The days of staring at the scale — willing it to change — seem to be lessening as more women look for ways to achieve a toned body. Through a combination of strength training, healthy eating and the right amount of cardio, you will find the best way to get lean and toned.
Healthy Eating for a Toned Body
The female version of the get lean diet looks similar to what a male would eat, with a few key differences. First, most women eat fewer calories than men. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 126 pounds, should consume anywhere between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. Where you land in that wide range of calories depends on your age and activity level.
For example, a 31- to 35-year-old sedentary woman is on the lower end, only needing 1,800 calories a day, whereas a woman of the same age, who is moderately active or very active. might need 2,000 to 2,200 calories each day. Looking at those numbers, you might be surprised by how high they are. After all, women are conditioned to believe that getting a toned body is equated with a very-low-calorie diet.
However, eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, taking in 2,000 calories versus 1,200 may actually lead to greater fat loss. Make sure to include protein such as chicken, fish and low-fat turkey and beef in a lean muscle diet program for females.
General Exercise Guidelines
Eating right is only part of the equation. To get a toned body, you also need to include exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Additionally, you should include a minimum of two days a week of strength-training activities that involve all of the major muscle groups.
Cardio Exercise for a Toned Body
If you're new to exercise, starting with the minimum recommendations is smart. But if you've been at this for a while, you might need to up your game and boost the amount of time you spend exercising each week. In fact, for additional benefits, it's recommended that you increase your aerobic activity to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
In addition to steady-state cardio, try to include one to two days a week of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This form of cardio increases the intensity of a workout without increasing the volume. In fact, including HIIT workouts at least two times a week will help you cut back on the total time spent exercising. Doing a 30 seconds on/30 seconds off series of intervals will help you increase your overall calorie burn and train your body to be more efficient. For example, if you're on the treadmill, run for 30 seconds at a higher intensity; then walk for 30 seconds and repeat.
Strength Training for a Toned Body
Cardio or aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling, swimming and the elliptical, all work to help get you to your 300 minutes. Unfortunately, if you're only doing cardio, you might find it difficult to get a toned body.
The best way to get lean and toned is to include strength training in your overall fitness plan. While the CDC says two days a week, in order to build lean muscle, you need to add in more sessions of weight-bearing exercise. Even adding one more day to the mix, for a total of three days each week, will make a difference.
And before you start worrying about your biceps bulging out of your T-shirt, remember, women don't typically bulk up like men do. Why? Because they lack the level of testosterone needed to get huge. That said, it is possible for women to build some solid size and mass, but they are likely strength training several days a week with very high weight.
Aim for three days a week of strength training and include full-body workouts that focus on compound exercises (movements that work multiple muscles at one time, rather than single movement lifts). Examples include squats with a shoulder press, deadlifts with a bent-over row (not as scary as they sound!), lunges with a lateral raise, pushups and planks with a one-arm row.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity Guidelines
- ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal: Interval Training
- United States Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: 4 Keys to Building Strength
- Cleveland Clinic: Female Reproductive System