Posts in technical information
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.