Training for Mass vs Tone

Some people are afraid of inadvertently growing large muscles, and simply want tone. But, the truth is, building muscle mass requires very deliberate changes to diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Toning also requires changes to those three elements, but to a lesser degree. If done right, one can embark on either goal with ease. Just use the information below as your guide.

The main differences between “toning” and building muscle mass are:


  • Don’t rush through sets. Instead, allow your body to recover from each set. This will enable you to lift heavy every set. This is the key to building mass.
  • Rest for 60 – 120 seconds between sets, depending on the exercise and amount of weight lifted.

Other requirements for growth:

  • High caloric intake – above your body’s maintenance level (the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight and composition: fat/muscle)
  • High protein consumption – 1 to 1.5 grams/lbs of lean body mass (aka, muscle mass)
  • Limited cardio – cardiovascular exercise can interfere with muscle recovery from heavy lifting
    • For example, the legs can take up to seven days to recover from training, and small muscle groups, like the arms, can take 2 – 3 days. Cardio, which is often lower body intensive and sometimes upper body intensive, can therefore hinder growth. To avoid this, reduce cardiovascular output when working on mass. For example, 1-3 days/wk max when focusing on muscle growth and/or maintenance. Compared to 4-5 cardio workouts/wk for fat loss.
  • Utilize the 8-10 rep scheme – the weight you choose should be heavy enough that you can’t do more than 10 reps, but light enough to do at least 8 reps. This is the “hypertrophy (mass-building)” range. Reps under 8 are in the powerlifting range; any more reps and you’re the toning and endurance ranges. Remember, rep range is determined by the heaviness of the weight lifted. E.g., for mass, you should lift a weight that enables you to reach 8 reps, but doing more than 10 reps is physically impossible, per set.
  • Progressive overload – this is when you increase your lifts (amount of weight) every session, every exercise, and every muscle group. Even if you can only add 2lbs-5lbs per session, do it. Doing so forces growth.
  • Do 4-5 sets, not just 3, per exercise – sets 4 and 5 should be the heaviest sets of your workout. You’ll break from the 8-10 rep range to 4-6 reps for these sets. This, again, forces growth, and also, strength.
  • Different supplements may come in handy – e.g., creatine and weight gainers (if you’re an ectomorph or hard-gainer).

A monthly box of premium fitness apparel, supplements, equipment,
and more. Delivered monthly from Gainz Box.


Training for tone is almost the opposite of training for mass — almost. Both goals stimulate the muscles, however, toning does not require the same amount of rest, sets, reps, nutrition, and weight. In fact, weights aren’t necessary. The body can achieve tone via pure bodyweight movements. The best examples of this can be found among athletes in gymnastics and yoga.

Requirements for tone:

  • Challenge the body through bodyweight movements or the use of moderate weight. A moderate weight is one that can be lifted for up to 15 reps. The recommended rep range for tone is 12-15. If you’re able to do more than 15 reps, the weight may be too light. If you’re not able to do at least 12 reps, it’s not the end of the world, but you may gain more mass than tone.
  • Shorter rest between sets – no rest to 30 seconds between sets is all that’s needed. Supersetting (switching between different exercises with no rest in between) doesn’t hurt, and certainly won’t make your muscles huge. This is because supersetting doesn’t allow muscles to fully recover between sets; meaning you won’t be able to lift heavy each set, forcing muscle growth. This is fine for those who want to lose fat and/or wish to avoid building large muscles.
  • Eat at your daily energy expenditure level (TDEE) or a little less if you want to lose fat
  • Stick to 3 sets – this set range is good for maintenance and does not include the two heavy ending sets that are useful in the mass-building guidelines above.

In reviewing the differing guidelines above for mass-gain vs tone, it should be clear that building mass and toning are different animals. Toning doesn’t even require weights, much less a gym. One can tone their body anywhere — at home, the park, a hotel room. Conversely, to build mass, one needs access to varying weights in order to use progressive overload and force muscle growth. Other differences between the goals include opposing set and rep schemes, rest periods, and diet requirements.

In a final note, consider your body type. If your goal is to tone but you gain more muscle mass than you like, you may be genetically inclined to build muscle easily. This body type is known as mesomorphic (naturally muscular). Other body types include, ectomorphic (naturally thin) and endomorphic (an inclination for fat gain and retention). Knowing your body type does not hurt. But most people are a mix of two or all three body types, and are “average”; not an extreme of one body type, making the above guidelines sufficient for most trainees to reach their respective goals.


Before embarking on your goal, determine your caloric needs:

Learn about lifelong nutrition and nutrition geared to both fat loss and muscle gain:

Learn how to eat clean for life & never diet. Ever!


MEET SYLVIA PETRO — THE BROKE, FIT SINGLE MOM: As an athlete of over 15 years, and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created this site to aid not only broke single parents to a life of fitness, but anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the road to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; informing readers about mastering both of those building blocks is my goal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.