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Is Lifting Weights The Only Way To Tone Up?

Is Lifting Weights The Only Way To Tone Up?

“I’m just looking to tone up a little”

It’s the vague answer that personal trainers and coaches across the world loathe hearing, when they ask new clients what their goals are.

Along with it being a vague and unspecific goal, most people are still unsure on what it actually means to “tone up” or what it entails.

The Truth on Toning Up

When most people say they want to be more toned, they generally mean that they just want to get in better shape, but again this doesn’t give much of an explanation as to what it involves.

Toning up isn’t an individual aspect of training on its own. You can’t “tone” in the same sense that you can increase muscle size or drop body fat.

Rather, “toning” is a combination of different training factors that can help give you the “toned” look.

In this context, toning means having (or building) a sufficient amount of muscle mass, whilst also having (or obtaining) a low enough body fat percentage, so that your muscle mass is actually visible.

Meaning the less body fat you have, the more “toned” you will look, whilst the more body fat you have the less “toned” you will look.

Depending on your current physique, you may need to build muscle, drop body fat or a combination of the two to achieve the “toned” look.

How Weight Training Helps You “Tone Up”

If you want to tone up, then lifting light weights for high reps is the way to do it right?….wrong.

This is a myth that has hung around gyms like a bad smell from an old unwashed protein shaker and derailed peoples hopes of achieving a toned physique on countless times over.

The confusion comes from the idea that heavy weights will make you big and bulky, whilst lighter weights will help you look slender and tone you muscles.

As mentioned above, the first protocol of “toning up” is having a sufficient amount of muscle mass. To achieve this we need to train with a load and within a rep range that is demanding enough to give our muscles a reason to grow (or at very least, not waste away).

You can build muscle in any rep range (1), you just need to make sure that you are putting your muscle through sufficient tension, damage and metabolic stress to elicit a growth response. (2)

So, lifting weights that have you floating through a training session, without breaking as much as a sweat, isn’t really going to cut it.

It doesn’t even need to be done through conventional weight training. Workouts utilising your body weight or plyometrics can also be beneficial, as long as you are putting them through adequate stimulus.


What Else Is Needed To Achieve A Toned Physique?

The seconds part of the toning puzzle is to have a low enough body fat percentage to show of your muscles, giving us that “toned” appearance.

The more body fat you drop, the more toned you will look.

Lots of people have the desire to tone up a certain areas of their body, whether it’s their arms, legs, stomach or back.  Unfortunately, we can’t spot reduce body fat, meaning we can’t direct fat loss to a specific area.

Instead, we just have to reduce fat stores from our entire body as a whole. Which areas it comes off from first? Well that’s just down to good old genetics.

But, there are some things we can do to help the process along and drop enough body fat to achieve an overall toned look.

  1. Calorie deficit

Ultimately, fat loss comes down to one main factor – consuming less calories than you burn on a daily basis. Once you’ve built an adequate amount of muscle, focus on achieving a small calorie deficit to start melting away body fat.

  1. Keep protein intake high

When dieting, you want to hold onto as much muscle mass as possible, keeping your protein intake high will allow you to preserve muscle mass and help achieve that “toned” look.

  1. Stay hydrated

Your muscles are made up of around 70-80% of water, meaning staying hydrated is crucial for their growth and maintenance. Water has also been shown to aid weight loss, all of which makes it a key component of “toning up”. (3)

  1. Cardio

Adding cardio into your fitness regime is a great way to increase your daily calorie burn and promote fat loss, without having to lower your foods intake further. Aim for a combination of both dedicated cardio training, along with keeping you NEAT levels high throughout the day.

  1. Be consistent

Despite what magazines and Instagram “celebs” might want you to believe, there are no quick fixes or tricks to achieving a toned physique. Take your time and dedicate yourself to being consistent with your training and nutrition.



  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(12)
  2. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(10)
  3. Thornton SN. Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss. Front Nutr. 2016;3:18. Published 2016 Jun 10.

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