How to Tone Muscle Without Bulking Up: A Guide

 by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.
Reviewed by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.

SuperHumans are the toughest, fittest, healthiest and happiest human beings on this planet. My mission is to help you realize your superhuman potential and learn how to live a long, happy and healthy life.

  Fact Checked
 by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT
Reviewed by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT

I’m a content organizer, fact-checker and super mom who ensures content is medically-reviewed, highly accurate, and engaging. My passion is organizing information and ensuring the facts are presented in a manner that is interesting and easy to understand.

We all go to the gym with different goals. Some of us may want to get rid of our belly fat. Others may want to move from skinny legs to muscular legs, and others want to get toned and defined muscles.

how to tone muscle without bulking up

I know most people, especially women, want to tone their muscles, but they are worried they will have broader shoulders, bigger arms, a wider back and waist. In other words, they are concerned about gaining muscle mass while toning.

Anybody can bulk up, but with the right help, you can build muscle without bulking up. This guide will teach you how to tone muscle without bulking up.

Can You Gain Muscle Without Bulking?

Some people might lie that women cannot bulk up since the female body lacks testosterone. That’s not entirely true. Anybody can gain muscles but at different rates. There are a few things that affect how your body gains muscles, and these include:

  • Body type
  • Diet
  • Type of exercises
  • How frequently do you exercise

There are two principles of getting toned without bulking up;

  • It is not about calorie increase but calorie deficit.
  • Utilizing higher reps and lighter weights.

Calorie Deficit, not Calorie Increase

To get a toned body type female, you must accomplish two goals: reduce body fat and increase muscle growth by taking a calorie deficit diet. 

Calorie Deficit 

If a thick layer of fat hides muscles, they won’t be visible. Therefore, maintaining a lower body fat percentage is necessary to appear toned.

The most important thing to do is cut back on calories if you think you might need to drop a little body fat. The BEST approach to losing additional body fat is to create a calorie deficit through eating, much more than through exercise.

After lowering your fat by incorporating a calorie deficit diet, the next step is to grow your muscles. Having a low body fat percentage will not make you toned and defined. You will look “skinny fat.”

drink after work out

Skinny fat does not mean that you are overweight or unhealthy. It means you do not have excess body fat, but your muscles are neither defined nor toned. This is why you need a little muscle growth. 

When muscle growth is mentioned, many people think about eating more proteins. However, most people do not need extra proteins for muscle growth.

With an average activity level, you should aim for 0.36 grams per lb or 0.8grams per kg of proteins. Average activity level means you are not an endurance athlete or a weightlifter.

Avoid consuming excessive amounts of protein if you want to define your muscles without bulking up, especially if you’re prone to gaining muscle mass quickly. After all, increasing protein consumption is crucial strategy bodybuilders use to add muscle mass.

You can experiment with your protein intake because every person is different. If you’re not getting results, try starting with the base amount mentioned above and increasing from there.

Utilizing Higher Reps And Lighter Weights

A fundamental concept you should know is if someone wants to pack on muscles, they are advised on heavy lifting.

The heavy lifting should include more sets and fewer reps. This is because their goal is to add muscle mass, contrary to your goal, which is toning without bulking up. 

So using lesser weights is a crucial component of how to get toned without bulking up. Include both moderate weight days and lightweight days for the best outcomes. Exercises should be done with fewer sets and more reps. You’ll develop a female fit lean body thanks to this.

4 Ways to Tone Muscle Without Bulking Up

After understanding the principles mentioned above, we can now get into ways of toning and how to define muscles without bulking up.

Many people want to develop toned, sculpted arms. You can agree that there have been times you have wondered, “Why are my arms getting bigger but not toned?”

If you want to get toned and cannot seem to achieve it, a few training routines and strategies can help you get there. Training strategies can reduce muscle size while giving you the desired sleek, firm appearance.

Resistance Training

Resistance training is a type of exercise used to build muscle strength and stamina. It involves working out muscles against resistance.

resistance training in the studio

Weights, bands, or even your bodyweight defying gravity could be used as resistance in this training. 

You can concentrate on specific outcomes when performing full body resistance training, also known as strength training or weight training, such as muscular endurance, power, strength, and joint stability.  

Benefits Of Resistance Training

The following are a few advantages of adding a strength training without bulking up program to your exercise regimen.

  • Increased metabolism, body fat reduction, and mental health
  • Boost muscular endurance and strength
  • lowering the likelihood of sports injuries
  • Boosting self-esteem

Cardio Training

Regular cardio is only necessary if you have too much body fat. Cardio is unnecessary if you are already thin and have a low body fat percentage, but it is fantastic for keeping you in shape and healthy!

Limit your cardio workouts to three times per week, and keep your cardio days separate from your weight-training days. Low to moderate intensity cardio activity is ideal for fat burning. Jogging and power walking are excellent forms of cardio, but only if you enjoy them.

Avoid performing more than one daily exercise that targets a single muscle because this promotes muscle hypertrophy.

For instance, your chest muscles will be overworked if you execute chest presses and push-ups during a workout. The ab muscles are an exception to this rule because they are stronger and take more effort to reveal themselves.

Healthy Diet

As long as you’re getting the right calories each day, it’s advised but not required to have six smaller meals throughout the day. Eating four larger meals is also acceptable if you take the right calories.

Additionally, you might want to eat more on days you exercise and less on days you don’t, but make sure to maintain the same weekly average of calories consumed.

If your daily caloric need is 1500, for instance, you may eat 1800 calories on days when you exercise and 1200 calories on days when you don’t. Consequently, you continue to consume 1500 calories daily on average (roughly).

Body Type

Knowing which exercises and training will help you achieve a lean fit body is best if you understand your body type. Out of the three basic body types, two of them are easily prone to gaining weight. 

doing crunches

 These body types are:

  • Ectomorph
  • Mesomorphs
  • Endomorphs

Understanding how to train according to your body type is crucial because everyone loses weight and gains muscle differently.


Ectomorph body types tend to be naturally lean and are not prone to gaining weight. Therefore, exercises like squats are not likely to make you bulkier if you are an ectomorph looking for how to bulk up legs.

However, you should include resistance training to avoid the slim fat look to get toned and cardio to maintain the lean figure.


Mesomorphs often have an average size, gain and lose weight fast. Additionally, they are naturally athletic, which makes it simple for them to gain muscle.

Therefore, if you have a mesomorph body physique and want to tone up without being bulky, you should focus on cardio to lower the fat in your body and avoid resistance training. 

You should avoid CrossFit and heavy lifting because these activities make a mesomorph body bulk up.


Endomorphs naturally have larger frames, and the wrong kind of resistance exercise might cause them to gain weight easily.

For instance, it is advisable for the majority of endomorphs to focus on cardio and stay away from weights if they are looking to appear slimmer.

Can You Build Muscle Without Bulking?

Yes, you can build muscles without bulking up with the right exercises, which is a combination of both cardio and resistance training. Remember to accompany your exercise with a healthy diet to get your desired muscle definition. 

three girls working out

Why Am I Bulking up Instead of Slimming Down?

If you’re gaining muscle while maintaining weight, your body is likely through body recomposition. This highly desired condition is perfect for sustaining fat loss. Strength training can help you gain lean muscle while decreasing body fat.

How Do I Get Rid of Muscular Arms? 

You can eliminate muscular arms by incorporating cardiovascular exercises like brisk walking and high-intensity training. They help reduce fat around your hands, giving them a toned feature which will help you how to get rid of muscular arms. 


Muscle definition and toning start with muscle growth. To grow your muscles, you must do the right exercises and eat healthily. This doesn’t necessarily mean consuming plenty of proteins and lifting weight alone. 

Cardio should be included if you want to lose fat. Cardio is a terrific approach to help generate a caloric deficit, while strength training will burn calories and help you grow some muscle, which will help you burn even more calories. Therefore, be sure to include that as well. 

You can also include our Serenity mood enhancement supplement to help you get better mental and physical recovery after your workout sessions. This supplement will provide you with adrenal support and more energy, just what you need when toning your muscles! 

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