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Tone VS. Bulk

When it comes to weight lifting, two terms get used interchangeably often. However, their meanings are substantially different. Toning means reducing your body fat by tightening up the muscles and giving them shape. Bulking up means increasing your muscle mass and making them larger.

Let's chat about how we achieve both of these using different methods regarding diet and exercise programming.


When toning our muscles, we institute a weight lifting program that uses light to medium weights with higher repetitions - approximately 12 - 15 consecutive reps for up to 3 sets. An example of this would be a program made up of 6 different total body exercises that you perform 3 times per week.


In order to tone, you need to maintain a healthy diet just below your caloric maintenance level. In other words, you want to maintain a caloric deficit burning more calories than you consume.

Incorporating exercise that keeps your heart rate in your target zone will help you burn more calories and tone those muscles. Compliment your weight lifting with 20 minutes of cardio 3 times per week to reach your goal of toning up.


Bulking is accomplished by lifting heavy weights for a lower number of repetitions each set. You are working to challenge your muscles to the max here. You have to safely overload them to achieve an effective bulk. You want to work your muscles more than normal in both weight, sets, and reps.

In increase muscle mass, use a weight that you can only lift no more than 6 times. This means you are using a weight that is sufficiently challenging. If failure occurs before 6 repetitions, that is okay!

Fewer repetitions are performed per set, but more sets of exercise are performed than if we are toning. When bulking, complete 4 to 6 sets of each exercise isolating the same muscle group.

When bulking, you will want to exercise 3 to 6 times per week in split routines. This means only working certain muscle groups each day, allowing plenty of rest and recovery before challenging them again.


Unlike toning, when your goal is to gain lean mass, a higher amount of calories than your maintenance level needs to be consumed. A key component of this is protein, the building block for muscle. You should consume a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight in protein if working to bulk.


Among many benefits like improved heart health, cardio helps you recover more quickly after a weight lifting workout and helps your body rid lactic acid. That said, to maintain your goal of bulking, calories must be consumed to make up for what is burned in cardio sessions.


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