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Muscle definition: how to achieve it

Blog | Justin Shaw, Sports Development Coordinator

‘Toned’ is just a word we use to describe visible muscle definition. This defined look is most effectively achieved through simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain.

Previously the advice from the health industry was that you should lift lighter for more repetitions to avoid ‘bulking up’ and move more towards toned muscles. This has since been proven untrue, or at the very least only partially accurate. Lifting lighter weight for more reps will put you into an aerobic state of exercise, which does burn some calories and help with fat loss, but you may as well just jump on a rower or grab a skipping rope.

It has been demonstrated that lifting heavier for 8-12 reps is very effective for both losing fat through caloric expenditure, and for gaining muscle tone through hypertrophy. High intensity, low rest, weight training sessions are the way to go for that ‘toned’ aesthetic.

If you’re looking to tone up a little, here are a few tips to maximise your workouts.

Try supersets.

A superset is when you complete 2 different exercises back to back with no rest. For example, some people commonly superset a quad exercise with a hamstring exercise when training legs. This is because of the agonist/antagonist relationship between the two, meaning that while one is contracted, the other is relaxed, much like the biceps/triceps relationship. Supersets are a great way to maximise your time in the gym and keep your heart rate up to maximise that fat loss, while stressing the muscles enough for lean muscle.

Try some HIIT and TABATA.

High Intensity Interval Training and/or Tabata are great ways to keep that heart rate up to burn fat while stressing our muscles enough to build lean muscle. Try incorporating some circuits into your training sessions.

Have a look at your calories in vs calories out.

While tracking macro nutrients seems like a painful process, it can be very informative. If you just track your caloric intake for one day you can learn a lot about what kind of training changes or diet changes you might need to make. Ideally to lose weight we want to be in slight caloric deficit. Not a drastic deficit, just slight. If we are looking to put a little more muscle on the frame then we want to be just a little in excess.

Incorporate more protein into your diet.

Protein is essential for muscle recovery and all things training related. Foods high in protein often leave you feeling fuller for longer and help you snack less throughout the day. Bumping up your protein can be done through your diet or through supplementation, if you aren’t big on supplements there are plenty of foods to help give your protein intake a boost!

Try new exercises.

Your body slowly adapts over time, not just to the weight! This may sounds cruel but if an exercise is starting to feel easy, it’s time to change! You can add weight, add resistance, or change it up entirely! If you’re crushing the leg press lately, switch it up for some Bulgarians! Cross trainer getting a little easy? Jump on the stair master or the rower!


Try these quick tips next time you’re in at SportUNE, and if you stick with it for a few weeks you’ll notice some changes! Good luck in your next high intensity weight training session.

As always, you can speak to the team at SportUNE anytime about anything discussed above – we’re happy to help!

Looking for that extra bit of motivation?

We have a range of weekly group fitness classes on offer, check out our classes here. Or to learn more about fitness and wellbeing and connect with like-minded people, visit the Wellness Hub.