Everything You Need To Know About Toning Up! (From Exercise To Diet To Supplements)
You’ve often heard people say they want to get “toned”. You’ve probably even thought or said it yourself.
If you ask people how they plan to get toned, chances are you’ll hear 2 words:
Diet and Exercise.
Getting toned is not just about working the muscle. You also have to reduce your level of body fat to bring out definition.
So if you’re looking to tone up, in this guide we’ll show you what the best toning exercises are along with the right foods to eat to tone up faster.
Let’s get into it!
A muscle toning program includes the following 3 components:
1. Resistance Training
A toned muscle is a developed muscle. In order to develop muscle, you have to apply resistance to it. And the best approach is with resistance training.
There are 3 good reasons why resistance training is the most effective method for toning your muscles:
- You can adjust the level of resistance to your existing strength
- You are training in a controlled environment
- You have complete control of the exercise
A muscle toning program uses resistance training to shape your muscles; it will not make you big. Resistance is not all about the weight you lift. You can increase resistance simply by increasing the number of reps and sets even if you are using lighter weight.
You can also adjust the angle and range of motion of each exercise to target specific areas. Think of barbells and dumbbells as your tools and your body as the canvass.
Resistance training has also been proven to increase your metabolic rate. The faster your metabolism, the more fat you will burn.
If resistance training works to develop and shape muscles, proper nutrition ensures all your hard work will is revealed.
In a muscle toning program, nutrition has a 3-fold purpose:
- Provide you with energy for your workouts
- Replenish lost nutrients
- Enhance fat burning
The absolute worst thing you can do to your body is to deprive it of nutrients. Muscle consumes the highest amount of calories. Thus, when the body does not have enough to eat, it will consume muscle tissue in order to preserve calories.
The end result? You will hold on to more body fat.
A muscle toning program is never complete without cardio for the following reasons:
- Effective in toning muscles in the problem areas
- Ensures metabolism remains high
- Helps to improve cardiovascular health
There are 2 popular ways to do cardio…
The first is Steady-State cardio where you maintain the pace of an exercise for a period of time such as a 5 kilometer run.
Second is High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT where you alternate short bursts of all out effort with a similarly short period of rest.
The best type of cardio in a muscle toning program is HIIT because it preserves muscle protein and helps tone your muscles in the legs and hips which are the usual problem areas.
In an HIIT program, you will work up to 90% of your maximum heart rate. At this level, your body will be using carbohydrates as its main fuel. The fewer carbohydrates in your body the less chances of storing body fat.
In this article, we will discuss the following topics:
- The benefits of toning up for your health, your body, self-confidence, social life and overall lifestyle.
- The best toning exercises and why these are so effective for shaping your muscles.
- Steps to creating a muscle toning program including advice on workout frequency, scheduling, motivation and a sample muscle toning workout plan.
- Toning diet tips including valuable information on the best foods to eat, how to eat per body type and a list of foods to avoid.
- The best supplements to take to support your muscle toning workout; how to take them and when.
- The best approach to tone up fast including tips on training frequency and meal planning which will be presented as an 8-week muscle toning training program.
If you’re looking to tighten up those shoulders, arm, legs, hips and buttocks read on!
What Are The Benefits Of Toning Up?
It’s easy to spot a person with a toned body. The arms are firm, the shoulders look tight from all angles and there is a noticeable curve in the lower back which gives an indication of supple leg muscles.
And then there’s the walk.
People with toned bodies carry themselves with great confidence. They have outstanding posture; squared shoulders and an upright back to complement their sure footed steps. They look confident because they are confident.
The opposite sex is attracted to those with toned bodies not only because of the way they look. It is also the confidence they exude.
Confidence, dedication and commitment are important values to have if you want to achieve your goals in a muscle toning program.
But there is more to toning up than just the physical benefits:
1. Improves Functionality – With regular exercise especially resistance training, you build strength which improves functionality.
A muscle toning program will make it easier to perform everyday tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs, sitting behind a desk for hours, carrying the groceries and playing with the children.
2. Reduces Body Fat – Resistance training has been proven to keep your metabolism elevated for up to 48 hours after exercise. This will help you keep body fat levels down even after you’ve had your final meal of the day.
3. Strengthens Bones – A muscle toning program also strengthens bones, ligaments and supporting tissue. This is very important because women are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men.
4. Strengthens Immune System – Exercise improves blood flow and this helps your organs function better. When blood circulation is efficient, the organs receive much needed nutrients and this keeps your immune system strong and resistant to viruses and diseases.
5. Controls Blood Glucose Levels – A muscle toning program includes both resistance training and cardio which both help manage blood glucose levels.
When you are physically active, 95% of the carbohydrates you eat are efficiently converted to glucose. The less carbohydrates in your system, the more normal your blood glucose levels and the lower your risk of developing Diabetes.
6. Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease – Many studies have proven that a workout that combines resistance training and cardio effectively increases the level of good cholesterol and reduces the level of bad cholesterol. This helps reduce the risk of heart disease and the incidence of strokes.
The benefits of toning up extend beyond the physical. It can help you maintain health and overall fitness for the rest of your life.
Therefore, it should not stop once you achieve your goal because health and fitness should be a never-ending journey.
The Best Toning Exercises
The best toning exercises are a combination of free-weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells etc) and machine-based weights. Free-weights allow you to control the exercise and adjust the angles to focus on key problem areas.
Machines follow a fixed pathway which removes the need to balance and stabilise the exercise. This allows you to direct more energy on a lagging body part without risk of injury.
Here the best toning exercises per muscle group:
Lower Body Toning Exercises
There are 3 reasons why these are the best exercises for your lower body. First, these exercises target problem areas: thighs, hamstrings, buttocks, lower back, hips and abs.
Second, you have to perform these exercises through their full range of motion.
And third, these exercises require balance and stability which require more fibres to work.
1. Squats – 3 sets x 10-12 reps (Alternatives: Bodyweight Squats, Dumbbell Squats)
2. Lunges – 2 sets x 12-15 reps (Alternatives: Bodyweight Lunges, Dumbbell Lunges)
3. Barbell Glute Bridge – 2 sets x 10-12 reps (Alternatives: Glute Bridge (Bodyweight), GHD Back Extensions)
4. Barbell Hip Thrust – 2 sets x 10-12 reps (Alternatives: Hip Thrust (Bodyweight))
Upper Body Toning Exercises
The upper chest, side and rear heads of the shoulder and the triceps are common problem areas for women. These 4 exercises target these areas either as the primary muscle or supporting muscle.
You have to execute these exercises through their full range of motion and under complete control.
1. Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
2. Seated Dumbbell Press – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
3. Face Pulls – 2 sets x 10-12 reps
4. Close Grip Bench Press – 2 sets x 8-10 reps
Back Toning Exercises
The back is a frequent problem area for women for aesthetic and health reasons. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men. Thus, it is important to keep the back strong in order to maintain correct posture in addition to looking tight and firm.
These back exercises also engage other muscles. Romanian Deadlift and Barbell Row involve the buttocks, hamstrings, hips and biceps.
Hammer Strength Lat Pull utilises the biceps, forearms, traps and rear shoulders.
1. Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets x 8-10 reps
2. Barbell Rows (aka Bent Over Row) – 2 sets x 8-10 reps
3. Hammer Strength Lat Pull (aka Machine Lat Pull) – 2 sets x 10-12 reps
Midsection Toning Exercises
A tight midsection is also a strong one and this helps improve posture and lower-back strength. These 3 exercises engage all the key muscles in the abdominal area: upper abs, lower abs, obliques, serratus and the hips plus the lower back.
1. Plank – 3 sets x 20 seconds
2. Oblique Twist – 2 sets x 10-12 reps
3. Leg Raises – 2 sets x 8-10 reps
These exercises should form the core of your muscle toning program. They have been proven to produce the fastest and best results. In no time you will have the right to “bare” arms!
Steps To Creating A Muscle Toning Program
A muscle toning program has 3 objectives:
- To tone up the different muscles of the body; particularly the problem areas.
- To reduce the level of body fat so you can highlight muscle tone and definition.
- To improve overall health and fitness.
Thus, the challenge of creating a muscle toning program lies in achieving balance between its 2 main components:
- Resistance Training
Your focus is to preserve muscle while doing cardio. Thus, the best approach is to combine resistance training with High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.
Here are the guiding principles of an effective muscle toning program:
1. Moderate Work Volume
Studies show that the best rep range for toning muscle is 10 to 12 reps. At this range, the primary muscle worked gets full stimulation without the supporting muscles getting fatigued.
However, in a muscle toning program, you have to work different sections of the muscle especially in problem areas. The number of exercises will depend on the muscle area.
Larger muscle groups like legs and back would require 3-4 exercises. Smaller body parts like arms would be fine with 2-3 exercises.
You can also get more productive results by pairing a larger muscle group with a smaller body part. This enhances blood flow and helps enhance fat burning. You should train each body part once a week spread out over 4 days. But you can also use an extra day to work on a problem area.
2. Progressively Increase Resistance
In a muscle toning program, you do not have to increase the amount of weight to progressively increase resistance. You can simply add to the number of reps or total sets performed.
You can also pre-exhaust the muscle by using an isolation exercise first. This way, you can lift light and still increase the resistance on the muscle. An example would be to perform Leg Lunges before Squats.
3. Full Range Of Motion
When performing these muscle toning exercises, you have to focus on form and technique.
This means doing the exercises under complete control and using full range of motion. Executing proper form stimulates more muscle fibres; leading to a more complete and toned look.
4. Variety Of Equipment
Free-weights are your main tools of the trade. Barbells and dumbbells allow you to change angles, exercise cadence and the range of motion. These are great when working on problem areas.
On the other hand, with machines you work through a fixed range of motion. This allows you to focus specifically on a muscle without having to worry about balance. Machines are also generally safer to work with.
5. HIIT On Rest Days
HIIT is the best form of cardio to burn body fat without sacrificing muscle.
There are 3 reasons for this..
- First, HIIT utilises powerful explosive exercises that stimulate muscle fibres.
- Second, the main fuel is carbohydrates. HIIT burns carbohydrates in the body and therefore you’ll have less chance of storing body fat.
- Finally, HIIT has been proven to keep metabolism elevated for up to 48 hours after exercise.
Here is a schedule you can use for a muscle toning program:
Monday: Thighs, Biceps, Abs
Tuesday: Upper Back, Shoulders
Wednesday: HIIT/Sprints, Abs
Thursday: Chest, Triceps
Friday: HIIT/Conditioning Complex, Abs
Saturday: Lower Back, Hamstrings
A muscle toning program can be very challenging physically, mentally and emotionally.
Here are a few tips on how to stay extra motivated:
Set Goals – Whether it is to lose 1-2 kilos a week or to do more reps, setting goals keeps you focused. But make sure the goals you set are realistic and attainable.
Get A Training Buddy – A training buddy can be a good motivator to challenge you in the gym and to help you overcome your fears.
Write In A Journal – Make it a practice to record your workouts in a training journal. Write down how you felt, how you performed and other important details. This is a valuable reference tool in assessing your progress.
Post Your Results – The popular saying is “Pictures Don’t Lie”. Pictures are a better indicator of progress than the scale. Post your improvements in key areas in your home (bathroom, kitchen) or in social media to receive community support.
Fuel Up With Healthy Food – What you eat will affect how you work out. Always choose clean, healthy food to fuel your workouts and to enhance recovery.
A muscle training program will only be successful if you are willing to make sacrifices and compromises. These include allocating time in the day or the week to exercise and foregoing activities that may negatively impact your diet.
Remember that sacrifices are part of the process of achieving goals.
Toning Diet Tips
Exercise is just one part of the toning equation. It can be argued that diet accounts for a larger portion; perhaps 80%, of the success of your muscle toning program.
Food provides you calories and macro-nutrients that fuel your workouts and help you recover. You should always go for good, high quality sources of food for your nutritional requirements. Quality food equates to quality results.
Thus, the first step in creating a toning diet is to find the best sources of your macro-nutrients…
Muscle Toning Foods
Here is a list of the best toning foods per macro-nutrient:
Carbohydrates – The foods listed here are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. You can have them as part of your main meal or as a snack:
- Grains- Organic Wild Rice, Oatmeal, Quinoa
- Cruciferous Vegetables – Broccoli, Cauliflower
- Hi Fibre Vegetables- Kale, Beans, Peas
- Low GI Fruits – Berries, Apples, Oranges
- High GI Fruits- Bananas, Watermelon
Protein – It is advisable to eat a variety of protein because each source has its own amino acid profile.
The protein sources below are generally lean but the fish samples are rich in Omega 3’s; healthy fats that are good for your heart.
- Organic Grass-Fed Beef
- Organic Pasture-Raised Chicken, Turkey
- Wild Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Herring
- Vegetables- Mushrooms, Soybeans
- Dairy- Greek Yogurt, Cottage Cheese
Fats – There are bad fats and there are good fats. Good fats are unsaturated fats which lower cholesterol, protect the heart, the cells and enhance the immune system.
The fat sources below are good sources of Omega 3’s and other unsaturated fats:
- Fatty Fish- Salmon, Sardines, Tuna, Herring
- Nuts- Walnuts, Almonds
- Vegetables- Avocado, Olives
Let’s put together these food choices to create a diet of muscle toning meals for one day…
Muscle Toning Meals
This is a sample muscle toning diet for a person who weighs 60 kilos.
|1 Whole Egg
50 Grams Oatmeal
½ cup Greek Yogurt
|50 Grams Walnuts
½ Cup Greek Yogurt
|150 Grams Grilled Tuna
50 Grams Broccoli
|½ Cup Cottage Cheese
100 Grams Ground Turkey
|100 Grams Grass-Fed Steak
½ Cup Mixed Vegetables
100 Grams Sweet Potatoes
Carbohydrates: 102 Grams
Protein: 186 Grams
Fat: 65 Grams
In a muscle toning diet, it is not just what you eat that counts. To get the best results you must know how much to eat and when.
Thus, your toning diet will also depend on your body type. The numbers below are based per kilogram of body weight.
The macros are measured in grams:
If you are lean, it would be best to have 60% of your carbohydrates before training so you can have enough energy. And if you are on the heavy side, it would be best to have 60% of your carbohydrates after training.
Stored fat will be your fuel during training and 95% of the carbohydrates you eat after will be used as glycogen. Occasionally, you can have a “cheat meal” as a reward for your efforts. A cheat meal is food you don’t have in your regular diet.
It can actually help your muscle toning diet by re-setting your body’s amount of Leptin, a hormone that naturally manages body fat. Your levels of leptin can drop on a low calorie diet.
Here are the best choices for your cheat meal:
- Lean, Organic Burger with Vegetables
- Baked Chicken Wings
- Natural Vanilla Ice Cream or Yogurt
- Beef Jerky
Remember, it is only one meal! The best time to have your cheat meal is after training.
A toning diet may be more difficult on the mind than on the body. But if you stay strong and follow our toning diet tips, you will be closer to your goal of achieving your ideal toned body!
What Are The Best Supplements For Toning?
As you progress through a muscle toning program, food may not be enough to give you enough nutrients to sufficiently recover from your training sessions. This is why you need to include supplements in your muscle toning program.
Supplements provide vitamins, minerals and compounds that support physical fitness activities.
In a muscle toning program, the combination of resistance training and HIIT type of cardio may place stresses on your body that food alone cannot support. Supplements are an effective way to augment nutritional deficiencies.
Here are the best supplements for toning:
Whey Protein is a regular staple in any type of fitness program because it gets much-needed amino acids to your muscles faster than other protein sources.
Whey Protein has the highest Protein Efficiency Ratio or PER which means it has the highest quality of any protein found in the market. The faster you get amino acids into your muscles, the faster your muscles will recover.
Take 1 scoop of Whey Protein first thing in the morning and another scoop after training with a simple carbohydrate like a banana or watermelon.
And don’t worry, you won’t ‘get big’ from having a couple of protein shakes!
Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs are essential amino acids which are not produced by the human body. But 33% of our muscle tissue is composed of these essential amino acids: Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine.
Studies have shown that BCAAs help the body tolerate lactic acid which can push you to do one more rep or another HIIT interval. Take 6-10 grams of BCAAs after exercise.
Women tend to lose Iron when exercising. Iron is important for women to support conditions related to menstruation. Iron deficiency can lead to amenorrhea, absence of regular periods, weakness and fatigue and these will affect your exercise performance.
Supplement with 30 mgs of Iron per day preferably on an empty stomach. Do not take Iron with milk, caffeine or high-fibre foods which could inhibit absorption.
Vitamin B is essential for providing energy and some studies have shown that it can enhance fat loss as well as speed up repair of damaged muscle tissue. Women are prone to have less Vitamin B in their diet and this can lead to anemia. The symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness and dizziness.
These conditions will negatively impact your workouts. Take 10 mcg of Vitamin B together with your Iron supplement on an empty stomach.
These are the best supplements to assist in your muscle toning program.
Before taking any supplement, make sure to consult with your doctor or get a thorough medical checkup. Supplements are synthetically manufactured and may contain ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction.
Remember to strictly follow the directions on the label. These are just supplements; they are not intended to replace meals or justify skipping on certain foods. Your best source of nutrition should remain healthy and natural food sources.
How To Tone Up Fast
Are you planning to tone up fast in 2 months because you have a wedding to attend or a beach holiday lined up? Nothing catches the eye more than a toned body.
Firm arms anchored on tight shoulders and a tapered back looks great on a form fitting black evening dress. Of course, what goes better with a two-piece bikini than a trim midsection and tight, taut and toned legs?
It takes time to see results from a muscle toning program because you have to be consistent and diligent with exercise and diet.
The 8 Week Muscle Toning Workout Plan:
Assuming you have 8 weeks to get toned up, you will have to double up your efforts in the gym. This means you have to train each body part twice a week.
Here is a schedule you can follow:
Monday: Thighs, Hamstrings, HIIT/Sprints
Tuesday: Chest, Biceps, Triceps
Wednesday: Back, Shoulders
Thursday: Thighs, Hamstrings, HIIT/Lower Body Complex
Friday: Chest, Biceps, Triceps
Saturday: Back, Shoulders, HIIT/Upper Body Complex
Warm Up: 2 minutes walk + 3 minutes jog + 1 minute walk
Interval: Perform only 1 circuit; rest 2 minutes between runs and 1 minute between sprints
- 400 meter run x 1
- 300 meter run x 1
- 200 meter sprint x 2
- 100 meter sprint x 4
- 50 meter sprint x 6
2. Lower Body Complex:
Warm Up: High Knees 3 x 30 seconds
Intervals: 8 Intervals; 2 minutes rest between intervals
- Jump Lunges x 10
- Step Ups x 10
- Reverse Lunges x 10
- Frog Squats x 10
- Air Squats x 10
- Butt Kicks x 30 seconds
- Plank x 30 seconds
3. Upper Body Complex
Warm Up: Butt Kicks 3 x 1 minute
Intervals: 8 Intervals; 2 minutes rest between intervals
- Inverted Row x 10
- Push Ups x 10
- Kettlebell Swing x 10
- Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pull x 10
- Kettlebell Clean And Press x 10
- Medicine Ball Slams x 10
- Oblique Twists x 10
- Kettlebell Figure 8 x 1 minute
The 8 Week Muscle Toning Diet Plan
This section is a supplement to the main diet plan listed above in this article.
If you are on the lean side, increase your carbohydrate intake on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Add 100 grams of Organic Wild Rice to your lunch and switch to watermelon as your post workout simple carbohydrate. Watermelon has higher GI than bananas.
If you are on the heavy side, decrease your carbohydrates but increase your intake of protein and dietary fat on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
Add an extra egg for breakfast and ¼ portion roasted chicken with your pre-workout meal. Reduce carbohydrates by removing the sweet potatoes from dinner but adjust mixed vegetables to 1 cup.
And remember, sugar is your enemy when it comes to muscle toning, so completely avoid processed sugars and alcohol for the next 8 weeks in order to reach your goal.
It may be hard but in 8 weeks you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work by looking at your toned best at the beach or the wedding!
Muscle Toning Action Steps
A muscle toning program will not only make you look good; it will make you feel good as well. You will be healthier, fitter and with dedication and consistency achieve the toned body you’ve always wanted to have.
Here are a few important action steps to keep in mind before you begin your journey to a toned body:
1. Get yourself medically cleared by your doctor before starting the muscle toning program. In particular, check for possible food allergies and risks from your chosen supplements.
2. Determine the best days and times to train and commit to them.
3. Clear your home of unhealthy food and stock up on the food items listed in our Toning Diet Tips.
4. Sign up for a gym that is located near your home and office. It should have a good variety of equipment from free weights, machines, kettlebells, medicine balls and an area to perform the HIIT Conditioning Complex.
5. It is a good idea to buy a pair of kettlebells, jump rope, a medicine ball and an exercise mat for home use. This way, you can still do an HIIT Conditioning Complex at home.
6. Start out your supplement program with whey protein, vitamin B and Iron. You can add BCAA’s when you find it takes longer to recover between workouts or if you plan to get toned up within a shorter time period.
7. Buy a small notebook as your log book and keep it in your gym bag at all times.
Time is always a factor in every destination that we want to get to. But every journey always begins with the first step.
Before you know it, you will wake up and discover a whole new, fitter, healthier, more confident and more toned YOU!
A toned body is more than just a fit body. It represents health and confidence. People with tight, toned and taut bodies are often misrepresented as “vain”. The ones who think this way probably have no idea of the time, effort, sacrifices and compromises made to achieve a toned body.
They probably have no idea that the benefits of a muscle toning program go beyond the physical. When you exercise with a combination of resistance training and cardio, you are not just unveiling your toned physique by reducing body fat.
You are also cleansing your body of toxins and substances that can potentially lead to health issues.
A muscle toning program builds character. You need discipline, commitment and dedication to stay on your toning diet and consistently eat clean, healthy and natural food.
These are values that carry-over to life outside the world of fitness.
It will make you a better, more caring and confident person who knows any adversity or challenge can be overcome.
Dmitri Simons is a Master Personal Trainer, Head Trainer and Co-Founder of Exercises.com.au.
Dmitri is a qualified PT of 15 years, a qualified Chef, Father of 5 and competes in Triathlons in his spare time. His passion is helping people achieve their health and fitness goals by taking control of their health, eating healthier and engaging in different forms of exercise such as weight lifting, stretching and cardio.