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Ladies: How to Get Toned Without Getting Bulky

Sorry. This title is clickbait. The truth is that women do not have the genetics that allow them to get bulky. The women that you see that are bulky (typically body builders) are usually on illegal supplements and/or are the genetic minority. Plus they follow a very intense and regimented routine. You will not look anything like them no matter how hard you try. 

Now, the common convention is that in order to get toned, you should lift with high reps and low weight. This is wrong and has been perpetuated in order to sell certain routines and supplements to women. 

Toning is not a real thing. You cannot train one way instead of another to make your muscles look a certain way in order to get a different appearance. Muscles can only grow in size.

In reality, “toning” a muscle is actually a combination of increasing the size of the muscle and lowering body fat percentage to better display the muscle. The fear that lifting a certain way will give a bulky appearance is just plain wrong and it sadly holds a lot of women back from lifting in a way that will actually give them the appearance they desire. 

The reality is that you should lift with the intent of building muscle size. This provides the “toned” look you are after because it creates a more defined look by spreading out body fat over more surface area thanks to the larger muscles. Moreover, more muscle mass also means a higher resting metabolism. A higher resting metabolism means you burn more calories just resting. Who doesn’t love the idea of burning more calories while mindlessly scrolling through Tik-Tok or Instagram?

Now, to build muscle to achieve the look you are looking for, you should aim to keep your rep range between 8-15 and choose a weight that is challenging. It should actually get hard to complete a rep within the aforementioned rep range. This will stimulate muscle growth so that you can get the “toned” look. Whenever you focus on reps higher than this with light weight that is easy for you, the muscles are not getting worked like they should. The higher reps without struggling are basically just a fancy form of cardio and they will not give the results you want.

As for exercise selection, the traditional style of lifts with free weights or machines can be plenty. Using weights and machines allows you to train with proper resistance to stimulate better muscle growth than bodyweight can typically do. You definitely can get the look you want with bodyweight exercises. it can just be much harder.

The exercise videos or classes that many girls follow that rely on bodyweight exercises and light weight to build the “toned” appearance are great but they are more for training muscle endurance and cardio than actually giving you a toned look. They have their place and if you really enjoy doing them, that is great! Any exercise is better than no exercise, and exercise you enjoy is better than exercise you hate/tolerate. Just be aware that they might not be the most effective way to get the look you are going for. Many of the women who create the home workout videos spend much more time exercising and do different exercises than they would lead you to believe in their videos.

If you prefer bodyweight exercises or are stuck doing home workouts, you want to modify the workout so that you are performing the exercises closer to muscle failure. They need to be challenging to stimulate the muscles. The reason this can be harder than using weights is because it typically takes more reps with the muscles “burning” before you reach a point where the muscle was adequately worked. Weights typically let you reach that point in fewer reps so that you spend less time feeling the burn.

The tides are changing and more and more women are realizing the benefits of training with heavier weight. There are plenty of videos out there on instagram and youtube of women demonstrating how effective this style of exercise can be. Getting into a new style of training can always be intimidating, but leaving your comfort zone and giving it a shot can be that thing you need to finally start seeing the results you dream of.

Not sure where to start? Check out this article where I give an overview of hypertrophy focused training HERE. Feel free to reach out with any questions and get a free 30 minute consultation.