If you’ve ever tried to tone up your body or build strength, you’ve probably tried a number of different (fad) diets, exercise techniques and even used a personal trainer. You’ve spent hours in the gym and done 100s of sets of squats. But somehow you STILL haven’t got the results you want. Why do you think that is?
Probably because no one has taught you the science of the physical body and what it actually needs to perform at its peak. So in this article, we’re going to cut the fads, ignore the noise and think about the science.
It is possible to get the results you’ve spent years trying to get, without spending hours in the gym each week. In fact, we’ll actually save you time by focusing only on the techniques that are proven to be safe and effective. Be warned though: if you’re not prepared to be consistent and work hard, then stop reading this right now.
So what’s the quickest way you can tone-up?
Most people want to ‘tone up’ and they want it on the double! A combination of proper strength training and an effective sprints routine is the best shot you’ve got to tone up fast.
Here’s why: sprints increase your metabolic capacity and flexibility which help get rid of the layer of subcutaneous fat. The fat you’re trying to lose. Secondly, strength training will add lean muscle to your frame to get that ‘toned-up’ result.
How to approach sprints
Sprints are an ‘all out effort’ to exert your body in a metabolic state i.e you go “hell for leather”. Imagine a mad Pitbull is chasing you and if you slow down, it will eat you.
That is the level of intensity required! Here is how we recommend you start out.
- On a stationary bike, cycle for 2 minutes to get warm
- Go “all out” for 20 seconds
- Rest for 1 min
- Repeat this process 6 times
Stay away from treadmills or road sprints because the high impact is not great for your joints. If you really love outdoor sprints, try to do them on hills to help reduce joint impact (this will even increase the level of effort required, which is great!) If you’re new to sprints, it’s better to start on a stationary bike, and when you’re stronger and fitter, you can challenge yourself with hill-sprints.
How to approach Strength Training
Strength Training is proven to assist with toning up, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to worry about getting ‘chunky’ in the process if you’re doing it the right way.
The reason Strength Training is so effective at helping you to shape your body and tone up, is because lean muscle helps to increase your metabolism. It takes more energy to keep muscle alive than fat, so your body will naturally use energy more effectively and store less of it in fat cells. Fat cells are also 3x the size of muscle cells. So if you have 1kg of fat and 1kg of muscle, you’ll see that the fat takes up three times as much space. Therefore, by reducing fat and increasing muscle mass, you’ll get that toned and shaped figure we all aspire to get – even though you might weigh the same.
The result of effective Strength Training is a strong body that might weigh the same, but look much leaner and toned. This is not to mention the positive effects on everything else you do in life, as you’ll be stronger and have more energy for everything else you need to get done in your day.
You can approach this form of exercise in many different ways. However, moving heavy things requires proper biomechanical movement patterns and correct application. It can be very dangerous if you don’t do it properly with a high degree of control over your movements.
If you’re new to this type of exercise, its best if you hired a professional to teach you correct exercise technique (also known as ‘form’), and you can use this knowledge to safely execute a session on your own in the future.
Here are the 7 most important elements of Strength Training:
#1 Start your workout with compound movements:
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements which engage many muscles at one time. If you begin your workout with these, you’ll activate all the muscle fibers needed to stimulate your muscles to grow stronger.
Examples of compound movements:
- Lat pulldown
- Chest press
- Seated row
- Shoulder press
- Leg press
In order to maintain, grow and strengthen your muscles, it’s absolutely critical you progress over time: Train -> Rest -> Train Harder.
Top tip: Be consistent and work hard if you want to tone up fast. This type of training is not easy, but if you work hard, you’ll get the reward and satisfaction from enduring the process.
#2 Take advantage of the two phases of muscle contraction
Your muscles have two phases of contractions: concentric and eccentric.
Humans are, on average, 40% stronger on the eccentric phase of the muscle contraction.
- Concentric – Lifting / shortening the muscle fibers / contracting the muscles
- Eccentric – Lowering the load / stretching the muscle fibers / resisting against a force.
So how can you take advantage of these phases during your session? The trick is to slow down the speed of eccentric muscle movement.
For example, consider a body weight push up: Try counting 6-8 seconds on the way down (eccentric) then 3-4 seconds on the way up (concentric.)
There are machines which enhance your eccentric loading and quantify exertion to get you the results you want. Using these machines just 2-3 times a week, is more time efficient than going to a regular gym or working out at home.
#3 Forget everything you THINK you know about repetitions
Reps don’t matter! Chasing the “X” number of reps can actually limit your execution of a productive set. What matters is the length of time your muscles are engaged at maximum tension and effort.
Let’s continue to use the body weight push up as our working example
If you slow down your speed at the eccentric level and work at maximum effort, you can do 4 reps (for example) to achieve the same results as you would doing 8 normal reps. In this way, you’re spending half the time exercising but getting equivalent results.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
In the next section, we explore more about why reps don’t matter when we exercise only to MFF – Momentary Muscle Failure.
#4 Exercise to MMF (Momentary Muscular Failure)
How many reps should you do in your set? There is no magical number! We believe there is only MM – the application of constant tension against the function of the target muscle until that muscle can no longer contract or exert force to produce movement.
This is important because it’s how our bodies naturally respond and build new muscle tissue. Let’s consider the example again of being chased by a pitbull.
In nature, if this really happened to you, you’ll find that you can run REALLY FAST and probably for a lot longer for a period of time than you would otherwise do by yourself. When your body is pushed to its limits like this, it sends a signal to ‘prepare for next time’, and new muscle gets synthesised to ensure you’ve got enough strength for when that pitbull chases you again.
But it’s only at this point of muscle failure – when you physically can’t go on any longer – that this response is triggered.
How do you achieve MMF?
Have you ever finished your set, and reached the point where you’re wobbling or shaking? If you were to keep going, do you start to lose form? This is MMF… the moment where it’s physically impossible to keep going with proper technique.
As we explained above, this is the trigger/stimulus in your physical body required to synthesise new muscle tissue in order to make you stronger and more capable of survival in a fight or flight event.
Your body/physiology responds to a workout in a way which the brain understands; it doesn’t have a clue if you’re fighting against a leg press, or fighting against a tiger, it only understands hard work.
It’s after the trigger/stimulus that the magic happens. Now, your body’s adapt response (rest and recovery) kicks in and your muscles can repair and grow from your workout.
Top tip: Rest and recovery is equally as important as achieving MMF. Your muscles don’t grow when you’re exercising, but rather when you’re resting. Many people make the mistake over “over exercising” and never giving their bodies a chance to adapt and build the new muscle. Proper sleep, therefore, is just as important as proper exercise if you want to tone up.
#5 Don’t hold your breath
Most people don’t pay much attention to breathing while Strength Training, but in fact, the right breathing will improve your force output and help you to handle the required intensity to make exercise productive. Holding your breath while resistance training causes ‘Valsava manoeuvre’ in the airways and causes a rise in blood pressure. You don’t want this to happen in your workout because oxygen utilisation is important in energy production during exercise. This lack of oxygen is why you breathe heavily after a short burst of energy.
Breathe frequently during exercise and increase the speed with the intensity of effort as the exercise progresses.
#6 Avoid MOMENTUM at all costs
Force = Mass x Acceleration
“Muscles are strengthened based on the force placed across them during exercise. The force-velocity relationship of muscle indicates that high velocity movements correspond to low muscle force, and that low velocity movements correspond to high muscle force.
Since strengthening requires high force-producing exercises, the velocities must, necessarily be relatively low. High velocity movements may have other beneficial effects (e.g. improve muscle activation by the nervous system), but not at the muscle tissue level. The take home message – keep velocity low for strengthening.”
So, how and why do you avoid momentum?
Slow and controlled movements, with smooth turn arounds (change of direction) for each rep will help you avoid any momentum. In doing so, you’ll increase your mechanical muscle work, increase muscle fiber activation, and will allow you to observe any discrepancies in your form as well as help protect your joints.
#7 Understand workout intensity and the Catabolic/Anabolic state relationship
If you want better results from exercise you must push yourself to work harder on each exercise, not do more exercise.
“Anything that you do to make your workout harder will be a step in the right direction.” – Mike Mentzer, Great Bodybuilder Champion and Innovator in Physical Training
Some research shows that whether you execute one set or several sets per exercise, the results aren’t that different. It does, however, show that your intensity of effort, how hard you’re working relative to your capability makes a difference to your results.
If you don’t train with high intensity and max effort, no amount of exercise will stimulate significant improvements in musculature, strength and size. If you do train with high intensity and max effort, the amount of exercise you perform should be limited to avoid overtraining and spending too much time in catabolic state.
The higher your intensity of effort, the less work you can perform. The less you need to perform, you optimise results and spend more time in an anabolic state.
Intense Health can help you tone up faster than you’ve ever done (or haven’t done) in the past. We measure results every single session with world-class technology so you can physically see the results for yourself. On top, we customise your nutrition, which is 80% of what is required for fat loss!
Don’t’ believe us? We’ll prove it.
Apply for your free trial at Intense Health now at www.intensehealth.net
- Fisher J, Steele J, Bruce-Low S, Smith D. Evidence Based Resistance Training Recommendations. Medicine Sportiva Med Sport 01/2011; 15:147-162.
- N.A. Burd, C.J. Mitchell, T.A. Churward-Venne, and S.M. Phillips. Bigger weights may not beget bigger muscles: evidence from acute muscle protein synthetic responses after resistance exercise. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 37(3): 551-554, 2012.
- Jürgen Giessing, , James Fisher, James Steele, Frank Rothe, Kristin Raubold, Björn Eichmann. The effects of low volume resistance training with and without advanced techniques in trained participants. Pre-print (this reference will be updated after this study goes into print)
- Carpinelli RN, Otto RM, Winett RA. A Critical Analysis of the ACSM Position Stand on Resistance Training: Insufficient Evidence to Support Recommended Training Protocols. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 2004;7(3):1-60
- Smith D, Bruce-Low, S. Strength Training Methods and The Work of Arthur Jones. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 2004;7(6): 52-68
- Westcott WL, Winett RA, Anderson ES, Wojcik JR, Loud RL, Cleggett E, Glover S. Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2001 Jun;41(2):154-8
- Cameron J. Mitchell, Tyler A. Churchward-Venne, Daniel W. D. West, Nicholas A. Burd, Leigh Breen, Steven K. Baker, Stuart M. Phillips. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. Journal of Applied PhysiologyJul 2012,113(1)71-77;DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00307.2012