Muscle tone exists when some muscle fibers remain slightly contracted, even when you’re not consciously flexing them. Fit people who exercise often tend to have highly developed musculature, so even when they’re not active, muscle tone gives them a flattering shape. For example, a bodybuilder’s powerful chest and back muscles might be noticeable through his shirt. Achieving a toned look requires two things: a low body fat level and sufficient muscle development.
When people say they want to get toned, they usually mean they want a lean, muscular physique, which starts with shedding fat to make muscles more prominent. Weight loss occurs only when you burn more calories than you take in. Create a caloric deficit by eating a healthy diet that includes all the major food groups while maintaining a total calorie intake that is lower than the number of calories you burn in a day. A healthy goal is aiming to eat about 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than you burn, leading to roughly 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss a week.
Balance your diet with your workout regimen to achieve a proper caloric deficit. Exercising every day is optimal for weight loss, assuming your workouts aren’t too strenuous. Simple activities, such as brisk walking or light jogging, might be enough to spur weight loss. If not, engage in more vigorous activities, such as dance aerobics, active sports or fast-paced cycling. Your goal is to remove the layers of fat, revealing the muscles that lie beneath.
As you shed fat, your hidden muscles will become visible. Also, your weight-loss workouts will improve your muscle tone, further improving your body’s shape. But you can do more to achieve a toned physique: You can increase the size of your muscles. The larger they are, the more noticeable your muscle tone will be.
Muscle Development Workouts
When your weight reaches a healthy level, it’s time to build larger, more prominent muscles. Vigorous exercise, such as sprinting and fast-paced cycling, can develop your muscles to a point, but the only way to significantly increase the size of a muscle group is to participate in resistance training. Lifting weights, for example, a few times a week is enough to achieve noticeable strength gains, according to MayoClinic.com. Each workout should include exercises that exhaust you after about 12 repetitions.
You might be tempted to strength train every day of the week, but unlike with weight loss, consecutive resistance workouts can hamper your progress. Each muscle group needs 48 hours to rebuild after strenuous exercise, so allowing for rest time can help you achieve a toned look faster than working out every day.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.