For years you have spent hours upon hours at the gym doing cardio trying to achieve your “dream body”.

You sweat on the treadmill, elliptical trainer and bike for hours, counting every calorie lost, thinking you are achieving that toned figure. You don’t lift weights because you “don’t want to bulk,” or you do lift weights, but only with really low weights and lots of reps.

Sound familiar?


From cardio to strength exercises

For years, it was thought the only way to get lean and toned was to do cardio – lots and lots of steady-state cardio.

Fortunately, things have changed and we’ve seen a shift towards recognizing the importance of strength exercise for the look of a toned body and its functional aspects.

In truth, strength is the new slim.

Utilizing strength moves into your routine will help you achieve the sleek, toned look you dream of.

8 exercises to strengthen and tone your body

The next eight moves are sure to help you get there. Whether a veteran in the gym or a novice just getting started, these exercises will help you get stronger and toned.

1. Planks

Planks are a great exercise to strengthen your core and inner girdle. There are also a ton of variations so you can continue to challenge your body in new ways and push yourself more.

Be sure when completing any plank that you maintain a braced core – that is, suck your belly button in toward your spine and hold it there. This is going to help stabilize your spine and ensure proper positioning.

Start with one set, holding as long as you can while maintaining form and work your way up to four sets.

2. Squats

Squats are another great strength exercise that also engage a ton of muscles. Squats help to strengthen the entirety of the legs and glutes as well as your core.

Be sure when completing squats that you maintain your braced core and only go down as far as you can while maintaining form. You want to watch for the alignment of your knees and toes (in particular your second and third toes) at all times during the movement to ensure your knee stays in a safe position.

For squats, to build strength and tone you want to select a weight that you can complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions with the last few reps really challenging you.

3. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are another great exercise for building strength and tone of the lower body and core.

Maintaining a flat back posture is absolutely imperative when performing this exercise. Also, using an alternated grip will help you hold the heavier weight needed to elicit a response.

Again, shoot for a weight that allows you to complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.

*Please note: be cautious with this exercise if you have a history of back injury or pain. Have a fitness professional watch you to ensure your form is correct.

4. Cable chest crossover

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The cable chest crossover is a great exercise for developing and strengthening the chest and triceps musculature (without the assistance of a spotter).

Be sure when your hands are crossing over that you alternate which hand is on top so you build strength evenly.

Complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 weights.

5. Seated cable row

The seated cable row is an excellent exercise to strengthen and tone the biceps and back.

Be sure you stack your shoulders directly over your hips when completing this exercise to protect your low back and think about wrapping your shoulder blades around your spine.

Complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 weights.

6. Neutral grip overhead press

Overhead presses are a great way to build strength in the upper body.

Using a neutral grip (palms pointing in toward each other) will put the shoulder in a better position to prevent overuse and injury.

Complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps for best results.

7. Underhand lat pulldown

Using an underhand grip with a lat pulldown allows you to engage the biceps more in this exercise, helping you tone and strengthen more muscles at once.

As with other lat pulldowns, keep your chest high and pull the bar down to the level of your chest.

Complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.

8. Kettlebell swings

A properly performed kettlebell swing is an excellent exercise to not only strengthen the body, but also to amp up the cardio. There are many variations to the swing that can be completed and they are especially effective for total body conditioning.

Select a weight that engages your muscles in order to effectively strengthen and tone while you are completing these swings.

Using the correct weight, you should be able to complete about 12-15 reps before fatigue starts to kick in.

Include these exercises as part of your workout routine

These exercises can be completed as part of a total body routine 3 days per week or you can add them to your current routine where they fit.

Importantly, you must select an appropriate weight for each move.

The appropriate weight will allow you to complete only the allotted number of repetitions and struggle to get the last rep finished. Complete 3-4 sets of each exercise (work up to it – you may have to start with 1 or 2 sets and that’s ok!) and only give yourself about 45 seconds in between sets to recover.

These exercises are sure to help you get strong and lean.  Now you have the plan – get lifting to get strong!


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