Ask Kos- Can I tone without going to the gym?

Akosua Akoto

Here to give you the facts. You make the decision.


Is it possible to achieve muscle definition in my upper body, specifically arms and back without going to the gym and lifting weights?


The concept of “toning” implies a regiment that creates more muscles and less fat giving the body a more “sculpted” or “defined” appearance.

Let’s start by briefly (and in the most BASIC way) reviewing the function and characteristic of muscles; specifically skeletal muscle which is responsible for supporting and powering voluntary movement including walking and lifting. Like all muscle types, skeletal muscles are always waiting, with various amounts of potential energy, to be stimulated. When stimulated, muscles contract or shorten to produce tension between its two ends. After contraction, the muscle returns to its natural length. The muscles also have the ability to elongate without tearing, then returning to its natural state. When we workout, the muscular skeletal system and nervous system have these intense conversations allowing for an intricate and constant cycle of sending signals, creating energy, releasing energy, contracting, relaxing, and generating various amounts of force. This puts strain on the muscles, creating tiny tears in the striated muscle tissue known as muscle fibers. This causes the fibers to swell, placing pressure on the nerve endings creating a bit of pain you know to be soreness. It is at this point that we need protein to repair and provide some TLC.  That stands for Tender Loving Care…nothing scientific and complicated.  To repair the muscles, the body engages in a cellular process that fuses some of the fibers together to create thicker muscle protein strands. When the rate of this protein synthesis is faster than the rate of the muscle breakdown, we get muscle growth. Tadda!! .

There is no one exercise or one regiment that stimulates muscle growth. Hypertrophy is a natural occurrence produced by tension, micro tears in the fibers, and intricate cycle of creating energy during activity.  So there is no such thing as a “toning exercise” despite what it might say in the “6 weeks to rock hard abs” magazine. A healthy and functionally fit person has strong, thick, muscles fibers existing at optimal length-tension relationships throughout the body….and some people just want show that off. So, let’s look at the image above. Let’s first note that the collection of thick muscle fibers we have created has nothing whatsoever to do with its placement amongst the other layers of tissue. To show these muscles, we simply need to remove the layers above it. Here are some layers you may NOT want to get rid of: your epidermis and dermis (assuming you like the skin you’re in), the retinacula cutis fibers (assuming you want your skin to have some mobility), the fascial membrane (assuming you prefer not to have things slimy and out of place), the layer of  hyaluronic acid (uummm we need healthy cells….so just hold onto this one too), the epimysium (cuz you know…no one like friction)….so that leaves us with fat. You’re face probably screwed up as the feeling of vengeance traveled through your body and soul. Relax, fat is actually a good thing…but more on that later. If we remove the fat, more of the muscle we have just built will show. So how do we go about this? NUTRITION. Basically just eat like a caveman, avoiding any foods that may contribute to the layer of fat covering the muscles you are working to ehance.  Just remember, more muscle + less fat= “toning” (ugh I hear that word at least 50 times a day). 

Here’s my suggestion:

  • A program that mixes light and heavy weights, calisthenics, core work, and functional movement all stimulate muscle growth. Nutrition determines what we carry in and on our bodies.
  • Coupling each workout with a daily 5-15 minute circuit of body weight exercises
  • Reduce or eliminate white flour, rice, pasta, sugar, fried, and processed foods
  • Don’t eat after 8:30pm when your body is returning to resting levels

Let me give you a clearer image. Imagine (or just google) a body builder and a power lifter. You will find that a body builder is more “defined” while a powerlifter, though big, may have a “softer” appearance. A body builder has that “ripped” appearance because judges want to see those muscles! Power lifters, are just as and sometimes stronger! Only in this sport judges don’t really care about the muscles, they want to see how much these guys or gals can lift or push! So what’s the difference? Bodybuilders train all day, every day utilizing regiments to challenge cardiovascular capacity, dynamic strength, and absolute strength. The MAJOR difference is diet. When training for competition, bodybuilders have intense and strict diet plans that are not always healthy and sustainable but help to strip the layers of fat resting on those muscles they are building all day everyday. In their off season, bodybuilders look like powerlifters. Why? Mostly because they have eased up on the diet and have therefore gained a bit of fat resting over those lovely muslces.  Just know that bodybuilding is a sport for a reason.  Please keep in mind that this (somewhat overrated) idea of “toned” does not automatically equate to strong ….or fit. I always refer to the man in one of my 15 minute abs clinic at a really high-in and image based gym. He had a gorgeous body. Abs looked pretty good of course…..and 8 minutes in, he was done. Such a let-down. He did great on the sit-ups but the other core exercises that targeted the not so obvious muscles…yea epic fail. Nothing wrong with a 6-pack. I certainly love mine….. when I have it. What I continue to stress is that the body’s health and function should always come first; right next to spirit’s wellbeing.

I won’t give you an exercise prescription nor will I give an estimate on how long it takes to lose fat. Everyone’s body has a different structure and therefore reacts and adapts differently. Stay active. Challenge your body in a safe and effective way. Do your research. Find a regiment of mixed modalities that works for you. And don’t eat anything if you must think twice about how it was made.  As always, here are a few articles to read up on

Muscle Tone – The TRUTH About Toning Up Your Body & How To Get Toned

How Do Muscles Grow? The Science of Muscle Growth

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