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The "Toning" Myth

First of all

Let’s try and move away from adopting a fitness routine for purely aesthetic reasons. This is an entirely different topic and conversation, and we won’t go there, but I want to plant this seed for you. There is nothing wrong with the desire to create physical change in the body, but I’d like to challenge you to include performance and health-based goals as well. Setting these will allow you to measure your progress objectively, in the short-term. More on that later.

What is “toning” Anyway?

When I hear that someone is looking to “just tone,” this phrase is often directly followed by a clarification that they would not like to get “too big” or “bulky.” Since this is still so common, there is clearly a misunderstanding in the way that muscle tissue reacts to training stimulus. When someone expresses the desire to look “toned,” what they’re really saying is they want to put on muscle and lose body fat.

Toned — implies leanness in the body (low levels of body fat), noticeable muscle definition and shape, without significant muscle size (bulk)

Every person is different, and there will be slightly different outcomes even when training within the guidelines, but generally speaking if you’re looking to “tone up” my recommendation would be to approach your programming with the overarching goal of fat loss and cycle through the strength building categories that I’ve outlined below (in the order that they’re listed).


Define Your goalS

You can’t design a program without knowing what you’re trying to achieve. Most programs are periodized, which allows for progress toward multiple goals, with a focus on achieving just one at a time.

Periodization — an organization of training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time; typically dividing one year into macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles

The general goals (for programming purposes) that we will be focusing on are endurance (specifically focused on stabilization and muscular — often used as a preparatory or introductory phase), hypertrophy (growth of muscle size), strength (maximal strength), and performance (speed and power).

Here are some terms you may need in order to decode the specifics:

Reps — one complete movement of a single exercise

Sets — group of consecutive repetitions

1RM — 1 repetition maximum; a calculator used to estimate your percentages of RM can be found here

Goal: Stabilization + Muscular Endurance

  • Focus — create optimal levels of stabilization strength and postural control

  • Programming Strategy — begin with and cycle back through this phase between periods of higher intensity training

  • Set Range — 1 to 3

  • Rep Range — 12 to 20

  • Intensity — 50% to 70% of 1RM

  • Tempo — slow; for example 4/2/1 (4 sec eccentric, 2 sec isometric, 1 sec concentric)

  • Rest Interval — 0 to 90 sec

Goal: Hypertrophy

  • Focus — maximal muscle growth through high levels of volume with minimal rest periods

  • Technical Strategy — to force cellular changes that result in overall increase in muscle size

  • Set Range — 3 to 5

  • Rep Range — 6 to 12

  • Intensity — 75% to 85% of 1RM

  • Tempo — moderate; for example 2/0/2 (2 sec eccentric, 0 sec isometric, 2 sec concentric)

  • Rest Interval — 0 to 60 sec

Goal: maximal Strength

  • Focus — increasing the load placed on tissues of the body

  • Technical Strategy — recruit more motor units, rate of force production and motor unit synchronization

  • Set Range — 4 to 6

  • Rep Range — 1 to 5

  • Intensity — 85% to 100% of 1RM

  • Tempo — fast or explosive

  • Rest Interval — 3 to 5 min

Goal: Speed + Power

  • Focus — both high force and velocity to increase power

  • Programming Strategy — combining a strength exercise with a power exercise for each body part

  • Set Range — 3 to 6

  • Rep Range — 1 to 10

  • Intensity — 30% to 45% of 1RM

  • Tempo — fast or explosive that can be safely controlled

  • Rest Interval — 3 to 5 min

A Quick Note about 1RM

Calculating your 1RM for each exercise you do, is a time consuming process. I would recommend using a calculator instead of pushing yourself to follow a testing protocol — this will allow you to input any number of reps and weight and can determine your percentages of RM.

I wouldn’t suggest attempting to calculate your RM for lifts you perform less than 2x per week. Also, keep in mind that for the data you input, the lower the reps, the more accurate your RM results will be — try to work with 2, 3, or 5 reps when possible.

Where to begin

Drop the fear of heavy weights, of getting bulky, of getting strong. Avoid zeroing in on aesthetic measurements. Shift your programming to a balanced, periodized formatting. Challenge yourself to set performance and health-based goals. Push yourself, but only do what makes you feel good. Remember that the point is to enjoy the experience.

*Specific numerical information sourced from NASM

Take Time Off Without Losing Your Progress

Q: If I take time off from my program, I'm going to lose all my progress and results… RIGHT?

A: It depends, but not necessarily. Planned rest or conscious deloading as I like to refer to it, can actually

deloading — a short, planned period of recovery; typically lasting one week and created with the intentions of aiding recovery, avoiding overuse injuries and realizing a higher level of performance

What you’re afraid of

The fear most people have when it comes to interrupting their fitness routine, is of experiencing the effects of the detraining principle.

detraining principle — the partial or complete loss of training-induced adaptations, in response to an insufficient training stimulus

It’s important to note that while “insufficient training stimulus” can certainly be referring to rest time in general, other components of the workout regimen can lead to detraining effects as well — factors like intensity, frequency of workouts and types of exercises selected.

You make gains while you rest

There are countless instances in which maintaining your workout routine is just not possible; vacation, work travel, sickness, injury or time consuming life circumstances, to name a few. Whether planned (which is ideal) or not, periods of rest, in all forms are essential: “No matter how hard you work, you don’t make gains during workouts. Gains are achieved during periods of recovery. Recovery is one of the most important and most ignored principles of training” (Coleman 2002).

Periodization shows us that supercompensation occurs after program volume is decreased (i.e. during rest). This is attributed to CNS (central nervous system) recovery and leads to enhanced performance.

supercompensation — the bodies’ adaptation to exceed the level of preparedness by rebounding from a fatigued state to a new, higher level of performance

When you get Too much rest

There is obviously a line between productive recovery and a detrimental amount of time off. The decline of performance has been studied separately for resistance training and cardiovascular training effects.

Resistance + Strength Training

When it comes to resistance training, strength gains can be maintained in a general population/beginner athlete for a little more than 3 weeks. An athlete, someone who has been training consistently for over 3 years, can expect to take up to 2 weeks off without a negative outcome.

Even before your 2-3 week timeline is up, your muscles can begin to appear smaller, but this is likely due to the glycogen and water stores shrinking inside of the muscle tissue. The good news here, is that once you resume training, these will refill and return to normal size and appear larger once again.

Cardiovascular training

An accurate measure of general cardiovascular fitness, takes into account VO2max, heart-rate variability and time to exhaustion. This collective measurement seems to decrease anywhere from 4-25% after 3-4 weeks in trained athletes.

generalized Recommendation

Taking up to 2 weeks off will allow for ample recovery and keep you from significant losses.

Varying Deloading strategies

  • The Traditional Deload — One full pre-planned week consisting of little-to-no training stress followed by 3 weeks of training with relatively high volumes and intensities. Not exceeding 40-60% of 1RM with an emphasis on mobility, soft-tissue work and non-strenuous body-weight exercises.

    • This has been found to work best for professional athletes (in order to minimize injury risk — as the main training objective), older/experienced lifters (to allow for extended periods of planned recovery), and for those with reoccurring injuries (providing relief from risk of pain and injury).

  • Minimum Dose Maintenance of Strength — Once per week dose of exercise was found to prevent the loss of neuromuscular adaptations. Volumes should be kept at around 1/3 of previously utilized training volume.

volume — the consideration and combination of both intensity and time

  • Minimum Dose Maintenance of Endurance — One strategy here is to attempt alternative training methods, which can provide maintenance activity if injured. Another option is to reduce training volume, up to 60-90% from the program’s volume. Lastly, you could opt for a strength-based training program which has shown to improve endurance and VO2max.

  • There are other options including, The Auto-regulatory Deload, The Max Effort Deload and The Reverse Deload — all outlined in this article written by Strength Consultant Jordan Syatt.

Still Within Your control

No matter your circumstances and choices, there are always a few variables within your control.

  • Staying active in general — Unless a serious injury is preventing you from any type of activity, try your best to keep moving with some bodyweight exercises, swimming, stretching or even taking a walk.

  • Keep tabs on your diet — Exercise helps control cravings and gives you a bit of leeway on consuming excess calories, but if you’re not working out, try your best to eat intuitively. My advice when clients are looking to change their eating behaviors is always to first begin to notice when you’re hungry and when you’re not. This simple practice has the ability to reconnect the mind and body and often results in avoiding emotional and mindless eating all together.

  • Ramp back up patiently — When you are ready to get back into your routine, avoid returning at the same frequency and intensity you had before your break. Allow yourself to acclimate and don’t expect yourself to regain performance immediately.

Tight Muscles: Your New Strategy

When you feel tight, you stretch — right?

well, Not necessarily.

Let’s break down some misconceptions here and set the record straight on what’s really going on when you’re experiencing tightness.

First off, we need to come to the understanding that feeling tight doesn’t necessarily mean there is excess tension, shortness, nor stiffness. Tightness is a feeling, an experience. And it is not always an accurate reflection of the state of the tension or hardness of the muscle, nor the existence of “knots.”

what causes a muscle to feel tight then?

The body experiences tightness, similarly to the way it experiences pain. As a warning sign or alarm to indicate that the muscle has the potential to experience “threatening conditions”. What kind of conditions are threatening to a muscle? Certainly increased tension is not threatening, considering the function of a muscle is to create tension.

Factors such as inadequate rest or blood flow are seen as threats to the muscle tissues — these circumstances have the potential to cause metabolic stress and activate chemical nociceptors.

Nociceptors are sensory nerve cells that respond to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli and communicate this information to the CNS (central nervous system) which then determines if the threat is credible, and if so, creates the sensation of pain to direct attention to that body part

So the real issue, that we are being warned about through the experience of tightness, is not the existence of tension, but rather the frequency of tension or lack of blood flow.

What’s the solution?

It depends, of course.

Let’s dive deeper into some of the commonly practiced solutions to healing tightness and decode what works for which issues.

stretching:

  • When to try: If you’re feeling tight from being stuck in a position for a long period of time, a simple stretch should do the trick. Situations like riding in a car, flying or working at your desk should be remedied by a simple stretch.

  • If this doesn’t work: Don’t assume the underlying issue. Many people run into trouble here because after trying, and failing to find relief through stretching, the assumption is made that the tissues must be shortened or adhered and soft tissue work is prescribed. In reality, there is still a chance that the reason the stretching wasn’t effective was because of increased sensitivity — in which case stretching and soft tissue would would make the problem worse.

  • Findings conclude: If it feels good and you get relief, keep going with stretching. If you try this and it doesn’t work for you, move on.

Soft tissue Work:

  • When to try: You’re in need of some short-term relief through a release technique. Options and variations include deep tissue massage, SMR (self-myofascial release) like foam rolling, and ART (active release therapy).

  • If this doesn’t work: Consider these techniques an option for a temporary, feel-good fix. Keep in mind that these solutions have been known to cause both increased and decreased sensitivity of tissue, depending on many variables, unique to each situation — so remain mindful and observant when working with these modalities.

  • Findings conclude: Again, if these techniques work for you, continue with them as you see fit. If not, move on.

exercise + Resistance Training:

  • When to try: When you’re not actively training the muscle or muscle group you’re experiencing a sensation of tightness. It’s a common misconception to associate strength training with the creation of tighter muscles; actually full range of motion strength training can increase flexibility.

  • Why it should work: Resistance training calls for adaptations in the muscle tissue that result in improved endurance, decreasing the likelihood of suffering from metabolic distress. Exercise also has the ability to receive stress and lower levels of inflammation that cause nervous system sensitivity.

  • If this doesn’t work: Consider your training schedule and allotted rest time between workouts. Of course, if you’re overtraining, injuring yourself, or preventing full recovery; you will create sensitive, stiff, and sore muscles.

  • Findings conclude: Based on these recent findings, a protective perceptual construct is responsible for feelings of stiffness, rather than the stiffness being a reflection of the biomechanics of the area affected. Simply put, functional strength and capacity have the ability to decrease the perception of threat related to lengthening said tissue; which should reduce, if not eliminate, the sensation of tightness.

Based on my experience with clients, I would recommend taking the time to consider the potential lifestyle and circumstantial causes of the tightness you’re experiencing, before attempting any form of correction. Then, proceed with isolated strength training exercises targeting the affected muscle or muscle group; always minding form and minimizing potential risk for injury. Use stretching and soft-tissue methods as you see fit, and consult with a physical therapist if you’re experiencing pain or are unsure how to proceed.

Information sourced from Todd Hardgrove of Better Movement via this web article.

Continuing Education for Personal Trainers

In the largely unregulated fitness industry, the best way to set yourself apart is through expanding your basis of knowledge and staying up to date on the latest information — and continuing your education through certifications + workshops is a great way to do this!

I’m a big believer that diversifying my information sources creates a well-rounded perspective. I avoid prescribing myself to any one “school of thought” as so many ideas and concepts are constantly evolving. I aim simply to increase the potential benefit I can provide to the individuals that I have the opportunity to work with.

Most of the certifications and workshops I’ve taken have been formatted and scheduled as 12-16 hour long weekend workshops. I love this set up because it provides the opportunity for lecturing, hands-on and practical experience, and I find this kind of environment facilitates long-term connections and partnerships to be formed with other trainers, health professionals, and fitness enthusiasts that are attending.

Below I’ve outlined all of the certifications I currently have and the workshops I’ve taken, in addition to the ones on my radar at the moment.

Current Credentials:

- Certified Personal Trainer; NSCF

- Registered Yoga Teacher-200 hour; Yoga Alliance

- Red Cross Adult + Pediatric CPR/AED

- Sports Nutrition Coach Level 1; Precision Nutrition

- Olympic Lifting Sports Performance Level 1 Coach; USAW

- Pre/Post-Natal Fitness Specialist

- Progressive Body Weight Training Specialist

- Kettlebell Athletics Level 1 Certified Instructor

- TRX Suspension Training Certified Instructor

- ViPR Certified Instructor

- Power Plate Certified Instructor

- Onnit Foundations Certified Instructor

- Reiki Level 1 Certified

Completed Workshops + Seminars:

Future Plans:

Let me know if you’ve taken any courses that I haven’t mentioned above! I’m always on the lookout.


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Resolutions: Broadening Your Perspective

This time of year is extra exciting for me. As a fitness professional, I get to witness firsthand the renewed commitment and sense of dedication that my clients and other gym-goers seem to posses.

It’s almost as if you can feel the elevated pulse of the collective, it’s potent — especially here in NYC.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to recently has resolved to get in better shape. Maybe that has something to do with my profession, but it’s definitely one of the more common resolutions to make. Some people set general goals for themselves like losing weight, eating less, working out more. Some formulate specific and measurable plans, like increasing their squat to 225 for 10 or losing 7.5 lbs by March 25th.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of this.

If you’re striving for improvement, I’m behind you, FULLY.

However, since this is my 5th time around for New Years Resolutions as a trainer, I’m no longer as optimistic as I once was. I’ve been through this too many times to believe that willpower is enough to sustain momentum. 

You can safely expect to experience one or more of these in the coming weeks:

  • You will be inconvenienced by your goals

  • You will make excuses for yourself

  • You will experience road blocks you didn’t anticipate

  • You may even reach your finish line, but it might not feel the way you’d imagined it would.

I’m sure you’ve been here before too..

but it’s 2019 and this time will be different. Right?

Well, maybe. I think it can be, if you give yourself the opportunity to change perspectives for a second, before it’s too little, too late.

Behavior is driven, NOT by your conscious mind (think will and determination) but by your subconscious (think auto-pilot actions). Your subconscious beliefs are not readily available on the surface, but can be accessed — and I see this as necessary practice if you’re looking to follow through on the goals you’ve set for yourself.

We can get into the subconscious and your ability to alter it and your experience of the world (casual, I know); but for now — here are some action steps I use when I’m looking to dive deeper and ensure I’m setting myself up before I begin:

get specific

  • make a list of everything you want; having multiple goals and resolutions is great!

  • add all the details that you can think of

  • don’t judge anything you come up with

bring in the feelings

  • Define how you would feel if you were to accomplish each goal

    (I like to sit quietly with my eyes closed to get a better feel for the answer to this)

Find your why

  • Why does doing this matter to you?

  • Is this goal a stepping stone to something bigger?

  • Who are you doing this for?

  • Are you trying to prove something? What is holding you back from feeling complete as you are?

reconsider your path

  • Will your goals actually illicit the feelings you’ve just uncovered and defined?

  • Will they help you achieve your deeper objectives?

  • Is your outcome guaranteed if you stick to the plan?

  • Are your goals dependent on external circumstances that are out of your control?

define the experience

  • Uncover the full spectrum of sacrifices you will need to make to get what you want. Are you willing to endure these?

  • Evaluate your resources — like time, energy, finances, etc. Do you have what you need to be comfortable and enjoy the experience of going after what you want? Is it a good time in your life for this right now?

Revise + adapt + update

  • Set new goals, start over, or get started on your endeavor

  • Change your mind. There’s no shame in deciding that what you thought you wanted isn’t the perfect fit right now.

  • Remind yourself that you are in control of your timeline. You can start, restart, hit pause, do whatever you want!

  • Revisit and reevaluate often

I truly believe you can have anything +

create everything you desire

go for it