Muscle Tone VS Muscle Mass Workout Routines

September 21, 2007

I don’t believe in damaging a muscle when you are going for tone.

If you want to build muscle mass (which I don’t), then you want to do enough volume of lifts to induce a bit of damage…then you want to allow the muscles enough time to recover to rebuild themselves a bit bigger than they were before.

If you are going for tone…you want to do less sets and volume so you don’t damage the muscles…since you are not damaging the muscles you can work those same muscles out more often.

Workout Routine
[Christiano Ronaldo…the greatest soccer player in the world…he is also a great fitness role model as well! Women prefer this type of look over a bulky bodybuilder for sure!]

How Many Sets for Muscle Tone?

Remember, your goal for muscle tone is to avoid damaging the muscles. If you get sore the following day, back off a bit the next time that you work those same muscles. I like to do 3-4 sets of anywhere between 3-10 reps for muscle tone. I chose 2-3 exercises per body part.

How Many Reps Per Set?

I am one of the few people who believes that strength training done properly, can actually give you amazing muscle definition.

I address this in one of the first posts I made on this blog: High Reps for Muscle Tone? Bad Advice!

I think that you can get alright definition with medium to high reps, but you just won’t reach your highest potential unless you include periods of time when you are lifting in the lower rep range.

There are times when I do 3 sets of 8 reps per exercise…and other times when I do 4 sets of 3 reps per exercise.

Why Work The Muscles Frequently When Going For Tone?

This is one of the big keys to muscle tone, that I never hear personal trainers talk about.

Muscle tone is basically the partial contraction of a muscle in a relaxed state…so your muscles are contacting a bit on their own even when you are completely relaxed.

The way to increase this is to contract you muscles hard (workout) on a frequent basis. Their are two reasons you want to avoid damaging your muscles. The first is that if you are sore, you will overtrain if you work that muscle again too soon. The second is that you will be unable to get a hard contraction on a damaged muscle.

Avoid Going to Failure or Using Forced Reps When Toning Your Muscles

Going to the point of failure will increase the likelihood that muscle damage will occur.

The bad thing about going to failure is that it teaches your muscles to fail!

Your body will react by not contracting that muscle quite as hard for the next set…it will also result in less muscle tone outside of the gym.

Going to failure and forcing reps is great for muscle mass, but terrible for muscle tone!

A Typical Split Routine for Muscle Mass

A popular mass building routine is the “3 day split”. This is where you work the entire body over a period of 3 days. Day one could be Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps…Day 2 could be Back and Biceps…Day 3 could be Legs and Abs.

The benefit here is that since the muscles are getting damaged, they need more recovery time. Also since you are only focused on a couple of body parts, you could really do a high volume of intense lifts for each body part.

Cardio would be limited to maybe twice a week for 30 minutes.

The 2 Day Split Muscle Tone Workout Routine

Since you want to work each muscle group more often when going for tone, you should try to split you workout over two days instead of three.

The great thing here is that you don’t need much recovery time when you don’t damage the muscles.

Here is the routine I’ve followed for the past 5 years. Day One is Chest and Back…Day Two is Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps. The lifting part of my workouts only take 30 minute max and then I hit cardio for 30-45 minutes.

I do abs at night before bed. I don’t do any direct leg training whatsoever.

How Many Days a Week for Each Muscle Routine?

For muscle tone…I would recommend 4 times a week for maximum effectiveness…3 days a week to maintain (or when life gets really busy)…and maybe 5-6 days per week the month before a tropical vacation!

For muscle mass, I would recommend 5 days a week to keep those muscle growing…too much time away from the gym and they will begin to get smaller again…you could maintain that mass with 4 times a week.

Note: I’m just barely scratching the surface here when it comes to setting up a good workout routine.

The main goal for muscle tone is that you just need to remember that muscle damage and sore muscles are not your friend. Lift just enough to generate strong contractions…and spend the rest of the time burning off body fat with intense cardio…also don’t be afraid to lift heavy as long as you do not reach failure.

I’ll dig much deeper into the details of what makes a great workout routine in the near future.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa January 2, 2012 at 8:52 am


I’m loving this blog! Happy I stumbled across it. I’m getting married in 6 months and I’m looking to tone up and lose about 15 pounds. I am 5’6″ and 140 pounds. Working out has always been a part of my life but it seems to in spurts. I’ll work out for a couple of months and then get lazy and/or burnt out and quit for awhile. Can you recommend a good workout routine for me to slim down and tone-up for recognizable changes within 6 months? I know eating well is a huge part of it which I’ve been doing pretty well at. I’m not interested in bulking up at all…just seeking toned arms, legs, stomach and overall better physique. Help! Thank you so much.

steven January 4, 2012 at 6:51 am

Hi Rusty. Just saw this forum upon researching muscle tone vs muscle mass, and i do have a little concerns which I hope you can help me with.

The story is, i used to be a very thin guy who was 177cm and only about 56 kgs. About two years ago i decided to take up muscle training and have been at it ever since. I got a trainer about half a year ago who i see once every week. With him, I have put on more mass than I did on my own, and now im at a 68 kg range, packing a lot of mass on my upper torso and some on my quads.

However, now i have come to realize that some parts of my body is too big, espcially the arms which is out of whack with the torso. So I am wondering if it is possible to reduce the size of them without necessairily stopping training or losing A LOT of my hard-gained mass.

Just to give you more information, The exercise I did with my trainer was usually spilt into 3 days a week: chest/back, legs/abs and arms/shoulders. About a month ago we did a low rep high intensity strength training for a couple of weeks and then rebounded to a mass gaining program.

I have not raised the issue with my trainer and would like to hear your thoughts on it. He did once mention that i may need to get on the treadmills for a week to lean up a bit…but do you think this is would be sufficient? Also, i always drink a protein after workout, but if i were to bulk down/muscle tone as you have described…is protein shakes still necessary??

sorry for the looooong message, and i hope you can help! thanks so much!


Cary January 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Dear Rusty,

I just reviewed your actual workout (Day 1: back and chest; Day 2: shoulders, biceps and triceps), and I was wondering about whether you incorporated circuit training too, or if you rested between each set?

I am into circuit training right now to keep my heart rate up. Would your workout routine work just by alternating each set (e.g. Day 1: One set of Incline Barbell Press, then one set of chinups, and so forth, then one set of Incline Dumbbell Press and one set of Lat Pulldowns, and so forth)? Your thoughts?


Alex January 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Hey, Love the site your articles are great. Would you say the type of physique you recommend would be similar to Joe Manganiello off of the show true blood. He has a great athletic lean physique, I was wondering if you would ever consider doing an article about achieving this type of physique and maybe post it in the celebrity section. Just a thought anyways great site!

Heather January 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I think this is the worst information I have ever read!!! I can’t believe it was ever published. Of course, I am reading it almost 5 years after it was published, so maybe this was the “correct” information back then…
Who knows…but honestly, I teach a muscle toning/muscle endurance class and he whole class is based on high reps, low weight, go to failure. And we see fantastic results. Maybe because we use LOW weight (ie, 2.5/5 lb dumbbells)? That should be clarified in the article. Anyway, just needed to interject my thoughts here….I do exactly what you say NOT to do and I am in the best shape of my life…very tone, very defined and loving every minute of it.

Michael February 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

hi! i’m in a really dilemma! i’m seeking like a “model” body, not a schwarzenegger’s body of course and my body is like divided in two, my arms, shoulders and back are more define than the abs and legs, but still a lil skinny do i need to make some gain mass workouts for these sections (arms,chest,back and shoulders, and a tone muscle workout for abs and legs? i used to do an abs workout of 12 sets of 60 reps but i hardly define the upper muscles of the abb and no mass gained, i guees i gain resistance, now i do sets of 5 of 12 reps with 90 secs of resting…but now i don’t feel i’m working them is that ok or what do you suggest? that’s my dilemma gain mass or tone muscle :S and how D:

Alex May 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Hi Rusty!

I bought your Visual Impact for Women and have been following it since January. I’m doing a Euro-trip this summer so I’ve also been doing your 12 week cardio program to get fit for that. I believe it’s working great so far, but I have a few questions about eating…

1) I’ve been aiming for no eating 3-4 hours pre workout and 1 hour post workout. In this post you indicate that it’s optimal to try for 2-3 hours post workout, which I’ve been close to doing anyway. Since 7-9 hours seems like a long time to go without eating, I’m worried/wondering when the optimal times to eat would be as I’m noticing the results on my body but feeling a little worn down lately.

2) I’ve been doing 5 reps of low-ish weights for 4-5 sets before cardio time. I just want to double check that this is the best way to go about weights (I started your program having the last 5-10lbs to loose but trying not to build muscle as I bulk up VERY easily, esp. lower body)

Your books/blog posts/comments have been such a breath of fresh air for me! I love your approach to working out as I had been sick and tired of working out just to have my legs get *bigger* >.< Thank You!!!

Josh August 25, 2012 at 6:33 pm

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