Getting toned is a combination of reducing your body fat and increasing lean muscle mass to make your muscles look more defined. The quickest way to achieve this is to pick exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. These exercises, known as compounds, hit more muscle fibers and are high intensity, meaning you burn more calories and get toned faster. Using a dumbbell to perform compound exercises can deliver super-toning results.
Lower Body Moves
Squats and lunges should be the basis of your dumbbell toning routine. Between them, just these two exercises hit your quads, hamstrings, butt, calves and core. When squatting hold the dumbbells at your sides or at shoulder-height and make sure you squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, if not lower. For lunges, vary the type you do. Forward lunges are great, but if you want to hit your glutes and hamstrings more, lunge backward, advises New York-based personal trainer John Romaniello. Jump lunges and static lunges with your back foot on a bench are other variations you can use to increase your workout difficulty.
Upper Body Moves
Divide your upper body into two sections -- pushing muscles and pulling muscles. The pushing muscles are your chest, shoulders and triceps. Hit these with dumbbell chest presses, pushups with your hands on dumbbells, overhead presses and dumbbell flyes. Most women place these muscle groups at the bottom of their gym priority list, writes trainer Shannon Clark on Bodybuilding.com, but working your pushing muscles can take your physique to the next level and increase upper body definition. For your pulling muscles -- the back and biceps -- perform dumbbell bent over or upright rows and biceps curls.
Full Body Exercises
If you can get toned simply by switching your current lower and upper body routine to solely focus on compound dumbbell exercises, imagine the results from incorporating highly demanding full body dumbbell moves in your workout. Try the dumbbell clean and press, by starting in a squat position with the weights on the floor, lifting them forcefully to your shoulders then pressing straight overhead. This works nearly every major muscle group. Dumbbell burpees work well too. Start in the same position as for the clean and press, kick your legs back, perform a pushup, jump in again, then stand up and jump while holding the dumbbells. Use both of these for an intense calorie burn.
The idea that you have to lift light weights for high repetitions to get toned is a misnomer. Your results depend far more on your overall work rate and calorie expenditure than your set and rep schemes. Start with three sets of eight reps on each and when you can do three sets of 12, increase the dumbbell weight. Ensure you're following a calorie-controlled diet for optimal results too.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.