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I Just Wanna Tone Up A Little... - Tucson Personal Training Blog

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I Just Wanna Tone Up A Little... - Tucson Personal Training Blog

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

The title of today’s post, in the world of serious trainers and coaches, is analogous to the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I’m sure every profession has something like this:

A couple coming into a busy restaurant on a Saturday night and asking for a, “Quiet table.”

A client going to a hair salon with a photo of a woman that looks nothing like her saying, “Can you do me up like her?”

A lead pastor of a church finds out a family who has been attending for years is leaving because the church that just opened down the street has better coffee and a rock-climbing wall for the kids. They tell the pastor, “We’re just not being fed here anymore.”

“I just wanna tone up” falls right into the category of these other phrases. If you’re a serious instructor reading this, you’re probably already a little agitated. I even used a photo of a paperweight kettlebell to screw with you even more…

It may sound like I’m picking on ladies with this one, but you’d be surprised how often I also hear the same basic thing from men. My intention today is to look deeper into this phrase and help you see it through the eyes of a coach. Perhaps you’ve even said something like this yourself and have been unhappy with the (lack of) results you’ve gotten from your gym-going efforts.

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To start, “tone up” is vague to the point of being useless, and is generally a comparative statement. Someone sees a (heavily photoshopped) picture in a health/fitness magazine and the person has certain features/characteristics that they wish they had… better looks, clearly defined muscle definition, etc. All my coach brain hears when someone is talking like this is, “I don’t like who I am, I wish I was someone different.”

<Critically important side note: In most instances, even the person in the photo doesn’t look like the person in the photo most of the time. There is a specific prep protocol for getting ready for a fitness photo shoot… even before a single click on photoshop is used. You’re welcome.>

If you’re always comparing yourself to someone taller, prettier, more muscular, etc, you will always be disappointed in yourself and the progress you’re making.

As you may know from reading this blog, I have a story of being overweight in the past. One of the most unsettling things after losing the weight was this: I still looked like me.

What do I mean by that? Well, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t remind myself of the dude in the magazine, I still looked like me… just a little smaller. Same goofy looking dude, just 40 pounds less of him.

The other unsettling part was that, in my mind, I was still fat. Weird, right? I didn’t go shopping for new clothes for like a year. I just walked around in clothes that were too big on me, because after all, in my mind, that was still my size. And when I did finally go shopping, I would still grab clothes that were my old size to try on. It finally took my girlfriend (now wife) to tell me, “Um, honey… those might a little too big on you. Why don’t you try these instead?” Before I finally gathered the courage to buy clothes that actually fit me.

The second problem with “toning up” is that it is too non-committal to illicit any real results. It’s basically like saying, “I don’t reeeaaally want to start an exercise program and, honestly, the idea of changing my eating habits just sounds terrible. I don’t want to get all buff or anything, I just want to do whatever the ‘light’ version is of this program. I don’t want to go all-in, I just want to dip my toe in the water.”

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From years of experience, I can say one thing with absolute certainty: You can wander in to 20-30 (or more) pounds of weight gain… but you can’t wander out.

Getting out of the patterns that created the current physical mess one may find themselves in takes a very deliberate action… and the longer it gets put off, the more deliberate those action(s) must be.

Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, there is no such thing as ‘firming/toning”, there is only ‘stronger/weaker’ and ‘a little better/a little worse’, and with each decision being made day-in and day-out, you are either one step closer or one step farther away.

So, instead of living in a world of ambiguity, let’s put a finer point on this goal and make a plan of attack!

Ultimately, when most folks decide to make a change, they are looking for one of three things. They want to: Feel better, look better, or move better (or some combination of the three). Let’s pick these apart a little bit…

Feel better: I recommend starting with a blood test. Not the basic one that just tells you about how poor your genetics and eating decisions are, I’m talking about one that tells you about hormones, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, the whole thing. Yes, it costs a little extra, but it’s totally worth it. We’ve had people in the past do these types of tests and discover problems that have fairly simple solutions. After getting on a plan to correct for these things, the quality of their lives literally changed overnight.

Please remember, you’re not supposed to feel like crap all the time. If you do, seek the necessary testing and/or medical interventions to figure out why. Hiring a trainer in this situation may not be the best first step.

Look Better: If this is literally the only ‘fitness goal’ you can come up with, call a plastic surgeon… or get psych help. Seriously, don’t dump this crap on a personal trainer. Their toolbox doesn’t have the tools to properly work on this. And if by “look better” you mean “lose weight”, again, don’t hire a strength coach. Instead, hire a dietician or someone who specifically specializes in nutrition coaching. Exercise is one of the single hardest ways to lose weight, because the more of it you do, the more your appetite increases. You simply can’t out-exercise your bad eating choices. If your only goal is nothing more than to make the scale show a smaller number, and you don’t have a single performance-based goal in the world, you’re wasting your time (and money) talking to someone like me.

One of the biggest things I wish everyone at my gym knew is just how good my wife is with nutrition. She doesn’t really advertise it, and only has a few clients doing it, but the results they are getting are great. She is passionate about the subject, and has an uncanny ability to meet someone where they are and advance them to the next step in small, easy-to-swallow adjustments. Eating better is just not as hard as the diet industry makes it out to be.

Move Better: Ah, now you’re speaking my language. Moving well for most people also means getting as strong as possible. Much of the movement issues we see in new people revolve around the fact that they are just too physically weak to maneuver around their own body. This is a problem… and it doesn’t get better with age.

What much of the ‘I just wanna tone up’ mentality really boils down to is ‘interest’ vs ‘commitment’. This is a topic that requires its own post. Stay tuned next month for part 2 of this discussion.

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached "Team Protocol" to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife Marie and dog Sadie. To subscribe to his blog, click here.

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