20+ Toning Exercises to Get Fit & Strengthen Muscle | Signos

A list of 20+ exercises you can do at home to help you strengthen and tone your muscles for improved health, body composition, and weight loss.

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by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 17, 2024
April 5, 2023
— Updated:
April 6, 2023

Table of Contents

Exercise in any capacity or form is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.1 It improves your mood, reduces risks of chronic disease and diabetes, strengthens muscles, and increases your metabolism for improved body composition and weight loss. Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the word “exercise” as it seems like a challenging and daunting routine. However, this article shows you a list of exercises that are easy and safe to perform, require minimal equipment, and can be done right at home. Get ready to tone your muscles, increase your fitness, and feel better in your body today. 

How Long Does It Take to Tone Your Body?

The time it takes to tone your body depends on consistency and other factors outside of exercise (i.e., healthy diet, sleep, etc.). Finding the right amount of exercise for you can be challenging. However, suppose you engage in at least 30 minutes of higher-intensity exercise at least 2-4x/week. In that case, you will notice effects in as little as two weeks, while most physical or aesthetic changes occur within 4-16 weeks.2,3,4,5 

At the beginning of any new exercise regimen, you will feel sore and fatigued, but as your body adapts, you will find a bout of exercise feels easier to complete and makes you less sore afterward. Also, you may notice you are sleeping better and your energy levels have improved throughout the day. With consistency, you will pick up heavier weights, increase the length of time you can enjoy cardio exercises, and notice more muscle mass or changes in body composition in 12 to 16 weeks!3,4 You may not have reached your ultimate goal by this time, but you will feel encouraged by the gains you’ve made from all the hard work. Keep going! 

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Best Exercises To Tone Your Arms 

If your goal is to increase muscle definition and strength in your upper body, here are a few exercises to try. It is crucial to have proper form while doing upper body exercises to avoid injuring shoulders, elbows, wrists, and neck. Use your core to provide stability and engage your shoulder blades (squeezing them down and back) for good posture. Do the following moves for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. 

  1. Planks: Lay with your stomach on the ground and press up into the top of a push-up position. You can also perform a plank using your forearms on the ground and your knees. Remember to keep your spine straight and your core, glutes, and quads engaged. 
  1. Push-Ups: Start laying on your stomach and push your torso off the ground from your toes or knees. Use your shoulder blade muscles to help you control the downward and upward motions.
  1. Side Planks: While laying on your side, press up onto your forearm and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Your elbow should be underneath your shoulder, and your hips should be aligned with your feet and shoulders. You can keep the bottom knee bent to 90 degrees if a full-side plank is too difficult.
  1. Arm Raises: In a standing position, start with your arms straight and hands resting by your side with your palms facing forward. Next, keep your elbow straight, lift your arm to shoulder height, and back down to your waist. This movement will work your deltoids and upper back muscles.
  1. Lat Pulldowns: Start with your arms straight and hands overhead. Then, pull your elbows down towards your ribcage using the muscles below your shoulder blades. Next, push your arms back overhead and repeat.
https://www.skimble.com/exercises/41947-lat-pulldown-loop-band-how-to-do-exercise
  1. Inverted Tables: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet elevated on a pillow, foam roller, or book. With your arms behind you and hands on the floor, press your hips up toward the ceiling using your arms, then lower your hips back down without letting them touch the floor. Repeat these press-ups and feel your shoulders, triceps, and core muscles work.
  1. Triceps Extensions: With your arms overhead, start with your elbows bent and hands behind your head. In this position and to increase difficulty, you can hold a dumbbell or another heavy object (i.e., water bottles, soup cans, milk cartons, etc.). Next, straighten your elbows to lift the weight over your head, remembering to use only your tricep muscles and not overstrain your neck. 
  1. Triceps Dips: Using a coffee table, chair, or bench, place your hands on the edge of the surface with your torso and hips facing away from the surface. Your knees can be straight or bent for more support. Lower your hips down towards the ground using only your arms. As your elbows bend and straighten, you will feel your tricep muscles activate. Again, keep your core engaged and your elbows pointing straight backward.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more:</strong> <a href="/blog/yoga-for-weight-loss">Yoga for Weight Loss: Benefits, Types & Exercises</a>.</p>

Best Exercises to Tone Your Abs

If your goal is to have a strong core and tone your six-pack, try the below exercises! You’ll be feeling the burn during the movement and for days afterward. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, or for 2-3 sets of 30-60 second intervals. 

  1. Sit-Ups: Start laying on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your hands across your chest or behind your head for neck support. Then, use your core muscles to help you lift your torso off the floor and up to an upright, seated position. If you struggle with low back pain or injury, try stomach crunches (#2 on this list) as a modified form of sit-ups. 
  1. Stomach Crunches: Lift your neck and shoulders off the ground a few inches while keeping your low back in contact with the floor. It is best to keep your hands behind your head to help protect your neck from straining. This is an effective way to strengthen your core if doing a full sit-up is too much for you. 
  1. Scissors: While laying flat on your back and legs extended, place your hands on the ground beside you or directly underneath your sacrum. Lift your legs a few inches off the ground without letting your low back arch or lift away from the floor. While holding your legs in the air, cross one leg over the other, then reverse as if making a scissor motion with your legs. 
  1. Mountain Climbers: Start in a plank position on your hands and toes. Use your core muscles to bring your right knee towards your right elbow, then back to the plank position. Repeat with your left knee to your left elbow. You can go as slow or as fast as you want, or add a resistance band around your feet for an additional challenge! 
  1. Plank With Knee Tap: In a plank position, place your hands or forearms on the floor. From this position, alternate taping your right knee down to the ground, then your left knee. For more of a challenge, try tapping your knees down to the ground simultaneously, then press them back up into a plank. 
https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/45332199/image/45470912/Elbow-Plank-Alternating-Knee-Tap
  1. Leg Lowers: Lay on your back with your hands down by your side or underneath your sacrum. Start with your legs elevated straight above your hips, making a 90-degree angle with your torso. Next, lower one leg down to the floor or until your back starts arching off the floor. Then, bring that same leg back to the top and lower the opposite leg the same way. Try both legs at the same time if you can keep your back in contact with the floor and if lowering just one leg at a time feels too easy for you. 
  1. Reverse Crunches: Start by lying on your back with your hips and knees bent 90 degrees in a reverse tabletop position. Use your lower abdominal muscles to lift your legs as if trying to kick the ceiling with your heels. Your legs will be straight, and your hips should come off the floor. Return to the starting position or add a heel tap on the ground after pushing them to the ceiling. 
https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/43186771/image/43186799/Reverse-Crunches-60-Seconds
  1. Russian Twists: Find a seated position on the floor with your knees and hips bent 90 degrees and your spine straight. Lift your feet a few inches off the floor, or keep your heels on the ground for more support. Using a weight or none at all, twist your upper body while reaching side to side. Remember to use your core muscles to control the twisting motion, which will help protect your low back during the exercise. 

Best Exercises to Tone Your Legs And Butt

Finally, here are exercises to help tone your leg and glute muscles for a more toned lower body. Try these exercises for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, giving yourself at least 30-60 seconds of rest between sets and exercises. Check out this routine if you’re looking for exercises with added weights (i.e., dumbbells).

  1. Squats: Place your feet slightly wider than your hips in a standing position, pointing your toes slightly outward. Keep your arms straight out in front of your chest as you slowly sit your butt down towards the floor. Your knees may move over your toes, and that is okay! Make sure to use your quad and glute muscles to help control the motion and your core muscles to help protect your back. Your spine should be straight with a mostly upright posture. 
  1. Glute Bridges: Lay on the floor with a flat back and knees bent 90 degrees. With your feet placed hip-width apart, use your glute muscles to push your hips off the floor towards the ceiling. Be careful not to push them too high, as you want to avoid arching your back. You should feel this exercise in your glutes and core. 
  1. Lunges: Place one foot in front and one behind you while standing. Your back foot will rest just on the toes as you use the front leg for most of the exercise. Then, keep your torso straight as you lower your body toward the floor. You should feel your back knee bending until your knee is hovering just above the floor, then use your front thigh and butt muscle to push yourself up to a standing position. Remember to reverse your stance to work the opposite leg. 
  1. Jumping Sumo Squats: Start standing with your feet significantly wider than your hips, and your feet pointed about 45 degrees outward. Your kneecaps should be directed outward over your feet. Keep your spine straight as you use your legs to lower your hips towards the floor, then explode upward as you jump and land in the squatted position. You can always jump out of the exercise and focus on the sumo squat. This will burn your inner thighs and quad muscles. 
https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/36123288/image/36123635/Sumo-Squat-Jump
  1. Wall Sits: Start standing with your back against a wall and your feet placed far away from your body. Slide your spine down the wall until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor (but not fully parallel). Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, or move your body up and down the wall as if doing repeated squats. 
  1. Single-Leg Deadlifts: Stand on one leg keeping your knee slightly bent. Make sure to hinge from your hip and keep your spine straight as you bring your opposite leg behind you and your torso almost parallel to the floor. Your back leg should feel like an extension of your spine, and your standing leg should feel activation in the calf, hamstring, and glute muscles. Make sure to use the glute muscle of your standing leg to help bring your torso back to a standing position. 
  1. Step Ups: Using a low bench, chair, or step at home, start by placing one leg on the step and push up to a standing position. You should feel your butt muscles working to help push you up and your thigh muscles to help lower you back down. The higher the step, the harder the exercise!
https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/How-Do-Step-Ups-6483533
  1. Standing Glute Kickbacks: Stand next to a wall or chair in case you need to hold on to balance. Shift your weight onto one leg and lift your opposite foot off the floor. Then, push your lifted leg behind you using mostly your butt muscles. This is a relatively small motion, but you will quickly feel the burn in your butt muscles as you kick your leg behind you. Remember to engage your core and keep your back flat to avoid over-arching your spine. 

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https://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/leg-lift

What are the Benefits of Toning Exercises?

Of course, there are aesthetic benefits of toning exercise that most of us are after, such as more sculpted arms, a six-pack, weight loss, etc. However, toning exercises have many other benefits to our overall health and wellness. 

  1. Improves Your Mental Health: Physical exercise in any capacity improves your mood and mental health by increasing dopamine, self-confidence, and energy levels.7,8
  1. Encourages Better Posture: Toning exercises require you to engage your core muscles throughout the entire routine and focus on strengthening the postural muscles of your body. The increasing tone in these muscles means having more endurance for better posture throughout the day. 
  1. Increases Strength: The resistance and muscle-targeting aspects of toning exercises allow for strength and hypertrophy adaptations during and after exercise more than cardiovascular exercise alone. 
  1. Lowers Illness Risks: Both endurance and resistance-based exercise has been shown to regulate the immune system and lower the risk of acute and chronic disease. Toning exercises are both resistance and endurance-based when done at a fast tempo with short rest periods.9 
  1. Leads to Greater Attention Span and Productivity: Regular resistance-based exercise leads to greater productivity at work and in personal life. It has also been shown to reduce workplace burnout in as little as four weeks.10 
  1. Increases Stamina: When performed at a faster tempo with short rest breaks between sets, toning exercise can target the cardiovascular system and help improve your endurance and stamina for activity.12 
  1. Improves Sleep Quality: Regular exercise (both cardiovascular and resistance-based) can help improve sleep quality by reducing feelings of insomnia and restlessness.13  
  1. Helps You Achieve a Leaner Body: A leaner body is achieved by reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass, which occurs during resistance-based exercises like muscle-toning exercises. 

To achieve these outcomes with resistance-based or muscle-toning exercises, you must pair your workouts with a healthy, balanced diet. Check out this full-body strength routine that only takes 10 minutes and even helps reduce glucose spikes. Weight loss can happen even while doing lower-impact exercise, so find a routine that is safe and right for you. 

Learn More About Fitness and Healthy Habits with Signos’ Expert Advice.

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about</strong> <a href="/blog/anaerobic-exercise">14 Health Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Semeco, Arlene and Tipane, Jake. The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise. (2023, February 9). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ 10-benefits-of-exercise
  2. Weight Loss: How Long Does it Take to Tone Muscles. (2020, January 21). Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/ fitness/weight-loss-how-long-does-it-take-to-tone-muscles/photostory/73435803.cms#:~:text=Depending%20on%20the%20intensity%20and,your%20muscles%20to%20get%20toned.
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  7. Bird, S.P., Tarpenning, K.M. & Marino, F.E. Designing Resistance Training Programmes to Enhance Muscular Fitness. Sports Med 35, 841–851 (2005). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200535100-00002
  8. Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2(2), 127–152. https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040
  9. Ashdown-Franks, Garcia, Sabiston, Catherine M, Stubbs, Brendon. The evidence for physical activity in the management of major mental illnesses: a concise overview to inform busy clinicians’ practice and guide policy. Current Opinion in Psychiatry 32(5):p 375-380. 
  10. Wang, J., Liu, S., Li, G., Xiao, J. (2020). Exercise Regulates the Immune System. In: Xiao, J. (eds) Physical Exercise for Human Health. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1228. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1792-1_27
  11. Bretland RJ, Thorsteinsson EB. 2015. Reducing workplace burnout: the relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. PeerJ 3:e891 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.891
  12. Schroeder, E. C., Franke, W. D., Sharp, R. L., & Lee, D. C. (2019). Comparative effectiveness of aerobic, resistance, and combined training on cardiovascular disease risk factors: A randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 14(1), e0210292. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210292
  13. Ellingson, L. D., Kuffel, A. E., Vack, N. J., & Cook, D. B. (2014). Active and sedentary behaviors influence feelings of energy and fatigue in women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 46(1), 192–200. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a036ab
  14. Yang, P. Y., Ho, K. H., Chen, H. C., & Chien, M. Y. (2012). Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. Journal of physiotherapy, 58(3), 157–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1836-9553(12)70106-6

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

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