Ok so let’s clear the air before we jump into it. Toning, is technically a made up word when it comes to it’s usage in the fitness industry and/or muscular development. What women mean when they say they want to “tone” is that they want to build (some) muscle. 

I always hear the same comment: “But I don’t want to get bulky! I just want to tone!”

The amount of testosterone the average female has running through her veins is so low getting “bulky” from lifting weights alone is not possible. What will get you bulky is eating excessive amounts of food while lifting heavy weights. Lifting heavy weights will actually give you the appearance of having a lean, dense, “toned” strong body- exactly the appearance that you are going for. The secret sauce is the right diet combined with the following exercises.

Also note, that the exercises below work for women just as well as they work for men. When it comes to getting into shape, the same exercises work for the same group of people despite what’s between their legs. Sure there is a hormonal difference, but a body is a body and squats, lunges and deadlifts do not discriminate between the different sexes.

I’ve always disliked the word “toning”. Why? Well, simply put, it’s a BS marketing word used to attract women wanting to get into shape. “Toning” means, as stated above, the desire to put on lean muscle usually without the bulky look. Now that we know that the “bulky” look actually comes from overeating while lifting weights, that’s not something we really need to be concerned about. The following exercises are best for ANYONE looking to get into shape and replace fat with some lean sexy fat burning muscle.

1. Squats

It doesn’t matter if their with dumbbells, a kettle-bell, a barbell. Squats are one of the most efficient exercises you can do because they hit a lot of muscles in the lower body therefore burning a lot of calories. Check out my 5 favorite squat variations here.

2. Deadlifts

Again, working the lower body is going to be the most beneficial if you are looking to lose fat. Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise because not only do they work the hamstrings and glutes, but holding that weight in front of you and staying tight is going to engage your core, arms and back as well. Check out my favorite variation of the deadlift, the sumo squat.

3. Pull-ups

One of the most beneficial (and difficult) upper body movements you can master. No matter who you are, being able to do unassisted pull-ups is one of the best ways to get into shape and build muscle. It can take some time to be able to actually do an unassisted pull-up- and that is ok! Try learning on an assisted machine or using a band to help you hold negatives at the top of the movement. As you become stronger, you can make your way down to less and less assistance until you are eventually pulling up your body by yourself. Pull-ups work various upper body muscles such as your lats, shoulders, arms, back and core.

4. Pushups

Pushups are one of those exercises that, like pull ups, hit a lot of your upper body muscles which allows you to burn a lot of calories while helping to build lean muscle. If you can’t master the push up quite yet on the ground, start on a wall and slowly change the angle of your body to add more resistance lowering yourself down to a bench and then eventually the floor.

5. Lunges

There are tons of lunge variations and almost all are great. Lunges work many lower body muscles depending on what variation you are doing. Increasing the difficulty of a lunge by doing a walking lunge for example, incorporates more balance and stability which forces your abdominals to fire which in turn burns more calories. Even if you are not looking to change the appearance of your legs, it’s important to still work them in order to build muscle and burn fat.

6. KB Swings

 When done properly, kettlebell swings work may different muscles in the body including the glutes, hamstrings, back, core, shoulder and quads. It’s an explosive movement and combines cardiovascular training with strength which is fantastic for calorie torching and muscle building. The explosively of the movement is a sure way to get the heart rate up and break a sweat.

7. Bulgarian split squats

Bulgarian split squats are great for adding muscle tone to the quads, hammys and glutes. They help to build single leg strength which decreases asymmetries in the body and help to increase overall stability. Start doing these with just your body weight and try to get the full range of motion. As they become easier, add weight and focus on the contraction in your core and butt as you come up and down in the movement.

8. Compound exercises

Compound exercises are an awesome way to torch calories and burn fat because they use more than one muscle group to complete the movement. Technically then, you can say any of the above movements are “compound exercises.” Yes. But I personally like to think of a compound exercise as combining two big exercises into one.  Some examples of this would be:

  • Squat thrusts
  • Mountain climber into pushup
  • Pike into pushup
  • Clean to press
  • Snatch
  • Squat to row

9. Plyometric exercises

There are tons of plyometric exercises to choose from but these are some of my favorites.

  • Box jumps
  • Burpees
  • Battling ropes
  • Medicine ball slams

Plyo’s are great for fat loss and to build muscle because they get the heart rate up and burn a good amount of calories while doing so. They help build strength and endurance without risking losing lean muscle which can happen when you do a lot of steady state cardio.

There you have it,  some of the best body “toning” exercises you can do if you are trying to lose fat and build some lean muscle. Remember, as long as you are not exceeding your daily caloric limit for maintenance, you will not get “bulky.” In fact, you will shrink in size despite the heavy weights you will be using in the gym. Women cannot be afraid to build muscle. Muscle burns fat and when we have more muscle on our bodies, our RMR (resting metabolic rate) naturally goes up which means at rest, you will be burning more calories than before. It’s not tricky. It’s science and it works. Toning is for printers. Time to build ladies! Let’s inspire each other.