My Tonal Workout

In the previous two posts, I discussed the startup company Tonal, for which I drive patent development.

Not only do I work there, but I am "willing to eat the dog food," a.k.a. I do my strength training workout on the company machines. The picture of this post shows me in the middle of my workout on one of the Tonal machines at the company's headquarters in San Francisco.

Strength Training ... Ugh

Let's back up to my history of strength training. In my youth, I was an elite athlete, playing basketball for the Canadian National Team (1985) and in the Greek pro league (1986). On my rise up the ladder as a player, the teams increasingly demanded that its athletes do strength training.

As a committed athlete, I knew the value of strength training. It made me a more effective player.

But that doesn't mean I liked it. I was one of those athletes who loved playing the sport, but who did the physical training (strength and cardio) reluctantly. So when my sporting career ended, my strength training regimen ended along with it.

Fast forward some years. Starting around when I turned 50, although I was healthy, I became aware that my strength was slowly diminishing. I realized that if I wanted to maintain my muscle mass I needed to resume strength training — something I hadn't done in three decades.

I started with a strength training routine at our local sports club, 3 times per week. Each workout took about 30 minutes, meaning a total of less than two hours per week.

It worked to increase my strength, but after a year of this routine, I admitted to myself that I didn't like doing this workout, not even a little bit.

Three decades had done nothing to change my antipathy for strength training.

The Calorie Myth Workout

So I went in search of an alternative. That alternative came from my friend Matt Schlegel. He recommended the book Calorie Myth. That book, which mostly concerns diet and food, also recommends a specific strength training routine.

Here's the pitch of the book: "The recommended workout lasts no more than 15 minutes, and you do it only once per week."

Hey, now! That sounded great to me. So around the start of this year, I began doing that workout.

Here's what it is: Four movements — squat, lat pulldown, bench press, shoulder press — of which you do only one set of each. Each set has six reps. For each rep, you load only the eccentric movement, and do so for 10 seconds. At the end of the sixth rep, you should feel like you can't do anymore.

"Eccentric" means the following: On a bench press, for example, pushing the weight up from the chest is the "concentric" direction, and returning the weight back down is the "eccentric" direction.

But how does one load the eccentric direction, and then unload the concentric? Well, in the world before Tonal, gravity made this very difficult. What I did was use two hands to move in the concentric direction, then only one hand in the eccentric direction.

Results? After six months of doing this workout, I busted out of my medium size t-shirts. I'm 6'4", and my skeleton is on the smaller end of the medium build according to those old Met Life charts. Now, my chest and arms have busted out of medium, and into large. Wow!

But, a couple of months ago, I hit a snag. I was sitting on a bench in our local sports club, again, doing this workout. I had just raised a 50 pound dumbbell above my head (in a shoulder press), and was getting ready to let go with my right hand, so that my left arm would slowly bring the dumbbell back down to my shoulder.

But I sat there frozen. On this particular day, I just couldn't bring myself to let go with the right hand. I didn't trust my wonky, left shoulder to bear the weight of a 50 pound dumbbell, dangling over my head.

At that moment I realized that there was an obvious solution: I could, and should, do these Calorie Myth workouts at the company offices with our amazing machines.

Strength Training With Tonal

I pride myself on figuring out what is "missing" or "broken," and in this case what was missing was the proper tool. Tonal machine weights are generated by an electric motor, rather than by gravity, so there is no need to spend any significant effort in the concentric direction. Anyone can configure the machine to generate resistance only in the eccentric direction.

In the image on the left, you see my hand holding onto a handle that is connected to one of the cables of the machine. On each end of the handle is a button. Clicking that button serves to "rack" the weight, reducing the load to a minimum (5 pounds in the case of the Tonal machine). Clicking the button again "unracks" the weight.

The main image of the post shows that I am in the midst of doing eccentric squats. On the display is the number "100." That means the machine is pulling on each cable with 100 pounds of force (i.e. I'm holding 200 pounds total in both hands).

What you can't see is that I'm moving downwards slowly, for 10 seconds. When the handle reaches the floor (i.e. end of the rep), I click the handle button to reduce the load from 100 pounds to 5 pounds on each cable.

Then I stand up easily (in the concentric direction), click the button again, and wait for the machine to reload the 100 pounds.

My 15 min/week workout has dropped to 10 min/week. Now that makes me happy.

As an added benefit, this workout on the Tonal machine is fun. I've even started using the machine for other guided workouts. In other words, for me, the Tonal experience is so enjoyable that it has overcome my lifelong strength-training antipathy.

Now that's some kind of magic.