The Muscle Tone Myth

In General, Movement by Mikki Reilly7 Comments

I taught a circuit class for the Body Electric in Santa Barbara yesterday, and after the class, one of the women in the group asked if it was possible to tone-up the back of her arms. I understood that she wanted firmer, more defined looking arms, but is that what “muscle tone” really means?

According to Wikipedia, “muscle tone” is defined as “the continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles.” So the word tone is used to describe the state of your muscles. When you are at rest, your skeletal muscles never completely relax; some muscle fibers are always slightly contracted and ready for action. It is this activity or tone that allows you to maintain good posture.

Over the years, however, the word tone has been redefined to refer to how your muscles appear. In this context, toned implies leanness in the body, low levels of body fat, and noticeable muscle definition and shape.

So to develop muscle tone, you need to build muscle. And to build muscle you have to lift heavy weights to force your muscles to grow. You also need to burn body fat so that your muscles show up well and appear hard and defined.

One other point with regard to the question about toning up the arms is that the question implies that you can spot train. Instead of focusing on individual body parts, you should work the whole body with full body exercises and do cardio to bring about changes to your entire body.

Because even if you work your triceps, that isn’t going to get rid of the fat so that you can see that muscle, or any muscle. To develop muscle tone, you should reduce your calories, lift heavy weights and do cardio. Then you can be the proud owner of a well-toned and attractive muscular body.


  1. There are certainly a lot of people who still believe it’s possible to spot-train, instead of working their entire bodies to make what they WANT to stand out, actually stand out.

  2. Thank you. I keep hearing that I’m looked “toned” and couldn’t quite define what the word means. Kept forgetting to ask anyone. So toned means muscles and lean.. cool.

  3. There’s a pill I can take instead, right ? Instead of all this “exercise” and “eating healthy” stuff people keep preaching to me ?? Can I get that pill at Wal-Mart ?

  4. LOL…I assume that Kristin is joking, but the sad thing is that so many people believe that. They just want to pop the magic pill and have all of their worries go away. It’s sad really…

  5. Yes, Kristin is joking. She knows there’s no magic pill or elixir that will give you muscle tone. But I have no doubt that she’d really like to find one. 🙂

  6. Too often I meet someone who doesn’t work out or exercise in any way. But if they come to know during the course of a conversation that I have a fitness program (running/gym/squash) cracks a joke or a comment about a six-pack. Why does it have to boil down to just one bady part?

  7. thank you thank you thank you.

    from a woman who is odd enough that she gets mildly miffed when referred to as toned (by a man). it rings oddly condescending to me.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.