How to “Tone Up” for the Summer




By Nick Gallardo, BS, ACE-CPT

“How I can I tone my arms? I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder though.” is probably one of the more common phrases a trainer hears often, or some iteration of that. The thing that most fail to realize is that “tone” is synonymous with “build muscle”. When someone says “I want to tone up”, as a trainer, I hear, “I want to build muscle”. I’m not entirely sure where the word “tone” originated, but I’m pretty confident someone in advertising created this buzzword. To have toned arms, one needs to have muscular arms.


Please don’t take that to one extreme end of the spectrum; that just means to have the shapely arms you desire, muscle needs to be present. To build muscle, we need to overload the muscle; that is, place stress on the muscle fibers. Moving up ten pounds for your next set of squats, adding two more reps to your push ups, or doing an extra set of rows are all ways we can increase stress on the body. When our body is under stress, it has to adapt. In this example, it will more-than- likely create new muscle fibers to accommodate the stress that is being placed upon it. That means going up in your weights isn’t optional, it’s essential.


On paper it looks pretty simple:

  • Take a picture of yourself
  • Lift weights or your bodyweight 2-4x/week
  • Increase your total volume each week (increase your reps/sets/weight)
  • Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and consuming adequate protein (Applicable to both sexes)
  • Take another picture of yourself
  • Compare before and after pictures

After four to six weeks of consistently improving in your training, check to see how your latter photo compares to the former. Do you like how you look? Are you as toned as you want? If you say yes, keep doing what you’re doing. Instead of continuing to push for more volume, just hang out at-or-around your most recent total volume (weights, reps, sets). This is what we call the maintenance phase. If you aren’t quite satisfied, you’ll want to repeat the cycle again while making small adjustments to your plan if need be. Maybe you need to adjust your diet or increase the intensity or volume of your training. On the rare occurrence that you put on too much muscle, you can either decrease your training volume, decrease your food intake, or a little of both.


The biggest obstacle of most on their quest to tone up is usually not pushing themselves hard enough. Don’t be afraid to increase your volume when training. Your before and after photos will give you a great indicator of how much progress you’ve made, and you can use them as a reference to see if you’re “toned” enough or not.

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