How To Get Toned: Legs, Arms, Abs, The Whole Body!


Toned and Lean BodyBest Way To Get A Toned Body

An insane number of people want to get “toned”. Yeah, that’s right, I put it in quotes.

Picture me sitting at my laptop writing this and then as I type “toned” I raise my hands and do that funny sign with my fingers.


Because toning, as most of us think about it, is a total myth.

When you, and basically everyone else, talks about getting toned what do you really mean? You are talking about your body looking nice and lean right, with an athletic appearance and defined muscle shape. That is what the majority of people think of when they use the term toned. They want to get the perfect body.

And that is great, we all want to look like that. Some of us want to get huge muscles, some of us want a slim and slender look that is the sign of someone who is fit and strong. And the bottom line is that if you want to look like this then you have to train, and you have to train with resistance.

Learning what is the best exercise program is crucial if you actually want results. What we do is the absolute best way to get a toned body, but there is one crucial ingredient:

And you have to go heavy and you have to go at it hard.

There are so many myths about what you actually have to do to get toned that I wanted to really get to the bottom of it in this article. It will save you a lot of wasted time and effort, and it will stop you from becoming very disappointed with the results that you get.

This applies to both men and women, there is absolutely no difference in the way that you should train if you want to get a nice lean and toned body.

Myth#1: Women Should Train Differently To Men

toned absShould women train differently to men to gain muscle? Absolutely not. And the reality is that if all women realized this then we would have a lot more kick ass looking bodies about the place.

But the fitness industry seems dead-set on convincing the majority of people that hard work, involving lifting heavy things, is the worst way for women to train. It’s a shame as this is the absolute best way to get what we refer to as a toned body.

For some reason myths have arisen that women should train differently to men if they want to get a nice toned look. They should not try to build muscle or they will look HUGE!

It simply is not going to happen. If we take a look at the average man who is on a good training regime, and is trying their absolute best to build an insane amount of muscle, then we can see that it is no easy thing to do. Most of us average men find it very hard to change our appearance by using heavy weights, and performing exercises like chin-ups (see the new chin-up training program) and dips with weight around our waist.

I know from personal experience that it is simply not easy to build a lot of muscle. It takes years of dedication and training roughly twice a week to build any kind of decent looking muscle.

After a year plus of training with weights again at the time of writing I definitely look very different, I have the beginnings of a muscular body, but am many years away from looking anything like a heavily muscled man. And the reality is that I will never look like that.

My genetics are average and although everyone can dramatically change how they look, the bottom line is that buildingย  muscle is no easy thing. Although our book does give tips on how to get that killer body in the absolute shortest possible time-frame possible.

And for women it is even harder. The female body is simply not built to hold a lot of muscle mass.

Alexis now trains hard doing deadlifts, dips and flex hangs and dumbbell rows twice a week. The result?

She looks hot!

But she doesn’t look like a bodybuilder. She just has a great shape. No more Bingo Wings for her (sorry dear!). And this is what it takes to get a toned body. Not lifting pink neoprene dumbbells for high reps, as we shall now see. The bottom line is that women are simply not going to get big muscles by training hard, they just get the shape they are after when they think of having toned legs, a nice flat and toned set of abs, and tight arms with no flab that look slender and defined.

It is all possible, you can get a toned body, but you need to work out hard, infrequently, and lose weight to uncover what you have built up. Bottom line is women have to get stronger to get toned. This builds muscle.

Myth #2: You Should Use Light Weights For Toning

Let’s look at this totally logically. Whether you are a man or a woman it makes no difference. Should you use light weight to get toned?


Toned muscles are muscles that are shapely. And to make a muscle shapely we must stimulate it to grow. And for the muscle to actually show we need to know how to get lean. This means shedding excess bodyfat. Both of which myself and Alexis have now done very successfully.

And man does it feel good, to see the shape of your abs, rather then a protruding belly! But if we only do the dieting part of the equation, without building some shape to our muscles, then we are not going to look great once the excess weight has gone, and when we get our kit off!

We want to uncover something that looks stunning. And that means putting in the work.

For a muscle to grow it must be stimulated hard enough to elicit a response. If you use a light weight then the muscle has no reason to grow bigger. It can handle the weight you are using easily, thank you very much. So it will not grow in order to cope with the exercise.

Progressive overload is the absolute best way to make your muscles grow.

Anything else and you are just going through the motions and wasting your time.

This means that you must be adding weight to your exercises as often as you possibly can. You must try to use a heavier weight in your routine than you did in the previous one. This is what will elicit a response from your muscles. You train them hard and you train them with as heavy a weight as you can handle.

And your body will respond by growing to try to cope more easily with the weights that you are using. And the rep ranges for a set of an exercise need to be in the right range to get the right response, i.e. muscular growth.

Myth#3: You Should Use High Reps For Toning

This is a common misconception. And especially when it comes to training the abdominal muscles. For some reason it is now widely believed by many that if you use high reps then you tone the muscle and burn the fat from the area you are exercising.

It simply is not possible to do this. You cannot spot reduce fat. The unfortunate reality for nearly all of us is that our bellies are the first place we put on fat, and this means that this is the last area to lose the fat when we diet. So if you want to get toned abs you need to diet down until you are at the right bodyfat percentage. See the article on losing weight without losing muscle for more information on this.

And we cannot build our muscle size by using very high rep ranges. This is simply not the right signal to our muscles for them to grow. The resistance needs to be heavy, ย and the best results in terms of building muscle are going to be achieved if you use a rep range somewhere between 6 and 20 reps. With 8-12 reps a set being optimal for a lot of people.

High reps in the hundreds are not going to make a muscle toned without growing, it either builds muscle or it doesn’t.

Myth #4: You Should Train Every Day

Here is another common idea that a lot of people have been led to believe by many exercise program sales peeps. Many programs that spring up nowadays seem to call for training every day.

I hate this personally.

For a start it is simply not realistic from a time point of view. Many people lead busy lives and cannot find the time to do some kind of insane workout for an hour plus every day of the week. It is not practical.

The best way to get toned muscles is to use weights that are heavy and elicit a growth response from the muscle, in order to cope more easily with the load they are put under.

And for this to happen they need to first recover from the work you have performed, and then be allowed time to grow a little as well. And training a muscle every day is not going to be long enough for this to happen.

The only way to know if your muscles are recovered is by using progressive overload. You aim to use a heavier weight for the same number of reps as you did for your previous workout. If you cannot increase the weights you used at least once a week on a relatively regular basis then you are not allowing your muscles to recover and grow.

For most people a training regime a maximum of 3 times a week is more than enough. In fact, in the Lean Ape Living book we don’t even recommend this amount of training once you are out of the beginners stage.

2 sessions, totaling an hour of total exercise a week, is more than sufficient to get your muscles toned and worked to the max

It allows you to build muscle in the most efficient way possible, and without it taking over your life.

The sad reality is that most people would get a much better looking body a lot quicker if they never trained more than twice a week, rather than up to six days a week as many programs suggest. If you look at the hours wasted by the majority of people it is a very sad state of affairs.

Never forget, that often less is more. As long as you put forth proper effort when you are exercising.

Before you ever begin any kind of exercise program that calls for such epic feats of commitment and exercise duration look very closely at just what their motives are. Is this a program for life? Or is this a way to get you involved repeatedly in the program, after the results fade from the initial induction? Are they trying to sell you more and more stuff? Time to walk away.

We really do need to take everything that we read and are told about exercise and nutrition with a massive pinch of cynicism. Things are not always as they seem.

Myth #5: You Should Do Cardio To Get Toned

I know that this is so deeply ingrained into many peoples psyches that it is hard to let go of this belief.

Does cardio get you toned?

To a degree it may. Any form of exercise is going to elicit a response from your body at first. The more sedentary that you have been then the more of a response you will get initially. Jogging, running, biking, etc are all going to give a positive response at first.

But the fact remains that this is not the most productive use of your time for getting a toned looking body, and it is certainly not the most efficient.

Do cardio if you enjoy it, not because you think it is the best way to get a hot toned body.

The best way to get a toned body is to exercise your major muscle groups with hard work. And that means lifting heavy things.

If you train for 30 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week, using compound movements that involve a lot of musculature then you are going to get results an awful lot better than using any kind of cardio based program.

A toned looking muscle really means a well developed muscle

And that means you must make it work hard a few times a week to force it to grow a little.

It may not be what you wanted to hear if you have been led to believe that cardio or light weights for high reps is the best way to get toned, but the reality is that a few brief sessions every week, where you use a heavy weight for reps around the 8-12 a set range is going to give you the best results possible.

You won’t get huge, women will get that toned look, and men will get a body that actually looks manly, and as if they lift heavy things.


Because that is exactly what they do.

If you take one thing and one thing only away with you from reading this article then please let it be this:

Lifting heavy weights, and trying to get stronger and stronger every time you exercise, is the absolute best way to get a toned look that will make you super sexy, and looking damn fine naked!


There have been a number of questions about what the best approach is to get toned so I think this article deserves a bit of an update. It is impossible to cover everything in depth here, it is why we wrote the Lean Ape book, but I can certainly give you the advice you need to get toned the right way. If you have any more questions please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the article.

It will be best done in a simple FAQ. First a little reminder:

how to get lean abs

How To Get Toned Legs For Men And Women?

The absolute best way to get toned legs for both sexes is to do relatively heavy leg work using compound movements. Combine this with getting down to a good body fat percentage and you will look stunning.

Either perform squats with weight, or perform deadlifts. Aim for a rep range of 15-20 for 2-3 sets, and always aim to add weight to the bar as often as possible.

How Long Does It Take To Get Toned?

You can actually see a huge difference in just a few weeks if you follow the right program. It means training with heavy weights, and for men and women. Females simply never get that blocky look as it is not in their genetic make-up to look like this. Heavy work with weights or body weight exercises is the secret to getting toned the fitness industry does not want you to know about.

Best Way To Get Toned Abs?

This is NOT what you probably believe, but the reality is that toned abs are created by performing a few compound exercises that work the whole body.


Because they mean you have to be very stable at your core. By performing the exercises we recommend you will get a toned body overall, and this means the abs too. You DO NOT need to do direct ab exercises to get a toned set of abs. You need to work your whole body so that your stomach muscles stabilize your body.

Then get lean enough to show them off. This is the truth, don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. I never do ab work, you don’t need it.

Can Women Really Get Toned?


And the myth that you need to ignore is that you should train differently to men. You don’t. Everyone needs to do a short intense workout with heavy resistance a few times a week. This is how women really get toned bodies. No amount of cardio or working with light weights will ever get you properly toned.

You train hard, eat right to get lean enough, and look damn hot.

It takes 60 minutes a week, that’s it. IF you do it right.

Where’s my barbell?

Your comments are very welcome, I know for many people this goes against what they have been led to believe. Resistance, or hard body weight training, is not just for bodybuilders, it is the absolute best way bar none to get a toned body in the shortest possible time-frame.

About Dave

29 Responses to “How To Get Toned: Legs, Arms, Abs, The Whole Body!”

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  1. Joe says:

    Another great article, keep them coming.

  2. Tyler says:

    Great post! I’m off to lift my kettlebells now cuz I’ve become a real porker lately.

  3. S says:

    great article, but you dont emphasize on losing body fat enough. Lifting heavy weights alone wont make the fats go away, it must be a combination of cardio and resistance training. I once tried a program that inolved heavy weights ad very little cardio, and I looked horrible, kind of puffed up. Now I do LOTS of cardio but weights too and its working….but thaks for the motivation!

    • Dave says:

      Hi S. Thanks for the comment. But we don’t really feel the need for cardio to be honest. For weightloss then diet is the most important factor. Add to that resistance training and we feel that is enough to get a killer looking body. But hey, everyone has to do what they feel the most comfortable with. And glad you found the post motivating. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. monica says:

    Wow. Glad to hear this. I m a lady n have been joining the guys at the main gym for weight lifting but I was afraid I would just bulk up. Glad to know I m on the right track. Though I think I need to regulate my reps.

    Question: what can I do to broaden my shoulders? Also, I do aerobics after weight lifting. Is this good?

    Thanks Dave!

    • Dave says:

      Show the guys what you are made of monica ๐Ÿ˜‰ If you want a really great shoulder routine then try this for a month tops, maybe twice a week if you can keep improving the weights. Do a set of dumbbell side raises, followed by front raises, then overhead barbell shoulder press. All with no rest between sets. Then rest a minute and repeat for 3-5 rounds in total.

      It is too much long term, but for a specialization for a few weeks it should give some good extra size. I would then return to just performing shoulder press along with a good compound movement like bench press, dips etc.

      As to aerobics, it really depends on your goals. If getting that toned and strong but feminine look is the aim then skip the aerobics, it will dent how well you can train, and certainly effect the muscle and shape you can build. Recovery from weight training is very important.

      Hope that helps monica.

  5. angel says:

    Hi Dave.

    I’m a female and yea i lift weights. I lift 2x 10kg dumbells n a 30kg barbell. Im actually become more and more fit and im liking the results, but now im working towards my abs, although i can see that they are also becoming toned, but i still need to loose a bit of weight on my stomach. How do i hurry the process of loosing belly fat?

    #PS. Great article!

    • Dave says:

      Thanks angel, appreciate it. To get the abs to really show through I would focus on your diet. Go low carb on days that you don’t train, and stay a little under maintenance levels. Then up the carbs on training days. If you have a click around there are lots of articles here on losing weight. But it won’t come just from your abs, you need to lose weight from your whole body.

      Hope that helps. Let us know how you get on.

  6. Cammie says:

    I always hear of people training of certain parts on certain days. For example Monday is biceps/triceps/shoulders, Tuesday is hams/quads/calves etc. If this is done then it would be impossible to train only 2-3 days per week and hit everything using 20-30 minute work outs. Would it be terrible to spend an hour and do a more complete body work out on each training day then rest for two days and do it all again?


    • Dave says:

      Hey Cammie, no problem with that at all. As long as you progress each week then the volume of work is fine. Only if you can’t keep progressing then you should cut how much training time you do.

      A full body workout is a great way to train, and as long as you pick compound movements then you should still be done in well under an hour. I only take 30 minutes even when I do full body routines 2 or 3 times a week.

      Happy training ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Annie says:

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about getting fit. Thank you, really. Is there any different approach that needs to be taken if someone is overweight? I know that working large muscle groups is best for eliminating the most fat, but does that speed up my metabolism? I’m not morbidly obese or anything, but I really want to get tight and “toned” as quickly as possible.

    • Dave says:

      Annie, thanks for the kind words. It’s appreciated. Heavy leg training is about one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, just be sure to train safely. But really it comes down to diet. Our book has the complex answer but at its most basic you really need to cut right down on carbs on non-training days for optimal fat loss. Or keep it to the evenings only.

      On training days eat minimal carbs until after training, and still mostly in the evening. And if you can skip breakfast and train hard and heavy then you won’t believe the improved results. And if you want to go all out then we got the absolute best results ever by going for a brisk uphill walk 5 days a week. It really boosts the metabolism a lot, and is actually very enjoyable too.

      Hope that helps, any more questions then feel free to ask.

      • Annie says:

        Thank you! I didn’t know that eating carbs after a workout is best. I’ve always thought it was before. Interesting. And also… Why should I skip breakfast?

        • Dave says:

          Annie, check out for more info. Basically it is both a great way to cut overall calories, and you actually end up with more energy. No highs and lows of energy levels as you cut out traditional carb based breakfast. If you do eat it try protein only, it works much better. Also it means you stay in fat burning mode. No food means your body will be burning fat for fuel until you eat. Works wonders, honestly.

          And it is good for the soul to have a hunger pang now and then ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Jackie says:

    Hi Dave so glad I fluked such an informative & sensible site. I’m 47 & working hard on my fitness but seems I have probably been going about it the wrong way ! I don”t carry a great deal of excess weight but the flab is so hard to budge ! my diet is really good but I’ll definitely try a more protein-based breaky.I will also try more use of weights whilst exercising I’ve been doing 5 km fast walks 4-6 times a week followed by exercises with minimal visible results – I so need to lose weight from my butt but am a little bit limited due to one dodgey knee – are squats and lunges best ?

    • Dave says:

      Hey Jackie, glad you are enjoying the site. I think the diet change should help you get where you want to be. And try to go low carb on days you don’t do some weights based training. Squats and lunges are going to be best to build your butt, and 1 legged dumbbell squats (where you put one leg behind you resting on a chair), are a great one to work your bum hard whilst not using too much weight. And you can try pistol squats too.

      But if your knee is dodgy then be very careful, you don’t want to make it worse. What about very steep hill sprints? Maybe that would be less aggravating? You could try that.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Jackie says:

    Can you please tell me the best exercises [that can be done at home] for butt 7 inner thighs? Thanks – not sure if my last comment went through

  10. Steve watts says:

    Hey Dave, I’m just a regular guy and I want to get toned, really don’t have much time to start a diet program it can get expensive. I consider myself slender but don’t have that define muscle shape ( 5’8 160 ) also I have skinny legs Lls, what’s a good workout routine for me. Please help.

    • Dave says:

      Hey Steve, the program in our book is simple but effective. 2 or 3 times a week pick a handful of compound exercises (ones that use multiple muscle groups) and perform 2-5 sets of them. Rep ranges of 8-12 for upper body and you may like to try up to 20 reps for lower body. Aim to get stronger each week and eat enough to put on just a couple of pound a month, or even a pound month.

      Over a year if you get strong and gain weight slowly you will be transformed dude. If you look at what even 12lbs of meat looks like and imagine that spread over your frame then it would make a huge difference.

      Good exercises are squats or deadlifts for lower body, bench press, dips, chins, rows, shoulder press and curls for upper body. Either do a full body routine or split up the exercises and aim for 12-20 sets in total per workout. Stick with it for a year or two and you will be totally different in appearance. Hope that helps dude.

      • stevy says:

        I finally started the program, I normally eat high protein with veggies. On training days in the morning I skip breakfast and around noon I have maybe a few eggs or maybe some chicken. And in the evening when I get off I might have some 3-4 pieces of chicken or 3 pieces of fish along with some veggies.

        As far as exercising, I have a pull-up bar, and free weights. Should I just join a gym.

        • Dave says:

          Hey Stevy, glad you started. I don’t see the need for a gym really, unless you want to. A bar and free weights is plenty really. There are a lot of great exercises you can do. The main thing is if you can do leg work that is taxing enough. If so then you are good without a gym. As you are slim I would add in carbs like rice, potatoes, pasta on training days definitely, and even non training days if you carry on staying slim. It will help with muscle growth and will greatly improve results. You will get better growth and recovery and the carbs won’t do anything but good if eaten then. Keep us updated dude, good to hear from you.

          • stevy says:

            Thanks. Well I’m not completely slim I have stomach that sit out a little. I’m pretty much reading the book but still unsure if I’m going about this correct. So your saying I should continue what I’m doing but add in some carbs on training and non training days.

            Do you have like a routine I should do daily as far as exercise and eating plan. I know the lean ape living pretty much covers this for me in part 1 and 2 but please help.

          • Dave says:

            Stevy, definitely on training days and see how you go. If your body reacts well to them then add in a little more. The book does cover routines and how to eat, the main thing really is consistency. 2-3 workouts a week, using heavy weights, aiming to lift a heavier weight or do more reps each workout. Go low carb on non training days and higher carb on training days. If you want to gain weight slowly then add in extra carbs, if it is for weight loss then keep the carbs low on off days and eat well under maintenance. That is simplifying it but once you finish the book you will have it in a lot more depth. Honestly? The absolute most important thing is to keep at it. You have to look at it as a new lifestyle, not anything short term.

            Hope that helps Stevy ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Stevy says:

    Hey everything seems to be going great, I seem to be toning out and I look stronger. I might just be a little too excited. My dieting consist of maybe two pieces of lean meat, veggies, along with corn on the cob or mashed potatoes on non training days, and on training days maybe three pieces of meat along with veggies and potato salad or macaroni salad and I still skipping breakfast. I go to a local gym and it seems as though the weights go up to a certain limit. I also up’ed my dips to about 7 reps of 3 sets and the same for my chin ups. I’m afraid I will run out of moving to the next set of weights because the aim is to get stronger everytime.

    Please help me with this I wanna make sure I’m going about every step correctly

    • Dave says:

      Hey Stevy, sounds like you are doing great there, nice job! The secret to keep getting stronger is to use really small weight increments. Don’t try to add too much too soon. For dips and chins try to just add the smallest weight you can find every session or two. Over a year it is incredible the amount you will have added. And if the gym is limited then you can always make exercises harder by going slower, that’s like a weight increase really. And if you end up too limited then how about buying some weights for home for certain exercises? A set of dumbbells for doing bench press, rows etc. at home lets you carry on upping the weights for a low price. But really you can carry on with dips and chins for some time, getting up to 3-5 sets of 12 and then adding some weight to a dipping belt or a backpack etc.

      Hope that helps.


  12. Becky says:

    Hi, I’ve recently had my 2nd c-section and now been left with ‘the apron’. I’m only just back in the gym 3 times a week doing an hour cardio, an hour weights and twice a week doing an hours swimming. Am I wasting a lot of time doing this much? Also I’m trying to cut out carbs as much as I can. I’m a little confused when would be best for me to eat/not eat carbs. Is it to eat them after training? I thought the evening was the worst time to eat carbs especially if my main goal is to lose weight and ‘tone’ up. Thanks in advance ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Dave says:

      Becky, apologies for the delay in approving your comment. We had a little boy and daddy is sleepy ๐Ÿ˜‰ To refuel your muscles to allow them to grow then carbs post workout is the way to go. Although with a lot of cardio and swimming I would think you would need some carbs for energy as well. If the main goal is to tone up the muscles and lose a little weight then personally I would focus on the weights to get some muscle shape, and do the cardio after that on the same day. Then eat your carbs that evening. But to be honest if weight loss is the aim then just focus on being in a calorie deficit, don’t worry too much about cardio. That would be more for just losing a final few stubborn pounds. High protein, low carb apart from after weights, and an overall calorie deficit will get you 99% of the way there.

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