While many men still head to the gym with the simple aim of either losing weight or building bigger muscles, a combination of both of these things is now perhaps the most popular fitness goal. Whether you call it toning up or getting lean, a significant number of men hand over their hard-earned in the pursuit of defined muscles that are revealed to the world by stripping away body fat.
Toning up is one of the most common goals new clients come to personal trainer Jamie Lloyd with and it’s certainly not a bad target to have. It is, however, a little more vague than, say, losing weight, so before we asked Lloyd for his tips on how to tone up, we asked him to explain exactly what toning up means.
“When people come to me and say that they want to tone up, what they usually mean is that they want to drop body fat and get leaner,” says Lloyd.
“Basically, they want to lose the lard and add some muscle definition – but not so much muscle mass that they look like a gladiator on steroids.”
“Toning up is a term used to describe the results from a combination of basic weightlifting and fat-burning workouts, where the end goal is that you look more toned.”
Toning up is usually defined in contrast to bulking up, which, let’s be honest, is also a fairly vague term.
“Again, there are no rules to bulking up, but it usually means adding a lot of muscle tissue to the body, bringing to mind strongmen and bodybuilders pumping iron,” says Lloyd.
How To Tone Up
People who are looking to tone rather than substantially bulk up their muscles commonly do high amounts of reps with lighter weights to achieve their goal. However, avoiding heavy weights could be counterproductive.
“While there is some truth to the idea that lifting lighter weights for more reps does a better job of increasing the muscular endurance, lighter weights will not help you tone better than heavy weights,” says Lloyd.
“Lifting heavier weights build the strength of your muscles – and yes, the size to a small degree – thereby helping to increase your metabolism and burn fat. Adding a little bit more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat makes you look leaner, not bigger. So lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (eight to 12 on average) and working until you’re fatigued is more effective at toning muscles than lifting lighter weights. Not to mention that it’s more efficient, too.”
If you really do fear that lifting heavy weights will result in muscles that are too big, first of all you should be so lucky, but secondly you might be underestimating the level of commitment bulking up requires.
“To really bulk up, you have to put the work in. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights, along with eating a very strict diet that promotes muscle gain.”
Of course, that’s not to say that toning up is easy.
“If you want to lose weight and get lean you should have a strength training plan in place that works every major muscle in the body eight to 12 times per set, using a weight that is heavy enough that the last two repetitions are very tough,” says Lloyd.
“Exercise like deadlifts, squats, snatches, pull-ups, burpees and thrusters are good. You can add in some whole-body conditioning with wall balls, prowler sleds, Ski-erg and kettlebell swings.”