The Workout Hack That Toned My Arms in 3 Weeks
I used to think there were two possible subtexts when it comes to those #fitspo-y
"get toned fast" workouts: A) This doesn't actually work, and B) it works, but you'll push yourself to the brink of misery and despair in the process. Pick your poison.
I've experienced both (and can certainly vouch for the effectiveness of the latter). And yet, in spite of my better judgment, I've still never failed to present my unrealistic demands to trainers and experts, in the hopes that one of them would suddenly whip out the secret to a killer physique in minimal time that still caters to my #lazygirl ways.
"I want to add a lot more definition to my arms in three weeks," I informed Lauren Rounds, an Equinox trainer in NYC earlier this fall. "But I also don't want to feel like I'm dying the entire time." I thought I would be met with the usual dubious yet sympathetic look—what I call the Oh, honey, no—but Lauren just genuinely smiled. "I think we can make that happen," she said. The secret to getting toned fast, I would find out, is actually slowing down.
Lauren explained that there are a few reasons this slow and steady approach is so effective. First, we were adding even more resistance to a simple bodyweight exercise—kind of like combining a plank and a push-up, in new york fitness. This, in turn, increased the amount of time that my muscles were working, encouraging growth and endurance. And in order to keep my form in check while slowly moving up and down, I had to really engage all of my muscles, especially my core. (Just as, again, you have to keep your midsection tight while doing a proper plank.) “The main thing to focus on while doing the push-ups is to keep everything engaged and to move as one, all at the same time,” Lauren said.
Boiled down, that's what it was all about: proper form. These weren't just tempo push-ups, but regression tempo push-ups, which means that once my form broke down doing the traditional exercise, we moved onto an easier, modified version—and that was totally okay! After traditional push-ups, the next downgrade was to start with my knees down, push myself up (still counting in tempo), and then go back down with my knees up as I would a normal push-up. Once I couldn't do those anymore, we moved onto knees down for the entire movement, and when I couldn't handle that, we moved to standing push-ups against a windowsill. Our goal was 20 reps, all of these regressions combined—and I often ended up doing the last 10 against the windowsill. And I promise I'm not that weak. They're tougher than they seem!
In addition to a few other arm-targeting exercises with dumbbells and barbells, we also applied the tempo/regression approach in a few other ways—the most memorable (by which I mean painful) of which was pulling myself up toward a bar from a nearly horizontal position, called a pull-up row.
Now it was my turn to be doubtful, but as we dove into our first session, she explained her strategy. "We're going to do something called tempo training," she said. "It's a really efficient way to build muscle in a really short amount of time." Basically, she explained, we would be doing a souped-up approach to push-ups: Instead of just straightforward reps, I would be deconstructing each push-up into parts—up, hold, and back down again—and count out each part in a very specific way. In our case, it was up-two-three, hold for one, down-two-three, hold for one.