Toning up and losing weight aren't quite the same. Weight loss is straightforward as it simply involves lowering your body weight, which can be done by dieting alone. Toning however is a different matter. For a toned physique, you need tight, defined muscles, which means hitting the gym for some resistance training. Cardio may be the way many choose to lose weight, but making weight training a mainstay in your gym routine can complement your cardio routine and will lead to faster results both in terms of weight loss and toning.
Decide how many days you can get to the gym each week. Ideally you need a minimum of three days and a maximum of six. Dedicate three weekly sessions to weight training. Make these total-body workouts, in which you work every major muscle group in a single session. This burns more calories and fat than training just one or two muscle groups each workout, writes trainer Nate Green in "Built for Show." Leave at least one day between each weights workout. For your cardio, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends three 20- to 60-minute sessions of vigorous activity each week. If you can get to the gym six times per week, perform weights and cardio on different days; if not, then do both in each workout.
The best method for weight training is to choose multi-joint exercises that hit lots of different muscle groups, notes trainer Jacqueline Silvestri Banks on the Fox News website. Moves such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups and rows should make up the majority of your program. Perform two lower-body and three or four upper-body exercises each session, each for three to four sets of six to 10 repetitions. This goes against the traditional recommendation of using light weights for higher reps for toning, but lifting heavier provides a greater anabolic response, which actually leads to faster fat burning, notes Banks.
For weight loss and toning cardio, you can't beat interval training. Increasing your cardio intensity by doing intervals not only saves you time, but also means you keep burning fat long after you finish your session, says strength coach Jeremy DuVall on the "Mens Fitness" website. Interval training involves alternating between all-out bursts of maximum effort and slightly longer, slightly easier bouts of cardio. After a warmup, work at maximum intensity for 10 seconds, then ease back into a steady speed for one minute and 20 seconds. Repeat this protocol for 20 minutes. The beauty of interval training is that you can use any gym cardio machine, or try something a little different such as sprinting outside.
Diet is key too -- you won't lose weight and tone up unless you also reduce your food intake. Get rid of the junk food from your diet, focus on unprocessed foods that keep you feeling full, such as vegetables and fruits, lean meats, dairy and whole grains. Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week; you'll need to cut 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat. Reducing your daily calorie intake by 500 will yield a 1-pound loss each week; adding exercise should take you closer to the 2-pounds per week mark. If you hit a weight loss plateau, add 10 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio after each interval workout.