Women often say something like this when talking about their fitness goals:
“I don’t want to get big and bulky, I just want to get toned.”
I want to discuss the goal to “get toned” and how you can go about it.
“Toning”: clarifying terms
We should first clarify something: technically/medically speaking, “muscle tone” refers to the constant state of muscle tension in a healthy individual. Your muscle tone is already normal unless you have some type of medical condition (such as a neurological or muscular disease).
But I know what people mean when they bring up “toning”: they usually mean they want their bodies to look and feel firmer, but they don’t want big muscles.
How to get Toned
So how do you achieve this look? First and foremost, I’d recommend resistance training, also know as weight lifting. Let me ease your fears about becoming the next she-hulk. Women usually don’t get huge muscles for a couple of reasons:
Muscle Fiber Composition: women tend to have a higher ration of slow-twitch (endurance) fibers compared with men. These muscle fibers have less potential for size and strength. This is one reason women tend to like aerobic training more than men.
Hormonal Makeup: Men typically have 15x the amount of testosterone as women. This also keeps women from building big “manly” muscles.
Here’s a picture of Jen Ferruggia (there’s a link to my review of her program below). See any huge muscles or veins? Nope–she is a natural (drug-free) trainee who has been lifting weights to sculpt her body. You can check out my article on women and weight training for more research on resistance training.
The type of training she prescribes focuses on the body parts women usually want to focus on (hips, thighs, etc) and she also designed her training to maximize fat burning.
You also have to get your diet in order if you are really serious about transforming your body. The “toned” look comes from having a low body fat level. You’ll need to create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you eat), and you should be eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
I can’t emphasize this enough: diet is ultimately going to make or break you in terms of body transformation. Gyms are full of overweight people trying to out-train bad diets–it just doesn’t work.
Having a toned body is a result of building muscle/strength and lowering your overall body fat level. I’d highly recommend a program like Bikini Body Workouts if you are a woman who is serious about achieving this look. This program will teach you how to work out and eat.
Flavia Del Monte’s Full-Body-Licious program has been very popular among female readers of my blog. Here’s my review, starting with some information on the author/creator of the program:
About the Author/Creator
Flavia Del Monte is the wife of Vince Del Monte (creator/author of No-Nonsense Muscle Building and other programs). Flavia went through some pretty intense preparation in order to create this program. She is already a nurse, but took several extra steps in order to improve her knowledge of fitness. Here are just a few things she did:
*Got her Can Fit Pro Certification.
*Took Dr. John Berardi’s Precision Nutrition Masters Level Certification.
*Hired Florida’s TOP personal trainer to help her design and implement her program.
*Got her body in incredible shape—she looks simply stunning in the videos.
Eat This-Burn Fat: This e-book will give you the basic nutritional strategies you’ll need in order to burn fat. Flavia describes general strategies and explains specific, practical ways to implement them (there are specific food recommendations, for example, as well as some sample meal plans).
Kitchen Makeover: This is available in both e-book and video format. She discusses the importance of taking control of what comes into your own kitchen: “I’m going to show you how to make your kitchen a safe zone vs. a war zone.”
Hormone Control: As the name implies, this short e-book discusses some simple strategies for manipulating hormones to maximize fat burning. Cortisol, for example, is a hormone essential for normal functioning. But sustained high cortisol levels will cause you to lose muscle—not what you want.
Fab 5 Supplement Guide: This is an explanation of five recommended supplements. I’d say this is the only e-book I did not agree with 100%. Here’s what I mean: I would recommend you shop around and look for less expensive supplements than the brand Flavia recommends. I don’t think you’d notice any difference if you use less expensive brands.
The main Full-Body-Licious workout video series is split into five days:
Day 1: Tight and Trim Thighs
Day 2: Showoff Stomach
Day 3: Booty Boost
Day 4: Sleek & Shapely Shoulders
Day 5: Beautiful Backside
Each video takes you through the workouts Flavia used to get in such incredible shape. You can also download printable, illustrated workout sheets to go along with each video.
These workouts are different than those designed for men. Her training philosophy is to do full body training with limited rest between sets. This kind of training is ideal for fat burning, which is what most women are interested in. Just keep something in mind: these workouts are hard–that’s what it takes to have a great body.
There are also two bonus videos available called Booty Beatdown.These videos show several additional exercises you can do to target the thighs and rear end.
I’ve always considered video content to be the highlight of Del Monte fitness programs. Flavia’s videos are no exception—they are high-energy and very well made. You’ll see exactly what you need to do in terms of exercise. I think you’ll also find extra motivation from the watching her and hearing her coaching.
Flavia Del Monte’s Full-Body-Licious is a well-designed nutrition and training program. I’m convinced it would work well if you implement it and stick to it. Remember–this is not some magic bullet or gimmick (I don’t promote those). This is a program for those willing to train and adjust their diets.
Just CLICK HEREif you are interested in this program (please use my links if you decide to order it—you’ll be supporting an honest voice in the fitness industry).
Note: Flavia has created a new program since I first wrote this review. Here latest one is called Curvalicious, and I endorse it as well.
I always recommend weight training to women who are interested in improving their overall health and appearance. This includes women who want to lose weight. I’ll give you three reasons women should try resistance training:
1. Weight Management and Health: resistance training is a great calorie burner. Train for about three days a week and you should have a much easier time achieving a negative calories balance (if fat loss is your goal). It also improves your overall health, including cardiovascular health.
One study found that following a simple weight lifting routine helped middle-aged women manage their weight.
PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to examine the association of exercise frequency (ExFreq) and volume (total weight lifted by military press and squats (SQ)) with change in body composition among postmenopausal women participating in a progressive resistance training study.
METHODS: Previously, sedentary women (n = 122, age = 56.3 +/- 4.3 yr) were followed for 6 yr. At 6 yr, there were women who had been randomly assigned to resistance training at baseline (n = 65) controls that were permitted to cross over to the exercise program at 1 yr (n = 32) and 25 true controls. Exercisers and crossovers directed to perform eight core exercises for two sets of eight repetitions at 70%-80% of one-repetition maximum, three times weekly, plus progressive weight bearing, stretching, and balance. Body weight and fat were measured at baseline and annually using anthropometry and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.
RESULTS: Average change in body weight and total body fat were 0.83 +/- 5.39 and 0.64 +/- 4.95 kg at 6 yr, respectively. In multiple linear regression, ExFreq, military press, and SQ were significantly inversely associated with change in body weight (standardized beta coefficient (SBC) = -0.22 to -0.28, P < 0.01), fat (SBC = -0.25 to -0.33, P < 0.01), and trunk fat (SBC = -0.20 to -0.31, P < 0.03) after adjusting for age, years on hormone therapy, change in lean soft tissue, baseline body composition, and baseline habitual exercise. The lowest tertile of SQ (equivalent to 2.5% attendance) demonstrated significant gain in weight, fat, and trunk fat over 6 yr (P < 0.004), whereas the highest tertile SQ (equivalent to 64% attendance) was able to maintain their weight, total, and regional fat.
CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that resistance training is a viable long-term method to prevent weight gain and deleterious changes in body composition in postmenopausal women.1
Another study found a simple, home-based routine improved the cardiovascular health of premenopausal women:
The present study investigates the effect of home-based resistance training on arterial stiffness in healthy premenopausal women. Twelve healthy non-smoking and normotensive women who were not actively involved in regular physical exercise (aged 42-55 years) performed home-based resistance training twice weekly for 10 weeks using body weight and light dumbbells. Each training session required approximately 40 min to complete. Arterial stiffness was measured using brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV). We also determined serum total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, glucose, triglyceride, insulin, and adiponectin and calculated the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), an index of insulin resistance. After home-based resistance training, baPWV, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, insulin, and the HOMA-IR decreased, whereas adiponectin increased (P < 0.05) and levels of HDL cholesterol, glucose, triglyceride, blood pressure, and heart rate remained unaffected. These results suggest that home-based resistance training benefits vascular function in healthy premenopausal women.2
2. Hormonal Advantages: I ran across some interesting research that was done with middle-aged women. One group did only aerobics while another did aerobics and resistance training:
BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of combined exercise training on growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and metabolic-syndrome factors and determine whether the changes in GH and/or IGF-1 induced by exercise correlate to the metabolic-syndrome factors in healthy middle-aged women (50-65 years of age).
METHODS: The participants were randomly assigned into an aerobic-exercise training (walking + aerobics) group (AEG; n = 7), a combined-exercise training (walking + resistance training) group (CEG; n = 8), or a control group (CG; n = 7). Exercise sessions were performed 3 times per wk for 12 wk. The aerobic-exercise training consisted of walking and aerobics at 60-80% of heart-rate reserve, and the combined-exercise training consisted of walking and resistance exercise at 50-70% of 1-repetition maximum.
RESULTS: GH, percentage body fat, fasting glucose, systolic blood pressure, and waist circumference were significantly improved in CEG (p < .05). However, GH induced by exercise training showed no correlation with metabolic-syndrome factors. IGF-1 was not significantly increased in either AEG or CEG compared with CG.
CONCLUSION: These results indicate that the combined-exercise training produced more enhancement of GH, body composition, and metabolic-syndrome factors than did aerobic-exercise training.3
3: Osteoporosis Prevention: We know astronauts living in zero gravity environments lose bone mass. Those confined to bed rest also tend have some bone loss. In other words, there seems to be a direct connection between bone health and the resistance applied to bones. Weight training seems to help maintain or increase bone density. The best strategy would be to start while you are young and continue the habit. Here is just one of many studies you can find:
The increase in lifespan and in the proportion of elderly women has increased the focus on menopause induced physiological alterations. These modifications are associated with the elevated risk of several pathologies such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, non-alcoholic fat liver disease, among others. Because of estrogen levels decline, many tissue and organs (muscular, bone, adipose tissue and liver) are affected. Additionally, body composition suffers important modifications. In this sense, there is a growing body of concern in understanding the physiological mechanisms involved and establishing strategies to prevent and reverse the effects of menopause. The hormone reposition therapy, diet and physical exercise have been recommended. Among the diverse exercise modalities, resistance training is not commonly used as a therapeutic intervention in the treatment of menopause. Thus, the aim of this review was to analyze the physiological alterations on several organs and systems induced by menopause and ovariectomy (experimental model to reproduce menopause), as well as, to study the effects of resistance training in preventing and reverting these modifications. In conclusion, resistance training promotes beneficial effects on several organs and systems, mainly, on muscular, bone and adipose tissue, allowing for a better quality of life in this population.4
Take note here—the study concluded resistance training could improve one’s “quality of life.”
I know what some of you are thinking: “I don’t want to get all big and bulky.” Don’t worry—women simply don’t have the same hormonal makeup as men, so there’s no need to fear turning into the she-hulk. Lifting weights will, in fact, give you muscles in all the
right places. Don’t believe me? Just check out pictures/websites of female fitness models. All of them do some kind of resistance training as part of their overall strategy.
Remember, you don’t even have to join a gym to get started with this: you can train at home using your own body weight and/or some simple equipment.
I’d recommend investing in a program like Flavia Del Monte’s Curvalicious workout if you are wanting a program designed specifically for women.