Toning Vs Bulking: here is everything you need to know

This article was written by Lama Kazan

We often hear of the popular notion “I want to get toned”, BUT then followed by the statement of “I don’t want to bulk up” or I don’t want to end up looking like a “body builder”. This is common in both genders but surely more in women that desire a small “toned” physique. The internet and magazines all over try to sell us workouts that swear that they will “tone without bulk” and “lean you out”. They even go further to explain the different type of exercises that stimulate growth of different types of muscles that will give you the body you’ve dreamt of. Well, let’s explore this together.

What is “toning”?

Toning in the fitness world means having a firm, strong and lean appearance. To put things into perspective, toning is pretty much uncovering the existing muscles and showing their shape regardless of how big or small they are. So in other words you can be a body builder looking toned or a recreational exerciser that also looks toned. To get a toned body one needs to follow two essential steps simultaneously, and those are

  1. gaining muscle
  2. losing fat that covers them

Yes you read it, gaining muscle is an essential step, because without muscle then what are you really showing off when you lose the fat? And if you gain muscle without losing that layer of fat then how do you expect your muscles to make a show? Toning is successful when a combination of resistance training, cardiovascular activities and a healthy slightly calorie deficit diet are part of the plan.

Toning diet and exercises

As you may imagine, there is no magic formula to get a toned body, but it is all a mixture of what we have listed previously. Here is an example of a good toning diet, to get a rough idea (keep in mind that, ultimately, this will depend on maintenance calories calculated based on your weight, age, height, and activity level)*

  • Maintenance calories= 2400 calories/day
  • Toning plan calories= 2000 calories/day

Breakfast: 500 calories

oats breakfats

  • 30 gr of organic oats
  • ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • ½ cup of blueberries
  • 1 big spoon of peanut butter

Snack: 200 calories

  • 1 Apple with 15 almonds

Lunch: 500 calories

  • One Grilled Chicken breast
  • 1-2 cups of tossed salad
  • 1 medium broiled sweet potato
  • 2 teaspoons of Balsamic Vinegrette dressing

Snack: 200 calories

  • Two big spoons of Hummus with ¾ cup of carrots

Dinner: 450 calories

toning dinner salmon

  • Oven broiled Salmon 200 grams
  • One cup up of cooked rice
  • 1 cup of steamed broccoli and mushrooms

Toning training plan

tone training

A good toning plan will include various sets of exercises, aimed at strengthening different muscles group. Here is an example of a daily workout, aimed at the lower body. There isn’t a set time of how long a workout should be, as that also depends on your level and capabilites. For this set, we recommend roughly 1 hour:

1. Warm up: 5-8 minutes

2. Resistance training:

  • 12 reps of moderate to heavy weight squats x 4 rounds
  • 16 reps of walking lunges with weights superset with 12 reps of machine leg extensions at moderate weight x 4 rounds
  • Cardio activity
  • Run 1 minutes fast; rest 1 minute x 10 rounds

3. Stretching for 10 minutes

What about “bulking”?

Bulking in the fitness word means gaining excessive amount of muscles. It is usually appealing for body builders and men and often associated with the term shredding – losing fat. One thing I would like you to realize is that building enormous amounts of muscle requires hours and hours of training a day for extended weeks or months in addition to a very strict, high calorie diet customized to specifically bulk up if your goal is to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bulking is increasing muscle volume, the same muscle that will give you a toned look yet just much bigger! While this process is a bit easier in men due to the hormone “testosterone”, in women this requires years and years and is almost not possible! And trust me when I say women who reach that stage of bulk are those who do it purposefully, due to certain performance goals and can care less about how small or big they look. Bulking is accomplished through a plan that includes lots of resistance training, some cardio and balancing between eating a bit more without gaining fat and ensuring proper macronutrient intake especially protein. For those who just want to be healthy and look good, engaging in regular resistance exercises WILL not grow enough muscle to make you look “ BULKY”!

Bulking diet and exercises

Is there such thing as a bulking diet? Not really, it will be important to eat certain foods and train regularly. Here is an example, itwill depend on maintenance calories calculated based on your weight, age, height, and activity level)*

  • Maintenance: 2400 calories ( 65 kg male)
  • Bulking: 2600 calories, 120 grams of protein

Breakfast: 600 calories

  • 2 full eggs + 4 egg whites
  • 2 protein bread toasts
  • 2 slices of tomato

Snack: 220 calories

  • 1 apple plus 20 almonds

Lunch : 600 caloiries

  • 1.5 chicken breast
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 2 cups of tossed salad
  • Balsamic vinegrette

Snack: 220 calories

  • 3 big spoons of hummus with 1 cup carrots

Dinner: 600 calories

  • 250 grams of broiled salmon
  • 1 cup of steamed rice
  • 1 cup of steamed veggies

Post workout: 200 calories within 1 hour of workout

  • 2 scoops of whey protein with 1 small banana in 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk

Bulking training plan


Leg day

Warm up: 6-8 minutes


  • 8-10 reps of heavy squats x 4 rounds ( rest 2 minutes between each set)
  • 8/8 reps lunges with heavy weight x 4 rounds ( rest 2 minutes between each set)
  • 10 reps as heavy as possible leg extensions x 4 rounds
  • 10 reps calf raises x 4 rounds ( rest 2 minuets between set)


  • Walk at a moderate pace for 15-20 minutes


The Bulky Fluffy Look

I hear a lot of women mentioning “ I became bulky after I started doing resistance training” or “ I’m scared to get bulky if I start lifting weights”. If this actually happens, I’m going to be blunt here and say you are probably eating a bit too much for your needs! Unfortunately, a lot of us forget that diet and weight-loss are the other step to ensure that dream toned body. Not losing the fat around the muscle while building muscle volume could also give a bulky and soft look, simply because you are unable to reveal the “ toned” muscle underneath. Avoiding a surplus in calorie intake is crucial and we need to be mindful of overestimating the calories burnt during exercise before we head for that extra protein shake filled with sugar and calories! Also, doing hours of cardio without resistance training will only burn your muscles and will not lead to the look that you aspire.

An example of Bulky Fluffy Training plan:

  • LOADS of CARDIO with no resistance training

An example of bulky Fluffy Diet plan:

  • Maintenance calories: 2400 cal
  • Eaten calories: 2800 calories of bad quality food
  • “I EAT WHATEVER I want because I train a lot” attitude

What do I need to do to get the ” toned” looked rather than the “Bulky” look?

  • Lift those weights! To gain muscle and look toned, we need to apply resistance and enough stimulus to our muscle causing them to break and reform into stronger muscles. Adopting a weight training routine will give you the fastest results. Whether its light weights at low reps or low weights at higher reps work, studies show that both will lead to muscle fatigue necessary to grow and strengthen the muscle at equal rates. Building muscle also improves metabolism and leads to higher fat burn even at rest. So grab your weight guys and girls!
  • Cardio- Hardio: Cardiovascular workouts 3-4 times a week such as running or spinning that increase your heart rate are a great way to increase fat burn through burning more calories in a shorter time. You may also hear of circuit training which can combine a weight training session with cardio moves getting the best of both worlds in a fun way.
  • Eat enough but not too much: It is important to know how many calories you should eat based on your activity levels so you can fuel your muscle as around your workouts. Having sufficient proteins is also very important and helps with metabolism and feeling fuller. Being diligent and committed to a healthy diet is as important as exercise to ensure that tone that you’d like to see. It is not one or the other!
  • Sleep well, rest enough: Sleeping and resting are crucial to make sure your muscles repair from exercise and take the shape you want. They are also important to avoid inflammation and injury as the intensity of the exercise increases. I recommend at least 1 day and even better 2 days of rest a day where you stretch or just do long walks. Having 7-9 hours a night of quality sleep is also essential. This is important for hormonal balance and to ensure the recovery process is complete
  • Walk more: We live in a sedentary world. Get a fitness watch and count your steps. Aim for 10-12 K a day and stand up every hour if you have an office job. Trust me this low intensity “cardio” makes a difference and improves your resting metabolism which compliments your effort.

So in conclusion, you need to create muscle and lose the layer of fat to expose muscle which will make you look toned, healthy and happy 😊 Eat well, exercise hard, and recover smart. And at the end, how much do you want it?