What's The Difference Between Toning And Bulking When Working Out?

Reaching for lighter weights and higher reps is often touted as a means for toning, and heavy weights and low reps are typically prescribed for packing on muscle, or "bulking." However, there's a lot more to toning and bulking than the amount of weight and reps, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Toning means reducing your body fat enough so that you can see the shape of the muscles, and bulking requires a significant effort to overload the muscles several days a week while increasing the number of calories you consume to feed those muscles.

If you fear that weight training will add bulk, know that lifting weights won't bulk you up if you're restricting calories (via Burn Lab Pro). In fact, people who seek to add significant muscle to their bodies will need a significant calorie surplus to do so. They might also add fat to their bodies in the process. If you seek to tone your muscles, you can keep up with your resistance training while adding cardio to help lose fat. You'll also need to burn a little more calories than you consume to lose excess fat (via NASM).

Workouts for toning and bulking

Some workouts will tout that they emphasize toning and lengthening muscles rather than adding bulk. Unless you can make your bones longer, you can't lengthen your muscles because they have a fixed length (via Aaptiv). Tone only happens if you work to change your body composition.

 According to Bodybuilding.com, resistance training is one component in toning your body. Choose a weight that's heavy enough to complete 8 to 12 repetitions. If you want to burn fat, add a little cardio to your weight training session by limiting your rest to 30 seconds. This might mean that you can't complete all the reps in the next set. You can also opt for circuit training to strengthen muscle while burning fat.

To add a significant amount of muscle (i.e. "bulk"), you'll be doing four to six sets of heavy weights with fewer reps, according to NASM. Because adding muscle involves serious commitment, you'll need to spend between three to six days a week lifting weights. You can divide your days into splits of muscle groups, such as working chest and triceps on one day and back and biceps on another.