When setting out on the quest for tone and shape it all comes down to the finer details of training and nutrition. To gain visible muscle tone you will need to have a combination of a small amount of muscle growth, and a decrease in body fat percentage. Particularly a drop in body fat percentage will allow more visibility of your muscles, giving you that desired defined and athletic look. For tone and shape we look to strength training, cardio, decreasing your food intake and training methods. These factors all need to be working in synergy to enhance results, particularly when focusing on shedding unwanted fat.

In many cases regular strength training, cardio and dialling in your diet will help you achieve a toned aesthetic. However, if you have tried all of the above methods and there have still been no changes, it is time to switch up your training and add some new techniques. Adding some variation to your training style may be just the thing to speed up your progress:

1. Supersets and Tri-Sets

Most traditional strength exercises involve doing several sets of one exercise before moving onto the next. Each set is separated by a brief rest. While vital for your performance, these rest breaks could be a waste of valuable training time. If one of your end goals is fat-loss, then this could also be a lost calorie-burning window.

Be more efficient with your training time, burn more calories, and save time by using the method of supersets and trisets. This involves doing two or three exercises back to back before resting.

For example:

  • • Squats and push-ups

  • • Deadlifts and lunges

  • • Leg presses and pull-ups

  • • Bench presses, bent over rows, and crunches

  • • Lat pulldowns, shoulder presses, and squat jumps

  • • Leg extensions, leg curls, and Bulgarian split squats

2. Cardio Between Sets of Strength Training

It is common knowledge that the more exercise you do, the more calories you’ll burn, and potentially the faster you’ll lose fat. As we mentioned above fat loss is essential for toning because it will reveal the shape of your muscles. Lean and toned go hand in hand. Because of time, energy constraints, and essential rest time there is only so much exercise you can squeeze in per week.

Adding cardio between sets of strength training is another method to burn more calories per training session, without having to extend your training time. This format is commonly referred to as “HIIT” (High Intensity Interval Training). An example of this format would be to do 30-60 seconds of jump rope or sprints on an exercise bike in between your strength exercises. This will increase your calorie expenditure significantly, without making your workout any longer, or interfering with your recovery between sets.

3. Circuit Training

Strength training is vital for strengthening and conditioning your muscles. We need to build  muscles so that your body’s metabolism is working at optimal capacity, which in turn will assist in fat loss. The focus of pure strength training is your 48 hours post workout window, where your body will continue to burn calories while building muscle. However, when it comes to increasing fitness levels and burning higher volume of calories during the workout, we can use the training method of circuit training.  Globally this style of training is a phenomenon. People love the feeling of strength paired with calorie blasting exercises and moving through the exercises at a fast pace! The endorphin rush you get after a run? Circuit training gives you the same high.

Simply arrange your exercises in a vertical list and move quickly from one to the next, only resting on completion of the last one. This style of training can be mixed up with strength and cardio exercises, for example a strength circuit:






Alternating shoulder press


Lat pull-downs


Plank jacks


Plie squats




Inverted row


Stability ball crunches

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4. Strength and Power Complexes

A form of being toned can mean looking athletic. We look to athletes and their training methods for inspiration for toning exercises and formulas. For many, the body type of an athlete is desirable. The law of exercise specificity states that you are fit for the type of training you do. Strength and power complexes can be used to boost athletic and sports performance, and may also help you achieve “that” toned look.

Simply do a strength exercise, rest a moment, and then do a power exercise for the same muscle group. Rest again and then repeat the pairing. Good examples include:

  • • Squats followed by box jumps

  • • Bench presses followed by clap push-ups

  • • Lunges followed by hill sprints

  • • Pull-ups followed by medicine ball slams


5. Interval Training

Cardio is an important part of fat loss – it burns calories and can also burn fat when your body isn’t using glycogen for energy. Many people look to cardio for the wrong reasons on their fitness journey. Cardio will often not do much for your muscle tone, and potentially in overtraining can sometimes cause muscle loss.

When performing cardio, long, slow-paced cardio workouts (like walking) preferentially burn fat, but at slow rate. In an effort to make cardio easier, your body may also catabolise muscle, so you have less weight to lug around.

In contrast, interval training can potentially help you lose fat and burn calories without muscle loss. By definition, interval training is intense and requires more muscle activation. This will force your body to preserve and even build more muscle mass instead of catabolizing it.

To really shock the system, switch from slow-paced cardio to interval training to potentially lose more fat while maintaining muscle. For example, sprint 100 meters, walk 50 meters, and repeat ten times. We aim for workouts to be 15-20 mins for interval training, which can also be more time efficient than slow-paced cardio. You just have to remember that interval training is 110% effort. If your body is fatigued, it may be more beneficial to go for a longer fat burning walk.

6. Drop Sets

To develop tone, a lot of people do high repetition with lighter weights. This is more of a “pilates” style of training, often targeting smaller muscles and isolating muscle groups. This style of training can be beneficial particularly after fat loss. In terms of burning initial calories and post workout calories, this style should be performed in conjunction with other methods of training.

Drop sets allow you to do high rep sets with heavier weights so that your workout can be more productive. Simply start off with a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue within 8-15 reps. On reaching failure, lower the weight by about 15% and then crank out more reps. Lower the weight one more time and push out a final few reps. For example:

• 9 reps 50kg (can’t do more)

• Lower weight to 42.5kg

• 7 reps (can’t do more)

• Lower weigh to 35kg

• 5 reps (can’t do more)

Using this method, you’ll fatigue your muscles not just once but three times and using weights that will assist in producing better toning results.

7. Peak Contraction Training

Increase the difficulty and therefore the toning effect of your workouts by using peak contraction training method, often referred to as “time under tension”. Simply pause your repetition wherever your muscles are in a shortened position; really squeeze them hard. For example, when doing leg extensions, pause with your legs fully extended and focus on isolating your quads. For leg curls, pause with your legs bent and draw your attention to your hamstrings. You may need to use a little less weight, but you’ll love how your muscles feel afterwards!

If you are training hard and consistently, these strategies may help make your workouts become even more productive. These techniques will make your workouts more challenging, but when it comes to getting results, adding variety to your training may just be the factor that excels results!