I Just Want to Tone

By Sarah Leahy – April 14, 2021

The four little words that make trainers sigh: “I just want to tone.” Most often uttered in that initial consultation, and followed by, “I don’t want to get bulky.” 

Well, I’m here to let you in on a little secret about toning: if you want a visibly firmer body, that means you want to get stronger. The only way to tone is by losing fat and gaining muscle.

The fitness industry is ripe with misinformation and sketchy workout plans that promise to get you toned in 30 days or less by jumping around your living room. Often touted as the “best workouts for women,” they promise a magic formula for quick results with minimal effort. However, the most effective way to firm up your body and gain the confidence and physique you’re aiming for is good, old-fashioned strength training. This doesn’t mean that you need to turn into a powerlifter overnight, but it does mean that you shouldn’t fear the weight room.

If you’re in the beginning of your fitness journey, finding a trainer or program that has a mix of interval training for fat loss and strength training for firming up those muscles will help you reach those goals. For most, aiming for three days of strength training per week, with high-intensity interval training thrown in, will help you start seeing results. Like anything, the key is consistency. Sticking to three to five sets of 12-15 reps is a great starting point for weight training with dumbbells and kettlebells, with an increase in weight over time — those last two reps should be a challenge! If you’re not seeing results and are consistently putting in the work, don’t be afraid to grab that heavier weight.

“Won’t all that weight lifting make you bulky?” 

Here’s the thing about bulking up — it is almost impossible to achieve without actively trying. If you’re losing fat and building muscle, the result will be a leaner, more “toned” physique. There is a reason bodybuilders go through bulking and cutting phases and, in order to put on substantial, visible amounts of muscle, you have to eat for it — a lot. If you are a typical gym-goer sticking to a muscular hypertrophy training plan with bouts of interval training, you will not turn into the Incredible Hulk.

Not sure where to start? Make sure you ease yourself into a consistent schedule that helps you reach your goals in a sustainable way, and won’t burn you out. If you’re aiming for a firmer body, consistency over time is key. Start with the heaviest weights you can complete full sets with and build from there. Stick to cardio intervals you actually enjoy doing: sprints, bike or rowing Tabata, medicine ball or battle rope work, plyometrics. Build your workouts into your schedule, starting with three days a week, and make sure you get adequate rest and hydration. If you’re just starting out, you’ll see results quickly. If you plateau, that next step will be dialing in nutrition so your eating habits support your fitness goals.

So let’s flip the script on all this “tone” talk. Say it with me, “I want to get stronger.”


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