I Don’t Want To Get Big, Just Toned – Here’s How (Not What You Think!)

I DON’T WANT TO GET “BIG.” I JUST WANT TO GET A TONED BODY!

When I met with my first personal trainer in the early 2000’s, I told her my goal was to get a toned body.  I wanted muscle tone in my arms, but I was worried lifting weights would get me too big. I had seen body builders (some women) with lots of arm muscle and that was NOT the look I was going for.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that if it’s your goal. Takes tons of grit to get here (my thoughts on this below).

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But at that point in my life I had different goals. I told my trainer I wanted Sarah Jessica Parker’s toned look (specifically her arms).  I brought in an image of SJP, which I cut from a Magazine so she could see the look I wanted. Didn’t want my trainer to make mistakes and give me workout suggestions that would bulk me up.

This is similar to the look I was going for when I told my trainer I wanted to get a toned body. 

WHY I HATE THE WORD TONING, BUT SAY IT ANYWAY

With the knowledge I have now, I’m sure the trainer was shaking her head hearing my request to get a toned body.

One of the most shocking things I learned when getting my own education as a personal trainer years later, was how “toning” was actually one of the biggest lies in the fitness industry!

And furthermore, putting on muscle (like the first picture) is not something that happens easily just because you lift weights. It takes a lot of work, LOTS of extra calories (must be in a calorie surplus to put on serious muscle!), and some major dedication.

 

7 SERIOUS TRUTHS ABOUT “TONING” I FOUND SHOCKING YEARS AGO

The truth is:

  1. There is there is no such thing as “toning your muscles.”
  2. You can’t turn your fat INTO “toned muscle.”
  3. Doing crunches all day WON’T make your love handles shrink or tone your abs.
  4. You can’t tone up your legs by doing leg lifts to shrink “saddlebags,” or spot reduce your (insert any body part… back of arms, back, neck, etc) by toning that body part with a specific exercise.
  5. Sticking to Pilates, Yoga or light dumbbells with high repetitions is NOT the best way to get long, lean (toned) muscles.
  6. “Building muscle” and “bulking up” do NOT mean the same thing.
  7. Lifting weights will not make you BIG without out major intervention. You need to be in a calculated calorie surplus with specific workouts and building periods to put on muscle.

Why do I say the word “toning” on my workout videos and blogs then?
You’ll see it all over my posts… “Do this exercise to help tone your legs, glutes, etc.” I will continue to say toning because I want to reach the masses, especially beginners too. I remember all too well when I was a beginner myself. One of the worst things when I was researching fitness coaches was following people who took a condescending stance to people just starting their fitness journeys.

I’d search for terms like, “how to get a toned body” and see fitness pros ridiculing people using the “pink 3 lb dumbbells” (the ones I used to use!) and doing high reps (a’la celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson), but not taking the time to educate instead. Always remembering this, I want this post – and all of my publications – to be for beginners and what THEY search for as well.

With that said, let’s start educating on toning!

 

THE “TONED LOOK” – WHAT IS IT… REALLY?

It is actually comprised of two things:

  • 1) Gaining muscle mass

– AND –

  • 2) Reducing excess body fat surrounding your muscles so the muscle shows.

How “big” you look is determined by how much muscle mass you gain. Also, how low your body fat% gets to reveal that muscle.

 

HOW CAN I ACHIEVE A TONED LOOK MYSELF?

If you currently don’t look as “toned” as you’d like, it’s typically because there is more fat covering your muscles than you’d like. Although not having enough muscle in the first place (or a little bit of both reasons) is also possible.

Also, if you have more body fat than you’d prefer, modifying your nutrition (healthy, whole foods for the majority of meals) and eating in a caloric deficit will be of high importance for your goal. This is in addition to working out.

To those women afraid of strength training for fear of “bulking up,” that’s outdated information. As women, we don’t have the hormones/testosterone to get bulked up like a man without extra intervention. Also, since most of you reading this likely have fat loss goals and are in a caloric deficit, it’s also not likely you’ll get big because to put on a great deal of muscle mass you need to be in a caloric surplus.

 

YOU NEED EXCESS CALORIES TO REALLY BULK UP

I eluded to this fact about extra calories above. To bring the point home, during my brief time as a fitness competitor (I competed in Bikini division), I met other fitness friends who were Figure and Physique contestants. These are the divisions with more muscle mass. I was in awe of these women. They spent YEARS building their physiques, but the only way they were able to gain that amount of muscle mass was to go through periods of building serious muscle and bulking up, before leaning down (dropping body fat) for the show.

They had to eat over their maintenance calories – calculated amounts of proteins, carbs and healthy fats – some of them took supplements (legal – of course!), and paired all of this with consistent workouts. Bulking up like those women is not easy and doesn’t happen by accident!

I am still impressed with my Figure and Physique friends. I now with a look of admiration, instead of simply saying, “Oh, that’s too manly or not the look for me.”

 

LIFT, LIFT, LIFT!

The biggest takeaway I want readers to have is you should never fear lifting weights. If you aren’t strength training already, that’s the place to start. And if you are starting with lighter dumbbells because that’s what you can lift right now – great!

BUT, with consistent lifting, most people can typically increase their resistance soon. Don’t be afraid to increase to heavier weights if what you are currently lifting starts to feel too easy. For example, if you are lifting weights and your goal is 12 reps, then repetitions 11 and 12 should feel like a challenge to lift (while keeping good form). If you can easily swing the dumbbell up during reps 11 and 12, it’s time to increase the weight!

Don’t fear the heavier weights! 

IT TAKES TIME & CONSISTENCY

Final word: it takes time, PATIENCE AND CONSISTENCY with your workouts and nutrition to achieve a toned look. Take it from someone who was impatient for years (me!). Great physiques take years to build. They don’t happen in a few weeks.

Stick with it and most of all be consistent and you will get there.

 

p.s. Like what you just read? Have you downloaded my latest freebie, “Busy Woman’s Workout Guide?” It includes 7 free home workouts with coaching emails, as well as workout videos with instructions HERE.