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No Excuses, But A Lot Of Reasons

January 17, 2015

6packHere we go again. Yet another “no excuses” mom needs us to laud her 6-pack abs as she shames the rest of us for not looking like her. As a trainer, and a gym-owner, these things make me cringe. They are not inspirational, except that they inspire rage in me with an intensity that few other things can. They are amongst the most harmful things out there, if what we’re really trying to do is inspire people to be strong and healthy. And happy.

Let me acknowledge the work that you put into that body. It’s commendable. You have clearly set a goal, and achieved it, and I will be the first to applaud you for that. You at least think you are proud of your body, and let me applaud you for that also. It’s not an easy thing to do, in this day and age in which women are shamed for their bodies.

If you were my client, however, we’d be talking about whether you are actually proud of your body, or proud of your ability to contort it to meet an arbitrary external standard, because those are very different things.

What I really want to talk about is the reasons why very few of the hundreds of athletes that I train have 6-pack abs. Because they’re really important. (And as people, they’re all really awesome.)

  1. They don’t care about having a 6-pack. This, really, is my favorite. Having a 6-pack does not mean that you are strong or healthy. In many people, in fact, there’s an inverse correlation there. All that having a 6-pack inherently means is that you do not have any body fat covering your muscles. For some people, that’s how they’re naturally built, they don’t gain fat even if they want it (and yes, lots of people do want it.) For others, it means that they are starving themselves in order to have no body fat. That is unhealthy for too many reasons for me to list. I would say that the strongest and healthiest people I know actually do NOT have 6-packs. They also have the emotional strength to know that it doesn’t matter. (I know plenty of strong people who do have 6-packs, ironically, they don’t really care about it either.)
  1. It’s not in their DNA. Having spent years training hundreds of athletes, I can tell you that some people simply will NEVER have a 6-pack. Men and women alike, some of the top-performing athletes in our gym do not have visible abs. I say visible because they all have abs, and they’re strong as fuck. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. Abs are like love, they’re there whether you can see them or not. Anyway, I have athletes that are in the gym 2 hours a day, doing amazing shit, and still don’t have visible abs. I doubt they care, because they’re busy doing things rather than looking at their bodies and comparing them to others. But if they don’t have ripped abs, it’s sure as shit not because they’re not doing the work.
  1. Their life really does interfere. There are plenty of people for whom finding time to work out, in any way, just isn’t the top of their priority list. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a realistic reflection of what they value. (What they value, NOT what they’re worth.) Or what they need to do in order to make their lives work. Recent studies have shown that 20 minutes of cardio a day improve your length and quality of life massively. On a substantive level, I say that’s what we work for; quality of life, not quantity of attention from people who might want to “bang” us because we have visible abs. As a corollary, I’d suggest that the ability to get attention for conforming to someone else’s arbitrary fantasy is a dubious achievement. But maybe that’s just me.
  1. People Like You. Yes, people like you are a HUGE reason why lots of other people are resistant to get started on a fitness routine, even if they know they should. Even if they want to. When you put out images of YOUR body and say “no excuses,” you create an environment of intense shame. Many people don’t want to go somewhere where people like you will immediately look at them and say “not good enough.” Of ALL the obstacles I face when I train people, the biggest one is fear, caused by shame, caused by a society of people who say that it is inexcusable for people to look like they do.

You make my job harder. No, you do not attract people into the gym, you repel them. I have had SO MANY cups of coffee with people who want to start, but are afraid they will be the weakest person in the gym, people will make fun of them, they are not good enough, that it’s pointless to start because they know they’re not good enough, that they’ll NEVER look like you, so what’s the point.

People like you really ARE one of the primary reasons that people don’t start working out.

PLEASE, STOP!

There will never, ever, be a day when it is healthy to compare your body to anyone else’s. Our bodies are all very different. Not in a “you’re a special snowflake and everyone’s a winner” sort of bullshit way. In a genetic way. We are ALL different.

It is possible to be healthy at a wide variety of sizes. It is even possible to be SEXY at a wide variety of sizes.

It is almost impossible to be happy when you are constantly told you’re not good enough. It is almost impossible to love your body when you believe that it is shameful, bad, wrong, worthless…. And the first step towards getting stronger, happier and healthier is to love your body. So let’s help people do that, first and foremost. Loving something generally inspires us to treat it well. Hating something, quite the opposite.

If you want to inspire people, helping them see value in themselves is really the better way to do it.

To anyone who is striving to make your body conform to an external standard, I caution you, it’s not worth it. Sure, I get people in the gym with me who tell me their goal is to lose 20 pounds, or to be a size 4 or to….. And the first thing I tell them is that we don’t set goals that way. It is simply NOT healthy.

We set goals around things that you WANT TO DO. Dance all night? Cross-country ski? Squat your body weight? Run around with your kids? Play soccer? Think of things that bring you joy and use your body, let’s work towards those goals.

What better goal is there than feeling joyful?

As for what your body looks like? All you can do is do your best to eat in a nutritious manner, and work out regularly to elevate your heart-rate and stress your muscles. If you are treating your body as well as you can, it will show you what it looks like.

Ironically, when I met my husband, I had visible abs. All of ’em. I had a friggin 8-pack. But I didn’t eat much, I worked out too much, and I was, honestly, pretty weak. 4 years later, I’ve packed on some weight, but am stronger and healthier and happier than I ever have been.

Some of it’s muscle. Some of it’s the natural difference between being 40 and 45. But a lot of it is realizing, FINALLY, that what I look like doesn’t matter. Yes, even for me, it was an adjustment. But letting go of the “what do I look like” message and focusing on “what can I do” and “what do I feel like” has been the most magical life gift I could have given myself.

And that might be my greatest strength as a trainer. My muffin-top is like my super power. I can whip it out when a client is in the depths of despair and blind them with body-pride, inspire them with body-love, assure them that no matter what you look like, you can be strong, do more than you know and feel great joy.

I will blind you with joy and jiggle, I will help you find strength that you didn’t know you had, I will push you through things that frighten you, I will call you on your shit. But I will NEVER let you mock yourself, or anyone else, because that is destructive to you and everyone around you.

Your body will change, and not always in ways that you predicted, or that you wanted.

But if you let it, and find the power in it, your life will change.

And be better than you ever expected.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Glynis permalink
    January 17, 2015 10:45 pm

    I need to read this post many many times. I am one of those striving for the abs, or at least a flatter stomach. I am trying to love myself as I am but I have bought into the idea that if I am not svelte then I must not be as healthy as I can be, despite all the working out and eating mostly well (let’s face it, I’m not 100% perfect). Thank you for this. Thank you.

  2. January 18, 2015 2:18 am

    Your posts just keep getting better and better. Thanks for this.

  3. January 18, 2015 3:39 am

    I needed this today. Thank you!

  4. January 18, 2015 8:39 am

    Reblogged this on So Very Slightly Mad and commented:
    I thought this was awesome.

  5. January 18, 2015 9:31 am

    Amazing post … I have little to say other than THANK YOU.

  6. Martha B permalink
    January 18, 2015 10:05 am

    Nicely done! Although I’ve never been offended by the fitness moms who flaunt their abs (too busy worrying about myself and my athletic goals), I can see how damaging those remarks can be for someone who is just getting started. An environment of shame is not inspiring or motivational. While some thrive on “hard love” the end all be all shouldn’t be an aesthetic one for someone looking to get in shape (unless you compete in bodybuilding. Then by all means… I will cheer you on every step of the way!) Quality of life above all! Reaching YOUR personal goals. Doing what works in within your time/resources.
    This was such an excellent post. Keep up the great work. You are inspiring!

  7. January 18, 2015 10:07 am

    I’m most definitely with you on most of the fantastic points you make and I am, without a doubt one of the imperfects, though I am on the better side of imperfect.

    I have always found the “I used to be fat but look at my abs” stories. People get happy when they put their mind to getting fit. Some people do a better job of it than I do but that’s only because my fitness is fun as hell. I love nothing more than going for a ride with my friends or wife and managed to become quite fast and lean. Still, not perfect but absolutely pleased as a pig in poop. Of course, I was about two packs shy of six a year ago and my wife hated it – she thought I was too skinny and now looking back at old photos, I was.

    As for those who have a fear of being judged (I hated the gym for exactly that reason), I would much rather the focus be on fixing the damage within those people rather than make the rest of the “hot bodies” refrain from showing their abs. Those who refrain from fitness for fear of being judged need help, and a world free of judgement isn’t it… Because they’ll judge themselves anyway. Those who judge are merely confirming inner feelings anyway – and THAT’S the real problem.

    The truth is, what someone else thinks of me, how someone else pre-judges me, is none of my business. They don’t know me or my story, they can’t know that I am absolutely happy with who I am and what I look like. If someone else thinks I should be less than happy to do what they think I should do to be more like them, well that’s just ignorant grandiosity, no?

    Nobody is happier for a lack of judgement. They’re happy for knowing they’re giving it their best to be their best and knowing that what a meathead thinks is irrelevant anyway.

    Besides, the hot bodies are fun to look at.

    Awesome post. I was happy to have stumbled on it from a reblog.

  8. January 18, 2015 10:10 am

    Sorry, that was not supposed to be “I have always found…stories”. It was supposed to be “have always been fond of…” Auto-correct boondoggle.

  9. January 18, 2015 10:57 am

    Wonderful message, and one I should probably read every January! Thank you.

  10. Tayo permalink
    January 18, 2015 1:14 pm

    A lot of what you write is good but blaming no excuse mums for people not going to the gym…….? Seriously? That is stretching it a bit. Yes some of the focus for these women may be wrong but it’s a process sometimes a lifetime process and If its taken you time to readjust your thinking etc then understand other people will be going through this process and I think no excuse mums has helped more people than it has put off.

  11. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    January 18, 2015 1:22 pm

    Could not disagree more. As one who literally spends my whole working life dealing with people who feel fear and shame about their bodies, this kind of shaming, “no excuse,” fitspo propaganda does more harm than good. In every regard. Even beyond the shaming factor that stops so many people – many of whom need it the most – in their tracks, it also supports the idea that what you look like is what matters, and that all people can ultimately achieve the same aesthetic body. Which is a recipe for disappointment, frustration and failure. Far more harm than good. It still sells the false ideal that this is what women SHOULD look like, and that everyone can, if they just try. Both are patently false and very harmful.

  12. Nicky Ritchie permalink
    January 18, 2015 3:06 pm

    Great article. When I was at school and in my early twenties I had a killer sixpack. But now at fourth despite years of training thousands of sit ups n on one occasions 1500 yes 1500 reps on an abdominal weight machine I still don’t have a six pack. I train four to six hours Monday to Thursday. Weights boxing may that bjj wrestling n making. I put in yoga daily and I have rheumatoid n osteoarthritis fybromyalgia osteoporosis sleep apnoea klinefelters syndrome my blood clots n.I’m on lifelong wayfaring and I suffer with schizophrenia and am battling depression. I’m also a single father with three kids under seven which is hardworking when your sore and in pain and also mentally very challenging when the kids are misbehaving n your getting aggro just from being ill on top of all this. Exercise gives me focus keeps my head in the right place and helps keep me motivated. I have been diagnosed as being addicted to exercise which over the years has had a massive effect on my body. I’ve worked very hard from my first job loading trucks full of white goods washing machines refrigerators and stuff at 16 years of age to widow cleaning carrying thirty foot wooden ladders 10-12 miles a day and in security for the military and as a door supervisor. I’ve tried n tried to get my six pack back to no avail and what hurts the most is I look unfit compared to the younger guys in the gym n I don’t get taken seriously. My biggest opponent however is myself. I don’t feel attractive anymore I’m not the person I was and I torture myself thinking it’s a karma for bad choices I made when I was younger but I’m losing weight again after a three year lay off due to mental illness. It hurts I ballooned up to 24stone with medication and in four years of extremely hard training I got my weight down to 11 stone n got my six pack back. But I did too much I was working 72-80 hours a week and teaching may that five nights a week n I had a breakdown ended up hospitalised for three years n ballooned back up to 24stone again. Ive lost two stone in nine weeks and I’m back on the right path but I’ve learnt to take a step back your body has limits and as much as we’d like to be we are not machines. N I don’t agree now with training so much to do something you love is worth putting before your family after all that’s usually what motivates people to train but then it doesn’t make sense not to see them coz your over training. Thanks for listening. Nicky
    agai

  13. January 19, 2015 12:02 am

    I last had a visible six-pack in Jr. High, and maintained a very active outdoor lifestyle into my 40’s – and now in my mid 50’s, I struggle with chronic back pain from multiple issues. I really miss all the things I once could enjoy. I don’t miss the six-pack, just all the fun years of trail running, skiing, mountain biking, dancing all night. PT helps, but this back of mine just got old much faster than I did. Now my activities and goals are very simple – a 3/4 mile walk in the woods gives me immense joy. I hope to ‘backpack’ at least a mile or two into wilderness, with my husband carrying the weighty items, or maybe a goat. And I dance when the music or mood strikes, even if it means no walking the next day. Thanks for helping me better adjust to appreciating what I CAN do.

  14. Cheryl permalink
    January 19, 2015 12:03 pm

    I don’t know if I could possibly love this more than I already do!

  15. Kristin permalink
    January 19, 2015 10:30 pm

    Sometimes I have abs, sometimes I don’t. Right now they are visible at the top of my tummy, and really, I don’t care. I have really visible muscles on my back, shoulders and arms, not that it really matters, but a nice back and nice shoulders is something I think is hot, like on my boyfriend 🙂 This is the time to build muscles.

    All though I try to eat healthy most of the time, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to share a packet of Oreo’s and a box of Ben and Jerry’s with my boyfriend 😉 It’s important not to exaggerate, and eat 1 kg of candy in one go or eat 2000 kcals of fat and shit several times a week, But of course, not care sometimes as well. Balance is the word I was looking for. I think you feel the way you eat, and if you eat candy and bad food 50-70% of the time, you’ll feel bad. Balance, eat well 70-90% of the time, have some treats, and you’ll feel great!

    So yeah, haha, fuck abs xD

  16. emlor24 permalink
    January 20, 2015 5:10 pm

    On point, as always. 🙌

  17. January 31, 2015 3:01 pm

    I’m a Strength coach/nutritional consultant. This article is PERFECT! THANKS FOR POSTING THIS! I’ll be referring to this MANY times.

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