Alonzo Wilson’s a former professional athlete, a world-class trainer, and the man who built Tone House, the toughest fitness studio in the city. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ask anyone in NYC what’s the hardest workout in the city. Seriously….ask anyone. If their answer isn’t “Tone House,” it’s for one reason only—they haven’t done it.
Come to Tone House with a hangover or while running on only a few hours of sleep, and it'll be pure misery. Closest thing we can compare it to is pre-season training.
Basically, it's 60 minutes of jumping, crawling, sled-pushing, high-fiving, sprinting, sweating, maybe one dude lying on the ground, struggling. A high intensity workout built on teamwork, competition, and little to no resting.
Needless to say, we’re huge fans of Tone House and wanted to meet the badass who built this house of strain.
Sitting down with Alonzo Wilson after a class, we asked him some questions. We were amazed by what he had to say.
WOLACO: Tone House has been covered by lots of publications as the toughest workout in NYC. What’s something Tone House has that other fitness groups don’t?
ALONZO WILSON: Let me preface it by saying this: I think any sort of fitness is great. I think anything is better than sitting on the couch. Find something that resonates with you. Everything in NYC has its place. Tone House is a little different, it’s based around movement science.
Workouts can be very stationary. Here’s a mat, here’s a stepper, this is you for an hour. Which is fine, but I wanted to make a workout where you move, because that is the best exercise. So everything we do, including the warm-up itself, is a workout. It’s not just to get you warmed up, but to take your body through the range of motions you’re gonna be transversing. We change levels in the warm-up. So you’re not only warmed up, you’re physically and mentally prepared for what’s coming.
WC: What inspired the specific workouts that you use in Tone House?
AW: I’ve trained several serious athletes. The things we do in Tone House are the same things they’re gonna be doing in their pre-season workouts.
I personally changed the way I worked out when I stopped playing professional football. I could always lift a lot. I could do 515 lbs for 3 reps, that was my bench press. One thing I realized after playing sports and when I got a little older is that while lifting is great, at the end of the day there are a lot of other factors that go into being a really good athlete.
I’ll give you an example. I bench more than Ray Lewis. Who’s a better football player? Ray Lewis. You get my point? It’s like, yes, benching is great—the bar is bending, that’s sweet—but does that translate to being a good athlete? Can you move your feet? Can you move laterally? Can you move forward? Can you study their offense? How are they trying to block you?
WC: Here’s an easy follow up to that one—what’s your definition of an athlete?
AW: An athlete, in my opinion, is inside everyone. Can we all jump as high as Lebron James? No. But we can still jump, we can still move, we can still perform. Even if you’re in a wheelchair, there’s things you can do to perform.
I first saw a gentleman come in here in big sweatpants and a big sweatshirt. His confidence level was very low, but then he kept coming. We kept encouraging him. His body starts to change a little bit, his confidence starts to change a little bit. The sweatpants are gone now, and he’s wearing shorts. Now he has a big shirt on. Next thing you know, the shorts turn into tights and the shirt turns into a compression top. So it’s very interesting to see how it translates not just with the workout but with other areas of their life. You can see the confidence level change.
In here I want there to be an opportunity for everyone to train like the athlete they aspire to be.
WC: You’ve been a ridiculous athlete all your life—that’s clear—but what drove you to choose fitness as a profession?
AW: My mother got sick with cancer when she was 65—she was my best friend and she didn’t make it. It was a difficult time in my life and it was at the same time I was transitioning from professional football. I didn’t really want to do anything or play anything at that time. Ironically, it’s what drove me into fitness even more so.
The thing that stuck with me is...she was obese and the doctor told me if she was in better physical condition, not that she would have beaten it, but she would have had a better fighting chance. And that’s a tragedy in my life that’s encouraged me to always try my best to help people get into better condition. More so, at the end of the day, I want to show them they can do things they didn’t think they could do.
WC: I heard one of your mottos is “You’re stronger than you think you are.”
AW: You are. What we try to do here at Tone House—the workouts are hard, yes—but this isn’t a boot camp. It’s more of a team environment. You root each other on. If someone’s struggling you try to help them out versus Get up! What are you doing?! military camp situation. Not that that’s bad, but this isn’t one of those places. It’s about the team.
It dawned on me that in high school there were about 5,000 people in my school. Maybe 500 of them got to play on the varsity team. But those other 4,500 people never really got a chance to see what it’s like to be on the team.
What I wanted to do here was create a place where everyone got a chance to be on the team. Cause when you talk to any athlete, the thing that they remember the most isn’t the amount of points they scored, what they did on the field or on the court. A lot of time, it's the camaraderie that they had with the team. A lot of the world never gets a chance to experience that.
WC: As you’ve looked at the culture here in NYC, have you seen any shifts in peoples’ approach to working and fitness?
AW: Yes. People would before, when they would have outings after work, they’d take clients or colleagues to a bar or a club. Now they’re booking a class. It’s a team bonding thing that actually helps someone. The respect that they have for one another at work has been elevated because of going through a class together. When you see someone going through something tough, you can’t help but respect them. He or she’s doing the same thing you’re doing. And the way they respond says a lot. Are they gonna run away? Did they stay in the room? Will they come back?
There’s a young lady who trains here. When she meets a new guy, she asks him to come on a date with her at Tone House. And her perspective is funny. It’s a complete setup, because she’s done the class before and you get better over time. But she just wants to see how he responds to it.
WC: What’s a typical day look like for you?
AW: It’s not the most glamorous. I wake up around 3:45 am and I make myself a bowl of oatmeal. I walk to work and usually I get here around 4:30 am. I teach the 5 am class so I like to give myself at least half an hour. In teaching, there are a lot of things that go on.
I’m in the office all day and then I teach the last three classes. Usually I’ll get out of here around 10:30-11:00 p.m., go home, and get to sleep.
WC: What does success in life mean to you? Why do you get after it at 3:45 am each day?
AW: Well the funny thing about Tone House is—it’s gonna sound nuts—but it wasn’t meant to be a huge money maker. Let’s be honest, we wanted it to make money, but it’s not based around that. Can you make money? Sure. Would my business partners really like for me to do that? Maybe.
The main thing is seeing people who could barely jump on a 12 inch box jump on a 24 inch box. Seeing someone not only change physically but mentally. And then also seeing how when you’re put in situations where it’s tough, how we lose a lot of those things that differentiate us. Meaning, you have a class where someone may be gay and the other guy may be straight. Normally this guy has probably never spoken to someone who is gay, at all. In this class, these guys are TIRED and they’re going through the same exact thing. All it comes down to is I’m tired and this guy’s encouraging me. Thank you.
WC: What’s your fitness routine look like these days?
AW: I like to work out in the morning. One, it almost makes your body a fat burning furnace. So throughout the day, it helps you burn a lot more calories. Not only that, if you do it in the morning and you end up doing something later in the day, it’s just extra. Versus, you’ve had a long day, and then you gotta come in at night. Everyone is different. For me, I like to get it done between 5 and 830 in the morning. I try to take classes here at least 5 days a week. I like to take a couple days off.
WC: When you’re not at Tone House, what are your favorite places to workout outside in NYC?
AW: Man, there’s so many places. Central Park is a little saturated, so I don’t usually go there, but Pier 40 I love. It has a turf field on the roof and I’ve done a class for Nike up there. Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, I’ll go there. The FDR, I’ll work out around there too.
WC: If you had 25-30 minutes for a workout, what would you do?
AW: First things first, I would do some sort of dynamic workout. I’d do ladders, karaoke, up-downs to get my chest ready, and then do some leg explosion.
From there I’m going to do some speed work. Then, I’m going to exercise uphill as I make my way into a variety of weird push-ups. Traveling push-ups. Traveling left, forward, right, back. People will look at you like you’re a nutcase, but those are the things that I would do if I only had 25 minutes. I would finish off with some abs.
WC: Is there any one quote that you live by?
AW: One thing that has always stuck with me is something Muhammed Ali said: I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when they start hurting, because they’re the only ones that count.
And that’s something I’ve brought here. I’ll never ask someone to do 20 reps. Because 20 reps might be too many for me, but it might be too little for you. In here, the numbers may be different, but we’re both gonna have that same respect, because we are both fatigued.
When I start hurting is when I start counting. That’s why every football team always has a two minute drill. Things that they do to put the pressure on them. They want to create the atmosphere of what it’s really gonna be like out there. It’s gonna be tough, loud, etc. These are all things that I think translate to everything we are doing here. It’s more just trying to translate what happens on the different fields in here.
WC: We’re big fans of yours here at WOLACO. Anything you’d say to our guys who might be on the fence (scared) about taking a class?
AW: Life is hard. I’m not gonna tell them it’s not gonna be hard. But the 101 class is geared towards someone's first time at Tone House. The nervousness you feel is what we want you to feel. When you’re getting ready for a game, you’re nervous. When you’re going to your first practice in college, you’ve nervous. These are the things that athletes go through that I want you to go through.
There’s a reason for all of it. It isn’t a boot camp. No one is gonna be yelling at you, derailing you. They’re gonna be encouraging you. Will the workout be mean? Yes, but the instructor will be nice.
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