What women get wrong about “getting toned”

“I don’t want to be muscular, I just want to be toned.”

 I hear this in  my nightmares, both waking and sleeping. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time a woman said this to me, I could retire to a beach somewhere. This is my usual reaction when I hear it:

Here’s the deal: I know what you mean, and what you want. But I’m not sure YOU know what you mean, or what you want - because looking toned means having muscle. And to do that, you have to work very hard and eat properly. You do not get toned by restricting your diet and doing chronic cardio. That’s how you get burnt out, tired, frustrated, and potentially, the dreaded “skinny fat.” 

Most women who want to look lean and toned but are afraid of lifting weights or getting “too big” are most at risk for this skinny-fat look: they work very hard, spending hours on ellipticals and bikes and treadmills to burn calories, eating low fat and always feeling a little hungry to lose pounds, and perhaps they are fitting into smaller clothes and losing inches, but they still aren’t happy with the result in the mirror. Where are all those lean, sexy curves? Where’s that hint of quad or tricep muscle - why can’t I see it now that I’ve lost the fat?


Muscle, underneath our skin and the healthy layer of fat that everyone has, is what gives us that universally appealing “fit, toned” look. In fact, the more muscle you have, the better your shape is going to look even with a bit higher body fat, because it’s those smooth, curving muscles that give your body shape. It’s not the absence of size, it’s the addition of muscle that gives you that sought-after look.

You do not have to become a powerlifter and deadlift 3x your bodyweight to become toned. You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, with super low bodyfat and bulging veins. You don’t have to eat six meals a day. But you DO have to get over the completely false and outdated belief that lifting weights makes women bulky, large, and overly muscular, because the facts do not support this.

Getting toned (aka building muscle) involves creating new tissue, not simply melting away fat. In order to do that, you have to fuel your body properly; you have to eat enough (especially protein), you have to stress your body into adapting by growing stronger, and you have to recover properly. You can’t undereat, stress your body with chronic cardio, and never pick up a weight and expect muscle to magically appear!

This isn’t meant to be judgemental, this is really about understanding on a deep level what our goals actually are so we know how to achieve them in an efficient and healthy way. Women have been marketed to in a way that encourages constant dieting, with no clear end goal, and often unrealistic expectations that ensure we keep buying magazines, fat loss supplements, and stock programs - it promises an unlimited audience to keep making money, while we stay confused and unhappy. It’s also hard to promote what’s really needed for sustainable, enduring habit change: no one thinks “get more sleep, eat protein, and recover more” is very sexy, but it’s also what works. 

That’s why Rachel and I created the Muscle Science for Women course; with more than 25 years of experience in health, fitness, nutrition, and coaching between us, we wanted to create a comprehensive and interactive program that not only shows you how to fuel and workout properly to build muscle, but also explains WHY it has to be this way. We cover the science, the physiology, and the psychology of muscle growth so you are truly informed, and able to walk away from the program empowered with the knowledge to get after your goals on your own. We’re so excited to show it to you - will you be joining us? Sign up for the Muscle Science for Women program and learn with us.

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