I received the following email from a recent client in which he stated and asked some things that I must have heard over 100 times over the course of my career.

After I read my reply, I thought that it would be incredibly helpful for those of you who are (or are considering) switching gears from a muscle-building workout to a more muscle-toning workout.

You’ll learn some fundamentals to strength, and cardio training, and hopefully be able to fill in some gaps that you have when considering a program change.

I hope you can take something from this, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.


Hey Matt

I’m working on all your exercises you gave me and keep upping the weight. I’ve added some things along the way and I feel it’s really working. Can’t thank you enough!! I think I’m gaining weight still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, I cut out the weight gainer shakes like you said.

My main reason for the email is because I want to trim/tone my lower back (love handles) and stomach (it seems like this is where my extra weight goes), but I feel like I shouldn’t do cardio because I don’t want to lose weight but more so just tone.

With all the exercises I still try to pull the belly button in and tighten my stomach during the reps. I guess my main question is there more I can do?



That’s a great question, the unfortunate reality of it is that’s where your body puts it’s extra energy (read: fat)…

Some people store it in the hips & thighs, some in the belly, some in the backside. You and I both get it on the love handles around to the lower back, pretty typical for guys in their 30’s.

The bright side is you can still do cardio, though you’ll likely have to introduce some high-quality calories back into your diet to ensure that you’re not putting yourself in too much of a deficit.

A quick & dirty way to determine if you’re eating enough calories is to check if your body weight has changed much in the last four weeks or so, not just up and down a few pounds but if your weight has actually trended up or down. If you’ve been about the same, then the amount you’re taking in is roughly the same as the amount that you’re burning through a combination of your daily activities and your workouts. Granted: all things being equal, if you added a few miles of cardio 3x/wk, then you’re going to be net-negative and will have to fill that caloric gap one way or another to stay about the same.

Keeping The Muscle You Have & Trimming the Fat

You’ll have to keep the weights relatively heavy in order to keep the muscle you have. The human body is an incredibly efficient machine and it’s designed to use as few resources as possible; if you don’t give your body sufficient reason to maintain the muscle tissue you do have then it would prefer to use that protein for a function where it is needed. It would rather store it as fat than to store it as muscle since muscle is a living tissue and requires energy to keep alive, even at rest.

Believe it or not – a pound of muscle burns roughly 50 calories each day while at rest.

It takes a specific amount of work to sufficiently stress a muscle in order to compel your body to keep it. Generally speaking, you’ll need to perform:

2 sets of 8-12 repetitions – to failure, whether functional or postural – per exercise.

You’ll want to pick an exercise or two for the major prime-movers: Chest, legs, back, shoulders. This maintenance-volume is likely inefficient to induce significant muscle growth – the sets, reps, and intensity just aren’t there. You’re basically talking your body into keeping what you’ve already got because you’re going to need it all one day…in this case that “one day” is going to be 2x/wk.

Your primary exercises would be the bigger lifts generally using the bigger weights. Put together a workout with 4 or 5 exercises…. for example: squats, rows, leg presses, dumbbell row, etc. Do 2-3 sets per exercise, heavy… 1 relatively light set (just to program the movement and connect to the working muscles), and 2 heavier sets reaching failure between 8-12 reps… failure, as stated above – you’re not necessarily going to see a dramatic increase in your strength every week.

Same 2-3 minute rest in between each set with same form as you would normally do them.

And your cardio… start off with a jog-in-the-park-steady-state-cardio, and over the course of 3 weeks or so, start shifting into sprints and high intensity intervals (busts/runs).

You’ve never seen a thin sprinter, have you?

Keeping The Core Strong

It’s fantastic that you’re emphasizing the core-contraction for every exercise. Focus on doing it to the extent that necessary to ensure a neutral spine, correct posture, and solid connection. You’ll notice that while you’re exercising the weights feel heavier and heavier with each rep. Keeping your core engaged is the single best thing you can do for: 1) Safety, and 2) Functional Core Strength.

Pull the plug on the exercise when the working muscle is no longer able to complete the movement, or when your control over your posture wanes and the neutral spine is unrecoverable.

I hope that helps, keep up the great work! Keep me posted and let me know if you have any other questions.

Talk to you soon,

Matthew Scarfo

Please keep in mind that this email was sent to a specific client, with specific goals, and these recommendations were made by a professional with a clear and thorough understanding of the client’s specific abilities and limitations. This advice will not necessarily apply, or be appropriate for everyone. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program, consult a credentialed fitness professional prior to modifying an existing one.