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Toned: what it means and why CrossFit is not the enemy

By September 17, 2016November 19th, 2019No Comments

“I just want to be… you know, toned.”

We hear this a lot. All the time, mostly from women. And this statement is usually followed by the disclaimer: “—But I don’t want to get big. I don’t want to be bulky or anything.”

Which leads me to wonder, how do you think one gets toned?

What is toned, exactly?

Webster’s definition used the word “tone,” so I threw it out. Urban dictionary defined “toned” as “visible definition in muscles as a direct result of having low body fat and reasonably well formed and built muscles. Similar to being ‘ripped,’ only not to such an extent.”

But to what “extent,” exactly? There’s no exact definition for what women mean when they say “toned,” but I’m a girl, and I spend time around other ladies, and from what I can gather, they mean this: “I don’t want to look like a man. I want to have sleek, non-flabby arms while still maintaining my feminine physique. I want to have muscles, but not big ones.”

Okay. There’s nothing wrong with that—girls want to look like girls, and they want to get fit. That’s several steps up from the twig-fetish of the 60’s.

But there are some misconceptions pertaining to how women think they’ll get toned, and what will make them “bulky.” A lot of women shy away from CrossFit and weightlifting because they think it will make them look manly. But in fact, CrossFit can be a great step toward achieving that “toned” look.

I think the first issue is realizing what “toned” is and how we get there. I won’t get into sarcomeres and twitching fibers, but I’m sure any of the coaches would be happy to discuss those things with you if you’re interested. And I think the misconception is really a lot simpler than any of that would make it sound. Because, really, “toning” is this:

Losing fat, gaining muscle.

It is not knocking out a million reps at a light weight to create magical tiny muscles from fat. That’s not a thing. If you’re carrying excess fat, it doesn’t matter how many reps you do or what weight you’re lifting—you won’t be able to see much definition in your muscles. To see definition in your muscles, you have to lose excess fat, and the muscles have to grow.

Now that we know what getting toned really refers to, lets’s talk about how you get there.


Getting toned: heavy weights are your friend!

“But won’t lifting heavy make me… big?”

…No. This is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about weightlifting. Luckily, people are starting to address the myth, but it won’t hurt to say it again:

Heavy lifting alone will not turn you into the incredible Lady Hulk.

Body builders—or those dudes you see at the gym curling 90lbs with biceps as big as your thighs—work to get that big. And by “work,” I mean they eat a lot. And we’re not talking “I had three cheeseburgers and a pint of ice cream last night” lot of food (though that kind of diet might make you gain something). A typical bodybuilder’s breakfast might look like this: 7 eggs, a cup of oatmeal, some sort of meat, and fruit—followed by five or six more carefully-portioned meals throughout the day.

I’ll say it again: they eat a lot, and they eat very specific foods. It’s a science, and it takes a lot of discipline to put in the work that makes them look the way they do.

Consequently, it’s pretty much impossible to “bulk” without actively pursuing the goal. If you’re eating the correct foods with your specific goal in mind (whether that’s to maintain or lose some fat), heavy lifting will not make you bulky. You’d have to eat a heck of a lot of the right foods—plus, women have lower testosterone levels, which makes it even harder for us to gain muscle mass.


“So why should I lift heavy?”

Oh, so many reasons! First of all, heavy weights (as opposed to light weight done at high repetitions) provide the resistance needed to make your muscles grow and become stronger (and that’s when you’ll see them!).

Plus, increasing muscles mass increases your metabolic rate, so you’ll burn more calories while you’re resting.

And it’ll make you stronger, and real life will be easier… (when you’ve deadlifted two-hundred pounds, lugging a loaded backpack or dragging your suitcase off the baggage claim loop isn’t so exhausting.)

Plus, the more you challenge your body—with new movements, heavier weights, varied speeds—the more it will progress. Your muscles will grow to adapt, and your body will prepare for more work (thus, improving). CrossFit involves heavy lifting (a component of gaining muscle mass) and high-intensity workouts that help you burn fat. So combined with a proper eating plan, CrossFit can definitely get you on the road to that “toned” look.


Getting “toned,” a review:

  • To achieve that lean and strong look, you must lose fat and build muscle.
  • To lose fat, you must eat properly.
  • To build muscle, you must lift (heavy) weights.
  • Lifting heavy weights will not make you “bulky.”
  • Lifting heavy weights will make you stronger, healthier, more able, and more confident (that last one is just a guess, based on experience and testimony)
  • Being strong is sexy. (Again, a “guess” based on what I’ve seen and experienced.)
  • Getting toned means getting stronger. Getting stronger means lifting weights.

If you’re someone who’s avoided the weight rack for fear of becoming the Lady Hulk, I hope I’ve convinced you of the benefits it will bring you. If you’re someone who sticks to high reps with light weights because you “just want to get toned and not bulky,” I hope I’ve convinced you that you’ll see better results from adding some heavy lifting. Ask any of the ladies in our gym and they’ll tell you that CrossFit has been the best thing for bringing out the sexy in their arms and legs. Don’t be afraid of the weights. Love the weights. They are your friend.