training for muscle mass vs muscle tone for women
Bodybuilding,  Exercises,  Slider Posts,  Training

Training for Mass vs Tone

Some people simply want muscle tone and fear inadvertently growing large muscles. The truth is, building massive muscles is a deliberate process that requires a calculated set of strategies applied to your training regime, diet, and lifestyle. All of which, vary from what’s required for solely muscle tone. Techniques to achieve either goal are separate enough to follow with ease. Read the below guidelines to get started.


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Exercise guidelines for growth:

To grow mass, you must lift heavy, and acclimate muscles to high-tension exercise. To lift heavy each set, you must recover after every set. This means long periods between sets and not rushing from exercise to exercise (supersetting). You also must force muscle growth via increasing muscle stress regularly (weekly is ideal). This means adding weight to every exercise each week, or, for bodyweight exercises, increasing tension in other ways: adding inclines, declines, ring exercises, bar exercises, isometric holds, etc. Increasing muscle tension regularly is called progressive overload, which forces muscle growth and strength.

Don’t overdo sets or reps: high sets and reps work best for muscle endurance aka, muscle tone, which is discussed below under muscle tone tips.

  • Rest for 60 – 120 seconds between sets
  • Progressively add muscle tension weekly; every exercise and every muscle group. Even if you can only add 2lbs-5lbs per session, or increase the incline, decline, or isometric hold each exercise
  • Do 4-5 sets, not just 3, per exercise – sets 4 and 5 should be the heaviest sets of your workout. You’ll break from the 8-10 rep range to 4-6 reps for these sets. This, again, forces growth, and also, strength.
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Also read: Clothing for Muscular Women

Nutritional guidelines for growth:

  • High caloric intake – above your body’s maintenance level (the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight and composition: fat/muscle)
  • High-protein consumption – 1 to 1.5 grams/lbs of lean body mass (aka, muscle mass) to support muscle development and exercise recovery
  • Limited cardio – cardiovascular exercise can interfere with muscle recovery from heavy lifting
    • For example, the legs can take up to seven days to recover from training, and small muscle groups, like the arms, can take 2 – 3 days. Cardio, which is often lower-body intensive and sometimes upper body intensive, can, therefore, hinder growth. To avoid this, reduce cardiovascular output when working on mass. For example, 1-3 days/wk max when focusing on muscle growth and/or maintenance. Compared to 4-5 cardio workouts/wk for fat loss.
  • Utilize the 8-10 rep scheme – the weight you choose should be heavy enough that you can’t do more than 10 reps, but light enough to do at least 8 reps. This is the “hypertrophy (mass-building)” range. Reps under 8 are in the powerlifting range; any more reps and you’re in the toning and endurance ranges. Remember, rep range is determined by the heaviness of the weight lifted. E.g., for mass, you should lift a weight that enables you to reach 8 reps, but doing more than 10 reps is physically impossible, per set.
  • Different supplements may come in handy – e.g., creatine and weight gainers (if you’re an ectomorph or hard-gainer).


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Exercise requirements for tone:

Training for tone is almost the opposite of training for mass — almost. Both goals stimulate muscles; however, toning does not follow the same rest, sets, reps, nutrition, and weight guidelines. In fact, weights aren’t necessary. The body can achieve tone via pure bodyweight movements. The best examples of this can be found among athletes in gymnastics and yoga.

  • Challenge the body through bodyweight movements or the use of moderate weight. A moderate weight is one that can be lifted for up to 15 reps. The recommended rep range for tone is 12-15. If you’re able to do more than 15 reps, the weight may be too light. If you’re not able to do at least 12 reps, it’s not the end of the world, but you may gain more mass than tone.
  • Shorter rest between sets – no rest to 30 seconds between sets is all that’s needed. Supersetting (switching between different exercises with no rest in between) doesn’t hurt and certainly won’t make your muscles huge. This is because supersetting doesn’t allow muscles to fully recover between sets. This tip is also helpful for those who want to lose fat because it can get you in the cardio fat-burning zone.
  • Stick to 3 sets – this set range is good for maintenance and does not include the two heavy ending sets that are useful in the mass-building guidelines above.

Nutritional requirements for tone:

In reviewing the differing guidelines above for mass-gain vs tone, it should be clear that building mass and toning are different animals. Toning doesn’t even require weights, much less a gym. One can tone their body anywhere — at home, the park, a hotel room. Conversely, to build mass, one needs access to varying weights in order to use progressive overload and force muscle growth. Other differences between the goals include opposing set and rep schemes, rest periods, and diet requirements.

Final Note:

Consider your body type. If your goal is to tone, but you notice more muscle growth than you like, following the guidelines above, you may be genetically inclined to build muscle easily. This body type is known as mesomorphic (naturally muscular). Other body types include, ectomorphic (naturally thin), and endomorphic (an inclination for fat gain and retention). Knowing your body type does not hurt. If you gain muscle easily and want to decrease mass, diet manipulation, such as a lower protein diet may help. Contact me for details on diet manipulation. Most people are a mix of two or all three body types, and are “average”: not an extreme of one body type, making the above guidelines sufficient for most trainees to reach their respective goals.


Before embarking on your goal, determine your caloric needs:

Learn about lifelong nutrition and nutrition geared to both fat loss and muscle gain:

Tom Venuto's burn the fat feed the muscle book
Learn how to eat clean for life & never diet, Ever!


As an athlete for over 21 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created, now, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT - Lifelong Applied Fitness


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