• Teresa Labrecque

So you want to get leaner and look more “toned”?


This is THE number 1 reason why women reach out to me for personal fitness training and nutritional coaching.  As one of my clients puts it, “I want to see muscle definition when I look into the mirror!”  Being toned isn’t just about weight loss. Rather, it's all about BUILDING MUSCLE, LOSING FAT, and FEELING HEALTHY.

STRENGTH TRAINING consistently at least 2-3 times a week is THE form of exercise that transforms a woman’s body long term.  Why? Because not only does she gain a stronger and leaner body, but also a stronger MINDSET!

Through a well-designed strength training program, she sees PROGRESS, feels her body get STRONGER, and develops a sense of PERSONAL EMPOWERMENT.  She walks with her head held high — comfortable, confident, and happy in her body. With this new found spunk, she finds it easier to maintain her new healthy lifestyle and continues to maintain the lean & fit body she worked so hard for.


Despite what many women have been led to believe about strength training, performing countless repetitions using light weights will neither produce lean muscles nor any strength gains.  Rather, it will just lead to frustration and discouragement as you fail to see any form of progress. So what’s the answer?

Muscles respond to demand!  Ask your muscle to lift progressively heavier weights, and they’ll respond by getting stronger. 

Challenge yourself with your resistance training, and you will gain muscle mass and will eventually appear tighter, firmer, and more “toned.”  AND not to mention the additional functional and health benefits that accompany your increased lean muscle mass!  For instance, people who are more muscular and have lower body fat tend to have better insulin control.

Now you may be wondering,

“How often and how much should I be lifting weights?”

Strength training 2-3 times a week at minimum is necessary to achieve a lean physique for the average woman.  If your goal is for aesthetics rather than performance, then higher volume weight training will do the trick. 

Performing 8 — 12 repetitions per set is the optimal range for muscle growth. Aim to complete 12 — 20 working sets per muscle group.  To spice things up, try using supersets to add volume and improve efficiency!

Focus on a few heavy, compound movements, such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, rows, and chin-ups. These exercises not only work a lot of different muscles at one time — allowing you to maximize muscle growth (which is needed to look “toned”) —  but they also burn a ton of calories, which will help you lose fat.

The key for progress in gaining lean muscle mass lies in progressive overload — that is, continuing to challenge muscles as they get stronger.  Simple ways you can incorporate progressive overload in your fitness routine include:

  • Increasing the weight

  • Adding more repetitions or sets

  • Incorporating tempos — slowing down & adding pauses

  • Take shorter rest time between sets

But what about CARDIO?  Endless hours on the treadmill or stairmaster will not help you achieve a lean and toned physique.  Research has shown that resistance training provides a greater EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) effect than steady-state cardio exercise.  This means that strength training results in an increased amount of oxygen consumed both during and after a workout, resulting in more calories burned.  This means your metabolism can continue to burn more calories after a higher-intensity strength workout even when at complete rest!  Now that being said, I am not against cardio. In fact, sprinkling in low-intensity cardio on the days you are not strength training is a great idea!  Why not take it outside and go for a hike or bike ride?


Once you nail your exercise regime, it’s time to start focusing on your NUTRITION.  Because, lets face it, strength training is only half the equation.  Nutrition plays an equally, or arguably more, important role in creating the lean & fit body you desire.  The more you exercise, the more food your body needs to repair and build lean muscle mass.  And the more muscle you have, the LEANER you’ll get!

A common mistake many females make when trying to “tone up” is not eating enough.

If you increase your exercise but don’t simultaneously increase your intake, you’ll put your metabolism in “starvation mode.”  This is exactly what we DON’T want! Your body will use your precious muscle for fuel AND begin stockpiling the few calories you do consume as fat for storage.  The result — an undesirable body composition.

If you are to take away just one piece of nutrition advice, it’s this: Focus on eating enough PROTEIN.

Normally, muscle protein breakdown outpaces protein synthesis.  But we want the opposite! We want to build up more muscle than we are breaking down, especially after a strength training session. The best way you can achieve this is by eating adequate protein.  Aiming for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a good target for most people.

A few other helpful nutritional habits you can begin to work on are:

  • Emphasizing whole, nutritiously-dense foods

  • Eat lots of veggies — especially your greens

  • Eat slowly and until you are about 80% full

  • Minimize processed foods

Strength training and a nutritious diet have so many benefits for women, ranging from physical strength to a sense of personal empowerment, and of course, achieving the aesthetic goals of looking “toned” that so many women are looking for. 

So girls — Don’t be afraid to train hard, train often, and eat accordingly!


Before I wrap things up, I want to discuss one more thing…

Although the majority of clients I train are looking for help in “toning up” and losing body fat, know that your value as a person has nothing to do with your size or number on the scale.  Remember that you can be working towards health-promoting behaviours irrespective of your size or weight.  There are so many non-aesthetic goals that you can achieve, such as getting stronger or faster, developing a healthier relationship with food, or pumping out 20 pushups!

If your goal is to “tone up” or lose weight, I encourage you to ask yourself WHY.  What is the real reason behind this desire?  Why is this an important goal for you?  Perhaps you want to have more energy.  Perhaps you are wanting to improve your heart health.  Or maybe, in fact, you just want to look in the mirror and be happy and confident with your appearance — that’s okay too! 

Finding your “deep reason” creates the will to keep going when things get tough and shit hits the fan. So whether you are struggling in the gym or just getting started, look for your deep reason.


You have it in you to achieve what you want. 

You deserve to feel your absolute best!



The health and fitness world can sometimes appear confusing.  But it doesn’t have to be. Let me help you make sense of it all and get in the best shape of your life!

Reach out to me!  It’s what I love to do.  I will help you get started, give you motivation, and provide you direction to set you on the right path.

In health & strength,


Registered Nurse, Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach

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