Getting toned is a big goal, and it can be a difficult one to achieve if you don't know where to begin. Muscle tone is essentially how much tension (or readiness to react) a particular muscle holds, so it's important to build up the muscle groups you are aiming to tone. Building lean muscle mass is often overlooked in the quest for tone, but along with losing an appropriate amount of fat, it's really the only way to see any significant progress. Three weeks is not a lot of time to get toned, so the most effective method is to combine different kinds of workouts in order to build up your lean muscle and cut down extra fat.
You might not think of sprinting as an obvious choice for building muscle tone, but in truth sprints are among the most effective workouts you can do for improving both your tone and your rate of fat loss. Not only do sprints build lean muscle mass in the legs, buttocks and abs, but according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they also kickstart a fat-burning hormonal reaction. These two factors combine to make sprints a secret weapon in getting toned up quickly. Sprints also have the added benefit of being a short workout. You can get great results from sprinting three or four times per week, with intervals such as a twenty second sprint alternated with a ten second rest, eight times through. Sprinting can be done by simply running, or on a stationary bike, rower machine or with a skipping rope.
Pilates is well-known around the world for creating supple, strong bodies that have beautiful balance and tone. Pilates will give you an all-round toned appearance. Originally developed for dancers and athletes who were recovering from injuries, Pilates has a heavy focus on developing core strength (working your abs, obliques and back), while also improving the strength of your legs and arms. Even the Mayo Clinic has said that Pilates is a great way to build strength, and therefore lean muscle mass. Combined three or four times a week with regular sprint sessions, the more difficult Pilates workouts can also have you working up a sweat and cutting down on fat.
Resistance training is really the cream of the crop when it comes to getting toned in a short period of time. With a huge amount of variation available, getting bored is not an option, and resistance training is easily scaled up or down to your fitness level. You can use your own bodyweight, with exercises such as pushups, situps, squats, pullups, wall sits and lunges. Or you can use weights, using lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press, bicep curls, tricep dips, lunges, hip thrusters, and bent over rows. Women should not be afraid of the weight room. As mentioned in a recent article from Boston University, you are not going to "get bulky" from lifting weights. In fact, if you want to be very toned, using weights is the only way to do it. Three to five bodyweight or weighted sessions per week will start to improve your tone very quickly.
Perhaps one of the most underrated activities available, swimming is an excellent workout if you're looking to tone up -- particularly if you have a lot of weight to lose or are struggling with an injury. The US Masters Swimming program outlines that swimming can present a new challenge to your body as it creates natural resistance for your body to work through. This resistance, as well as the cardio demands of swimming, can greatly improve the appearance of your entire body. Combining two swim sessions per week with bodyweight or strength training is a double whammy for toning your whole body.