How Many Reps and Sets Should I Use To Tone Up Muscles?


question-icon-newI would really like to tone up my muscles and make them firmer but not bigger. One of your articles recommended performing reps of 12-15 for a total of 3-5 sets for the muscle group. Is this advice for only one exercise or should I do 3 different exercises with the same number of reps and sets for toning up? Also, is this the correct advice for all muscle groups?

answer-icon-newAchieving a sleek, toned look in our muscles and overall physique is an ever-elusive pursuit of hard work and determination. There are several different schools of thought regarding the optimal amount of reps and sets needed in order to tone and define a muscle, but there are quite a few different ideas that seem to come to the forefront in practically every discussion about achieving muscle tone. Most fitness experts agree that using heavy weights is not the best route to take when you want to focus specifically on toning up a muscle group. For the most part, lifting heavy weight is synonymous with building maximum muscle mass in most bodybuilders’ minds. Most people, when attempting to build mass, will perform low reps (6 to 8 rep range) using heavy weights. If your goal is to tone up and not actually increase the size of your muscles, you will need to take a slightly different approach which consists of using lighter weights and performing a higher amount of reps per set. This will better serve you in your pursuit of increased muscle tone.

Using light weights in combination with higher reps (12 to 15 range) gives your muscles the advantage of increased endurance. In a sense, light weights and high reps provide more of a “cardio” style workout for your muscles, since the emphasis is not on extreme muscle exertion or using super heavy weight resistance. In most fitness experts’ minds, reps in the 12 to 15 range are optimal for toning muscle, but repetitions as high as 20 per set would not be considered out of place. Simply put, increased reps mean more motion, and more motion gives the muscles more of an opportunity to increase in overall endurance. When you train with an endurance style output and higher reps, you will end up burning more calories during your workout simply due to your overall level of exertion. Just try doing one 45 minute workout doing 20 reps per set and see how you feel at the end. I guarantee you will be sweating a lot more than a workout where you only do 4-6 reps per set! When you train this way, more calories are burned and body fat is decreased. When fat goes away, your muscles will start to appear more toned since you have less fat covering them.


Some fitness experts contend that concepts such as “toning” or “cutting up” your muscles are somewhat of a fallacy due to the fact that muscle size and shape are largely determined by genetics, and cannot actually be changed. They argue that muscles can do one of two things (grow or shrink) and the rest of the job is left up to decreasing the amount of fat that surrounds those muscles. When you are able to shed overall body fat (and thus the fat surrounding your muscles), your muscles will look more ripped and defined. For this reason, taking diet into consideration is something that you cannot avoid. Eating a high quality diet that eliminates junk food and processed foods to a minimum will greatly aid you in keeping your overall body fat at a low level. Combining a clean diet with fat burning cardio workouts and high rep strength training will help you reach your goals of toning your muscles much faster.

As for the specific amount of reps and sets to perform for each exercise, it is common to perform 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps for one particular exercise, and then switch to a different exercise. You should mix it up with 2-3 different exercises to hit the muscle from different angles. For the total number of sets, it depends on your muscle group. The bigger the muscle, the more sets you will do. For a larger muscle group like the legs, you can do 8-10 total sets. Arms would only be 4-6 total sets since they are considered a smaller muscle group. Again, remember that your diet is the number one thing you need to focus on for getting toned and ripped. Cardio is also very important. You could do 50 reps per set but if your diet and cardio plan is not on target, you will have a very hard time getting ripped, toned and cut.

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