “toned” used in so many ways by so many fitness professionals, I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed mean. But I believe that understanding what it takes and finding out what people’s specific fitness goals are is more important than shooting them down for using the word “toned” or allowing them to get toned when they are not sure of what it means. I’ve met so many people that have worked hard sculpting their bodies with wonderful healthy transformations happening but they are unhappy because they believe that they are not “toned”. Anyhow, those are my two cents.. love your opinions and knowledge! You keep inspiring me! 🙂

    1. I understand 100% what you are saying. I have had many clients who have no clue what “toned” means to them. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my article about asking questions of the questioner to better define their goals. People need to know what the term means to a fitness professional, but for someone who is unsure of the exact definition of “toned”, then I ask *them* to lead me through their thought-process so I never impose my idea of their goal on them. Once I am sure we are on the same page (as to the result they are after), then I walk them through the process 🙂

      Of course, most people have the same idea of what toning is (the end result) but, as you say, the issue is in how to get there (the process); which is usually why they come to a trainer. When I ask someone what toning means to them, they often “don’t know” the process, but they do understand the look or end goal. Often, trainers will jump in on the “I dunno” as their chance to redefine the goal (the end result)… or put a new scary spin on it that was outside of the client’s expectations.

      I’d be interested to hear in what ways you have heard it used by fitness pros?

  7. Hi Marianne,

    I love this article, I must admit, I’ve become a bit snobbish especially about using the word “toned”. I think I read somewhere that people’s fitness ideas are a bit like a religion (mine best, yours rubbish!) I’ve become a bit like that, and sometimes I don’t like sharing my fitness ideas because people don’t understand them(probably because I don’t explain them properly).

    Thanks for writing this article it explains thing a lot better and I’ll forward to my friends.



      1. Oh no I think I have become a KB snob too. LOL not really but I do try sell it as I do your 500 rep workout at the YMCA where I work as a part time trainer in the States. I have your video queued on my phone to show and give you credit . I’m doing an experiment before I get into my heavy marathon training in August I want put on some muscle weight ( 500 rep KB 4 x week) so my running training does beat up my body as much and when you get into running for 3 hours the whole body is effected not just the legs hip etc.

  8. Hello Marianne,

    I am glad you wrote this post. For me the fitness industry is becoming very elitist and snobby.

    As a personal trainer myself I don’t really care about semantics – if someone wants to get toned then let them get toned. So what if we know it means loss of body fat and increase of muscle.

    I only care about what the client wants and what their goals are and you are right, we can educate them when they become our clients.

    I hope you write more posts like this.

    Great stuff.

    By the way, my best mate Ryan Quinn recommended your site to me. Well done. This website is great. keep up the great work.


  9. A great explanation though I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I had a multilevel cervical spinal fusion almost three months ago. At this point, I have only been cleared to walk and just got the ok to add inclines. I used to run and use kettlebells (was only up to 25 lbs). I was told that my running is done and I will have a permanent weight lifting restriction. I should also stay away from high impact activities. I guess I’m wondering where this leave me? Will I never be able to get “toned” or fit? Have you ever trained anyone with these limitations? Thanks.

    1. Michele,

      Firstly, let me say how sorry I am to read about your predicament :/ Did you break your neck?

      My Boyfriend is a DPT, so I mentioned your comment to him. His advice was: “I’d tell her to seek an in-person opinion. She’d need to be evaluated before any restrictions can be cleared. If she went through any PT, that would be a good place to start”

      I wish I could help you more, but I’m afraid I am just not qualified to give you any tips on this right now 🙁

      Did the Doctor say that you’d never be able to do any type of weight training again? What about Body weight training? Ask more questions and see if he is just giving general “worstcase scenario” advice or if he has recommendations or referrals he could make to help you rehab.

      1. Thanks for responding. I didn’t break my neck. I literally woke one morning with numbness in my right hand that wouldn’t go away. I didn’t really have any pain and was exercising 4-5 times per week until the first neurosurgeon told me to stop. My MRI showed 3 disc herniations with severe spinal cord compression at C5-6 (spinal canal at that level was 5mm) and to a lesser extent C4-5 and C6-7. Basically, I was told that I was crushing my spine.

        Anyways, I asked my physical therapist a ton of questions the last time I was there. She said that I’m so early in the healing process and still wearing a bone growth stimulator, so of course I have many restrictions. She said in the future, I should be able to work with 25 lb weights, possibly up to 30. She wouldn’t advise overhead work and said I will always have to be mindful of my spine. She said something like Insanity will never be good for me due to such high impact movements but I should be able to do a lot with some modifications. She also wants me to verify this with my doctor who performed the surgery. I feel much better about things as long as I know there is light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

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