“I want to ‘tone up.’” This is one of the most common things we hear at the Un-Gym, our personal training studio in Lancaster, PA. “I don’t want to get ‘bulky,’ though,” is the inevitable follow-up. This is understandable–most people, especially women, don’t want to look like a hulking bodybuilder. They just want to look “fit.”

Creating a “toned” body means losing fat to lean out and gaining muscle in order to improve your body shape.

The qualifier statement that most people add–“I don’t want to get ‘bulky,’ though”–stems from two common misconceptions about lifting weights and toning up:

  1. “Lifting weights makes you big and “bulky.”
  2. “You should do 20 to 25 reps of each exercise to tone up and burn fat.”

Misconception: “Lifting weights makes you big and ‘bulky.’”
Reality: Lifting weights and adding muscle helps get lean and stay lean.
Adding muscle helps you build a bigger fat-burning furnace. Muscle burns calories, even when you’re at rest. Adding a few pounds of muscle boosts your metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day, even as you sleep. Fat, on the other hand, stores calories, and even worse, produces hormones that raise inflammation and increase your stress level.

*Note: We’re not talking about adding the amount of muscle mass to make you a bodybuilder–we’re talking about adding the muscle mass that you should have but don’t due to years of inactivity and/or yo-yo dieting. We’re talking about adding the muscle mass required to make you look fit and toned.

Muscle provides shape to your body and the definition that defines a “toned” look.
Lifting weights to build muscle redirects calories that would be going to your fat stores into the repair, recovery, and building processes. Calories that would be going straight to your butt or gut get used instead to build your bigger fat-burning furnace.

In reality, it’s fat that make you big and bulky–not muscle.

Misconception: “You should do 20 to 25 reps of each exercise to tone up and burn fat.”
Reality: Doing sets of 20 to 25 reps primarily builds muscular endurance and is ineffective for toning up and burning fat.

To build muscle to get the “tone,” do sets of compound movement where you reach momentary muscle failure in the range of 6 to 12 reps. Momentary muscle failure  means pushing yourself until you can’t do another rep while maintaining good form. A compound movement is one that involves multiple muscles and joints, such as the bench press, squat, and lat pulldown. Choose a weight that causes you to reach momentary muscle failure in the range of 6 to 12 reps. If you can do more than 12 reps, go heavier on your next set. If you can only do less than 6 reps, go lighter on the next set until you find the right weight. Research shows that 6 to 12 reps is the ideal range for hypertrophy–a fancy term for muscle growth.

To burn fat, do cardio. Build your fat-burning furnace with weight lifting. Fire your fat-burning furnace up with cardio. Do your cardio after hitting the weights. Lifting uses up the sugar in your blood, so when you do cardio after the weights, you body has to turn to its fat stores for energy. Many people make the mistake of doing cardio and then weights, but cardio is much more effective at burning fat when you do it hitting the weights.

Eat To Tone Up
There’s a saying in the fitness industry, “Abs are made in the kitchen,”–meaning that what you eat determines whether you’ll have a six-pack or a pot belly. You can have strong ab muscles, but if they’re covered in a layer of fat, you’ll never see them. The same is true for the rest of your body.  You can have nice toned muscles, but if you have a layer of fat covering them, you will never see them. You won’t have that toned look you are looking for. If you want a fit, toned body, you have to eat in way that supports that goal.

Have a “tone up” nutrition plan.

  • know what you are eating and why
  • having a plan makes it less likely you will make poor decisions because you are “starving”
  • having a plan in place makes it more likely you will stay on the right path when your willpower is zapped.  You already know what to do, so you just follow through on it, rather than being pulled along by hunger or whims.
  • having a plan avoids panic mode because you know that you will be eating something nourishing soon and won’t die if you don’t eat whatever is in sight in the next 5 minutes.

The basics of your “tone up” nutrition plan should include the following elements:

  • three main meals that include lean protein, slow-digesting high-fiber carbs, vegetables, and fruit
  • 2-3 fueling snacks to keep your metabolism revved up and to prevent hunger (5-6 total fuelings a day spaced 2-1/2 to 3 hours apart
  • a focus on protein at each meal and snack.  Protein aids in recovery and repair from your workouts and provides the building blocks to your bigger fat-burning furnace.
  • a focus on fiber.  Fiber makes you feel full and  blocks the absorption of fat and cholesterol.

It’s also helpful to have a snack before and right after each workout. For example, an English muffin and peanut butter make for a great power snack that can fuel your workout. Have a protein shake after your workout to start the recovery process and give your body the building blocks it needs to build your toned muscles.

Building muscle doesn’t mean “bulking up.” Instead, tone up by losing fat while giving your body definition by strengthening your muscles. From weight lifting to cardio exercises, keep in mind that you need a routine that addresses your individual needs.

Everyone’s body is unique, so there is no one workout that produces specific results for everyone looking to tone up. Contact Cause and Effects Fitness for your complimentary consultation to start a fitness program designed specifically to fit your needs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top