Toning And Bulking Up: Why They Should Be Done Separately

It's common to ask yourself whether your gym goals involve toning or gaining muscle mass. Regardless of which you choose, you should know that toning and bulking up should be kept separate.
Toning And Bulking Up: Why They Should Be Done Separately

Last update: 07 August, 2018

Many fitness enthusiasts know about the importance of the stages of toning and bulking up. They involve routines, exercise, and different ways of working out according to their objectives. However, few are aware of the significance of each phase.

Firstly, we should clarify what each stage involves. Bulking up is when someone looks to gain muscle. Generally, it takes much longer and is done before toning, since it’s the basis for muscle definition.

The toning phase usually lasts for six to eight weeks and is when you work to define your bulked-up muscles. Letting it go on any longer could lead to burning too much fat, which could reduce previous muscle gain. While both toning and bulking up are important, it’s crucial that you do them separately.

Toning and bulking up: why both phases are necessary

A long-term fitness program should involve phases for toning and bulking up your muscles. Why?

It’s because the approach you’ll take for both methods, will depend on your unique fitness level. That’s why it’s crucial that you know your body fat percentage before you start following a fitness plan.

If you’re slender, you should bulk up first, and then get rid of any excess fat. This will result in a body with a good level of lean muscle mass and little stored fat.

By contrast, if you have a high level of body fat, you’ll start with burning fat and bulking up later.

You would likely see negative results if you did the opposite–for two reasons. Firstly, the diet needed for the bulking period could lead to you gaining unnecessary fat. Secondly, because you would need a toning phase that would be much longer than normal.

fit man on chest press machine at gym

Measuring your body fat percentage

A visit to a dietician will help you to do just that. It’s important to know so that you can decide which fitness plan would be most appropriate for you. Currently, there are devices that can measure body fat in only a few minutes.

Generally, a man’s body fat percentage should be below 15 per cent, while a woman’s should be below 22 per cent.

Differences between toning and bulking up

The two main differences between these two phases are the diets and aerobic exercise that is required. Of course, their workouts also vary. We’ll go through both differences below.


On one hand, when bulking up, you’re looking to eat protein to give your body what it needs to build muscle.  Carbohydrates and fat (to a lesser extent) are also important when it comes to providing energy. That’s why you’ll hear about high-calorie diets.

However, this means gradually cutting back on carbs and fat. The goal is to avoid eating them in excess, since they’ll end up being converted into fat if they’re not burned.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is one of the key stages of the toning phase. It’s important for removing fat and the fatty layers covering your muscles.

During the bulking phase, you have to do one or two light sessions of aerobic exercise a week.  Conversely, during the toning phase, you have to do three to four sessions a week, of considerable intensity.

woman at leg press machine at gym toning and bulking up


Ideally, to bulk up you should aim for muscle hypertrophy. In other words, you should do exercises with higher weights to tear muscle fibers and encourage muscle growth. What’s more, you should do about 8 to 10 repetitions per set.

When toning, there are two schools of thought. The first claims that using the same weight will foster muscle growth and can better tone your muscles.

The second, says that it’s best to lower the weight, so you can do more sets and repetitions. As such, you’ll burn more lean muscle, which prevents your muscles from becoming toned.

Ultimately, there’s a change you’ll have to make to tone your muscles, that will go beyond weights, sets, and repetitions. Generally, you should do supersets or combined sets – bi-sets and tri-sets – to boost your fat burn.

In conclusion, you should remember that toning and bulking up can’t be done at the same time. This is because they involve various changes that work against one another in terms of diet and exercise. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to plan and meet the goals of each phase, as needed.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.