October 25, 2021 by Kevin Varno

How to tone up

Most people are so busy with their professional life that they rarely make time for themselves. The time and stress we put in to succeed in our careers is at an all time high and it is showing in our health. If your goal is to get toned or back in shape, there are just 2 steps you need to follow:

Step 1: Burn Fat

Step 2: Build Muscle

Done!

For real now…

Getting toned is the #1 goal of almost everyone I work with. Everyone says it differently, but “I just want to tone up” is the most common.

Let’s Talk…

First, we have to agree that a plan that you don’t work on is a plan that doesn’t work. So we need to address 3 things.

1 - Self Image

2 - Exercise

3 - Food

Your self-image is one of the factors that got you here. Maybe you’re unique and you ended up where you are from factors that are totally out of your control. For most of the rest of us however, you don’t become something unless you see yourself as that person.

Here’s what I mean. Self-image goes beyond how you feel, how confident you are, and how secure you are. Self-image also includes the lifestyle you see yourself living. Someone with a self-image that says, “I just love food, all of it!” or “I need my coffee/pasta/sugar, it’s just who I am!” or “Is it 5 o’clock yet? Let’s get our drink on!” or “I’m just not a gym person.” will have trouble keeping any results they manage to get.

Let’s look at the lifestyle of a toned person:

-They work out because they see themselves as someone who works out

-They eat clean because they see themselves as someone who eats clean

-They get 8 hours of sleep because they see themselves as someone who deserves rest

-They don’t overindulge in alcohol or treats because they see themselves as someone who works too damn hard to earn their fitness to risk it.

If we can adopt some of these self-images, then getting and keeping a toned body will be easy. If we have trouble changing our self-image, then we don’t have to worry about keeping our results…. You probably won’t be able to get them in the first place.

Think about the life you see yourself living? What habits do you have that you lean on as a part of your identity? Where do you spend your time, your money, your energy? Identify these stories that you talk about yourself because they are the north star for your subconscious. Those are the beliefs that you will follow when you’re not consciously acting out your fitness goals. Over the long haul, those stories ALWAYS win!

You may think “I’ll start thinking that way when I look that way” or “I’ll start enjoying working out when I am good at it.” but it doesn’t work that way. Try this out instead, take one of the ideas from the toned person example above, and start to tell yourself that story. At first, it will seem very silly. “I work out because I am just somebody who works out” you’ll be sarcastically saying to yourself while you reluctantly go to the gym. Do this for a week and you won’t think anything has changed, keep the charade up for a month and you break the cycle. If you say that to yourself every day, put on a pretend show where you go to the gym, and keep the act up for 30 days… Then it’s no longer an act, you literally are someone who goes to the gym every day.

The trick is you have to act it first! It is so hard to believe that and it’s even harder to do it. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? The toned person is toned because they act like a toned person. They didn’t put on this act out of nowhere after the genetics fairy gifted them with a chiseled physique.

So that gives us,

STEP 1 - Fake it till you make it!

Now what exercises will you do?

At first it really doesn’t matter at all. Accept the fact that getting toned is something that will take a lot of time. Once you’ve accepted that, you will understand that developing the habit and the self-image is the perfect 1st step and getting specific about the types of workouts you do can wait! So for the first 1-6 months depending on how overweight you are just stick to exercise that you enjoy, won’t get hurt doing, and believe is rigorous enough to matter.

Once you have the image and habit on lockdown, you’ll realize that we should probably address your nutrition before your exercise…Womp! Womp!  Enter, the fun police!

Let’s face it you’re already toned, maybe even ripped, but you have managed to conceal all of your glory under a layer of fat. Your energy is better spent removing the stuff leading to fat storage than channeling your inner bodybuilder. Let’s make it simple. If it doesn’t serve you, remove it.

Commitment Level 1 - Some people want to be toned so bad that they have zero tolerance for anything that doesn’t support their goal. This person eats real food. “Meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar” - Thank you CrossFit! I would also add fish and eggs to this, but you get the point. They want to be toned more than they want sugar. They will be toned and it will happen fast! If this is you that is fabulous, but since you’re reading this I doubt this is very accurate for you.

Commitment Level 2 - This person is very similar! Most of the time… They will eat the same as level 1, but they justify the occasional indulgence. This may be a weekly cheat meal, a glass of wine each night, or a tsp of sugar in their morning coffee. As long as this person doesn’t exaggerate when they say “I only cheat once in a blue moon” then they will also succeed. They won't move as fast as level 1 but they will definitely get to their destination! These people are my people! Be awesome and exude health in your lifestyle, but don’t do it to the point of major restriction. Having 1 or 2 small things each week that are a pure indulgence is enough to stay sane and do this for the long haul, but not enough to derail you.

Live it up, but be alert. Level 3 is a short slippery slope away.

Commitment Level 3 - This is the hardest place to live. This person truly cares about their health and truly works their butt off trying! But this person is stuck in a trap that not many escape. They have image issues… This person eats just like Level 1, but they believe they possess special characteristics, urges, tastebuds, and genetics that lead them to justify far too many unhealthy behaviors. They work their ass off around the clock and fight off so many cravings and urges that they feel like they are doing everything in their power. Sadly, the amount of obstacles we overcome and urges we avoid have zero bearing on our health. If I deny myself ice cream 10 times a day, every day, and I restrict myself from eating after 6 PM, but I continuously allow myself sugar in my coffee, drinks every weekend, and pizza and cake every time my cousin’s cousin has a birthday I am destined to have all of the struggles as the toned person… But none of the results. This is the person I want to help the most. Sadly, however, this person sometimes has trouble recognizing that they’re not in Level 2. Almost all people in Level 3 think they’re in Level 2.

Here is how to audit yourself, take a photo of everything you eat and everything you drink for 7 straight days. On day 8 scroll through all of those photos. If you have 4 or more photos in there that you wouldn’t confidently label “Healthy As F*#K” then you’re probably in Level 3. If you don’t have any “really unhealthy” photos, but you also don’t have any “really healthy” photos you’re probably still in Level 3 because it sounds like you’re eating a whole lot of “meh” stuff. If you have 90% great stuff and 10% moderate indulgences, congratulations you’re a Level 2! Or just a Level 3 who is kidding themselves. If you’re not sure, send me these photos and I'll let you know. I only need 3 days though, save your time on the rest.

Commitment Level 4 - I love these people! They know who they are, and they’re cool with it. If you’re happy, keep killing it. If that changes, call me! Have your fun, just make sure that if you’re going down the wrong path take control of your situations before the Dr. says you have to. By that point, it’s a lot harder.

In summary,

STEP 2 - Justify 3 or fewer small things a week

Quantity of eating is a whole other animal. It’s the last thing I address because people who don’t indulge in unhealthy, incredibly addicting foods tend to not overeat. Think about it, can you really eat too much-grilled chicken and veggies? Could that really be your biggest issue?

But for those of you who like to dial into all the details here is a bit of guidance:

Option 1 - Lookup a macro calculator on google, enter in all your info, and learn what your intake should be to lose weight. Then use an app like my fitness pal to track everything. Be sure to manipulate your intake so 40% of your calories come from protein. It’s a lot more protein than you think. If you’re meticulous enough to fit into this 1st option then you could be one of the people capable of burning fat and gaining muscle at the same time. Caloric deficit + a ton of protein is the way to get there.

Option 2 - Track what you did last week and try to reduce next week's calories by 10% while increasing grams of protein by 10%. Continue this pattern until you feel you’re eating enough to sustain exercise but not body fat.

Option 3 - Just eat clean and track your protein. Try to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day. This may sound crazy so start small and continue to build until you can't imagine eating more protein

Above all else, the quality of food you’re eating is always the most important thing to consider. Yes, calculating macros with shit food will still bring you physique results but you’ll pay a price with your health in the long run. I recommend speaking with a dr. or coach before implementing a macro plan. It is very easy to find wild recommendations online and people vary far too much for me to give a prescription that applies to everyone.

Now for what we have all been waiting for! The sexiest, yet least important aspect of getting toned, the exercise!

I hate to shit on exercise because it is crucial and important and I love it! But the truth is if we cut out the self-image and junk food that's leading us to store fat there is a good chance you could be toned already without working out. Additionally, all the working out in the world will never replace everything we discussed above.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of working out to get toned is the mindset that we bring into the gym and home from the gym. This is our physical expression of our new self-image and our commitment to our goal. Each workout we do adds to our motivation, momentum, and identity. We eat healthy before we workout because we want to feel good and have the energy to work out and we eat healthy afterward so we don’t waste our efforts. It is a beautiful thing! Through the struggles in the gym, we build toughness and fortitude that prepare us for obstacles and challenges that get in our way. We release endorphins that make us happy and feel powerful. We feel sore the next day so it reminds us that all of our work is paying off. These psychological wins cannot be understated. But they can be achieved with almost any workout! So before you read on, consider this…

STEP 3 - Regularly do workouts you enjoy!

The best workout is the one that you do! You continue to do the workout that you enjoy often! And if you can enjoy the guidance I leave below then you might just be getting the best of the best.

1 - Very specifically identify the body part(s) you want to tone. We will train everything, but these spots get high priority

2 - Find 10-12 exercises for each body part on google

3 - Throw out the ones that are too advanced or require equipment you don’t have

4 - Write out a weekly plan where you hit these body parts 2x each - split all the movements evenly across the 2 days so you don’t repeat.

5 - Understand that feeling the connection to the EXACT muscle you’re trying to tone is our only priority

6 - A perfect rep is one that engages the desired muscle from beginning to end. If you “think” it’s engaged, you’re wrong. When you know, you know.

7 - If you can’t do 10 perfect reps its too heavy/difficult

8 - If you can do 20 perfect reps its too light

9 - Do 1 movement for 4-6 sets with a solid but not obnoxious rest in between.

10 - Each set should be between 10 and 20 reps. You should stop when you have exactly 1 good rep left. If you push past this point you are using different muscles and teaching your body that it’s ok to miss the target.

11 - Go slower to get more engagement

12 - Change angles to connect better to the muscle

13 - Avoid locking out or resting at the bottom so the muscle doesn’t get rest

14 - This might seem and feel crazy and you will be very sore. But maybe that's what it takes to build muscle. And after all, getting toned is just what we say when we want to build muscle and lose fat.

15 - Training with this intention, at moderate weight, at a slow speed, making sure not to compensate with other muscles is a beautiful way to stay healthy and avoid injury for the long term. But of course….If you don’t enjoy this then this plan sucks!

To sum it all up, 3 steps to a toned body:

STEP 1 - Fake it till ya make it! Act like a toned person and you’ll become one.

STEP 2 - Justify 3 or fewer small things a week. The less you justify the sooner you’ll be toned.

STEP 3 - Regularly do workouts you enjoy! Do what you love!

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