If your journey to getting bikini-ready consists of the need to tone up, then you've got an easier job ahead of you than the rest of us, even if you've not done it before.
Toning up consists mostly of resistance training to create a lean and shapelu physique, because curves aren't made with fat, they're made with muscle. So if you want a round rear, a narrow waist and killer back, then you need to start lifting, pushing and pulling.
Resistance training is your friend. First of all, you cannot get bulky by using weights by accident. It takes such an enormous amount of work and dedication for women to build bulk - seriously, you'd need to live in the weight room - and for many women it simply can't happen because their bodies don't work that way. It takes testosterone to build muscles, and women have only 10% of the testosterone that men do. As a result, weights and resistance training make women lean, not big.
But don't think the only way to do this is by using hand weights, barbells or kettlebells. Your own body weight is just as effective. Pilates is a form of resistance training and it uses your own body weight as a tool. If you've never tried it then you might look at it thinking it looks awfully easy and probably quite ineffective. Well, wait until you do give it a go. It's intense.
Resistance workouts are easier to come by than cardio, and it's easier to do without a DVD, too. If you're doing cardio for a set amount of time, it's easy to get lazy and slow yourself down to cheat the time, but resistance tends to be counted by reps instead, making it harder to cheat, and with resistance, the slower you move, the more muscle fibres you engage, and the more effective it is.
There are so many different kinds of resistance workouts you can try - there's barre, yoga, pilates, weights, body bands - and there's a lot of sources you can get the workouts from. There are DVDs, some of which I've reviewed and you can find in my Fitness Archive page under 'DVD Reviews', but the majority that I've used have been from websites and magazines. My favourite DVD was Cassey Ho's Pop Pilates, and my favourite book is also one of her's - Hot Body Year Round. But while Cassey is my go-to for pilates - she also has great workouts for free on her website and Youtube channel - Pinterest is also full of amazing and free workouts. Just type what you want, such as 'barre workout', and you'll be greeted by absolutely loads of different compilations from Skinny Mom, Fitness Magazine and countless other fitness websites and bloggers. In truth, if you're looking to get fit for free, Pinterest is your best friend as far as workouts go. Though I'd take nutrition pins with a pinch of salt; a lot of people will claim that fat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, raw, etc is what makes a healthy diet, and that's only true if you're lactose-intolerant, have Coeliac's or a gluten intolerance, or some kind of bowel disorder. For the rest of us, they're gimmicks that don't actually help.
Speaking of food, if you're looking to get lean and toned, it's important to ensure you're getting enough of the right stuff to keep the fat off, and help refuel and repair your body after your workouts.
Protein is essential post-workout as it helps your body to rebuild the muscles. Resistance training makes tiny tears in the muscle, and it's when your body repairs them that you get stronger and leaner. Protein helps to reproduce cells and fix the tears, it's a natural process and not one that will make you bulky, either. But if you're working out for the first time, you may also find that you're a little more hungry; this is because you're using more energy. To avoid putting on any weight, the protein also helps to keep you full so you don't undo your hard work with a packet of crisps.
Carbs are also important post-workout. It's all well and good to give your body the protein it needs to repair the muscles, but not if you don't give it the energy. Carbs are not your enemy, you're not going to get fat from eating them unless you're overeating empty carbs like chocolate, cakes, biscuits - the good stuff in life that should be taken in moderation. Good carbs, like fruit and grains, are essential. Your brain needs 130g of carbs just to function properly.
The Rest of the Day
As with trying to lose weight, it's important to ensure you have a healthy, balanced diet. That means you need protein, fats, carbs and fibre, and a variety of fruit and veg a day.
Protein will keep you full and prevent hunger pangs, and should be consumed at most meals. You can get it from eggs at breakfast, or by adding chia seeds or protein powder to your porridge (I make mine with just strawberry whey powder and whole grain rolled oats), and you can get it from chicken, eggs, fish and so on at lunch and dinner. Lean meats such as poultry are best as they tend to have less saturated fat than beef or pork, making them a much richer source of protein and allowing you to keep easier track of fat intake. As for snacks, you can find it in almonds - incidentally also the most nutrient-dense nuts there are - and seeds.
Fats are also found in nuts and seeds, as well as olives, avocados, salmon and so on, all of which contain different kinds of fats, all of which we need and can help keep weight off.
Carbs are essential, they're your body's preferred source of energy because they're absorbed into your body faster than any other macro nutrient, and if you're exercising, you can't afford to skimp on them. Like I said: carbs are not your enemy. Like fats, carbs have an unfair reputation. If you take in too much of them - just like if you take in 'too much' of anything - it won't be good for you, but it's also because carbs include cakes, biscuits, chocolate, pasta and so on, which are called refined carbs. These are the things that will cause you to gain weight, and while you don't have to avoid them - I think I'd die if I cut them out of my diet - they have to be taken in moderation. If you have a sweet tooth, try strawberries, or apple and cinnamon, not sweets.
Salt & Water Retention
But if you're trying to get a flat tummy and tone up nicely, you'll want to watch your salt and water. Don't eat salt-flavoured foods, and don't add salt to your food. It's not good for you anyway, but the salt is one cause of water-retention which can make you feel bloated. The water thickens the space between your skin and your muscles, and it can be mistaken as spontaneous fat because that's where the fat would go. But don't panic! Fat won't appear overnight like that; if it seems that way, it's just water, or it's in your head because you're looking too close.
Water-retention is when your body simply retains water. Salty foods can make you thirsty, and it also causes your body to hoard water. It sounds backwards: your body is holding on to all the water it can, but you're thirsty? Well, salt draws out water, which will make you dehydrated. But because water is absolutely essential for every single bodily function and chemical reaction therein, your body panics and holds on to as much as it can so you don't dehydrate.
This can also happen if you've not eaten salt, you've just not drank enough, and the solution to both causes is the same: drink water. That might also seem backwards. Your body is bloated because it's hoarding water, so you should drink more water to get rid of it? Yes. Because when your body knows you're giving it more water, it will stop keeping such a tight hold on the rest and you'll return to normal.
Don't bother. You'll read time and time again that a detox is the key to a flat stomach, but it just isn't. Don't buy into the images you see on advertisements, they're put there to get you to buy, and as for Instagram posts, many are sponsored by the companies, and others are from people who were already fit and are imagining their results.
Juice cleanses are useless; they're fruit juices without the fruit, so you're getting all the carbs without the fibre, which is also where most of the nutrients are, and juice cleanses that encourage you to replace meals with them are even worse because then you're not getting enough of anything else. Smoothies may contain the fibre of the fruit, but you still need the other food groups.
Teatoxes are even worse; they're filled with diuretics which will cause you to lose water, some even cause a laxative effect, and if you read the instructions, you'll find that, for them to 'work', you have to avoid a lot of essential parts of your diet.
Don't buy into detoxes
The fact is, your liver is responsible for removing the toxins from your body, and it does it damned well. So the best thing you can do is help your liver by looking after it and not taking in the toxins in the first place, which includes smoking, alcohol, caffeine, etc.
There are a few things that can help a flat stomach, and Jillian Michaels' 'detox' drink (yes, I am aware of what I'm saying) works. Lemon juice helps digestion, cranberries are little superfruits, and dandelion helps to flush out excess water without causing water retention. You make it yourself, it's cheap, it's easy, and the 3 ingredients, depending on how many lemons you buy, can make lots of bottles.
Again, you don't have to break the bank to get bikini-ready. You can get fit for free by using pinterest or youtube and your own body weight, and as for eating, you don't need to buy lots of special 'health' foods or gimmicky products like 'teatoxes' - in fact they can often cause more harm than good. If it's come out of nowhere and suddenly everywhere, odds are it's not actually any good.
Just be sure to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs, don't under-feed it, especially if you're trying to tone up and create wonderful curves, and give it the chance to recover between workouts. Try focusing on your upper body one day, and lower body the next. This gives your upper body at least 48 hours to recover before it's worked again, meaning the muscles can repair themselves and you'll avoid injury, and injury will only hinder your progress.