I was asked the other day, “Hey Glen, what do you suggest for basic toning? I don’t want bulk. I have been doing cardio for a little over a month now and need to start doing some sort of toning. Any suggestions would be great!”
First let’s talk a little about strength training, building muscle, and toning. It is important for everyone to do some sort of strength training based on each person’s goals. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association both recommend dedicating at least two workouts to strength training each week. Why? Wouldn’t the American HEART Association be more concerned with cardio exercise? The truth is that strength training is not just for building muscle. It can also improve bone health, be good for your cardiorespiratory system, improve posture, among other benefits.
I know everyone’s goals can vary, but let me make a generic and somewhat sexist statement here: Most men want to add muscle size with a workout regimen, and most women want to “tone” or build lean muscle. If you read my posts enough you will know that I am in favor of just about everything in fitness. Bodybuilding to marathon running to general fitness – it all beats sitting on the couch! For the purpose of this article I will focus on general fitness, which for most men means packing on a little bit of muscle, and for most women means “toning” through building a little bit of lean muscle.
Most men and women seeking the benefits of a general fitness routine can do a very similar workout routine and achieve different results based on gender. Men (testosterone producers) will build muscle with general strength training routines, and with men the muscle growth tends to “pop”. Women (estrogen producers) will build muscle with general strength training, and with women we see more of a toned look rather than bulging biceps. This is due to our genetic traits and hormones. Men get a little bulkier than women with a similar workout routine. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but this holds true for most people. Yes ladies, you can lift weights without looking like a female bodybuilder.
So, back to the question now: What is a good routine for toning?
Here is a circuit training routine that I do and most anyone can do with very little equipment and no free weights:
Warm up and stretch 5 minutes
Circuit (No rest between sets)
Push ups (or modified push ups)
Pull ups (or modified pull ups)
Dips (using a dip bar, a chair, or the floor)
Squats (body weight, high reps)
Lunges (alternate legs)
Abs (crunches, in and outs, leg lifts, etc. – pick one)
Rest (water break, about 1 minute)
Repeat Circuit 2 more times for a total 3 progressions
Cool down and stretch 5 minutes
This is a basic routine that I follow. It can be modified to be easier (assisted pull ups, modified push ups, etc.) or be modified to be more difficult (slow motion push ups, incline push ups, straight leg pull ups, etc.) This circuit training style with few breaks gets your heart rate up too and gives you a good sweat.
For continued strength training, here is a basic few “rules” to follow with free weights, bands, or resistance machines:
Building more size and strength
Moderate to heavy load weights or resistance
8 – 10 reps on most exercises
Don’t be afraid to go with slightly heavier weights and getting only 5 – 7 reps. Also If you find yourself getting stronger, don’t be afraid to do 11 – 13 reps, then pick up some heavier weights next time around.
Building strength and lean muscle, or “toning”
Light to moderate load weights or resistance
12-15 reps on most exercises
Don’t be afraid to lift slightly heavier weights and do 10 reps while working up to 12 reps with the heavier load. Don’t be afraid to do 16 or 17 reps if you find your lighter weights getting easier.
Article summary: Body weight, free weights, and other resistance exercises are great for both men and women, whether your goal is to tone-up or build some lean muscle mass. If you need somewhere to start, try the circuit training workout above.