I hear it all the time; I don't want to get big or muscular, I just want to tone. Toning is building muscle! The definition of being tone is to lose weight; shed the fat that sits on top of your muscles, and build a little bit of the muscle attached to your bone so that you can see it. As a woman, you will not hulk out. I PROMISE. Your body does NOT produce enough testosterone so unless you take steroids, which I highly recommend you don't do, your muscles will only get so big. Some people like to put on the muscle, and have the strength behind it and there is a training style to make everyone happy.
Toning: You want to use low weights and complete high reps and medium sets. For example; when doing a bicep curl you would want to do a low weight, say 5 pounds, and then do 20 of them and complete 3 sets of that exercise. Or you can do a lot of body weight exercises too; this will ensure you have the strength to at least carry yourself around for the whole day with little to no problems. As for losing the fat on top of the muscle, CARDIO! And a healthy diet. Especially in the case of abs. Abdominal muscles are made in the kitchen and toned on the treadmill. That's not to say sit ups are useless, but until you have a fairly flat stomach, you want to focus on shredding the fat first.
Bulking: This is not a negative thing! Some people, including myself, enjoy being muscular and stronger than they would be without weight lifting. Do I look like the hulk? Nope. Do I have bicep muscles? Yes. If this is what you are going for, you want to lift heavier weights, do a lower number of reps, and do a medium to higher number of sets. For example for bicep curls again; you'll want to do 10 pounds, 8 reps, and repeat that 5 times. You'll also want to figure out your one rep max so that you can gauge how your strength is building. You will take lots of pride in seeing how much your strength begins to increase. Not to mention, muscle burns more calories at rest and any muscle will ALWAYS look better than fat.
One rep max is the highest weight you can lift one time. If you can do three of something, add 5 pounds or so. Also, once an exercise becomes easier, increase the weight. There's also nothing to say you can't switch up between the two styles of weight lifting either... find a happy medium. Every body type is different, and is determined by genetics so don't get frustrated if results aren't immediate or what you want. Embrace who you are and what your body can do. I'll never be a size zero or a marathon runner, but I can squat 300 pounds and have some killer muscles to show for it. As always, diet is a huge factor in your journey to health! You cannot outrun or outlift a bad diet.
Strong is the New Sexy. Be healthy, be happy.
Love the Burn!