How to Tone Up & Lose Weight

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Getting in shape by toning your muscles and losing weight improves your appearance and your health. Nutritionists from major institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Heart Association agree that combining vigorous cardiovascular exercise with strength training and a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet is the safest and most effective way to stimulate effective weight reduction. Changing your body requires commitment and diligence, but the rewards are worth it.

Figure out how much time you can commit to exercise. Give yourself permission to start with just 20-minute segments, three times per week if that is all you can manage to fit into your schedule. Pen these exercise times into your calendar and do not cancel except in absolute emergencies.

Use your workout time to combine both cardio and strength training. Alternate a minute or two of aerobic moves like jumping jacks, football runs, jump rope, shadow boxing and jogging in place with a minute or two of strength training moves like squats, lunges, triceps dips, crunches and push-ups. Perform these alternating moves for the duration of your allotted workout time, repeating exercises if necessary.

Increase the length and/or challenge of your workouts after a few weeks. Add dumbbells, resistance tubing or selectorized equipment to your strength training moves and use a heart rate monitor to gauge your work zone during cardio segments. Seek to get your heart rate into 65 to 80 percent of your maximal heart rate zone during the aerobic bouts.

Change your routine up after about six weeks to keep your body challenged. Reorder the exercises, or add in new ones like back rows, front arm raises, suicide runs and treadmill speed drills. Endeavor to change your program every four to six weeks to continue to see results. If you find more time in your calendar for exercise, try committing to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for weight loss. Exercise moderately for an hour at least five times per week and strength train at least two, nonconsecutive days per week.

Follow a reduced-calorie diet. Consume about 500 to 1,000 calories less than you burn in a day to trim one or two pounds of weight a week. Re-evaluate your goals if such a reduction means you consume less than 1,200 calories a day as a woman or 1,600 as a man, which is the minimum daily calorie count recommended by the National Institutes of Health. Keep a food journal to identify places where you can cut calories without feeling deprived--perhaps the soda at lunch or crusts of your child's grilled cheese.

Consume quality foods the majority of the time. Choose whole grains, vegetables and fruits as your carbohydrates. Opt for proteins like fish, chicken breast and egg whites that are low in saturated fat. Switch to monounsaturated fats, and use olive oil for cooking instead of butter or margarine and peanut butter on your toast instead of cream cheese, for example.

Control your portion sizes. Use a food scale and weigh out snacks, proteins and grains to determine exactly what a 3-oz serving of meat or 1 oz. of nuts looks like. Measure grains using half-cup measuring cups, and oils using teaspoons to learn to eyeball proper amounts for the future. Too much food--even healthy food--can hinder weight loss.


Do not skip meals in an effort to lose weight more quickly. This leads to acute feelings of hunger and will likely make you over-consume at the next opportunity. You also need proper fuel to exercise and to help with muscle recovery, which happens after your workouts.

Consider hiring a trainer for even a few sessions to tweak your form and get suggestions for additional exercises to incorporate into your routine.

If you do better with a structured diet, choose one that appeals to your taste buds and fits your lifestyle rather than the latest fad. Researchers from Harvard University found that a low-calorie diet, regardless of its specific breakdown in terms of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, leads to weight loss.