Toning and Being a Fitness Purist

If you quickly Google the word “toning,” the first page of search results is a mishmash of both pro-toning and anti-toning blog posts. The fitness world loves the word toning. It’s schismatic (how’s that for SAT vocab?) and makes for good blog content. Heck, isn’t that why you clicked on this post in the first place?

And I have a confession: for a while, I was a fitness purist.

I believed that, whenever somebody came to me looking to “tone up,” it was my job to correct them. I needed to explain to them that toning is a myth and that muscles only get bigger or smaller and that bodyfat is what really matters. Then I’d dive into a quick soliloquy (I’m crushing the SAT words today) about rep ranges, percentages, and how we were going to program so that they got exactly where they wanted to be.

But at the end of the day, they just didn’t want the “stuff” on the underside of their arm to jiggle as much.

I’m not technically wrong

Toning is a myth. I mean, the definition of toning is to give greater firmness to something and there’s really no scientific way for a human being to change the density of any one bodily tissue.

If you’d like to have the appearance of being firmer, you need to build a better ratio of lean mass to fat mass. Muscle is still firmer (read: denser) even before you flex. Hence, building a little more muscle and losing a little bit of fat will make you appear more “toned.”

You don’t need to reduce yourself to 5% bodyfat either. You can lose as much or as little fat as you’d like to look the way that you want.

There aren’t any special toning exercises, rep schemes, or workouts. You can build some muscle at 5 reps just as well as you can build some muscle at 20 reps. Just get stronger over time, recover from your workouts, and be consistent.

But does any of this really matter?

Yes. One part does. Read that last sentence. And again. And again. Especially that last part. There is only one thing that matters: be consistent.

This is true in toning, muscle-building, fat loss, and learning calculus. You must be consistent.

So if you’re looking tone up for the beach this summer or just shed a few pounds to look better in a bridesmaid dress, your first objective is to be consistent. No exercise program in the world will give you the results that you’re looking for if you aren’t consistent. And I mean three or four days each week consistent.

Since lean mass provides tone, it will be important that you build some of it. Don’t worry about getting too big, it takes years and years of weight lifting (and oftentimes drugs) to get as big as a bodybuilder or strongman. It won’t happen overnight or by accident.

The second piece will be to reveal your newfound lean mass. This is done through fat loss. You may take it slow, one habit at a time, or dive head first into the deep end of the pool and track your macros on MyFitnessPal or some other similar app. But you must clean up your diet. No more Dunkin Donuts sandwiches on the way to work and no more nightly glasses of wine. If you want to look fit and healthy, you must do things that fit and healthy people do. No matter what you choose, we do both at our gym and can even recommend where to start.

My current thoughts on toning

Here’s my professional thought for other fitness professionals out there: if you’re still talking about the myth of toning and explaining to your own members that they can’t tone their muscles, you’re doing both yourself and your members a disservice.

Providing a counterargument for toning will, at best, provide somebody with a marginal understanding of human physiology. At worst, that same person might leave, instead choosing to search for the fitness professional that believes in toning.

Remember, the human mind loves confirmation. If a potential new member walks into your gym and explains that they want to tone up, your only response should be, “Great, when can you start?” It’s not your job to try and qualify somebody else’s fitness goal.

Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what it’s called. We can call it fat loss. We can call it building lean mass. We can call it toning. For all I care we can call it floofing.

It just doesn’t matter.

What matters is that, in the grand scheme of all things fitness, almost everyone that enters your gym or studio or box (let’s call it 99.9%) needs to build a little bit of muscle, lose some (or a lot) of bodyfat, and just be kinder to their body in general.


Meal Frequency & Health

With intermittent fasting on the rise once again, the question of meal frequency is rearing it’s myth-covered head.

How often should I be eating?

How many meals should I eat each day?

Won’t more meals speed up my metabolism?

Should I be eating breakfast?

Is it bad to eat before bed?

Shouldn’t I consume at least 20 grams of protein every two hours?

Is it ok to go more than 2-3 hours without food?

First off, yes. Your body, as a rule of thumb, can go about two weeks without food. So, yes, it’s okay to go hungry for a few hours.

Meal frequency is a hot topic in the fitness & nutrition industry right now. And along with it comes meal timing, so we’ll cover both today.

After reading through this article, you’ll have the knowledge and tools to design your own meal schedule, allowing you to work efficiently, train intensely, sleep better, and live an awesome life in general.

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The Problem with Food Acceptance

I’m calling it the Food Acceptance Movement. If you search for the hashtag on Instagram, you won’t find much, so I’ll explain it here. The Food Acceptance Movement is this new-fangled (look at me – 27 going on 87) idea that there are no bad foods, only bad habits.

The last few years or so have been comprised of fitness experts all over the interweb showcasing themselves chowing down on Pop-Tarts & ice cream, giant beers & wine. Sometimes, it’s a ploy to sell some online book about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Other times, it’s just meant to push readers a little more toward moderation instead of deprivation.

But lately, I’ve seen quite a few of these same fitness experts backing down from these posts, opting instead for posts that exhibit their true nutrition habits.

Even I’m guilty of it. I’m sure our own members could quote me as saying, “There are no bad foods, only bad habits.” Probably verbatim.

But it’s way more complicated than that.

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Three Programming Tips for Busy Lifters

I read something good on Instagram the other day, it was from a fellow gym-owner, “How might you feel if you say ‘It’s not a priority’ instead of ‘I don’t have time?'” When it comes to programming, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t always or top priority. But we can still achieve an amazing level of fitness by making a few small adjustments.

Making our own health and wellness a priority can be difficult. I’m not sure if it’s the natural human instinct to care for others first, but between work, marriage, kids, and weekend trips to Home Depot, finding time for exercise is tough.

So it’s crucial to make the most of your hours at the gym. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 hours or 20 hours, making the right choices when it comes to programming can be the difference between progress and stagnation.

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Quick Thoughts on Plant-based Diets & Finding Balance

Plant-based diets seem to help us live longer. They’re less inflammatory, reduce our chances of ending up in the cardiac wing of the hospital, and MIGHT protect against certain cancers. Diets that include meat & animals have been widely used by competitive athletes for many years, producing stronger and stronger people each month it seems.
So here are a few quick thoughts:
  • You’ll probably live longer on a plant-based diet with minimal animal consumption (or none at all). That’s pretty cool.
  • Carnivorous diets (at least right now) seem to be better at helping us GAIN muscle. Many athletes switch to a plant-based diet in an effort to extend their careers (e.g. Tom Brady), but we don’t have enough data on “life-long plant-based athletes” to make any concrete judgements.
  • Many plant-based bodybuilders and fitness models are also ingesting large amounts of both soy products and protein/amino acid supplements/shakes to get closer to “carnivorous” levels of protein each day. Are soy products and supplements better than a piece of grass-fed steak?
  • And considering the growing base of vegan bodybuilders and fitness models … They. Are. All. Using. Drugs. Yes, even the “natural” ones.
  • It’s just as easy to be nutrient-deficient in a vegan diet as it is in a carnivorous diet. You’re just typically deficient in different nutrients. While a carnivore might be deficient in Vitamin A, a vegan might be deficient in Vitamin B12.
  • Vegan diets are necessarily much higher in carbohydrates – this works super well for endurance athletes. On the other hand, endurance athletes do best with a protein intake bordering that of strength athletes because of all the energy they’re expending through training. They’re more likely to use amino acids for energy, so they need to replenish those amino acids through their diet. Do with that information what you will.

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The Three P’s of Exercise Selection

Life is better with rules. So is exercise.

Rules make things clear. For instance, the NFL’s Catch vs. No-catch Rule has made it super quick and easy to figure out whether a receiver legitimately caught the football (note the subtle sarcastic undertones).

Rules prevent society from breaking out into anarchy. They prevent people from just walking into convenience stores at their leisure and taking whatever items they want. (I’m looking at you, Philadelphia.)

And when it comes to training, rules help guide us in our decision-making.

So without further adieu, I’d like to introduce you to the Three P’s of Exercise Selection.

These rules help guide us in choosing exercises for both ourselves and our members. They help us prioritize what is important during a workout as we make adjustments. Most importantly, they help create consistency in our process.

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Why We Don’t Use Crunches or Sit-ups

To be honest, I don’t get this question very often. I think that, for the most part, crunches have found their way out of current “mainstream” fitness. This is probably because modern fitness is dominated by extreme classes, Instagram experts, and multi-level protein shake marketing. There’s just too much other noise out there.

But I did get this question today, so let’s dive in.

Crunches and sit-ups are both exercise variations used to strengthen the abdominals. Specifically, we’re talking mostly about the “six-pack” abs, the ones that you can see on the outside. (This layer of muscle is called your rectus abdominis.)

These exercises are great when it comes to strengthening the six-pack abs through contraction and hypertrophying the abdominals so that they “pop” when your bodyfat is low enough. Additionally, they can be performed in a variety of positions and on an assortment of machines. They’re even used by popular competitive fitness outlets as parts of workouts.

So why have we chosen to disregard such popular exercises in favor of planks and deadbugs? Let me explain.

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Starvation Mode Explained

So you’ve been dieting for a few months now and lost a few pounds to start with, but now you feel like you’ve plateaued. Now you’re reading about “starvation mode.” You’ve been told that your metabolism is broken and needs to be fixed or reset or something.

Plus, the radio station has been playing these commercials about this new weight loss center that discovers your true metabolism. Sound too good to be true? It probably is.

Weight loss is simple, but it’s not always easy. Here’s what you need to know about starvation mode.

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Thinking About A Detox This January? Read This First.

To cleanse or not to cleanse, that is the annual question. Shouldn’t you rid your body of all the toxins that you’ve built up over the past year?

You’ve probably seen them on social media. Sometimes they’re marketed with specific supplements or food restrictions. Sometimes, you’ll be required to drink certain juices or teas.

And other times you’ll be required to forego all of the extraneous purchases in lieu of a fast.

But what are we trying to cleanse our body of anyway?

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Strategies for Exercise Program Success: Part II

When I first sat down to write the first part of this series about exercise programs and workouts, I didn’t really imagine that I’d have two blog posts worth of ideas. But now here we are.

I think sometimes I program better for my own clients than I do for myself.

I keep things simple, don’t mess around with rep ranges too much, and assign exercises that I know they’ll perform successfully. This seems to yield a steady stream of PRs and positivity.

If you’re looking for the exact blueprint, I don’t have it. (I mean, I sort of do, but it varies widely from person to person.) Programming is both an art and a science: you must make evidence-based decisions while creating a beautiful masterpiece of assorted equipment and movement variation.

It’s like writing a song: you can pretty much do whatever you want, but you still need to use scales and notes and stuff.

And so here I am, again ready to dispense the secrets that help our members experience success. I hope that these concepts work as well for you and your members as they’ve worked for us.

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