Are you trying to tone and define your muscles? Then shove an eye in your fork. (But read this before you do.)

I never wanted to be a bodybuilder. Given the choice to look like the Doryphoros or Ronnie Coleman, I'm picking the the Doryphoros every time.

I'm guessing you're a Doryphoros, too. Otherwise, you're like a Jew dabbing the Nazi salute during one of Hitler's speeches.

There's nothing wrong with not wanting to look like a bodybuilder. I get the sentiment — wanting to be lean, toned, and defined rather than big, bulbous, and bulky.

But the sentiment often sours because the best way to get more toned and defined is to not train for tone or definition.

Don't get me wrong. You can become more toned and defined. But you can't train for tone or definition.

See the difference?

Trick question.

You don't… hopefully.

Otherwise, the rest of the words on this page have no purpose. A fate even less glamorous than that of Butter Robot.

rick and morty butter robot

Imagine someone toned and defined

There are only two things you CAN do if you want to look better naked. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Forget about the act of toning and defining. Forget about those words as they relate to any form of training. Instead, just think of them as they relate to a physical state of being. Meaning, think about someone you'd be able to point to and say, “That dude/tte is toned and defined.”

Like, uhhh,  Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

Because, well, because.

brad pitt fight club lean and defined body

It's obvious why everyone points towards Fight Club Pitt in this situation. He doesn't have big and bulky bodybuilder muscles. He has smaller muscles, but they're more toned and defined. Duh.

This logic leads you to believe that if you train one way you'll build big and bulky muscles, but, if you train another way, you'll build lean and defined muscles.

Right?

Good.

Glad that's established.

I have a job for you, though.

Stop thinking that.

That's not how it works.

A model of your body composition

Imagine there being four things in front of you: a two foot long two inch PVC pipe, a raw steak, a jar of jelly, and some plastic wrap.

Imagine wrapping the steak around the PVC pipe and securing it in place with the plastic wrap. Now imagine injecting the jelly in between the plastic wrap and the steak.

body composition model

This is model of your bone, your muscle, your body fat, and your skin. It's not perfect, but it works.

  • PVC is bone – yellow
  • Steak is muscle – red
  • Jelly is fat – blue
  • Plastic wrap is skin – gray

These four things build your physique into what it is. Meaning, if you want to change your physique, these are the four variables in play.

I hope it goes without saying: we're not going to fuck with the bone or the skin. The secret to looking better naked isn't losing half your bone density or shedding your skin. In other words, pulling the Phillip Jacobs is out of the question.

This leaves your muscle mass and your body fat, which is good. You have more control over them (compared to bone and skin), and they also have a bigger visual impact.

Your physique is…

Your physique is a product of muscle mass and body fat, and here's where things'll get twisty for you toned and defined hopefuls.

There's no such thing as a lean, toned, and defined muscle. There's just… muscle. And a muscle can either be bigger than it currently is, or smaller than it currently is. That's about all it can be.

Lemme say that again.

You can't make a muscle more toned and defined, only bigger or smaller. Nothing is going to make a muscle grow “tone and defined” as opposed to “big and bulky.”

The muscle will just… grow.

Which begs the question:

If a muscle can't be toned or defined, how do you look get a toned and defined look?

How to look toned and defined

What creates a “toned and defined” look is a byproduct of the two variables mentioned: muscle mass and body fat. You need a low body fat and a decently sized muscle.

So look at, say, Victoria Secret models. They don't have a lot of body fat, which makes them ripe for a toned and defined look. The less body fat you have, the less jelly you have between the steak and the plastic wrap, which means the steak itself is a lot more visible.

Problem being, Victoria Secret models don't have a lot of muscle mass. So they end up just looking… thin.

Now look at, say, heavyweight powerlifters or offseason bodybuilders.They have a bunch of muscle, which also makes them ripe for a toned and defined look.

Problem being, they have a bunch of body fat. So they end up just looking… thick.

Tone and definition are a byproduct of having ENOUGH muscle mass and NOT ENOUGH body fat. This is why, earlier, I said there are only two things you can do if you want to look better naked.

You can build muscle.

You can lose fat.

The vast majority of people wanting to look more toned and defined need to do both.

The fear of building muscle

Some people in the wannabe-toned-and-defined club are anti-muscle. They're afraid they'll get too big and bulky.

But wanting to be more toned and defined without wanting to build muscle makes about as much sense as saying, “I don't want to smell like wet garbage, but I want to live in the dumpster behind the Chinese takeout place.”

Fact of the matter is:

First, it takes a long time to build muscle. It won't happen overnight. You won't look in the mirror one morning and be 100 pounds heavier than you were the night before.

Second, the Doryphoros and Ronnie Coleman are more similar than different. The difference is simply a matter of gradients — warm muscle versus hot muscle.

The bad part about toning 

How can training for tone and definition be a bad thing, then? I mean, if I need to build muscle and I need to lose fat, won't training for tone and definition still help? I guess it won't “shape” my muscles in any particular way, but what's your vendetta against training for tone and definition?

Ah, yes. Well… if you're going to go down that rabbit hole, I'm assuming you believe that training for tone and definition is going to do two things for you.

  • It'll build muscle.
  • It'll burn the fat by the muscle, tighten up the area.

But you can't spot reduce body fat. See more on this here. So throw all that “tightening” and “firming” business out of the window.

I can even zoom out and go more general: the type of training usually prescribed as “toning” and “defining” training (low load, high reps) isn't going to burn any fat.

Unfortunately, feeling the burn doesn't always correlate to “burning” fat. Likewise, feeling the burn doesn't always correlate to building muscle.

In other words, training for tone and definition don't do much of anything. Which is why this thing could have ended long ago when I wrote: the best way to get more toned and defined is to not train for tone or definition.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

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