It can be hard to get your head around spot-toning. Like too many things in the fitness world, its marketing has gotten a little out of control.
Too much of a good thing is never good, and when it comes to sites (and especially businesses) claiming miracle results through minimum effort you should always take a moment to consider whether or not you’re being given the full information.
What we hear too often is that spot-toning is the thing to do before “beach season.” We hear that some of the more rigorous gym activities (cardio, cardio,cardio!) can be skipped, especially if your main concern is just certain “trouble spots.” Want tight abs, but not necessarily a smaller bottom and chest? Some websites will have you thinking that this is a reasonable request. Spot-toning was never near as popular as it is now until this myth got started.
Now it sounds too easy to pass up!
Think of it this way: yes, you can absolutely shape and strengthen your muscles with targeted exercise. If you want stronger calves you can work a Stairmaster; if you want stronger arms you can lift weights. Just think of those muscles as a smooth, rock-hard floor. If you don’t exercise and watch your eating habits, however, you could have a six-pack and no one would be able to see it under the layer of fat that remains. It’s like putting a thick shag carpet over a floor—if you don’t tell them, no one will have any idea what’s underneath.
Muscles are localized. You really can achieve a lot in terms of strength and muscle mass if you commit to training regularly over an extended period of time. But if you want that effort to show, you’ll have to push yourself to be careful about your eating habits and cardio work-outs as well.
Try this: If you’re concerned about trouble spots, then by all means work to incorporate strength-training workouts into your fitness routine. Build up and tone those muscles, wherever you’d like. Just make sure that you’re also keeping up with high-intensity interval training. That means cardio intervals—workouts that make you “feel the burn”—running, jumping, playing most sports…
Starting a Spot-Toning Exercise Routine
Spot-toning is far from the simple solution it’s claimed to be on many sites. But that doesn’t make it any less important! While it’s true that your toned muscles will be invisible to other people without your work to maintain a healthy weight, you should still keep in mind that “toned” means more than just attractive. Toned muscles are strong ones…
…and you should aspire to be strong even when no one is watching.
To learn how to build up that strength (and—when paired with cardio and healthy eating habits—slim down), here are a few great toning exercises by certified personal trainer Chris Freytag.
Before you get going:
- Ask yourself: what is my “trouble spot”? In other words, what body parts are you looking to strengthen? (If you’re interested in building up strength, choose a spot that you wish had more power, like your arms for heavy lifting. If you’re here for the aesthetics, think about the parts of your body that you wish were more defined, like your abs).
- Once you’ve chosen, learn the appropriate toning exercises and do then three times a week. It’s important that you keep up with this, as you won’t see results from a once-a-week plan.
- Remember: You are going to develop stronger muscles, which is a good thing. If, however, you want to have any hope of showing off those muscles to the world, you’re going to have to combine these toning exercises with a cardio workout 5-6 times every week.
Tone your Arms
For strong, firm arm muscles, try the ¾ push-up or full push-up: 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
1. The ¾ push-up:
Lie down on the ground and position your hands directly under your shoulders. Fully extend your arms, and keep your palms flat and fingers forward as you rest your knees on the floor. Lower your chest down by bending at the elbows, but don’t allow yourself to get closer than about two inches to the floor. Push yourself back up, and repeat.
2. The full push-up:
This is very similar to the ¾ push-up, but a bit more of difficult. You should still hold your hands directly under your shoulders with your arms extended and your fingers facing forward. You still want to bend your arms at the elbows and lower your chest to about 2 inches above the floor. However, you do not want your knees to rest on the floor. Instead, keep your back and legs completely straight throughout the entire exercise.
3. Side plank with arm sweep:
Lie down on your left side—keep your left leg bent, and the right one stretched out. Hold your head and neck up by propping yourself up a bit on your left elbow. Take a dumbbell in your right hand and hold this arm out straight in front of you—your arm should be parallel to the floor, but shouldn’t touch it. Squeeze your shoulder blades and lift the weight towards the sky in an ark. Then slowly lower your arm back down to the ground without letting it rest or bend. Repeat this 10-15 times, then switch to the other side.
Tone your Stomach
1. Stomach crunch:
This move might be familiar to you from high school gym. Lie down with your back to the floor, and bend your knees. You can choose to put your hands behind your neck, ears, or crossed over your chest, but what matters is that you not believe this to be an exercise in yanking yourself up with your arms. Rather, you must pick yourself up using your stomach muscles, rising no more than 3-4 inches above the floor before slowly lowering back down to the ground. Repeat two sets of about 15-24 repetitions.
Lie down with your back to the ground, your legs extended, and your arms stretching up towards the ceiling. Try to “roll” yourself up slowly—pull in your abs, tuck in your chin, lift your arms up, and roll your head, shoulders, and chest up as far as you’re able.
Be sure to reach towards your feet with your hands, and keep your legs straight on the floor throughout the exercise. Roll back down as slowly as you can, and then repeat the exercise 5-8 times.
Tone your Legs
The first step is to make sure you are in an ideal plank position, keeping in mind that any shortcuts might affect how much your muscles are able to get out of the exercise. Lie down on your stomach with your arms straight ahead. Your legs should be stretched out straight behind you, with your feet flexed and yet not resting on the floor. Bend your right leg to the side and slowly bring your knee up towards your right elbow. Hold this position for a moment before returning your right leg to its initial position. Then repeat the action with your left leg. All in all, keeping in mind that you should be switching legs after each turn, you should aim to do about 20 repetitions.
2. Windshield wiper:
If it helps, you can think of this as a very close cousin to the Climber exercise. Rather than alternating legs, though, you’re keeping them together throughout. Lie down with your back to the floor and your arms out to the sides. Your legs should be together and straight up, so that your body will look like an “L” or 90-degree angle. Taking your time to strain the muscles and feel it work, slowly bring your legs down to the right (so that they are parallel to the floor without touching it). Don’t let your shoulders leave the floor. After a moment, return your legs to the middle before repeating the exercise on the left. You should aim for about 20 reps, keeping in mind that you’ll be changing the direction of your legs after each one.
Toning: Motivation and Benefits
Knowing what you know now about tonight (in other words, knowing that it’s a lot more effort than has been advertised), it might be tempting to just back out. Toning is hard work, and every time you take out your resistance band or exercise mat you’re going to remember the burn. But here’s something to keep in mind.
Toning is not going to get you “bikini ready” in three weeks flat. It’s not going to make your jeans fit better or your scale numbers to zoom down into your ideal weight. But despite what you may not be able to see, that burn you feel from these exercises is the sign that you are working your muscles hard.
It means that you’re actually using them on a regular basis as they were intended to be used.
Whether or not you pair your toning exercises with a good sweat-inducing cardio routine, you can know one thing for sure: you are getting stronger.