When I ask people what their goals are, most people reply with the goal of becoming more toned.
There is nothing wrong with this goal whatsoever, but "toning" is the wrong way to state it. What these people mean is they do not want to get bigger, rather they want to appear "firmer" or "less soft/squishy."
Toning does not actually exist. Muscles do not get harder or softer, they become larger or smaller.
The tone you are after largely comes from one thing - fat loss. The fat around the muscle - giving it the soft/squishy look - is what you are after. "Toning" your muscles really comes from:
1) A slight increase in muscle size (don't worry, you won't all of a sudden have huge muscles from lifting some weight)
2) A decrease in fat percentage.
This comes from the combination of a good diet and a properly executed fitness program.
It is commonly thought that to "tone" you need to lift light weight for a lot of reps.
This belief is false. While lifting light weight for many reps will improve muscular endurance, it is not the most optimal approach to losing body fat. Instead, choose heavier weights and aim to stay in the 6-12 rep range.
Also, cardio, in the form of interval training will be your next best friend. When your goal is fat loss, traditional steady state cardio is not the best option.
Lastly, the most important component to achieving that "toned" look you are after is your diet. You can not out-train a poor diet.
You need to create a caloric deficit - burn more calories than you take in - in order to lose body fat. Aim to eat about 500-1000 less calories per day than what your body uses. This will safely allow you to lose about 1-2 pounds per week.
Summing this all up - the "tone" you are after comes from a slight increase in muscle size and a decrease in body fat. Achieve this from participating in strength training, cardio in the form of intervals, and a creating a caloric deficit.
Till next time,