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The Best Toning Workouts For The Entire Body

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Even though knowing that regular exercise is an important component of maintaining optimal health should be enough motivation to get in your daily workout, let’s face it, we also want our workouts to pay off in the looks department.

In other words, we want our bodies to reflect our hard work; in addition to feeling good, we want to look good.

Although everyone has their own unique take on their ideal physique goals, most of us want to look toned.

But what are the best toning exercises and best toning workouts for the entire body? What exercises should you include in a body toning workout?

In this article, we will discuss what body toning entails and what are the best body toning workouts to sculpt your body so that you look as good as you feel.

We will cover: 

  • How Do You Get a Toned Body?
  • The Best Body Toning Workouts

Let’s get started!

A toned person with their arms crossed.

How Do You Get a Toned Body?

What exactly do people mean when they say they want to look toned?

Although not a technical term, looking “toned” basically means that your body is lean, with visible muscle definition in your arms, legs, chest, back, and core.

Rather than looking soft and having rather amorphous limbs and trunk, if you look toned, there will be a shapeliness to the various muscle groups in your body and potentially even discernible striations in the muscles from the arrangement of the muscle fibers.

For example, someone with a toned body might have the classic six-pack abs, which are distinct sections or bundles of muscle fibers in the rectus abdominis muscle in the center of your stomach.

Their arms would have bumps and bulges for the biceps and triceps, rather than just a soft, doughy appearance and even thickness of the arm throughout its length.

The same could be said for the legs, back, and chest muscles.

So, how do you get a toned body?

Having muscle definition or a toned body requires two things: having a low enough body fat percentage and having large enough and strong enough muscles that you’ve built up through exercise.

Let’s look at each of these factors individually.

A toned person flexing muscles.

Your Body Fat Percentage 

Body fat percentage refers to the amount of body fat, or adipose tissue, you have relative to your lean body mass.

Lean body mass, also called fat-free mass, is essentially anything that’s not body fat, so it includes muscles, organs, bones, tendons, ligaments, fascia, cartilage, nerves, blood vessels, blood, lymph, etc.

The higher your body fat percentage, the more body fat you have compared to your fat-free mass.

While some amount of body fat is essential for life and completely healthy and normal, excessive body fat is linked to health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and certain cancers.

Additionally, above a certain body fat percentage, you will be unable to see muscle definition.

There are two primary storage sites of fat in the body: visceral fat, which is deep in your abdomen and surrounds your organs to cushion and protect them, and subcutaneous fat, which lies underneath your skin and insulates your body.

The subcutaneous fat is between your muscles and skin, so the thicker this layer becomes, the more concealed your muscle tissue will be. This is precisely why your body will not appear toned if you have a high body fat percentage.

In other words, you can work out regularly, do a ton of body toning exercises, and be functionally really strong and even physically very healthy, but you will not look toned if you have a lot of body fat. This is the concept of “fit but fat.”

When it comes to the specific body fat percentage you need in order to see muscle definition and have a toned body, the general consensus is that men need to be in the range of 6 to 13% body fat and women need to be around 14-20%.

There’s a high degree of variability because your genetics, body shape, skeletal build, and other such factors can impact your individual appearance.

Therefore, some people will need to be even a bit lower than these ranges, while others will see some good muscle definition at higher body fat percentages.

A person flexing their bicep.

Body Toning Exercise

If your body fat percentage is low enough that your subcutaneous fat layer is relatively thin, you should be able to see the morphology and shape of the muscles underneath your fat.

This is where the second factor to having a toned body comes in: in order to see defined muscles, there has to be enough muscle mass there to see.

In short, you have to perform strengthening exercises or “body toning workouts” that will build muscles.

Failing to increase your muscle mass through exercise is where the concept of “skinny fat” comes in.

Someone who is colloquially called skinny fat appears thin and lean when they are clothed because their body fat percentage is low.

However, so too is their muscle mass. Basically, even though that subcutaneous fat layer that we discussed is nice and thin, a skinny fat person doesn’t appear toned and has no discernible muscle definition because there aren’t muscles to see.

Sure, they have some muscle mass, but their muscle bellies are too small to appreciate any shapeliness to their figure or contours and striations.

The good news is that exercise can actually be beneficial for both sides of the equation: losing enough body fat so that muscle can be seen (because exercise burns calories) and building enough muscle mass, so there’s actually something to see.

We would be remiss not to mention that diet plays a big role in both of these, particularly controlling your body fat percentage, but the focus here will be on exercises to get toned.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best body toning exercises and best body tone workouts to help you address both sides of the equation.

A group class of zumba.

The Best Body Toning Workouts

The most effective body toning workouts are those that burn a lot of calories because they will help you shred body fat and utilize all the major muscles in your body to build the muscle mass and strength you need to look ripped.

Fortunately, meeting the second criterion typically satisfies the first by default because the more muscles you engage as you exercise, the higher the metabolic cost and calorie burn.

Here are some of the best body toning workouts:

Body Toning Cardio Exercises

Although we tend to think of just weightlifting exercises as the best body toning exercises, certain cardio or aerobic exercises can also be a great way to get toned.

These exercises burn a lot of calories, which helps you out with the body fat percentage side of things, and they also utilize most of the major muscles in your body, which can increase muscle mass and strength.

A person rowing, doing a toning workout.

Running

Running is undeniably one of the best total-body exercises. You’ll torch tons of calories, which will go a long way toward losing body fat and strengthening your legs, core, and arms.

Rowing

Rowing is an often overlooked exercise, but it is said to utilize 86% of the muscles in your body. The key to capitalizing on the effectiveness of body toning is driving with your legs and not just pulling with your arms. Plus, you are getting a great cardiovascular workout and burning calories.

Swimming

Swimming different strokes to mix up the muscles you use will give you a fantastic toning workout for your entire body while burning a lot of calories.

Elliptical Machine

The elliptical machine is a good, low-impact cardio exercise that utilizes your entire body, so long as you use an elliptical machine with movable arms. 

A person on a treadmill.

Climbing Stairs

Climbing stairs is one of the best toning workouts. Make sure to really drive with your arms. 

Incline Walking/Hiking

Incline walking is metabolically costly, which means it burns many calories. It’s also a great way to tone your glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads, and core.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is inexpensive, simple, and extremely effective at improving your fitness.

Kickboxing

Kickboxing is an all-around excellent way to burn calories and tone your body.

An gym class of people doing bicycle crunches.

Bodyweight Body Toning Exercises

Some of the best body toning exercises are bodyweight exercises such as burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and jump squats.

These exercises tick both boxes in terms of their ability to help you get a toned body because they burn many calories and build muscle.

Strength Training Body Toning Workouts 

One of the most effective ways to build muscle is through strength training, also called resistance training.

Any strength training exercise usually just targets a couple of muscle groups, even if it’s a compound exercise, so in order for your strength training workout to be an effective entire body toning workout, you need to include exercises that target all the major muscle groups.

Circuit training is a fantastic body tone workout.

Circuit training involves performing a rotation of different exercises with very little rest in between each move.

In this way, your heart rate never really comes down to baseline, enabling you to get an aerobic workout as much as you are a strengthening one.

A circuit training workout might involve doing between 8 to 15 exercises two or three rounds through, moving steadily from one exercise to the next without stopping or pausing in between.

There is often a combination of cardio and strength exercises within the circuit training workout.

A person doing high knees.

Consider the following body toning circuit training workout:

  • 60 seconds of jumping jacks 
  • 60 seconds of dumbbell chest press
  • 60 seconds of dumbbell squats with an overhead press 
  • 60 seconds of mountain climbers 
  • 60 seconds of dumbbell step-ups alternating legs
  • 60 seconds of medicine ball Russian twist
  • 30 seconds per side (60 total) of reverse lunges with a resistance band single-arm row
  • 60 seconds of jumping rope
  • 60 seconds dumbbell deadlifts 
  • 60 seconds plank with alternating foot taps 
  • 30 seconds per side of lateral lunges with a dumbbell bicep curl 

Competing 2-3 rounds would give you a great total-body toning workout.

A person on a stationary bike.

You also don’t have to necessarily follow the circuit training format in order to do a body toning strength training workout.

You can use the traditional structure of resting in between exercises. 

What matters most is that you are doing enough exercises and a wide enough variety of exercises to work all of the major muscles in your body.

Therefore, even exercises that isolate a specific muscle, such as tricep extensions, can be a viable part of a body toning workout; they just need to occur in conjunction with enough other exercises for your other muscle groups.

Compound exercises, which are those that utilize multiple muscle groups and involve moving multiple joints simultaneously, are going to be a lot more efficient and effective in body toning workouts.

Consistency and dedication in the gym and kitchen can help you get a svelte body. 

Stay the course. You’ve got this!

If you are looking to spruce up your eating habits as well, check out our most popular healthy eating guide.

A person eating a salad.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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