Whenever I work with a new client or talk to friends, they almost always tell me that they want to tone up. And I usually always clarify what they mean by that because this is such a broad goal that they often don't know exactly what that means or how to go about reaching their goal.
Most of the time when a woman tells me they want to get toned what they really mean is they want to have a firmer body (or particular body part). They want a little definition and shape. And the best way to do this is to strength train. Because strength training is going to INCREASE your lean muscle tissue and DECREASE your body fat - which is your aim if you want that toned, defined, firm look.
Think about it. In broad terms, if you have 70% of lean muscle tissue then you have 30% of body fat (give or take). So if you can increase your lean muscle tissue (say you 80%) then your body fat will drop to 20%. Once your body fat reduces to a certain point your muscles start to become more visible.
And usually the next thing ladies tell me is that they don't want to get "big" from lifting weights. Not going to happen. Unfortunately this is a huge myth! Women do not have the body types or the levels of testosterone to get huge unless they are training with lots of volume and taking lots of supplements. I find women are happy to spend hours on the treadmill or under the assumption that in order to tone up they have to do lots of cardio each week but this could not be further from the truth. Yes you may lose weight but you will be a smaller version of yourself and won't give you firmer muscles. Want a tighter bum? Strength train. Want to improve your tuck shop arms? Strength train. Want to have a firmer stomach? Strength train. And don't be afraid to go heavy.
Of course there is another part of the equation (and a major one) - nutrition. Eating small, regular meals which are focused on unprocessed foods is a must in order to drop body fat. You can't out-train a bad diet so don't think you can exercise every day but not look after your nutrition and still get results. It's like trying to ride a bike with only 1 wheel.
4 strength exercises you should be doing.
1. Squats - love them or hate them squats will work almost all muscles in your legs as well as your core and your back. That's a lot of muscles. Which means lots of fat burning potential.
2. Deadlifts - slowly becoming one of my favourite exercises. Again these will work your leg and hip muscles as well as your core, your arms and your back. You will definitely feel these the next day. Technique is hard to get right so please see a trainer for some advice.
3. Bench Press (or chest press) - which works your chest, shoulders, triceps and even your core. The chest press can give women amazing shape in the shoulders and arms (great for all the strapless tops that are currently in fashion!)
4. Bent over rows - which work all the major muscles of the back as well as your core and your biceps. Rows will give you great shape and definition in your back (and a nice V shape which will make your waist look smaller - win!)