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Avoiding the Dreaded Bulk: How to Get Toned, Not Huge

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Contrary to popular belief, everyone who lifts weights doesn’t want to bulk up like a bodybuilder -- not everyone wants to look like Mr. (or Mrs.) Universe. While this is the very specific goal for many lifters (many of whom actually are bodybuilders), many men and women simply want to achieve muscle definition by learning how to get toned through weightlifting.

The physical aesthetics of toning versus bulking up are two weight-training outcomes that will always be debated, and there are varying differing opinions about how to get toned muscles without swelling up like the Incredible Hulk.

Woman doing bench press exercise with free weights.

Everyone has their own definition of “bulk,” and their personal preferences as to how they want their bodies to look. Typically men want to add bulk while women want to learn how to get toned muscles. However, the common denominator seems to be that almost everyone, no matter your goal, wants to get beautifully defined muscles.

Toning means trimming fat and thereby enhancing your muscle definition. Replacing fat with muscle mass makes you look leaner and more defined because the amount of fat you carry on your body will determine how toned your muscles look.

Here are a few tips for how to get toned but not bulky. Your diet will play a huge role as well as the types of exercises you are doing. Your specific body type will also determine how your muscles will look and where you can expect to see the most definition.

3 Simple Tips for How to Get Toned & Sleek, Not Big & Bulky

Diet Is Key in Any Workout Plan

When determining how to get toned, you want to add lots of lean protein to your diet. Choose foods like chicken, fish, and eggs. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, beans and quinoa are an excellent source of lean protein as well. Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, and low-fat milk are great options for satisfying, low-calorie snacking.

Plate holding vegetable omelet, toast, and cup of fruit.

You should also consider supplementing with creatine pre- or post-workout. Creatine helps to add muscle mass which you need for muscle definition. Whole wheat bread and brown rice are also best for retaining muscle mass, as they contain higher fiber content than refined grains like white rice, white bread, and white flour.

Avoid foods that are high in hydrogenated fat and refined sugar like pizza and sweets. You should also eliminate sugary drinks from your diet, including specialty coffee drinks that are usually loaded with sugar and empty calories.

Diet is a leading factor in how to get toned muscles. Bulking requires a strict calorie-heavy diet. Bodybuilders, or anyone looking to add lots of bulk to their muscles, usually follow the same diet of lean protein and unrefined grains but in much larger quantities. Looking smaller and toned means eating smaller portions -- go figure!

Weights & Repetitions

While it is widely debated how to get toned specifically, the consensus is the same—if you are only looking to define muscles and not add bulk, the heavier the weight, the fewer reps you will need to do. Lifting heavier weights for fewer reps is more efficient for getting toned muscles than doing more reps with lighter weights.

 Man squatting while holding a barbell over his head.

The benefit of using heavier weights—besides saving time—is that heavier weight exhausts your muscles. You want to choose weights that are heavy enough to be challenging to lift, especially when getting down to your last few reps. Exhausting your muscles is what leads to muscle strength, and heavier weights strengthen your muscles more quickly than lighter weights.

Start off slowly and increase the amount of weight you are lifting each day. When you are consistent with your routine and patient with yourself, you will begin to see muscle tone and definition -- we swear!

Add in Some Cardio

The answer to how to get toned muscles lies in your body’s fat content. If you are carrying a significant layer of fat on your body, you won’t see as much muscle definition. Adding cardio into your workout routine will allow you to lose the weight (or fat) while lifting weights builds the muscle.

There are some muscle-toning exercises you can practice that have built-in cardio. Pilates, boxing, swimming, and light resistance training combine rapid, repetitive movements with a strength component. Your own body provides the strength allowing you to naturally carve out those muscles.

While it is anatomically impossible to “lengthen” muscles (your muscles are the length they are because they attach to your joints and bones. As much as we might wish it, we can’t change our bones!) some exercises do give your body the appearance of being leaner by making your muscles look longer.

 Bottle of Bare Performance Nutrition Bare Burn fat burner.

A fat burner can also assist in losing fat while giving you the energy and focus to power through your workout. Stick to your diet and be consistent with your exercise regimen. When you lose fat, put on muscle mass, and learn how to get toned, you will begin to see definition.

As always, consistency is key regardless of your workout goals. Be patient with yourself. It will take time to teach yourself how to get toned and what your body actually needs to get the amount of definition you are comfortable with.

Make sure to add enough protein to your diet pre- and post-workout. And don’t skip the cardio! You need to speed your heart rate up in order to burn fat, and you need to trim the fat in order to see that beautiful muscle definition underneath.

When your objective is to be lean and tight—not big and bulky—and you simply want to learn how to get toned muscles, make sure to follow these guidelines. Looking for the nutritional supplements and gear you need to support that long, lean look? Visit BPN today for quality supplements that can help you achieve your optimal level of muscle definition.