Fitness, Nutrition

"How long does it take to get toned?"

I'm just going to throw this out there now: You've got a six pack. Yes, you, the person reading this on your computer/smartphone/tablet/whatever. It may not be visible, but it's there! Chances are, it's covered up by a nice layer of body fat that you put on over many years of inactivity and poor nutritional habits.

But now you've had a change of heart. You've found a good movement coach, a trainer qualified to screen your movement and create a program for you to gain strength and improve your movement quality simultaneously. You've set a goal of "becoming toned", maybe even thrown in a performance goal or two, like achieving a bodyweight chin-up and squatting your bodyweight. You love it! You've been seeing your strength improve on paper, and you can feel it in your body just doing everyday things...but you can't see that six pack yet. You can't see those "rabbit ears" on the back of your arms and calves when you flex them, either. You don't have Dwight Howard's shoulders, yet. What gives?!

Relax, young grasshopper. My simplest answer is actually a question: How long did it take you to reach the point where you were so frustrated with your current bodily state that you decided to do something about it? You didn't get that way overnight. Chances are it took you months, if not years to reach your tipping point. What makes you think you'll get back to the way you want to be in less time? It may sound like a negative outlook, but it's not! What it means is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it may be farther away than you initially anticipated, however, but it's there and it's reachable! But that's okay.

Why is it okay? It comes down to value. A body earned is much sweeter than a body given. In a society full of expectations for instant gratification (fast food, internet enabled smartphones, among others), it's very easy to forget the meaning of truly hard work. But when you do the work it takes to reach your goal, the feeling of gratification is JUST THAT MUCH SWEETER because YOU EARNED IT.

So you're just starting out...where to begin? Well, depending on the quality of your coach, the first year of strength training should be largely skill acquisition and general strength gain. This means that your brain and body will need to wrap around some potentially new and difficult movement skills, WHICH TAKE TIME TO LEARN. As your nervous system begins to adapt, results will come fast and furiously for the first few weeks.  It's a hard pill to accept, but for many, that amazing feeling of the beginning of strength training never quite returns because your nervous system doesn't remain in a perpetual state of adaptation--eventually results slow to a steady burn as your muscles increase in size, strength, and endurance.

Yet, as a coach, getting a client to the point where they can focus less on the "how" and more on the "do" in their training is a BIG DEAL. That means that they have learned a concrete set of principles and have rehearsed them to the point where they happen automatically. The Newberg, OR (my old college town) Fire Department's motto is "Train to Unconscious Competence". This applies to strength training. If you still shrug your shoulders when doing pushups and deadlifting, for example then you have not rehearsed those movements to the point where they are automatic, and you're devoting precious energy to thinking how to do the movement, versus just doing it. That is the ultimate goal, and the ultimate stumbling block between you reaching your own goal, because absolute strength is what will net you that body you so desire!

My best advice? Stick with the program and let it take as long as it takes. It's a journey, not a destination. Enjoy it, embrace it, learn to love it. As my colleague, fellow trainer, and strength guru Jeff Sokol loves to remind his clients, "I'm not in the business of creating six packs and feeding egos. Six packs are the by-product! My purpose on this planet is to build a stronger, happier, and healthier human race". I share the same goal. And guess what? The best way to get your six pack is to GET STRONGER! Go figure...