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Tonal Talk Tonal Talk: Strength + Perseverance with Brian Kanner

In this Tonal Talk, Brian Kanner shares his story of perseverance with Kate Telge, our Community Manager. After years of unbearable chronic pain thanks to a fused spine, Tonal made it possible for Brian to feel strong again, alleviate some of his pain, feel more confident in his movement, and enjoy precious moments like picking up his child. If you struggle with mobility, find out how strength training can improve your quality of life again.

Growing up, Brian was very active, but after a gym session, where a personal trainer spotted a hump in his back — his life changed overnight. Shortly after, Brian was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at the age of 17. A complete thoracic spinal fusion, two further surgeries, and numerous injections left him with the crumbling spine of an 80-year-old in his twenties.

Given the unique circumstances with his spine, doctors explained to Brian that he could not afford to gain weight, which would significantly impact his quality of life. So understandably, he went to the gym hoping that aggressive cardio and manageable dumbbell exercises would help keep him fit and healthy. Still, it was a struggle to pick up bags from the floor and carry them, and picking up dumbbells also threw out Brian’s back and landed him in the emergency room.

When Brian and his partner decided to have a baby, he began looking for training equipment he could install at home, and that’s when he discovered Tonal. He knew time was going to be at a premium with a baby and wanted an efficient way to workout. “I was looking to get something I could easily set up in my garage or office. I didn’t care about [Tonal’s] coaches or the programming, and thought I would just continue to do the structured routine that I’ve been doing for years.” This changed pretty quickly, Brian didn’t realize how much of a positive impact following the coaches and programs would have on him.

Brian did one of the recommended beginner Tonal workout programs, and the rest, as they say, is history. “I started doing the program and was like; this is hard. I was off-balance, and I knew that because that’s my life, right? After a couple of weeks of sticking with it, I started doing amazingly-hard stuff on Tonal. It didn’t get easier, but I got more confident in the movements. I didn’t hurt myself the first two weeks, muscle soreness in new places, yes, but I [started doing] program after program, and was addicted.”

Pro Tip: The great thing about Tonal is that you can go up in one-pound increments. You can get into position safely and then click the weight. You don’t have to worry about reaching down for a dumbbell and putting your back out, jumping up to a weight that’s too high, or working with a weight that’s not challenging enough.  

Brian has experienced a positive impact on his life after working out with Tonal. “Fairly quickly, I found that whether I was bending over with one leg, or doing a hinge movement — a key movement for so much stuff that was previously not in my vocabulary — I could do it. Now I can pick things up off the floor and do chores.”

If you’re someone with spinal issues afraid of moving in the wrong way, learning how to perform hinges and deadlifts safely can help you build the kind of strength that improves life quality. “The thing with hinging is it’s not about your spine, and that’s not something I understood. A deadlift is not something I would have ever done, but it’s a move that teaches you how to lift things properly. I followed the coaches, started light to see if I felt any acute pain, I didn’t, and kept going.”

“I had a six-pack but zero core. If it weren’t for Tonal, who would have ever helped me understand that or inspire me to keep working out? Following the programs is awesome because they’re so balanced. I liked Coach Liz’s Strong Start, and it was one of the first programs that gave me the confidence to continue. I’m also obsessed with Four Weeks to Fat Loss, and it teaches you one-sided movements.”

“With my back problems, [the things I’m learning with Tonal] are giving me the ability to lift and do motions I was protecting myself from. It’s important to watch the coach demos and check out what they are posting in the Facebook Tonal Community because they help explain how to do movements correctly.”

“Pretty much everything in terms of my physicality and home life has changed. We joke that my wife is my mule. When we go to the airport, I’ll be there in my Lululemon shirt, and my wife will be carrying all the bags, and I’ll be rolling one [along]. But having a child did worry me, thinking about not being able to sit on the floor or pick him up. I thought it was something I would never be able to do without throwing my back out, but my body can support it now.”

“My pain level has gone down to almost minimal during the day. I’ve quit taking an anti-inflammatory every day. Sitting on the couch was a horrific source of pain. I can do that now. I think accessory muscles are holding me up so much better and taking the pressure off my spine. I still have some challenges at night, but I don’t think that’s something that will ever go away.”

If you’re struggling with injuries or unsure about whether strength training is for you, here’s some advice from Brian: “Embrace functional training and dive into Tonal’s programs. You’re going to [find] better balance and the ability to do just basic things by embracing Tonal’s content. Challenge yourself safely, and see how it goes; I’m a year in now and never turning back.”

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Tonal Talk is a weekly Facebook Live interview series highlighting stories of real strength from within the Tonal community.