Intent in Fitness- By Henry ToraƱo

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Intent in Fitness- By Henry Toraño

Intent in Fitness

By Henry Toraño

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over my career in fitness it’s how closely mind and body work. The relationship between the two show up every day as I write programs, set up nutrition guidelines, or consult with my clients. The very first step that I take before I get into any of these three is to put myself in the context of the situation. To be able to perform my job well I need to put myself in my clients’ shoes. What’s her training age? Has she been in a hot streak at the gym recently or in a little bit of a rut? Is she compliant in all three facets of fitness (training, nutrition, lifestyle)? How’s life outside of the gym as it relates to work and relationships? Does this person know exactly what they want in life, hence understand how fitness fits into that picture? These are only but a few factors that play into the equation. The answer to these will determine what goes into a training program. It will determine if more nutrition recommendations will be provided or of we will just stick to the previous ones for the moment. It will be what I consider before I push this person for more or rather be softer in my approach and relay more of a “it’s ok” message. Point is, while’s there’s certainly training and nutrition principles to be applied, results are not nearly as black and white as one would think. There’s not one written set of rules. Actually, one could argue that these rules are indeed written, but what I’m suggesting is that real coaching is what happens outside of that framework. Delivery and implementation of these concepts is what makes for a successful program. I’m also going to posit that there is another dimension that makes things even trickier. I’ve already mentioned mind and body, but how about heart? We’ve all heard about it in the movies: “If you put your heart into it, your mind and body will follow” or “clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose”. But what exactly does it all mean and how do you even your heart involved in any of it? Well, it all gets a little more clear when you think of it as INTENT.


Intent could be used interchangeably with the word “purpose”. It’s that intangible factor that drives decisions and actions. It’s the true underlying reason for why we do what we do. It’s also where most people fail in fitness. Not because they want to, but because we’ve been misguided by the industry as a whole. Every time a trendy new program, training tool, or fancy branded concepts come out we jump all over novelty and pull farther away from both principles and intent. It happens at the professional level when coaches get lured into the “new thing” but most of all, it preys on the consumer. I’m talking about the non-fitness professional who is looking to us for guidance in how to achieve a particular goal or get “x” results. This is what happens when we try to bring the individual into a training modality or a set diet plan rather than building it all around the person. The results is gross malalignment of actions and intentions. And while it would be nearly impossible to prove in a lab setting, I’m 100% convinced that it completely affects results. This is where principles get somewhat abstract. It’s not enough that you’re performing particular sets and reps or following a certain macronutrient plan. I’m saying that you need to be doing it for right reason in order to get the results. I’ll use some real life examples.



I could go on and endless rant about how most folks are doing the wrong type of training for what they say their goals are. One of the most common things I see is people entering a sport with non-sporting intentions. Let’s take Triathlon, for example. I’ll start by making it clear that this is by no means a knock on the sport. If anything, I’m biased for triathlon as I practiced and competed in it for several years. The difference is WHY I was doing it. I got into the sport immediately after I played my last season of semi pro football. I was feeling a competitive void. Having already competed in cycling before and knowing that I was a decent runner, I decided that I’d learn how to swim and compete in triathlon. Yes, I’m definitely one who enjoys the process of training, but in my every training session and every time I’d get into a race, I was thinking about how I would place in my age group. I wanted to win. I wanted to qualify for Ironman World Championships in both distances. I was playing for what sport is meant to be played for. There’s a vast difference between what I’m describing and getting into the sport because triathletes are lean and you need to lose a few pounds. For one, the amount of training required to be able to complete iron distance races is very high volume. I’ll say that the majority of people who participate in them have not accumulated enough training volume in their lives to be able to do it safely. This results in many injuries related to overreaching. Yes, I’m suggesting that low back issues, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures are NOT “part of the sport”. These are all signs of people doing things their bodies can’t handle. That’s the physical part, let’s consider the non-training factors. As we all know, there’s 24 hours to a day, 7 days to a week. If you plan to be racing for over 10 hours, you’ll need to become very familiar with training sessions that go beyond 3 hours. Can you make that happen on weekdays? Does your personal reality, family and work, allow for this? Are you aware that you’ll most likely need to use Saturday and Sunday for the longer training sessions? My point is, training for the sport requires sacrifice in other aspects of life. There’s other ways to get in shape and lose weight that allows for us to still live to our highest values and priorities.


Another example is CrossFit. I’ve been around this long enough to learn that most people who are involved in it are not doing it to “Forge Elite Fitness”. Again, they’re doing it for weight loss. They’re doing it for the community aspect. They’re doing it because the rush of high intensity makes them feel good. I’m not saying that wanting these things is bad, I’m saying that CrossFit is not the right medium for them. Yes, the elite athletes in the sport have incredible physiques. But that came as a byproduct of chasing performance. Not as the driving factor. These athletes endure enormous amounts of pain in bouts with volume and intensity. They deal with injuries. They put in pretty much all their time into training and recovering from training. They do it all, not for the body, but for lifting another kilo and improving another 2 seconds. This is what they’re thinking about when they push in a workout. They want to win, they want to beat another human. They’re NOT thinking about cupcakes after the wod. They’re not thinking about “earning” a cheat meal. If you’re looking to lose weight, look for lifestyle and nutrition guidance. If you’re looking for health and longevity add a balanced training program that doesn’t beat you up. If you’re walking into the CrossFit gym to enjoy the company of others, perhaps you should put a little more effort into growing your personal relationships. If you need high intensity exercise to get an adrenaline kick and “feel alive”, perhaps you should implement the lifestyle pieces that would prevent you from feeling low in the first place (increase sleep quantity and improve sleep quality).



This is another area where there’s plenty of opportunity to do things for the wrong reasons. The two more common concepts being tossed around today are Keto Diets and Intermittent Fasting. In both cases, people are attracted to the byproduct of these concepts and completely lose track of the intent. Again, I have to say that I completely agree with the literature on the benefits of both. It is application of them for the wrong intent that makes things complicated. These are also perhaps the two most difficult nutrition regimes to adhere to, when done correctly. 


A ketogenic diet is meant to relieve symptoms of chronic disease by reducing systemic inflammation caused by refined carbohydrates (sugar). It switches the body to a state where ketones are being produced as the main source of energy. When done correctly, the vast majority of calories come from vegetable fat sources, which in itself has plenty of health benefits. It has been used for centuries to treat patients with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer, amongst others. These patients often lose quite a bit of weight as a result of the protocol and their condition. So in comes the general public. First problem is that most people do it incorrectly, as they simply take out carbohydrates and continue to consume high protein and poor quality fats. They’re never in a ketogenic state. However, in some cases, they’re losing weight. The reason is not the ketogenic diet per se, but rather that they have cut a drastic amount of calories by eliminating carbohydrates consumption and not replacing it with fats. In the end, this practice is not sustainable and people tend to cheat heavy with binging on high carb meals that greatly dysregulates insulin management.


The story for intermittent fasting (IF) is quite similar. For centuries it has been used to treat disease. Those of you who have ever owned a dog, you’ll know that the first sign of him being sick is that they stop eating. This is the body’s natural response to infection. If you stop consuming food, your body will have less digestive load and be able to direct more of its energy for immune support. Well, it works in humans as well. In extended periods of fasting, the body is able to detoxify and regenerate cells and organs at a much greater rate. Hence the benefits of fasting. However, it is important to understand that we all have particular calorie needs, whatever they may be. Just because the feeding window is reduced does not mean these needs change. The main reason why people lose weight with IF is that they’re simply eating way less than before. Like with keto, some may get the results they were looking for, but intent is off.

Unfortunately, both of these examples frequently have the same negative results. Short term success followed by long term failure. Keto and IF are not to blame, however. It’s the intent of the person that engages in them. They were used as fast track solutions to underlying issues of behaviors. Keto worked because it prevented the individual from indulging in sugar addiction. IF worked because it prevented the individual from overeating. My suggestion is that we aim to fix the behaviors instead of jumping on bandwagons.



While this related to the nutrition topic, I feel it should be addressed separately. For one, I hate the word and would much rather refer to it as “DELOAD”. It comes in many forms, from fasts, to juicing, to vegetarian, and many more. These protocols are implemented to allow for organs to recover, mainly the gut, liver, and kidneys. They serve as a way to reset these systems and allow for better function after the fact. They all have one thing in common: calorie restriction. They all eliminate certain foods and even complete macronutrients during the process. This results in weight loss. Nothing wrong with dong a deload, nothing wrong in losing a little weight as a result. The problem is in implementing a detox for the purpose of losing weight. Again, if good behaviors are not in place to support what’s to come after the detoxification process, this simply results in rapid weight loss followed by rapid weight gain, often referred to as “yo-yo dieting”. Many health complications come from this process as the body’s being constantly put in states of surplus and deficiency. In many cases, the metabolic damage is irreversible. 


These are but a few examples of how intent affects the big picture of our decisions. It is very easy to jump on solution alternatives without ever understanding the problem in the first place. This is where reflection and introspect come heavy into play. It can be a scary proposition to sit and think about the things that are important to us and what we are willing to do about it. But in my opinion, this is the first step to success in any level. When you know exactly what you want, you’ll be willing to do the things that are required to achieve them. It will not feel like sacrifice and you will enjoy success. When your heart (intent) is right, your head will buy in and your body will respond. 

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