I frequently get asked the same question: “Do I need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights to get the body that I want?” The question of how to tone your body, especially at home, has become intriguing to many fitness lovers.
In the era of social media that we live in today, it’s easy to get frustrated seeing all our favorite Instagram fitness models/influencers posting their daily workouts. Maybe you’ve seen them lifting hundreds of pounds of weight in the squat or deadlift. You might even see the caption saying “squat till you drop” or “go heavy or go home”. I’m sure most of you reading this today know what I’m talking about. Now, while I’m all for encouraging others to adopt a healthier lifestyle, sometimes fitness gurus may portray the wrong image.
Before diving into the answer to this frequently asked question, I would just like to clarify a common misconception people have. The statement “I want to tone my muscles/body” gets thrown around constantly, and as a personal trainer, I’ve heard my fair share of it. However, that statement is itself misleading. Physiologically speaking, our muscles are already toned, and that’s why skeletal muscles are called striated muscles. If you look at an anatomy chart, you’ll see what I mean. It’s the subcutaneous fat that surrounds the muscles and masks their shape. So once you start shredding off that fat through diet and exercise, your muscles will look more defined.
Now, for the part you’ve all been waiting for: do you need to be lifting ridiculous amounts of weight to get the body that you want? I would say no. It’s true that weights, i.e the intensity of the exercise, is a contributing factor to stimulating muscle growth. However, it’s not the only factor. You do not need to train like a bodybuilder or lift tons of weight like a powerlifter to get a decent physique. There are numerous bodyweight exercises that will stimulate muscle growth and boost your metabolism, which in turn will help burn off extra calories. If you want to know how to tone your body with no equipment, keep reading.
The Full-Body Workout Split Routine
Typically, gym-goers split their workout routine into muscle groups, meaning either push/pull/legs, upper/lower body splits, or even training one muscle a day.
If you wish to avoid the use of equipment, I’d recommend following a full body split routine at least three times a week. It should look something like this:
Start with your choice of either jumping rope for 3-5 minutes or a light jog followed by some dynamic stretches to prep your joints.
Alternating forward lunges:
This is a great exercise to target your lower body – mainly the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. It can also be performed statically, but alternating legs is more demanding because of an increased heart rate. How to perform it:
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
- Engage your core.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg.
- Lower your body until the right thigh is parallel to the floor and the right shin is vertical.
- Press into the right heel to drive back up to starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
This is another great lower body exercise that targets the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and screw your feet into the ground to activate your glutes.
- Make sure to place equal pressure on both the ball of the foot and heels.
- Bend at the hips and sit back.
- Keep a neutral spine. There is no need to go all the way down.
- Stop once your thigh is parallel to the floor.
Glute bridges: (glutes and hamstrings)
- Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Keep your arms at your side with your palms down.
- Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line.
- Hold your bridged position for a couple of seconds before easing back down.
A stable upper body movement is part of most workout programs, targeting the pectoral (chest) muscles along with your anterior shoulders and triceps.
- Begin in a prone position on the floor with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width. Arms should be directly under the shoulder with soft elbows. Keep your body in a neutral position with an even balance throughout both hands and toes.
- Slowly lower yourself by bending at the elbows till about 90 degrees or till your chest is close to the floor.
- After this bottom position, push with your palms, contract the chest muscles, and extend the elbows till you reach the initial start position and repeat.
Prone towel pull-down:
- Grab a towel and lie face down on the floor. Arms should be fully extended at the start.
- Slightly raise your torso off the floor but make sure not to hyperextend at the low back.
- Initiate the movement by retracting the scapula and activating the upper back muscles, pulling the towel until it touches your upper chest.
- Lie face down on the floor and raise yourself up by supporting your body weight on your elbows and toes. Your elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
- Maintain a neutral neck and spine and squeeze your glutes and core to stabilize.
- Start by lying on your side with your elbow directly under the shoulder. Then keep your feet either stacked together or one in front of the other for increased stability.
- Raise your hips off the floor while maintaining spinal alignment (shoulder, hip, the ankle should form a straight line).
Start off by performing 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise, and around 20-30 seconds of planks.
You can alternate between lower body and upper body exercises to give the respective muscle groups a brief rest if you feel your legs fatiguing quickly. Once you feel yourself progressing and performing the sets and reps with ease, you can add an extra set and/or perform longer sets, which is a means for progressive overload.
To Sum Up
As mentioned previously, intensity i.e. weight is a contributing factor in developing muscle mass, but there are others, including frequency, time under tension, and progressive overload. Why is this important?
If you execute full-body workouts 3-4 times a week, you’ll be training each muscle group more frequently than if you just trained them once or twice at the gym. And performing the exercises with slow and controlled movements will increase the time under tension, forcing the muscles to work harder and thus optimizing muscle growth, strength, and endurance. The ideal time under tension is around 40 seconds; trust me, that may not sound like much, but it’s brutal!
It’s also worth mentioning that a caloric deficit is required in order to lose fat and show off your defined muscles. Training will help grow your muscles, but if you’re still eating more calories than you’re burning off, you won’t get that aesthetic shape you want.
To be in a caloric deficit, you can either eat fewer calories or increase your caloric expenditure by adding in some cardio. After all, you can’t dismiss the importance of aerobic fitness, as it trains the most important muscle of all, the heart.
Well, if you were wondering how to tone your body with no equipment, you now have the answer! I’m excited for you to start your transformation journey, so remember to enjoy the process and be patient. Nothing worth having comes easy, so stay persistent and motivated, and all your hard work will pay off.