Gym Routine for Weight Loss & Toning Up

First things first: Toning up and losing weight aren't quite the same. Weight loss is more straightforward as it simply involves lowering your body weight, which can be done by dieting alone.

If your goal is to lose weight and tone up, you'll ned cardio and strength training in the gym. (Image: LuckyBusiness/iStock/GettyImages)

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. If you're ready to hit the gym, here's how to build your own workout routine to lose weight and tone.

Workout Schedule

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 personal trainer Nate Green in his book 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.

For example, if you can only devote three days to the gym each week, your schedule may look like this:

  • Monday: full-body weightlifting workout
  • Tuesday: rest
  • Wednesday: cardio
  • Thursday: rest
  • Friday: full-body weightlifting workout
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

Or if you can devote six days to working out each week, your week could look like this:

  • Monday: full-body weightlifting workout
  • Tuesday: cardio
  • Wednesday: full-body weightlifting workout
  • Thursday: cardio
  • Friday: full-body weightlifting workout
  • Saturday: cardio
  • Sunday: Rest
Lunges are a great lower-body exercise for toning up. (Image: Emir Memedovski/E+/GettyImages)

Best Exercises for Toning Up

The best method for weight training is to choose multi-joint exercises that hit lots of different muscle groups. Moves such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups 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 weights provides a greater anabolic response, which actually leads to faster fat burning.

Here are two sample full-body workouts for losing weight and toning you can take with you to the gym:

Full-Body Toning Workout #1

  • 5-minute dynamic stretching warm-up
  • 4 sets of 8 kettlebell deadlifts
  • 3 sets of 10 push-ups
  • 3 sets of 10 reverse lunges on each leg (20 total)
  • 3 sets of 8 dumbbell rows on each side
  • 4 sets of 10 overhead dumbbell presses

Full-Body Toning Workout #2

  • 5-minute dynamic stretching warm-up
  • 4 sets of 8 goblet squats
  • 3 sets of 6 pull-ups
  • 4 sets of 10 kettlebell swings
  • 3 sets of 8 dumbbell bench presses
  • 4 sets of 10 barbell rows
  • 3 sets of 8 bench dips
The great thing about interval cardio for weight loss is that you can do it on any machine or even outdoors! (Image: YakobchukOlena/iStock/GettyImages)

Cardio for Weight Loss

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. Interval training involves alternating between all-out bursts of maximum effort and slightly longer, slightly easier bouts of cardio.

The beauty of interval training is that you can use any gym cardio machine, or try something a little different such as sprinting outside. Incorporate these two weight-loss cardio workouts into your weekly routine.

Weight-Loss Cardio Workout #1

  • 5-minute warm-up at a moderate intensity
  • 10 seconds of maximum intensity
  • 80 seconds steady state
  • Repeat the intervals for a total of 20 minutes
  • 5-minute cool down at low to moderate intensity

Weight-Loss Cardio Workout #2

  • 5-minutes warm-up at a moderate intensity
  • 1 minute of steady state
  • 1 minute of rest
  • Repeat intervals 5 times for a total of 10 minutes
  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 30 seconds resting
  • Repeat intervals 10 times for a total of 10 minutes
  • 1 minute of steady state
  • 30 seconds of rest
  • Repeat intervals 5 times for a total of 7 minutes and 30 seconds
  • 5-minute cool down at low to moderate intensity
Your diet is the main factor in your plan to lose weight. (Image: wmaster890/iStock/GettyImages)

Diet for Weight Loss

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 whole foods that keep you feeling full, including:

  • Kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and other vegetables high in fiber
  • Tasty, low-sugar and high-fiber fruits like raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
  • Lean meats like chicken breast and fish like tilapia with low fat content
  • Milk and cheese with strong flavor, like Parmesan and sharp cheddar, so that you don't need as much
  • Whole-grain and sprouted wheat bread with high fiber, vitamin and mineral content

Aim to lose one to two pounds per week. That means 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.

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