So You Want to Grow/Define/Tone Your __________

Fitness trends get a bad rep, but one trend that I can get behind is more and more women wanting to get stronger. Gaining strength is something that had a huge effect on my confidence and self-esteem — so I love when others want to go down that path also.

Most often from clients, I get requests for more ‘defined, toned or bigger’ glutes, abs and shoulders.

So below I outline the most important factors in growing each of those areas. If you want to define a different area, you can use the principles below and apply it to that muscle group or let me know in the comments!


Tackling this one first since it seems to be the most popular at the moment.

The 2 most important factors for growing the glutes are:

  1. Eating enough food so you’re at least at maintenance, but ideally in a surplus.
  2. Training the glutes 3-5 times per week with progressive overload*.

Training your glutes while in a calorie deficit is still a good idea to maintain their size, however if you want to see a change in size or shape — you really need to be feeding the muscle. Eating enough (protein and carbs specifically) is what will build the muscle.

The glutes are an interesting example because they are (in my opinion) the one muscle group that will also look more “_____” with more body fat. The leaner you are, the more likely you are to lose size from your butt. If you gain a little weight and are building the glute muscle, the extra body fat that might lay on top of your glutes will also probably help make that area look nice.

Now that you’re eating enough, you also need to train the muscle. This means hip thrusting, hip hinging, squatting and abducting your hips. You need to use weight and/or resistance from bands and make sure that you’re adding more weight/resistance over time while also eventually increasing the reps and sets. (Having a personal trainer create a program for you that does this with a proper modulation of total workload is key.)

Make those 4 movements a big focus of your workout plan. Focusing on one or two goals at a time is a great way to make sure you actually make progress. Focusing on too many things will likely lead to you not seeing much progress in any area.

*Progressive overload is gradually increasing the stress on a muscle usually via increases in weight, reps or sets.


First, I recommend reading this article I wrote about abs. It covers whether they are made in the kitchen or the gym and if they are worth it.

The 2 most important factors for defining the abs are:

  1. Having a body fat percentage where abs are visible.
  2. Having well developed abdominal muscles.

You could have the largest ab muscles in the world (strongmen competitors likely have very large abdominal muscles) however the layer of fat on top of them is what prohibits them from being seen or looking “toned”.

I mention it in the article linked above, but I’ll say it here too — depending on many things, including your genetics, it may or may NOT be worth it to get to a body fat percentage where your abs are visible. There are MANY other goals out there that are far more rewarding.

If you still decide that “abs” are your goal, you have one of two options: A) If you have a decent amount of muscle mass, enter a caloric deficit to decrease your body fat percentage OR B) If you need to build muscle mass first, do a hypertrophy phase THEN do a cut to lose body fat.

During this hypertrophy (muscle building) phase you’ll want to train the abs in multiple ways because the abs are much more than just the rectus abdominis. Your workout program might include crunches, but also must include rotation and anti-rotation exercises (like pallof presses). Don’t be afraid to add weight to your core exercises either because that will help them grow.

Bonus tip: Top exercises for lower abdominal recruitment include hanging leg raises, ab rollouts and reverse crunches.


I especially love when clients want to get strong, defined shoulders. For one, I think strong shoulders look great and evoke confidence. And also, it is relatively easy to attain for most women because we tend to store less fat in our upper bodies compared to our lower bodies.

The 3 most important factors for defining the shoulders are:

  1. Eating enough (again).
  2. Overhead pressing (my opinion).
  3. Developing the middle and rear delts in particular.

Hopefully you’ve noticed the theme in this article: if you want to build muscle, you must give your body enough calories (aka energy) to do so.

If you have shoulder issues, overhead pressing might not be your best route to developed shoulders. Talk to a trainer about other safe options like landmine pressing, neutral grip and other more shoulder-friendly exercises. You can certainly build great looking shoulder without overhead pressing, I just think it gets you there faster.

If you have healthy shoulders, in my experience, overhead pressing is key for shoulder development. Overhead press with a barbell, dumbbells, standing, seated or half-kneeling. Overhead press with both low reps, heavy weight and high reps, lighter weight. Overhead press 2-3 times a week.

Beyond overhead pressing (which will predominately hit your anterior and middle delts), you’ll want to do a lot of rear delt work as well. Think cable rear delt pulls, db bent over flys, wide rows, etc. Lateral raises are also your new bff.

The good news is that your shoulder can usually handle quite a bit of volume so don’t be afraid of working them multiple times a week, doing 15+ reps a set or 4+ sets.

As mentioned before, MAKE IT A PRIORITY.

Do you want to develop a muscle I didn’t mention? Do you want me to make you a custom workout plan targeting the muscle you want to develop?

Let me know in the comments!

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