The word toning is constantly in the media, but what does it actually mean? It could mean muscle definition, or lean muscle, a low body fat percentage, or slim hips and shoulders, or even long legs. The thing is that it comes down to perspective. 

If you asked 100 people what toning means there would be a wide variety of answers. I am here to tell you that toning is the result of increased muscle definition and decreased body fat. Period. Based on your build this will appear differently.

You cannot beat genetics. Your height, the width of you shoulders, hip size cannot be changed through exercise and diet. But you can control your body fat and lean muscle mass. Although, you may not love the lifestyle that is required. You can read more about the relationship between fitness + weight loss in a recent blog post. The role of genetics and the media are clearly discussed. 

Let’s talk more about how the media, nutrition and resistance training can impact you goals of toning your physique. 

And I share my outfit details at the bottom 🙂

tricep extension for tonig


Every where you look there is a friend, trainer, influencer telling us the secret to a toning. Promising that all we have to do is 5 specific body weight exercises for the best results. 

In reality, there is no scientific proof that there are 5 specific best toning exercises. It is just their opinion. And some opinions might be based on a significant amount of experience and others on just fluff. 

Let’s also remember that achieving a toned appearance is the result of your perspective. And that very perspective has been cultivated over years of experience and exposure. Both in real life and the media. 

It is very easy for a person who carries low body fat and high muscle tone, due to their genetics, to put together a video of their favorite exercises. And for you to fall victim to believing it really is that easy. 

lat pull down for toning


There is a misconception that lifting weights for women will cause a bulky appearance and that only body weight exercises should be used for a toned appearance. Here is the fact, you are limiting your potential by only doing body weight exercises. 

As I said above, toning is the result of increased muscle definition and decreased body fat. Increased muscle definition comes from muscle hypertrophy. And muscle hypertrophy comes from a load being applied to the muscle. A load like weights + resistance. 

And just a little PSA – if you are doing core exercises in hopes of burning body fat in you abdominal region, stop. I am sorry to tell you, but you cannot spot reduce fat. 

Don’t stop doing core exercises, but stop thinking that it is the way to reduce your abdominal fat. You will end up frustrated because of poor results. 

As long as you are doing the core exercises correctly, you are strengthening and defining you abdominal muscles. But the decrease in body fat will need to come from a well rounded approach that includes nutrition, full body resistance training and cardio training. 

bicep curl


It is important that I make one thing clear. As a personal trainer, I cannot give advice about nutrition. My training in undergraduate school was limited. However, I can share some basic principals rooted in science to get you started. 

Before we get to those two principals I want to address nutritions role in a toned physique. Nutrition is a key component to lowering your body fat percentage and having the lean appearance that allows muscle definition to be apparent. 

Because each of our bodies are different the right diet to achieve a toned appearance can be different. It will also be different based on what your perspective of a toned physique is. The more muscle definition you want (think body builder) the more precise your nutrition will have to become. And that might not be the lifestyle you actually enjoy. 


Water intake is more important than we can really understand. I can personally feel a huge difference when I drink over 100 ounces of water in a day. I have more energy, I avoid awful headaches and my productivity is always better. 

That is because water is essential to so many functions of our bodies. Drinking enough water can help to maximize physical performance, increase brain function, and boost skin health. 


Counting calories can be effective tool for weight loss, toning and sports performance. It can also cause a load of negative side effects that can be counter productive. 

Instead of tracking quantity, I focus on the quality of the food I am consuming. I am looking to eat more whole foods and limit processed foods. I try to strike a daily balance between protein, fruits, veggies and starch. 

This is because the nutrients in good quality food will help improve your body’s performance. Allowing for better sleep, better workouts, better brain function

I highly recommend you find a qualified (licensed and/or certified) dietician or nutritionist that has experience working with the goals you have. An educated, experienced professional THAT YOU LIKE will be a game changer. If you don’t like them, or don’t have that “this is the one” feeling you should consider looking around a bit more.

And if you love to track your workouts, food and daily actions you should check out our fitness + lifestyle journal. I love using it to keep myself accountable for my fitness goals, but also my personal and professional goals.

single leg rdl for toning


On to my favorite topic, resistance training. Toning, or increased muscle definition and decreased body fat, is a direct result of consistent resistance training. 

So, to all of those people who are pledging 5 exercises for toned arms in 2 weeks, I am calling BS. A toned appearance is the result of hard work over time. I encourage you to shift your focus from where can I be next week to, where can I be this time next year. The possibilities get bigger with time. 

And just touch back on this idea that women should lift weights because it makes them bulky… women do not produce enough of the hormone testosterone to bulk up like men do. It would require intense nutritional efforts and/or steroids to get to the physique of a man.

But this ties back to perspective. For some toning is long, skinny limbs. For others it is defined shoulders and muscular thighs. 

You can download 5 of our favorite core exercises or our best glute exercises by clicking the appropriate links. 


Outside of the toned appearance you might desire, there are many other benefits to resistance training. And these are reasons alone to start a program.

  • Improve bone density
  • Reduce risk of chronic disease
  • Benefit mental health
  • Improve flexibility and mobility
  • Increase strength

For me the increased confidence, and feeling of empowerment I got from lifting weights is what made me make it a habit. There is something to be said for emotional strength you get with physical strength.

A great piece of equipment for anyone working out at home is a TRX. We recently did a month long cover on how to train with the TRX. Take a look and find the fitness inspiration you need!

shoulder press for toning


Moderate weight and high reps will aid in increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat. Remember, toning is a combination of resistance training, nutrition and cardio. You will want to consider all three as part of the same program. 


Repeat this 5 times using 10 lb dumbbells for every exercise.

  • Deadbugs 20 (one weight in each hand)
  • Glute bridge 20 (weight on hips)
  • Skull crusher and toe touch 20
  • Cursty lunge and SA shoulder press (front squat hold) 15/15
  • Toes out RDL to sumo squat 15
  • Bent over row and tricep kick back 20
  • Reverse lunge with forward press and rotation over knee 10/10
  • Flat back double extension and single extensions 10 (holding 1 DB)

muscle toning split squat


There is always a debate on whether cardio and resistance training can be done in the same session. And the answer is inevitably, it depends on the goal you are working towards. When it comes to toning, they can absolutely be combined. 

By combining cardio and resistance training you can increase calories burned with in a workout by manipulating your heart rate. It is also an effective way to improve your endurance. 

One key point I like to mention is quality of work. Don’t ever sacrifice form and range of motion just to get the work done. 

The good news is that cardio doesn’t mean you need to run 5 miles a day. Check out my blog all about “ How I get my Cardio Training Every Week”. It’s all about cardio training with out long runs or workouts.

You can read more about how to get your heart healthy cardio training done without running in this article

renegade row for toning


I covered a lot in this article, but please take away this one point. Toning is the combination of increased muscle definition and decreased body fat. Definition will come from resistance training for muscle mass and lowering your body fat. Lowering your body fat will come from nutrition, resistance training and cardio. 

If you are looking to tone up your physique this year then follow a program that covers nutrition, resistance training and cardio.


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