Weight Lifting: Toning vs. Bulking Up

Weight lifting is an integral part of a workout routine. It is an activity that can be performed to both tone muscles and build muscle mass. Toning refers to shaping the muscle and burning fat around the muscle tissue, while the focus on bulking up is to build large muscle. Both of these can be accomplished through weight lifting, though the exercises performed to tone vs to bulk up are performed a little differently.

Weight Lifting to Tone Muscles vs Bulking Up

Usually when people want to tone their muscles, they really want to shape their body and develop a stronger, leaner body. It is a common misconception that weight lifting will inevitably result in big, bulky muscles. This is not necessarily true. Weight lifting can be adjusted accordingly to achieve one’s goal. Whether that goal is to tone muscles or build bulky muscles, there are a few things that need to be adjusted during a weight lifting routine.


Bulking up should involve lifting very heavy weights that are performed to failure. Heavy weights are designed more for building large muscle mass than to tone. Many bodybuilders will even use weight machines to allow them to lift heavy weights. The machine gives some support and stability during lifts and presses.

When the objective is to tone muscles, lighter weights should be opted for. Lighter weights will incorporate muscle strength and endurance in addition to muscle mass, which will contribute to toned muscles.


To build large muscle mass, choose a weight that cannot be lifted any more than eight times in one set. If you are able to perform more than eight reps with a certain weight, then that weight is too light to bulk up your muscles. Ideally, you should be able to perform between five to eight reps in one set before muscle exhaustion. You should be feeling a burn in your muscles much earlier in the routine than you would if you were toning. This is referred to as muscle overload, and is experienced when you are physically incapable of lifting any more during that particular set.

A muscle toning routine should involve a higher number of reps. Ideally, between 10 to 20 reps should be performed to tone muscles. This will limit the amount of muscle mass that will be added to the body, and will focus more on lean muscle tissue and shape. Since lighter weights can be lifted many more times without tiring, you can sustain the strain on the muscles for a longer period of time. The burn takes much longer to feel that it would during a bulking routine. You tone the muscle by burning the fat around your muscle and strengthening it at the same time.


The number of sets you perform can also influence whether you are toning vs bulking up your muscles. To bulk up, a minimum of three sets should be performed, especially since the number of reps are low. Performing about five sets of six reps is ideal for bulking up through weight lifting. When you are toning the muscles, one to three sets is sufficient.


Your diet has a lot to do with how effective your weight lifting routine is to your goal. If you are trying to bulk up, you need to incorporate a diet high in protein and carbohydrates to fuel the muscle mass. Daily calorie consumption may need to be increased as well to contribute to building muscle.

When toning, part of the goal is to burn the fat around the muscle. Although it is important to keep up with your protein intake to help feed the muscle tissue, you need to make sure that you are consuming a modest amount of calories per day to be able to show off the shapely muscles you have been working so hard for!


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