Why Your Exercise Selection May Be Working Against You




Pre-historic man, let’s call her Katie, was a versatile athlete. Katie could run, jump, skip, hop, climb and crawl at will. And it’s a good thing too. If she wasn’t able to do these things, Katie wouldn’t survive (or his chances of surviving were greatly reduced). This was her exercise.


Nowadays, we have different modalities of training that allow us to do the things Katie did in her everyday life. Since our lives mostly consist of sitting, we aren’t able to utilize our body’s the way we did back in the day (Katie didn’t have to stretch and warm up every time it was time to run…her life depended on being prepared at all times!). We are, after all, the same animal we were 20,000 years ago when we were running from lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!).


So, knowing that our world consists of sitting, lying and random bouts of walking, we understand that it is important to exercise in order to function properly throughout our lives. Ironically, we usually don’t maximize our training efforts to work on the areas we need to work on. Most of the time, we actually do the opposite. Let me explain.


As we age, our body wants to slowly pull itself into the fetal position while simultaneously eating all the muscles off our bones. Muscles take energy to sustain and it also takes energy to stay upright and functioning properly. But a stiff, tight body and weak muscles is also what inhibits us from being able to walk without breaking a hip when we’re 70 years old. So we have to know what muscles to go after when it comes to staying loose and what muscles to go after when it comes to maintaining strength. These muscles are called Tonic and Phasic muscles, respectively.


Tonic muscles are muscles that naturally tighten (think “T”…Tonic and Tighten) as we age. There are 8 Tonic muscles:



These are muscles that want to tighten as we age. As it goes, these are muscles that would’ve helped Katie climb a tree and hang on for dear life if running from a predator.


Phasic muscles are muscles that naturally weaken (I don’t have a good way remember this, except that weaken doesn’t have a “T”…that’s all I’ve got) as we age. There are 7 Phasic muscles:



Phasic muscles are the muscles that Katie would have used if she were trying to chase down some prey for lunch.


When you look at these 2 lists, there is one glaring problem that we see when it comes to most of our training: we continue to tighten then muscles that are naturally tightening and we don’t strengthen the muscles that are naturally weakening.


Let me explain a little better:

If you were to walk into the gym and observe the exercises that most people were performing, what would you see? My guess is you’d see a lot of bench press (tightening pecs), curls (tightening biceps), shrugs (tightening upper traps) and calf raises (tightening calves), just to name a few. So we’re basically performing a bunch of exercises that are helping to tighten muscles that are increase-bench_pressalready wanting to tighten. Since these are the “mirror muscles”, these are the muscles we want to get bigger and more defined, therefore we work them to a tightened frenzy.


Conversely, what would you say are some of the exercises you wouldn’t see much of? My guess would be squats (strengthen glutes), deadlifts (strengthen glutes), carries (strengthen glutes, strengthen external obliques), rows (strengthen rhomboids) and PROPER core training (strengthen deep abs, strengthen obliques). Since these are the muscles we don’t typically see in the mirror, we don’t care as much to work on them. Also, these exercises take much more effort to do. Try doing 8 bicep curls then doing 8 deadlifts and let me know which one makes you more tired.


Now that you understand why it is important to strengthen certain muscles and stretch certain muscles, think about how your program is laid out and evaluate what you can do to help fight the fight. Instead of going for start your 4th biceps exercise, trying doing something to strengthen your triceps. And please, stay away from the leg curl machine and hit the deadlifts, you’ll appreciate the work and results much more.


Next time we’ll go over the exercises you need to do to fight the Tonic and Phasic battle and how you can implement them into your workout.


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Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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