Nearly every client I work with uses the word toning as one of their main goals. Toning is not a special adaptation that happens to the muscle (or fat) to make you look more “toned”, it is quite simply a loss of body fat coupled with an increase (or just maintenance) of muscle mass.

Most fad diet plans are not appropriate for toning, or for long term maintainable fat loss. They all have one thing in common: Extremely low calories. Nearly all of these low calorie diets produce weight loss in the beginning. The problem is, none of them work for long – it is not healthy or effective to try and lose fat by starving yourself. This type of short term weight loss does not result in the toned look that most people are hoping to achieve when they embark on a diet/exercise regime.

To lose body fat, you must create a calorie deficit. There are two ways you can create this calorie deficit: 1) decrease your caloric intake from food, or 2) increase the amount of calories you burn through exercise. Both of these methods should be considered when looking to get the best possible results.

The keys to getting a “toned” physique are:

  • Eat more of the essential nutrients (think protein, fats, fruit & vegetables)
  • Use carbohydrate to help fuel exercise (think eating most of your starchy or sugary carbohydrates in the meal before and the meal after your workout)
  • Use strength training to help retain or even increase muscle mass while in a calorie deficit (for most people, especially women, it is unlikely that you will increase muscle mass when in a calorie deficit; but to look toned you want to retain as much as possible)
  • Use cardiovascular training and increasing your step count as tools to help you create a calorie deficit (think combo of interval training and traditional running/cycling/rowing etc).

It’s amazing how quickly you can notice the change in your physique when you put nutrition, cardio and weight training all together at once. The results are synergistic.

Always keep in mind that when attempting to go from thin or only slightly overweight, to “toned”, then the goal should always be FAT loss not weight loss. You must distinguish between the two, as the scales can be very misleading. The best measure here is body fat percentage, waist/hip circumferences and before and after photos. If you have not yet got your BF% tested and are currently using body weight as your goal, then you should consider doing so straight away. BF% will give you a much better objective measure of your success, even if the scales stay completely still!

Toning FAQ:

How many calories should I eat per day?

This is hard to say and depends on your activity levels, here is a formula to estimate how many calories you should aim to eat per day to create a calorie deficit:

First Step: Calculating Your Basal Metabolic Rate

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) simply means the amount of energy used by your body during a 24-hour period if no activity is performed. In other words, if you’re inactive for 24-hours straight, you’d still “burn” the amount of calories equivalent to your BMR.

For Men

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age)

For Women

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.7 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)

Second Step: Factoring in activity level

The amount of calories found using the Harris-Benedict formula is what your body burns every day, even if you do nothing all day. Obviously, the more active you are the more you’ll burn fuel. So, energy expenditure will be increased when your activity level goes up.

To get an adequate estimation you need to multiply your BMR by an activity level factor:

Activity level factor Activity level
1.0 Sedentary
1.2 Very light activity
1.4 Light activity
1.6 Moderate activity
1.8 High activity
2.0 Extreme activity

By sedentary we mean doing nothing all day (sleeping and watching TV).

By very light activity we mean doing nothing physical. Working a desk job or on a computer and not performing any type of physical activity during your day.

By light activity we mean having a non-physical job (desk, computer, etc.) but performing some sort of physical activity during the day (e.g. above average walking) but no hard training.

By moderate activity we mean having a non-physical job, performing some sort of physical activity during the day, and including a daily workout session in your routine. This is where most of you are at.

By high activity we mean either training plus a physical job or non-physical job and twice-a-day training sessions.

By extreme activity we mean a very physical job and daily hard training.

Third Step: Adjusting caloric intake to your goal

To gain muscle you should ingest more calories than you use up each day. To lose body fat you must do the opposite. A 20% increase or decrease seems to be ideal for most individuals. This isn’t a drastic increase/decrease, so it shouldn’t lead to excessive muscle loss or unwanted fat gain.

Can I get a “toned” look training once per week?

The answer here is quite simply: NO. If your only goal is weight loss then yes you can achieve weight loss through creating a calorie deficit through diet alone. If you want to look toned at the end of your fat loss then you should aim to exercise AT LEAST twice per week. If your serious about changing your physique then you should aim to exercise 3-4x per week.

What type of training should I be doing?

You should aim to do 2-3 resistance training sessions per week. Resistance training (when coupled with a calorie deficit) has been, and always will be the king of giving you a toned look. Use cardiovascular exercise to help create your calorie deficit.

What is the maximum I should train?

There is no real limit on how much you should exercise as such, however, when doing resistance training if you’re are doing a full body program then you should have 1 day of rest between each resistance training session. Most types of cardio (especially low impact cardio like sled, bike, rowing machine, incline running/walking) can be done most days if that is your wish.

If I’m creating a calorie deficit does it matter what I’m eating?

Someone could eat the same amount of calories in sweets while another eats predominantly meat/protein and vegetables. It is true that both would lose WEIGHT, however, when you eat the correct foods that your requires then your FAT loss will be far better, and your resulting physique will look much better. If you are unsure of what to eat or want a bespoke eating plan please consult your trainer or take a nutrition consult with either myself or James.

Should I worry about how many calories I burn in every training session?

The answer here depends on what type of training your doing. If you are doing resistance training, then the answer is definitely NO. The goal of resistance training is to help increase/maintain muscle mass. Furthermore the calories burnt in your 1 hour weights training session won’t truly reflect the impact of weights training on your calories burnt at rest (i.e. your metabolism). When doing interval training, yes you should train as hard as you can for whatever exercise has been prescribed. When doing longer steady state cardio (e.g. jogging, cycling, rowing etc) then you should aim to train hard enough to burn calories, but not so hard that you are not recovered enough to perform your strength training (for example, if you train weights on Monday, Weds & Friday, doing an 1 hour of high intensity road running on a Thursday night might not be the best idea, as it will dramatically impact your recovery for your weights session, a better option would be an incline run/walk or cross trainer for example.

For a program that satisfies all of the above points check out our 6 week transformation package or call us on 01732 451979.

Joe Birch
Personal Trainer Sevenoaks