Alright ladies, this one is for you. Guys, read up as well. You'll learn something.
In all my years of training and coaching, there's still one question that I get more than any other.
"I want to get toned and defined. How do I do that?"
Not to fear, girls. I'm here to help. But before I go into detail on what it takes to become "toned" and "defined", I'd first like to discuss what exactly those words mean.
As much as some might not want to admit it, "toned" and "defined" are words that girls have identified with over the years, because "build muscle" and "cut" are words that are more associated with massive bodybuilders who are so big, they can barely wipe their own butt. There is a fear out there that has kept women from wanting to build muscle, and it must come to a stop!
Ladies, listen for a sec. You simply WILL NOT get as big as those guys are. If you prioritize muscle-building, you won't be as big as most average men. Not even close. You don't have the same genetic makeup, and your testosterone is far too low. However, if you do prioritize muscle-building, guess what you WILL be?
Toned and defined!
Now we're talking. So ladies, let go of the fear that you'll get too big and bulky, let go of the fear that tells you you'll look like a guy, and embrace the message that tells you you'll look toned, defined, and absolutely stunning.
So what exactly does it take to get there? It takes two things, both you are probably aware of.
I'm sure you're sitting there thinking "duh, of course Adam. I know that."
I know you do ;). I just want to break them down for you a bit more so you can implement some practices into your life.
As you know, the the more fat that you have over your lean muscle mass, the harder it's going to be to look toned and defined. So, the key to seeing all that rock hard muscle is going to be taking down your body fat percentage.
Here are some key factors that play a big role in fat loss:
Basal Metabolic Rate and TDEE
Going over genetic makeup is easy... Ready? You can't change your genetic makeup. Boom, that one was easy to go over. It's not too encouraging, though. Although you can't completely change your genetics, there are things you can do to improve the way your body uses fuel (calories) like improving your BMR (basal metabolic rate).
BMR is a fancy way of telling you how many calories your body burns at rest. So, if you were to binge watch a show on Netflix all day long from the minute you wake up to the minute you go back to sleep, that's how many calories you'd be burning. Think of your BMR as the engine in a car. If your BMR is low, your engine is like a Prius. It will sit with the engine on FOREVER and won't run out of gas. If your BMR is high, your engine is like that of a semi-truck. If you leave it sitting with the engine on, the gas will go quick (given that both vehicles have the same amount of gas). When it comes to fat loss, a higher BMR is optimal because it'll allow you to handle a caloric deficit in a much healthier way. Having a BMR of 2,000 calories and eating in a deficit at 1,700 calories would be more tolerable (because you could eat more) than a BMR of 1,100 calories and eating in a deficit of 800 calories. Ya feel?
How do you improve your BMR?
One of the best things you can do to increase the amount of calories your body burns at rest, is increase the amount of lean muscle that your body has (more on that later). Muscle takes a lot of energy/calories to maintain, so the more you have, the better. And again, I'm not talking bodybuilder muscle. Even a few pounds of lean muscle can make a difference.
Here's a simple calculation you can do to estimate your BMR: BMR = 370 + (21.6 x lean mass in kg)
Not only is a high BMR important when it comes to fat loss, but so is your TDEE. TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure. Simply put, the amount of total calories you burn in a day. This includes calories burned from BMR, exercise, walking, digesting food, everything that uses fuel. Increasing your total calorie burn or TDEE is another great way to promote fat loss. The more calories your are burning in a day, the easier it will be to eat in a caloric deficit.
Here's how you can estimate TDEE: TDEE = BMR x 1.3-1.7*
*Note - 1.3-1.7 is a multiplier depending on your activity level throughout the day. If you are sedentary, use 1.3. If you are extremely active (like a personal trainer or construction worker) use 1.7.
Once you know your BMR and TDEE, it's time to figure out the size of your deficit.
Determining the size of your deficit should be a reflection of how soon you want to reach your goal, as well as how you want to live your life while working toward the goal. If you're someone who wants to reach your goal real quick, and will do absolutely anything it takes to get there, a bigger deficit may be better. If you wan to take it slow and smell the roses, a smaller deficit may be better. For example, if you enjoy getting drinks with your friends, eating out a ton, and know you will slack off here and there, decreasing the size of your deficit and prolonging your deadline may be a good idea. Either way, be extremely realistic and honest with yourself. Another thing you may want to consider is the end game. Think beyond your goal. Do you want to get to your goal quick, and then focus in on preventing a rebound? Or, would you rather take a year or so to hit your goal knowing that your new body will be easier to maintain down the road? I say this because usually goals that are achieved with more drastic measures usually take drastic measures to maintain. Think about all the things you have done in the past that gave you immediate results. I'm willing to bet that soon after you got those results, you plateaued, and then eventually put all the weight back on, if not, even more. So, take that into consideration. If your long term goal and end game is a healthy and lean physique that is easy to maintain, I always recommend going slow and steady. Rather than aiming to lose 20 pounds as quick as possible, aim to lose 20 pounds in a year while maintaining muscle mass and developing healthy eating habits. Going that route will make living lean and healthy a lifestyle instead of a regimen.
Being aware of your genetic makeup, your BMR/TDEE, and the size of your caloric deficit will help you create a path toward fat loss. But, all that fat loss isn't going to matter if you don't have any muscle to show off.
As I stated before, muscle is gong to be a key component to that toned and defined look. It will aid in increasing the amount of calories you burn at rest (making fat loss easier), as well as giving you the definition you're looking for at higher body fat percentages. Whether it's a 25-year-old trying to build a six-pack, or a 45-year-old wanting to make her arms and thighs less flabby, I always recommend thickening the muscles in those areas. The thicker and more dense those muscles are, the more they will pop even at higher body fat percentages. When you build the muscles in your problem areas, looking toned and defined will be easier since you won't have to get to extremely low body fat percentages just to see a bit of muscle.
The key factors that play a role in building muscle are similar to losing fat:
Basal Metabolic Rate and TDEE
When it comes to building muscle, genetics play a big role here just as much as they do in fat loss. Certain individual's genetic makeup makes it easy for them to put on muscle, whereas others may have genetics that simply takes more work to build lean muscle. It is what it is. Some of us were born with that, and some of us weren't. We can't sit here and complain about how it's unfair, but what we CAN do is figure out what it takes to build lean mass.
Knowing your BMR and TDEE is extremely important as well, because it'll allow you to calculate how many calories you should eat in a day in order to be in a caloric surplus. More often than not, muscle growth comes from eating more calories than you burn in a day, along with proper training. Only in novice exercisers might you see an increase in lean tissue while in a caloric deficit.
Treat your surplus the same as you would your deficit. The bigger your surplus is, the more risk you run of putting on body fat. So, if you want to stay as lean as possible and don't mind taking your time, make your surplus smaller and slowly increase your caloric intake as your body adapts. Keep track of your weight and make adjustments as needed.
Whether you're trying to lose fat or build muscle, keeping track of the changes your body makes is going to be essential. One of the ways I do this with my coaching clients is by monitoring weight changes. Whenever I'm working toward a specific goal I do this as well. Each day, I weigh myself first thing in the morning. I keep a log of those weights in my phone, and figure out the average at the end of each week. If my goal is fat loss and I see changes in the wrong direction, I may decrease my caloric intake. If I see changes in the right direction, I'll leave things as is until I maintain/plateau. Knowing exactly what your body is taking in and putting out will enable you to make changes to your regimen that WILL work.
Looking toned and defined simply comes down to losing body fat, and having dense, lean muscle underneath to show off. If you want to lose body fat, live in a caloric deficit and make adjustments when needed. If you want to build muscle, live in a caloric surplus and make adjustments when needed. No matter what, keep track of everything you're doing that way you can identify problems and make solutions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Collins, Colorado. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life. If you’re interested in hiring Adam as your coach, fill out an application here.