Exercise plays a big role in our overall health, but let’s be real: Looking good can be a big motivator too. Going from a softer look to firm, defined muscles and sporty curves doesn’t happen overnight, though. Choosing the right exercises goes a long way toward hitting an effective effort-to-gains ratio for your goals.
Do gains always require big effort?
Getting toned doesn’t require huge effort — it requires consistency. You can dedicate time at home before you start your day, at night while you’re watching your favorite shows, or in between, during your lunch break or when taking trips to the bathroom.
You can see bigger gains, faster and with less effort, by isolating muscle groups like your glutes, biceps, and quads. Plus, you can add the benefits of greater strength, stamina, and balance through yoga exercises to help you feel good along the way.
Here are some low effort, big gains toning exercises you can do at home.
Since these are lower-intensity exercises, doing a larger number of reps more consistently is probably where you want to live. Consistency is better than burning yourself out (the tortoise did win the race, after all).
1. Plank or push-up
Ideally, you’d choose to do full push-ups, which can help you develop killer toned arms no matter what size you are. But if you don’t like push-ups, you can opt for the slightly gentler plank.
To do a plank, you hold the high “push-up” position with your arms extended, without lowering yourself down. You can also rest on your elbows while keeping your legs engaged and toes on the floor.
While there are plenty of variations of both the push-up and the plank, don’t overthink it. Choose a version you can do consistently while using your body weight to reach your toning goals.
2. Side plank
This is one of those plank variations we mentioned above. It’s great for toning arms because it works the biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles.
Get into the plank position, but instead of placing both palms on the floor, rotate your body to one side so your weight is supported on one arm. Keep both legs extended while using your bottom leg as an anchor.
You can rest your top leg either on top of your anchor leg or on the floor slightly behind your anchor leg. Use your arm (on the same side as your bottom leg) to lift your upper body straight up and support your body weight off the floor.
It’s totally normal for your supporting arm to start to wobble after a few seconds during your first attempts at this move. That should go away as you develop strength and tone.
For a more advanced option, you can do a rock star variation by lifting your top leg into the air.
3. Inverted table
Sit on the floor with bent knees facing the ceiling. Think of the Twister game mat with colored dots and imagine keeping your hands and feet on different dots. Lift your butt off the floor. Without it touching the mat again, move your body up and down and feel your back arm muscles (triceps) engage almost effortlessly.
If you’re a little concerned about stress to your back or joints while doing this move, try placing a foam roller under your ankles and keeping your legs straight.
4. Triceps dip
This toning exercise is similar to the inverted table, but you can adjust the height to your liking.
Grab something sturdy like a chair or an ottoman (or use a table or bed, depending on where you are).
With your support base behind you (but not under you), rest your hands on it, with palms down and fingers facing toward you. Use your triceps to raise and lower your body.
Use different base heights (steps, benches, etc.) for varying degrees of triceps toning. Your arms will be in a nice form in no time!
5. Triceps extension
You can do these either standing or seated. Holding a dumbbell or another heavy object with both hands, lift your arms above your head, bend them at the elbows to lower the weight behind your head, and then press it back up.
You can use a dumbbell, but it’s not necessary for toning. Start with water bottles, cans from the pantry, resistance bands, or other slightly heavy objects around the house that you can hold with no problem.
Just like your arms, your legs need some toning love. Here are some low intensity but highly effective moves.
6. Wall squat
Stand with your back against a smooth wall. As if you’re sitting in a chair, bend your knees and lower yourself into a seated position. Then press yourself back up, keeping your back as straight as you can.
Your arms can be at your sides, extended in front of you, or above your head.
7. Bicycle kick
Lying on your back, lift your legs and alternate them in a pedaling motion. You can cross your arms in front of you, put your hands on either side of your head, or keep your arms at your sides.
You can do this move while watching TV or in between popcorn or light snack breaks, and you’ll see a difference in your core.
You can also ride your invisible toning bike while on the couch or on a park bench. We don’t recommend doing it while driving, though.
Lie flat on your back with knees bent up and arms relaxed at your sides. Lift your bottom off the floor, bed, or mat you’re on.
Slowly move your hips up and down, pressing into your heels and squeezing your glutes at the top of the move.
9. Push-kick or donkey kick
You can do this move standing with the support of a chair or on all fours. Kick one of your bent legs back, like you’re pushing something behind you. Then do the same with the other leg.
Again, do this as many times as you like. Doing it consistently will help your glutes get toned.
10. Side-lying leg lift
On the floor, mat, bed, or couch, lie on your side and lift and lower your top leg. You can work your way up to doing 100 of these on each side while checking your phone.
You’ll feel the power of this firming and shaping exercise in the middle and top of your glutes — and maybe also in your face when you’re smiling at your progress.