Some background: I'm 6'1 and weigh approximately 152 lbs.

I want to be toned (muscular and cut). Not big, but I want my muscles to be showing even when I don't flex. I especially want a six pack.

Now, I know this takes time and hard work. I also know I need to have a good diet. So here's what I do (and have been doing for the past few weeks):

Eating Habits:

Breakfast: I have a chicken cutlet (I hate eggs) with greek yogurt and a glass (or two) of milk.

Lunch: Mon-Fri A buffalo chicken (boars head, sliced, from Publix deli) sandwich on italian bread, a banana, and an apple. On the weekends, my lunch varies.

Dinner: Varies. About two-three nights a week I'll have two Bubba burgers for the protein (26g per burger). Maybe once or twice a week I also have frozen pizza (I think that's the worst that I eat). Tonight I'm having tacos, last night I had spaghetti. Any recommendations?

Besides milk, I almost exclusively drink water. I never drink soda. I don't smoke. On the nights when I go to the gym, I have a protein shake with whey protein. I typically have it with ice cream, frozen strawberries (sometimes raspberries added) and orange juice.


I'm jogging three times a week, following this plan, to be specific. After I get to two miles, I'll be doing that three times a week, and I'll probably move it up to three miles when I can. I'm doing the cardio to help lose body fat so my six pack will show when I have enough muscle in my abs.


I go to the gym on the days in-between my jogging. For example, Monday I'll jog, Tuesday I go to the gym, wed jog, thurs gym. But I only go to the gym twice a week. I workout only on the machines, but I want to start doing deadlifts for their great all around workout, as well as bench presses and squats.

I also work my abs every other day, doing this workout, although I can't do 4 sets yet, my max is 3.

So my main goal is a six pack, that's what I want the most. But I also want to be toned. If I keep doing this will I achieve my goals? Do I need to change some of my habits? What do you think? Any recommendations or critiques are most welcomed. Thanks.

  • @LegoStormtroopr, I'm not asking for an exercise routine to get a six pack. I've already posted the exercises that I do to work my abs. I'm asking if my combination of cardio, eating, and muscle building is sufficient to achieve my goals.
    – Undefined
    Aug 8, 2013 at 2:18
  • 1
    If you want visible muscle definition, without being 'big', you need to shed body fat. If you want a visible sixpack without flexing you need low, low body fat.
    – user2861
    Aug 8, 2013 at 2:22
  • @DaveLiepmann I've slightly tweaked the question wording and added an answer.
    – user2861
    Aug 8, 2013 at 2:51
  • 1
    Consider calisthenics. Look for the word BARSTARZZ in youtube. That people have the kind of body you are looking for. The very most famous book on calisthenics is called Convict Conditioning, by Paul Wade.
    – Mephisto
    Aug 13, 2013 at 4:00
  • possible duplicate of How to lose fat fast and healthily?
    – K.L.
    Dec 24, 2013 at 9:59

4 Answers 4


Most people have misconceptions what 'tone', what it is, and how to achieve it. Being toned is a combination of two things - having muscle mass, and having a low enough amount of body fat to show the definition between the aforementioned muscles. A six pack is simply satisfying these conditions in a specific area - the stomach.


If you're 6'1 152, and without visible abs, I would presume you have limited muscle mass. I realize you don't want a bodybuilder look, but 1/2 of the formula for being "toned" is having muscle on your frame.

You need to lift weights like you're trying to get big - just don't eat like you're trying to get big. You can lift like a bodybuilder or a powerlifter for years but without a certain caloric volume, you aren't going to get that big. Drop the machines and add in the big lifts - you need to be doing squats, deadlifts, presses, weighted pullups, etc. Also, these big exercises, when done properly, work your core very hard, which helps to build muscle necessary for a six pack. The prior advice that you should stop lifting so much if you start getting too big is just incorrect - keep lifting big, just don't eat as much.


Which brings us to the next half of the equation - diet. While on the surface what you posted doesn't look bad, the devil is in the details. You need to really know how many calories you're taking in, how much protein, etc. For a couple of weeks, track everything you ingest with something like FitDay, MyFitnessPal, etc. Get an idea for how many calories you're taking in, and how many you're burning. Only then can you really know if your diet is properly aligned with your goals.

Ab exercises

People tend to work under the assumption that in order to get a six pack, you need to do tons of ab work - crunches, lifts, planks, rollouts, you name it. Realistically, this isn't the case. Yes - as my definition at the top states, you need to have muscle mass to show stomach tone. However, most people that don't have a six pack simply have too much fat.

Everyone's metabolism is different, and everyone's body accumulates fat differently. People like to throw out 'magic' numbers of body fat percentage where abs can be seen - these are general guidelines. Some people can have visible abs above 10%, some might need to get down to 7%. The real key is to just keep reducing fat until you get where you want to be - and remember, you cannot spot reduce fat. There is no exercise or diet that will cause you to lose more stomach fat than others.

In the long run, you need to lose body fat to get the six pack you want. This requires a caloric deficit, but it also requires more focus on lifting to ensure that your body is burning fat, not muscle. In the short term, you may find it beneficial to focus more on building a baseline of muscle, without focusing as much on the caloric deficit. You will gain weight in this phase, but most of it should be muscle. Following some muscle gains, switch to a caloric deficit, cut the fat away, and you'll have the definition you want.

  • What should my ratio of calories consumed/calories burned look like?
    – Undefined
    Aug 14, 2013 at 22:24
  • To lose fat you need to be in a deficit - so you need to burn more than you take in. A smaller deficit (burned/consumed fairly close together) takes longer but is easier and you don't risk burning as much muscle. Never consume fewer calories than your BMR. You can get a rough estimate of BMR with a calculator like this: bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator
    – Deeko
    Aug 15, 2013 at 1:13
  • Ok, so consuming less calories than my BMR will mean that I'll lose muscle instead of fat, correct?
    – Undefined
    Aug 15, 2013 at 2:42
  • 2
    It can - but the real concern is that when intake is below BMR your metabolism will drop to compensate, which is both unhealthy, reduce your energy, and slow your rate of weight loss. The two things to help ensure you burn fat instead of muscle while in a deficit are lifting heavy and taking in enough protein.
    – Deeko
    Aug 15, 2013 at 11:43
  • +1 for "You need to lift weights like you're trying to get big - just don't eat like you're trying to get big." Well said. Aug 15, 2013 at 23:21

You want to look muscled without being big. The good news is, it's hard to get too many muscles. The solution is to lift a little and get your body fat down.


The word "toned" means different things to different people. It's not a technical term, like "strong" or "powerful" or even "big". Most people use "toned" to communicate their desire to look fit and a little bit athletic but not muscle-bound or "bulky". Instead of saying "toned", some people will say they want to look like some actor in a movie where an Adonis belt plays a starring role.

Brad Pitt's Adonis belt is the apple of many aspiring fitness enthusiasts' eye

It sounds like you want to look muscular and trim without being big like a bodybuilder.

Programming to look muscular but not big

The key point is to A) build some muscle and B) work towards a low body fat percentage so those muscles look well-defined. Your abs don't need to be that big, but to have a six-pack they can't be covered by much fat. Running, lifting, and a fairly controlled high-protein diet is a fine way to work towards that goal.

Lift for muscles

I'd make sure to hit the following lifting priorities:

  • direct ab work
  • direct chest and tricep work, such as bench press or dips
  • pull-ups and chin-ups for impressive shoulders, biceps, and upper back
  • deadlifts or squats, for overall strength and posture

I'd shoot for rep ranges that produce hypertrophy. That is, I'd do sets of 10 or 12 to make my muscles big. If they got too big, I'd stop eating and lifting so much. But that's not likely. More likely you'll like the muscles that appear.

I'd focus on multiple sets of pull-ups, dips, bench press, and ab work. I wouldn't shy away from circuits or short rest periods. Squatting and deadlifting would be a secondary priority, at the end of the workout with less volume. For instance, three or four times a week I might do:

  • three rounds of a circuit of pull-ups followed immediately by dips, aiming for the maximum number of reps with good form, taking a minute or two (but not five) to rest between rounds
  • weighted Roman chair sit-ups
  • a single set of 10 moderately heavy Romanian deadlifts (plus the warm-up sets, of course).

or, alternatively, since we're just spitballing:

  • bench press, three heavy sets of 10
  • pull-ups, as many sets as necessary to get fifty reps
  • assorted ab work - windshield wipers, ab rollouts, etc
  • squats, one heavy set of 10 (plus those warm-ups)

Run and eat protein for low body fat

With the muscles growing from the lifting, the second priority is to get my body fat down low. Eating less helps. A high-protein diet helps. Running and other forms of cardio help.

Try to cook foods yourself. Focus on high-quality items like grass-fed and pastured meat, eggs, and milk, and a large proportion of greens and vegetables. Avoid sodas and sweets. Minimize alcohol and deep-fried foods.

Two or three times a week, I'd go for a run. Optimally, one of those runs would be a mile or three and another would be a short warm-up followed by a half-dozen sprints. The running isn't set in stone--if I felt like swimming or biking hills or rowing, that's all fine. The point is to get in some short, high-intensity cardio and some longer, slower, low-intensity cardio in each week.

  • how much weight to lift? Is it true to just aim for maximum number of repetitions even with lower weights?
    – Jack Twain
    Sep 6, 2014 at 23:27
  • @AlexTwain All the weighted exercises (squats, bench, RDLs) I recommend in this context are for specific rep targets, with the goal of using near-maximal weight for that rep range and increasing that weight over time in order to stay at the edges of one's capabilities. So: no, I am not recommending low weights for maximum repetitions. Sep 7, 2014 at 7:55
  • for what purpose do people use low weights for maximum repetitions then?
    – Jack Twain
    Sep 13, 2014 at 16:50
  • @AlexTwain You'll have to ask them. Sep 13, 2014 at 19:19

"Toned" is merely a term that implied good muscle definition with low muscular volume.

To look "toned", you need two things:

  • Low body fat percentage
  • Good muscle definition

The latter very much depends on which muscles you wish to pronounce, but in general you'll want a high volume, low weight program with a rep range in the high teens. Rather than focus on hypertrophy which will occur even at the lower rep ranges, you want to focus on musclar density and endurance. If your focus is cosmetic, focus on lifts that target the muscles you feel are lacking rather than broad compound movements.

At the same time, focus on the former, running a mild calorie deficit, with a high protein component to prevent muscle atrophy.

It is difficult, but possible to get a lean 'wirey' look, ala. Brad Pitt Fight Club style, but the key is getting the lowest body fat you can safely achieve. For males this is in the 8-9% range, women in the 15% area.

An alternative way to achieve this is to cut to a low body fat then bulk to build muscle, however if you cut without a decent frame you will look gaunt and worry people. Similarly, you could bulk then cut, but you may grow larger than your desired end point.

Working out for vanity reasons, is a legitimate reason, but it means that other programs may not be as effective for your goals.


The number ONE thing you will need to focus on is your diet. You can go to the gym and run all you want but without knowing exactly what you put into your body there is zero chance of you seeing any abs anytime soon. A six-pack is built in the kitchen, end of discussion. There are thousands of hits if you search for how to get a good body and many of them will focus on training and not enough time on the diet.

  1. Re-evalute your diet. You will need to record everything you eat (If you bite it, write it) and then create a diet around a general rule of as little carbs as possible. The idea that an Apple do not matter will need to go, EVERYTHING matters. Look at implementing a Ketogenic Diet as this will produce results fairly fast. I can not stress enough how important the diet is, diet 80%-90% and the rest is training.

  2. Find your TDEE which you will need to get a correct diet (Again about the importance of diet). Here is a good explanation of TDEE Basal metabolic rate

  3. Take your time. Really, go to the store, spend sometime looking at food and it's nutritional values. Take your time to implement the plan as the plan itself is very important.

  4. Allow a monthly cheat day. You will cheat so you might as well plan it. Most people will need this as they will go stir crazy otherwise.

  5. Take weekly pictures and weigh yourself weekly. Do not obsess over each day as you weight can change 5 pounds over night.

  6. Be honest with yourself. If you cheat, write it down, accept that it happened and move on. Do not try to fix it by eating less the next day as it will only make things worse.

DIET, DIET, and DIET this is where the magic is.

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