Muscle Toning


Muscle toning, also known as strength training, is a form of exercise that increases lean muscle and trains the muscles to work harder. Toning with equipment or body weight causes the body to use calories more efficiently, helping a person to control their weight.


The saying “use it or lose it” is often used in reference to muscle toning. A person's muscles are naturally toned, but muscle function is lost when an individual is physically inactive. In addition, there is an increase in body fat. The medical name for this condition is disuse atrophy. Muscle tone is lost through lack of use.

The aging process also brings a loss in muscle strength and flexibility. The primary remedy for this muscle loss is muscle toning, an activity that is also known as strength training, resistance training, and weight training.

Muscles are bundles of fibers or tissues that contract and expand to produce body movements. Lean muscle is related to body mass, the part of the body that is not fat. Muscle toning focuses on skeletal muscles, which are exercised through resistance training that forces the muscles to contract.

Toning involves repetitions of an exercise while using equipment such as body weight, handheld weights called free weights, weight machines, and resistance bands. The repeated movements are frequently called reps.

Muscle toning is called strength training because the repetitions help maintain and build muscle mass. The toning allows the muscles to support the joints. This helps to prevent injuries, strengthen the bones, and provide better balance.

Strength training also helps with bone health because aging also brings a loss in bone mass (thickness). In women, menopause causes a rapid decrease in bone density. This places women at risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by low bone mass and the deterioration of bone tissue. The condition increases the risk of bone fractures. Osteoporosis affects about 25% of women age 60 and older.

In addition, strength training is also known as toning because the activity causes the body to burn calories more efficiently, and body fat is replaced with muscle. This usually produces a weight loss as the body becomes toned and firm. The toning is usually first seen in the loss of body fat in the upper arms.

Muscle toning is not body building

Muscle toning differs from muscle building in the goals set and the types of activity performed to reach the goals. Toning increases the tightness of existing muscles and keeps from losing their elasticity.

Muscle building, which is also known as bodybuilding, is the process of creating newer, stronger muscles. Toning and bodybuilding involve similar equipment, but the bodybuilder generally uses heavier weights and works out for a longer time than the person who does strength training.

Both people increase the number of reps or use heavier weights to reach their goals. However, women who do muscle toning should not worry about getting bulky muscles. Women do not have enough testosterone, the male hormone that builds bulky muscles.

Strength training with weights, such as dumbbells, helps keep muscles lean and toned.

Strength training with weights, such as dumbbells, helps keep muscles lean and toned.

Furthermore, some people are afraid that muscle toning will cause them to gain weight. The fear is often based on the fact that toning causes the body to use calories more efficiently. When weight loss results, the toned person may start consuming more calories. Generally, weight gain only occurs when the individual stops muscle toning and does not reduce calorie intake.


People of all ages can do muscle training activities. For children, toning is part of physical activities such as climbing on playground equipment. Older children may workout with equipment such as resistance bands.

While strength training should be a regular part of exercise for all people, most adults can begin muscle toning at any age and benefit from improved muscle mass.


Throughout history, people did activities to gain muscle strength. Since ancient times, people in Greece and other countries demonstrated their strength at competitions. In the centuries that followed, weightlifting competitions were a popular form of entertainment as spectators watched men lift barbells and heavy weights.

Strength was also a matter of survival that kept people physically active. In early times, people actively hunted and gathered food. Over the centuries, families worked on farms; fishermen went to sea and returned with large catches.

During the 20th century, strength training became associated with fitness and health. Much of the credit for this goes to Jack LaLanne, a fitness enthusiast described by The New York Times as the “Father of the Modern Fitness Movement.” Born in 1914, LaLanne worked out with weights and opened a business in 1936 with a gym, juice bar, and spa in Oakland, California.

In 1959, LaLanne successfully marketed the Glamour Stretcher, a rubber stretch cord that was the forerunner of the resistance band. The stretch cord sold with a phonograph album, Glamour Stretcher Time. The album provided a workout for women, with LaLanne’ instructions accompanied by organ music.


The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that people do strength-training exercises at least two days each week. A workout should consist of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that target all major muscle groups. The muscle groups that are exercised are the:

Muscle toning may be done at home or a gym. Workouts should start with a warm up. Before lifting weights, a five- to ten-minute warmup is recommended doing an aerobic activity such as walking briskly. Toning movements should be done slowly, and people should remember to breathe when lifting.

Bodyweight or equipment is used for this training. The body is used for exercises such as push-ups, abdominal crunches, and leg crunches.

Free weights

Free weights are handheld weights that weigh from 3 lb. (1.4 kg) to 150 lb. (68 kg). The barbell is a bar that is from 4 ft. to 6 ft. (122 cm to 183 cm) long. Weights are attached to the ends, or there are slots where weight plates are attached. The barbell is lifted with two hands.

The dumbbell is a single weight that is held in one hand. Some people work out with two weights. A beginner may tone muscles at home with a pair of 3 lb. (1.4 kg) weights. The person could then advance to 5 lb. (2.3 kg) weights.

Weight machine

The weight machine has a bar or handles that are connected to weight plates. The plates weigh from 5 lb. (2.3 kg) to 20 lb. (9 kg), and the person installs a peg in the machine to select the amount of weight that will be lifted. The person sits at the machine and pushes or pulls on the bar or handles to lift the weights. Machines are designed to work on a certain part of the body, so one machine may be used for chest, and another one works on the abdominals.

Resistance bands

Resistance bands made of rubber or elastic work on the same principle as the rubber band. The band is flexible, and does not give any resistance until it is stretched as far as possible. The process is reversed as the stretched band returns to the flexible state. Some bands consist of long sheets of rubber; others have handles on them. The ACSM recommends using bands made of natural rubber latex.

Unlike weights that are measured in pounds or kilograms, there is no set standard of resistance measurement for the bands. Band resistance is usually described in terms of the thickness.

Some exercises involve standing on the bands and pulling on them.

Muscle-toning schedule

People who are new to muscle toning should set up a training schedule with a trainer or fitness professional. The fitness expert will give advice about technique, posture, and proper use of equipment. A workout of 20 to 30 minutes is sufficient.

The trainer will set up a schedule so that muscles are challenged. For toning, the person may start with medium weights and do 20 repetitions. Once a person is comfortable with this routine, the next challenge could be to add five more reps to the workout. Another challenge could be to add another weight plate when using a weight machine.

For people who do balance and muscle training on the same day, the balance training should be done first so that muscles are not fatigued.

Furthermore, muscles need to rest, so the same muscle group should not be exercised two days in a row. Some people exercise all muscle groups twice a week. Others target one muscle group per day.



Preparation also includes deciding upon the type of weights to use for this training. People who choose to use free weights or a weight machine may decide to do their toning workout at a gym. Those who decide to purchase weights or a home gym should consult with a trainer or other fitness professional before buying the equipment. This person will give advice about the appropriate amount of weight for the person's strength and strength goals.

People who work out with heavy weights should have a spotter. This person watches the person lifting weights. If the spotter sees the person struggle or the individual asks for help, the spotter will take the weights so the lifter is not injured.


In any muscle-toning program, people should avoid lifting too much weight or overdoing repetitions until they are physically able to do these activities. Doing too much too soon could result in a muscle overload injury.

Also, care should be taken when using free weights because movement is not restricted as it would be when the weights are attached to an exercise machine. It is important to have a good grip on handheld weights and use good technique and form.

Free weights require more muscular coordination than that needed when working out on a weight machine. There is more of risk of injury when using free weights, and most injuries occur when a weight plate drops or a dumbbell falls out of a person's hand.

In addition, when picking up weights, people must use leg muscles to avoid straining their back. Furthermore, caution should be taken so that resistance bands do not slip and hit the person.


A regular muscle-toning workout usually produces visible results within several weeks. Calories burn more efficiently, helping a person lose or control weight. The activity firms and shapes the body, and posture improves. Strength training also helps to reduce fatigue.

Long-term effects of muscle toning include reducing the risk of injury and preventing muscle loss. In addition, strengthening the bones increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.



Caviano, D. Christine. Strength Training Over 50. New York: Barron's Education Series, Inc., 2005.

Gavin, Mary L., Steven A. Downshen, and Neil Izeneberg. FitKids. New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 2004.


American College of Sports Medicine, 401 W Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 637-9200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, .

Liz Swain

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.