It’s the new year and I’ve asked my clients about their fitness goals for the year.  Many have said they want to get toned muscles.

Despite it being January, getting more definition is the number two goal I hear from my clients all year around.  It’s a very close second behind wanting to lose weight.  So let’s discuss how to get nicely defined muscles.

1. Eat Fewer Total Calories

The first step in getting your muscles to look more defined is to eat less.  So figure out how many calories you’re currently eating, then reduce from there.  I recommend the Fat Secret app, but there is LiveStrong, MyFitnessPal, and many more apps to count your calories.  Once you know how many calories you’re typically eating, start cutting down on total calories with a focus on reducing fat.

Even if you eat healthy fat like nuts, EVOO, and avocados, they still come with A LOT of calories.  Fat has 9 calories per gram.  And if you eat a lot of fat, you train your body to burn the fat you’re eating.  While that sounds good, you’re not burning the stored fat on your body.  You want to burn the stored fat!

Train your body to burn stored fat by starving it with little other fat to burn.  By simply reducing the amount of fat you eat (including cheese) you will cut down on calories.  You need to reduce the fat that covers your muscles in order for them to show!

2. Eat More Protein

While you need to lower your total calorie intake, you need to increase the amount of protein you eat.  The amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks of muscle.  If you don’t supply your muscles with enough nutrition to grow, they won’t develop that nice definition you’re seeking.

Protein has 4 calories per gram.  That’s far lower than fat!  Look for high protein, low fat sources:  chicken, fish, pork, greek yogurt, protein shakes (I use Advocare,) and protein bars.  But be sure to look at the nutrition labels.  I recommend protein bars with 20 grams or more of protein and less than 10 grams of fat.

3. Lift Weights

Lifting weights is the best form of exercise when you want to get toned muscles.  And you must lift a challenging amount.  Intensity matters!  You want your muscles to grow so that they look defined.

The exercises that you do don’t really matter as long as you’re fatiguing at the end of each set.  If you can do more than 20 reps of an exercise without needing rest, then it’s time to ramp up that intensity.  Use heavier weight.

Cardio exercise will help burn some extra calories, but will not grow your muscles.  High intensity intervals using weights is a serious cardiovascular workout…..and a short workout.

Spending 45-60 minutes walking or biking is a waste of time when the goal is to get toned.  Prioritize strength training 3 times per week.

4. Change Your Mindset

Being consistent with the above three components is the toughest part.  You’ll have your days where your nutrition is off and your workouts feel like garbage.  But stay the course.  Mindset is the glue that keeps you motivated.

  • You will have to accept that the scale is not a good way to measure progress.  Because I promise you that you will not lose weight.  You will gain weight from the muscle you’re gaining.  But, you’ll be losing fat.  This is how you change how you look.  Lose the fat, grow the muscle — then you can see the definition.
  • You will have to let go of the notion that you’ll get bulky from lifting intense weight.  Women simply do not have the levels of testosterone that men do to get really big.
  • You will have to understand that results will not be quick.  Plan for at least 3 months of consistent work.

Get Toned Summary

These are the truths to get toned muscles.  Whether you desire defined arms, abs, or legs the above 4 approaches are required to reach your goal.

It can be difficult to figure out the nutrition part.  I remember when I made these changes thinking there was no way I would be able to live with less cheese.  But as Robin Sharma says, “All change is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle, and beautiful at the end.”  It’s so true.  It was hard to get the protein I needed at first.  It took me about 8 weeks to figure out how to reduce my fat intake, lower my calories, and get enough protein.  You can read about my journey here.