Toned… but not bulky. One of the most common ways women describe how they want their arms to appear.
But what does it really take to get “toned” arms?
First, we have to define what the heck “toned” really means anyway. The word gets thrown around a lot but in order to achieve this goal, we need to really understand what we are aiming for. Any aesthetic is a combination of a certain amount of muscle and a certain amount of fat. For example, “skinny fat” means little body fat and little muscle. “Shredded” means a decent amount of muscle and very little body fat. “Bulky” usually looks like a decent amount of muscle and a decent amount of body fat. Where does “toned” lie on the spectrum?
The amount of fat is pretty obvious. You have to have a relatively minimal amount of body fat in order to get the classic toned look, but you don’t have to get quite as lean as someone who is “shredded.”
The amount of muscle necessary to look toned is often where people get tripped up. Many women who say they want toned arms also say they don’t want to lift weights for fear of looking bulky. But remember, aesthetic looks all fall on a spectrum of amount of fat and amount of muscle. A toned look clearly requires less muscle than a bodybuilder with ginormous biceps and forearms that look like mountains when flexed. Conversely, you probably don’t want to look “skinny fat,” where you are very thin but have no definition. So, on the muscle mass spectrum from “skinny fat” to bodybuilder, “toned” lies somewhere in between.
If toned is somewhere between shredded and overweight and also between skinny fat and bodybuilder, that means that to achieve a toned look, the average person will have to lose fat AND build muscle. We can break this down into a two-step process:
STEP 1: BUILD MUSCLE
Your first reaction might be: “but shouldn’t I lose fat before I start building muscle?” The answer is no! It is never too soon to start building muscle. In fact, the more muscle you build, the easier it will be to lose fat! So get yourself into that weight section and start lifting. Yes, you can do body weight exercises for a while, but pretty soon your body will plateau and you will have to start adding weight.
If you are one of the many people who feel anxiety about going into the weight section, check out this video with some tips to overcome that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr9KyVm8-44
To get toned arms, you need to grow some biceps and triceps and it never hurts to work on those shoulder boulders and forearms as well. If you get down to the right body fat percentage but haven’t developed these muscles, you won’t get the desired “defined” look because there will be nothing under the skin to define! That will leave you closer to the skinny fat end of the spectrum.
And don’t fret if you actually start to look bulky. That just means you’re making progress on the muscle building spectrum! As soon as you get step 2 down, you’ll achieve your goal.
STEP 2: LOSE FAT
Surprise! I’m not going to tell you to go run laps until you puke. If you are patient, step 1 will actually most likely get you a good jump start into losing the fat necessary to achieve your desired aesthetic. So instead of cardio, step 2 focuses on nutrition. You need to eat to fuel the changes you want to make in your body. This means making sure you get an adequate amount of protein in order to build muscle. For most people, this is .7-1 gram of protein per pound of lean muscle mass (you can use your goal weight to approximate your lean muscle mass). For example, if you are 150 lbs and your goal weight is 130 lbs, you should aim for 91-130 grams of protein per day. Other than that, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods—think veggies, meat, nuts, etc.
And there you have it! A simple, two-step process to getting toned. To summarize, if you want toned arms, lifting weights and eating to fuel your body are the keys to achieving your goals.