I Tried The Tone It Up Fall Challenge & I Don't Know How To Feel

If you've never heard of the Tone It Up girls, they're a pair of BFFs-turned-certified personal trainers named Karena and Katrina. With 1.2 million followers on Instagram, the TIU girls occupy a space in the pantheon of social media trainers, and they're recognized for their motivational TIU challenges, goofball attitudes, and actual mermaid hair.

Now if you are familiar with the TIU girls, then their workout challenges might strike you as surprising, given our fitness philosophy, which focuses on rational fitness (which is exactly what it sounds like). In the past, many of the TIU challenges have focused on literally whittling your body away, and participants were encouraged to measure their body parts in order to track progress — they even sell branded tape measures for this exact task! But Karena and Katrina must have caught on to the fact that when you focus on what your body can do and how you feel, rather than how you look, it's healthier and more sustainable. (And it also just makes more sense.)

Their Fall Challenge is designed to "refocus and take your results to the next level," which is a far cry from the others that promise you a slimmer, more bikini-acceptable body. Before starting, you're encouraged to journal about how you want to feel, physically and emotionally. There's one section that prompts you to write about a "physical change" you want to see, whether it's stronger arms or building muscle overall. Other than that, there's no mention of weight loss or size.

So, since I can get on board with this general philosophy, I decided to join Karena, Katrina, and their 1.2 million Instagram followers. For 21 days, I would pretend to be the third Tone It Up girl — Karena, Katrina, and Corinna (which just so happens to be my full name). Ahead, I documented how I felt on each day of the challenge, and what the workouts entailed.

Editor's note: The author's plan was paid for by Tone It Up.

Photo: Courtesy of Tone It Up.
The Challenge

At first, the Fall Challenge sounded simple enough: Each day, you complete the Daily Toning Moves found on the app. These five-move workouts are designed to work a different muscle group every day, so that the rest of your body can recover and build muscle, as Karena and Katrina explained in an email. The only equipment you really need is a few pairs of dumbbells (and occasionally a step or stability ball) in varying weights, because the reps are structured in "drop sets." That means, for each workout, you do three sets of 21 reps, and you use a lower weight each set. "This allows for you to push yourself and perfect your form while still completing all the reps," Karena and Katrina wrote in an email.

Because I've never been one to "do the reading," I didn't realize that there was a literal 90-page PDF detailing the other rules of the challenge that I was supposed to follow. Per the dossier, you're also supposed to move at least 20 minutes first thing in the morning, drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day, and sleep at least 7.5 hours a week — which I kind of do anyways. There's also an aggressively prescriptive, 51-page nutrition plan (created by a registered dietitian), which discourages refined bread, sugar, and fried food, but encourages drinking wine if you want to have a glass or two. Since I prefer to get my nutrition advice from my own doctors (and am not a fan of restriction), I chose to just pretend it didn't exist.

Finally, Karena and Katrina challenge you to check in with them on social, using #TIU21 or #TIUteam, and journal. "There's nothing more powerful in your journey than keeping the promises you make yourself," they write in the plan. Given that, ahead is my "journal" from each day of this fitness challenge. (If you make it to the end of this slideshow, you've already done better than I did at this challenge.)
Day 1

The workout was pretty hard. It involved exercises I've never done before, like a single-leg deadlift and a creative ab move called a "hee-haw," which involves kneeling and rocking back and forth with your upper body straight as you do a dumbbell curl. The 21 reps seemed a little arbitrary.

How I felt: I was pretty turned up about the challenge at first, and some might say "excited" to work out.
Day 2

The workout was challenging. Plank tuck jumps — in which you do a plank and then jump your feet to your hands — are the devil's work.

How I felt: I posted a photo and tagged the challenge and, no joke, dozens of people DMed me asking what it was. Is this what it feels like to be an influencer?
Day 3

The workout was nearly impossible, even with light weights. There's a move called the "plank front raise," in which you do a side plank, holding a dumbbell in your free hand. Then you move the weight from the floor to an extended position, and it sucks.

How I felt: I did this workout with my roommate, who reassured me that it was, in fact, extremely difficult. It's nice to work out with someone else, even if it is just to have an ear to whine in.
Day 4

The workout ... I didn't do it.

How I felt: Not great! My arms were so sore from the last workouts that I had to skip this day's daily moves.
Day 5

The workout was surprisingly difficult. The toning moves were cardio abs, which is not really my strong suit. One move, in particular, was not fun at all: the plank tricep kickback. Basically, you hold a plank with a dumbbell in each hand and then perform a tricep extension.

How I felt: I took a selfie and my face was beet red.
Day 6

The workout was definitely on the difficult side. My arms hurt doing simple bicep curls with light weights. Is this what getting swoll is all about?

How I felt: I usually don't work out on weekends out of principle, but it wasn't that much of a commitment to squeeze in the daily toning moves, which perhaps is a lesson I needed to learn.
Day 7

The workout was easy enough to half-ass my way through it, because it was mostly easy dumbbell exercises with a few pushups thrown in.

How I felt: A week in, and it feels like a workout is just something to check off of my to-do list, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing?
Day 8

The workout was mostly arm stuff, which didn't feel terrible. My favorite move from this sequence was the Arnold curl, which basically involves doing a dumbbell curl, then extending your arms into goal posts, then doing a press. The plank raise made an appearance, and it sucked once again.

How I felt: My roommate asked to join me, which means we must be doing something right.
Day 9

The workout ... hah! I skipped it.

How I felt: Great.
Day 10

The workout consisted of a mix of arms and legs. The exercises are getting easier, or am I getting stronger?

How I felt: I've been posting selfies on my Instagram story about the challenge, and if one more person asks me how it's going, I'm going to have to join witness protection!
Day 11

The workout was ab-centric. But I went to a Barry's Bootcamp class, so I skipped the daily moves.

How I felt: The strength exercises in the "floor" portion of Barry's are typically very hard, but much to my surprise, I got through them no problem.
Day 12

The workout ... I skipped it.

How I felt: I'm busy! I'm sorry!
Day 13

The workout involved too many ab moves for my liking. For example, for one of the exercises, you have to hold a yoga "boat pose" and do an overhead triceps extension, which just feels like a bit much.

How I felt: Didn't put a ton of effort into this workout, so it was fine.
Day 14

The workout ... what workout?

How I felt: Look, I got a manicure with my roommate, which I feel like Karena and Katrina would totally support.
Day 15

The workout ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How I felt: It was my birthday, so I skipped it and drank a lot of wine at a 2 Dope Queens show instead of the gym. No regrets!
Day 16

The workout was mostly leg stuff. My favorite move was the box step up, which incorporated a step as the name suggests. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, you step up with one leg onto the step, and then lift your back leg up to a 45-degree angle.

How I felt: Let's just say that sweat was dripping from my forehead onto the gifs on my phone.
Day 17

The workout was easy — mostly arms with a little bit of squats and lunges, too.

How I felt: I think taking a few days off helped me get back in the mood to work out again.
Day 18

The workout ... I'm sorry.

How I felt: I didn't feel like going to the gym just to use their dumbbells, so I skipped it altogether.
Day 19

The workout consisted of plank tucks, and they still drive me crazy.

How I felt: I rushed my way through this workout, and it's starting to feel like a chore.
Day 20

The workout ... I took my dog for a run.

How I felt: Great. Karena and Katrina also have dogs, and again, I think they would support this decision.
Day 21

The workout was all about the legs. Instead of doing the drop sets, I opted to do all of the moves with heavy weights. This meant I had to take more breaks during the workouts, so it took longer, but it wasn't that bad.

How I felt: Happy to report that I finished the last workout off strong (probably because I knew it was the last one for a while).
Photo: Courtesy of Tone It Up.
So, would I recommend this challenge to a friend?

The workouts: I learned a lot of dumbbell strength exercises through this challenge, and will definitely be re-purposing some of the moves on my own. The 21-rep drop sets actually made banging out reps tolerable and not insanely boring (plus, I used to just wimp out at around 12 reps before). Personally, I don't like workout classes, so I appreciated being able to go at my own pace through the app, while still having a structured workout plan.

However, working out every single day is not really something that's reasonable for every single person in the world (like me). Sometimes, it felt really dumb to haul myself to the gym just so I could make Karena and Katrina — two people who might as well be fictitious — happy that I accomplished it. And also, I count lots of my day-to-day activities, like playing with my dog or walking to my partner's apartment, as "daily toning moves."

The plan: There's quite a cost barrier involved with this plan. A subscription to the app itself is $12.99 a month, and the nutrition plan is a whopping $150. (By the way, if you are going to follow a nutrition plan, you should definitely check with your doctor or registered dietitian beforehand.) That said, the fitness content and workouts might be worth it if you don't have a gym membership and need some guidance to get started. I could definitely do without the email blasts containing before and after photos, though, because they play into the idea that you should be working out to change the way that your body looks, rather than how you feel. Progress isn't always quantifiable, and advertising one person's success can be harmful and triggering to others.

The vibe: It's easy to get sucked into the TIU world, because they do a great job of making workouts seem like a fun thing to do with your friends. I'm a little too cynical for some of the sugar-coated TIU talk (for example, I don't like being called a "babe"), but I could see how it's encouraging. Their fans are very engaged on social media (many even have separate accounts dedicated to their TIU endeavors), and it's somewhat inspiring to see people come together for casual fitness sake. It's reassuring to see that they're beginning to shift their language away from weight loss as a major goal — let's just hope they stick to that philosophy once "bikini season" (ugh) rolls around.
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