The Secret to Six Pack Abs (#BodyFaming)

I hope you liked the click-bait title. I promise not to pull a fast one and write about our lord and savior, Cthulhu. I’m writing this to address a frequent request from fitness clients. Everyone wants a goddamned six pack. Whenever someone tells me their fitness goal, I have an automatic response. “Why?” I’ll continue on to say, “Before you answer, understand that you don’t need to justify it to me. But, I’m here to motivate you. If I know the source of your motivation, I can help to push you in the right way.”
After someone tells me that they want a six pack, the answers I’ve heard as to why have never been about anything but vanity. There’s nothing wrong with being vain. But, sometimes we need a different driving force for the sake of longevity. Vanity of the societal conditioning variety touches us all in some way, I get it. The next thing I tell the hope-to-be six packers is some potential good news. I tell them the secret! Just be sure you are one of the two. There are two types of people who have those six pack abs we see in the media.
The first type of person to have a six pack, has it because they’re literally being paid to have one. Think actor, model, or internet celebrity. When your career, literally, depends on how consistently you rock those rock hard abs then guess what, it’s your life! Not just a regimen of crunches. No, it involves so much more. A variety of total body movement, dynamic core stability challenges, precise/planned eating habits, and several other daily choices that one has to make when they could lose a modeling gig due to not having those abs.
The second type of person to have a six pack, has it because they don’t care about having one. Think about every person you know who likes to play as an adult just as much as they did as a child. You may notice that they often have that six pack. I’ve often instructed my clients to go outside and play. They ask what to do in between sessions and I tell them to run, jump, dance, and just have fun for the sake of play. It really is a great way to help your body thrive. This type 2 persona just wants to ride, run, swim, surf, hike, hang glide, ski, etc. and in doing all of these things, the natural movement of their body and their own desire to eat healthy tends to leave them with a six pack. But, most of the people I’ve met who love to play don’t give a shit about that feature of their body. They care more about their next camping adventure.
Where do you fit into all of this? Well, obviously, all people in the world fit into more than two categories. But, where you fit should be determined by your answer to a simple question. Why do you want a six pack? Are you being paid to have/keep one? If yes, see above. Do you enjoy playing and enjoy foods that fuel your body (instead of foods that hinder your health)? If yes, see above. Do you just want a six pack because pop culture told you that’s how the world defines sexy? Do you just want a six pack to send a selfie-laden fuck you letter to your Ex? Do you just want a six pack because you think it will garner some street cred? If the answer was yes to any of those last three questions, take a step back. You’re fine with whatever way your belly looks right meow. Once more for the cheap seats, you look fine just the way you are today!
There are no scientifically proven health benefits to a well developed rectus abdominis. The irony is that stressing over having a six pack (or anything), increases cortisol levels. Cortisol causes inflammation in the GI tract and is often seen as belly fat. What if you didn’t stress over a six pack? What if you just chose to move your body because bodies are designed to move? What if you just ate good/whole foods because you still want to feel good in 10 years? This is the type of person I try to be. I take off my clothes for money and I don’t spend time stressing over my abs. I’d rather enjoy the movement and grind I’m giving to my audience than worry about muscular definition. As long as I can move, I’m grateful.
So, now you have the secret to six pack abs. The secret is that there is no secret. You have them because it’s your job. You have them because you enjoy moving your body in many ways and you don’t care about them. Or, you want them, refuse to change your habits, and stress over not having them which exacerbates the issue. I’m writing this to encourage you all to be in the category with me. Move your body because you love your body, NOT because you’re a critic of your body’s appearance. #BodyFaming

A Problem With The Fitness Industry

Greetings! Last week, I promised part two of the seven part series on how I keep my energy levels up. That will show up next week. First, something significant happened on Monday and I needed to write about it before my trip this weekend. I wanted to write about a problem shared by most trainers and most gym members. A problem that many of them share is their attitude towards appearance. In their desire to make good soldiers, the US Government has been suggesting that we move our bodies and stay active for at least 20 minutes a day since the 1940s. It wasn’t until a capitalist figured out a way to monetize this suggestion by opening a gym that the current culture of fitness was born. [An early public gymnasium started in Paris in 1847. However, the history of health clubs for the general public can be traced back to Santa Monica, California in 1947.] They’ve been called fitness clubs, health clubs, gyms, etc. [IWM… “Fitness” and “Health” are not interchangeable words. One can be fit with high cholesterol. One can be healthy and unable to do basic exercises.]

During this week’s post, I’ll be using words like “obese”, “fat”, and “overweight” (these words are not interchangeable either.) These words have very different meanings and I’ll try to respect those meanings in the context of my message. I’m mentioning the use of these words in case they may be a trigger for any of you reading this post. I understand that many people have experienced trauma with these words being used as weapons from parents and peers.

Trainers and Fitness Professionals, when a new client shows up for their first session and complains of knee pain, listen to their request and make sure they feel heard. Please don’t overlook their pain and see that person as overweight. Further, don’t look at their body fat as a problem that is your duty to fix. That client came to you to get stronger and live a pain-free life. “Well, if they lost some weight, their knee wouldn’t hurt so much. Bones weren’t meant to carry that much weight!” While there may be some validity to that statement, the client came to you with a knee problem, they didn’t ask you to fix their weight. Let them be fat and encourage them that they’re fine with the body they have. Find ways to help them love a fit lifestyle. Find ways that they enjoy moving their body. (Just because you like Burpees doesn’t mean they will/should.) If you can show them exercises to strengthen the muscles around their knees to relieve pain, teach them how to maintain good posture, and build core strength while connecting with the human in front of you, they won’t be seen as a fat problem that needs to be fixed. Leave the Savior complex in your locker and train with compassion.

Fitness clubs, Health clubs, Gyms, and other such places, what if your business model was NOT based on ridding the world of obesity? What if you did NOT encourage people to workout just to lose weight? What if you encouraged people to play because it improved quality of life? [Encouraging all bodies to play is why I’m a fan of the Athletic Playground in Emeryville.] What if there were no scales or body fat calipers in the entire building? In this Netflix and Chill society, I’d love to see a gym that D(idn’t)GAF about any body’s weight. I only care that you move your body and have fun doing so. A former gym regular sent me a flyer for a new gym opening here in the Bay Area. She was suggesting that I apply to work there, so I went to their website to see what they’re all about. I found the following on their About Us page: “A heart pumping, calorie burning full-body workout layering intense plyometric movements with strengthening isometric holds to build lean muscle and sweat away excess fluff.” Sweat away excess fluff!? WTF!? Are they marketing to humans or cappuccinos!? With that statement as part of their manifesto, I decided that I didn’t want to find out more about this place. I don’t want to train people in the name of de-fluffing them. I’m proud to say that I work in a gym that focuses more on movement than fat burn. We’ve never held any contest to see who can lose the most body weight or reduce the most body fat percentage in an arbitrary time period. We’re not perfect. But, in general, our approach is about creating a lifestyle around fitness and physicality for all bodies. (This post isn’t a Valentine to my employer, so you can do your own digging to find the name of my gym.)

“Do you know the best way to lose six pounds in 3 weeks?” That question was asked of me by a 13 year-old figure skater! I wish I were making this up. I was astounded! I knew that any answer could create a trajectory for the rest of her life, but I was also so caught off guard by such a question from such a lean and muscular young woman that I fumbled the answer. I told her that it was a big question and I encouraged her to seek out scientific approaches and to avoid any diets. (My hope was that she would not find any scientific approach to weight loss for someone with such a low body fat percentage.) I went home and drank some whiskey that night. I seriously considered quitting my job and hanging up my coach’s whistle indefinitely. I was reminded a few days later, as I told the story to the club owner, that such an occurrence was precisely why I shouldn’t quit, people like that need coaches that will point them in the right direction. Even days later, I don’t know if I could ever be ready for such a question. She’s 13 fucking years old!

“My boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry me unless I lost weight.” Those were the words of a victim of societal conditioning. She relayed the message through a friend and wanted to hire me as her trainer. I refused. Someone will take her money. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I did.  I cared more about whether or not she was able to see the life of abuse she was about to embrace. That was about two years ago. I don’t know whatever happened with her, but I hope that she woke up and left that person for a life of self-love and a partner that likes her just the way she is today.

Once and Future Clients, please cancel your magazine subscriptions. Please be honest with your parents and tell them that their lack of acceptance (as they criticized your weight and food choices) hurt you. Please find and nurture a supportive group of friends that accept and celebrate your body just the way it is and above all else… Love yourself before you begin any fitness program. An exercise that I give to most of my clients is to stand naked in the mirror, armed with a dry erase marker. Write (a minimum of) ten things you love about your body on that mirror. Use that self-love to fuel your motivation to improve your quality of life. “But, Jet, if I love my body, I won’t want to workout and change it.” Right, you won’t want to change it, the hope is that you’ll be motivated to make it stronger and more capable. To put it bluntly, *presses caps loCK* DON’T WORKOUT TO LOSE WEIGHT! Exercise to improve your quality of life. Improve your blood volume and blood flow, decrease aches and pains, improve balance and reduce fall hazards, increase bone density, improve mental acuity, and just be ready for life. Losing weight should not be your only goal for embracing a fit lifestyle. Think long-term as in LIFE style, not just about the wedding dress. “Jet, please! My Gram-gram lived until she was 97 and she was still walking and talking shit! She was strong and she didn’t exercise!” Well, I bet she didn’t sit at a desk and fuck around on Tumblr all day when she was in her 20s, either. The point that I hope you takeaway from this post is that fat is not a problem to be fixed. No one gives a fuck if you’re fat or fluffy or whatever TF pop culture is calling it these days. No one can body shame you without both your permission and acceptance of such shame. I’m grateful for being teased and bullied as a child. By my peers (read: black people) I was told that I was too dark, my nose was too big, and blah blah blah. What was I to do? My own friends, my own “people” ridiculed me for the way I looked. I made no efforts, nor had any desire to lighten my skin or change my nose. I adopted a simple manifesto for friendship. “Either they’re in my corner or fuck ’em!” I will always be comfortable in my own skin. I will always love myself, despite the fact that I’ll never meet the societal standard of beauty.

For the people in your world that don’t accept you, for the magazines, or gyms that are over concerned with your fluff when you’re trying to make strength gains and move beyond pain, fuck ’em. For all of the significant others that have ever told their partner to lose weight… Fuck you! For all of the coaches that have told 13 year-old girls to lose weight… Fuck you! For all sports/activities (looking at Ballet and Football with equal ire) that condition children to have anxiety-ridden relationships with food (so that they may lose or gain weight to make the cut)… Fuck you!

Why do I sound so angry? Wouldn’t you be? I became a trainer 11 years ago, because I wanted to help people move their bodies efficiently. I want to help people get stronger while staying injury-free. I DGAF about anyone getting a six pack and I think that’s a dumb goal to have. I just want people to have a better life through fitness and healthier habits. But, all I get are men that want to gain weight and get “swole” and women that want to lose weight because society has convinced them that something is wrong with their bodies. Yes, I’m angry. Yes, this is a problem with my industry. We (fitness professionals) can fix this problem as soon as we stop trying to fix people. Let’s help the people. Let’s teach the people how to workout instead of just taking them through a workout. Let’s explain the benefits of those compound movements. Let’s coach the humans instead of training the dollar signs.

10 Things I Love About You

This week, I’m asking you to do the work. You just have an assignment to complete.

Write a love letter to your body.

Step 1: Get naked. Don’t make a big deal out of it. You do this before every shower.
Step 2: Using a dry erase marker, write 10 things you love about your body on the bathroom (or other) mirror. This is not a time to restrain your sense of vanity. Focus on everything that you love about your body (and mind) on an aesthetic and kinesthetic level. Is there something that your body can do that you love or appreciate? Write that down as well.
Step 3: Challenge your friends to do the same.
Step 4: Repeat as often as needed.

Why? Because most people can spend 30 seconds talking non-stop about what displeases them about their bodies. When was the last time that you honored your gift and said thank you for the ability to think, move, fuck, etc.?

What if you don’t make it to 10 things you love about your vessel? (Spoiler: A lot of people don’t make it to 10.) Keep trying. Keep digging. Keep loving. Share your reflections on the experience (but not your actual list – that’s personal) in the comments below.

Activism versus Reactivism [Action versus Awareness]

Do you remember that time that GoDaddy upset a lot of people by making light of puppy mills? (I’ve posted the ad below for reference.) Well, the ad made its way to the internet before it was supposed to air (during the SuperBowl) and lots of people found the ad so offensive* that GoDaddy pulled the ad and issued an apology. This week’s post (a tad later due to the holiday weekend and the elusive spirit animal known as sleep) is about the fallacy of activism delivered from the comfort of your pajamas.

*“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.” -Stephen Fry

Activism [ak-tuh-viz-uh m] noun – The doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

Reactivism [ree-ak-tuh-viz-uh m] noun – A term that I created (at least I’ve never heard/read anyone else use this term) to describe those that react to a long-practiced injustice with words (hashtags, comments via social media, YouTube posts, etc.) and inefficient efforts that don’t actually do anything to generate change against the injustice in question. No vigorous action or involvement takes place with Reactivists. Hashtag activism is often in the category of reactivism. Creating a hashtag that goes viral will generate a lot of conversations and even some t-shirts. But, will there be change? (Hint: Conversations do not equal change.)

For at least the past decade, I’ve been saying, “If you’re doing nothing to make a change, you’ve lost all rights to complain.” I first started saying this in relationship to people that lament about their job or working conditions. My suggestion to resign was met with, “I can’t do that. It’s not that simple.” My immediate response was, “Then shut the fuck up about it, that’s pretty simple.” In other words, tell it to the wall. No one wants to read your comments, status updates, whining in the workplace, lament at lunch, or bitching over brunch if (and here’s the important part) you aren’t doing anything to make a change.

The concept of action over talk still applies to bigger problems that expand beyond workplace strife or relationship boredom. Sometimes, animal lovers are reminded that we live in a capitalist society wherein people have seized the opportunity to breed and sell puppies to make a living. When that happens, they can choose to become activists and do something about puppy mills or they can become reactivists and type angry words to let the world know how they feel. During the GoDaddy kerfuffle I wondered aloud, to anyone that would listen, what are all of these offended people doing to actually shut down puppy mills? People were offended, so fucking what. What did those offended reactivists do to elicit change? Did any of them contact the parent companies of pet stores that stock their cages via puppy mills? Did any of the offended reactivists start volunteering at the SPCA to get some mutts adopted? Probably not. Do I have the answer as to how puppy mills can be stopped? Sort of, but you wouldn’t like my answer. Stop dog shows for a start. Think about the conversations about breeds and temperament of dogs. Those conversations are often sparked based on the popularity of a certain breed, breed popularity is often associated with the winners/strong performers of dog shows. What if we all made efforts to stop caring about the breed of dogs? “Oh, but, Jet we have to talk about breed to make sure that the dog is the right dog for the family! I mean, you know about those crazy pit bulls!” That’s funny, every pit bull I’ve met has licked my face and let me rub their belly. They all had one thing in common, a sane owner. Stop blaming the breed’s temperament, especially if you don’t know anything about dog training. *tangent end* I don’t have the answers as to how we can eliminate puppy mills in a capitalist society. As long as people choose to use their money to buy specifically what they want, there will be an opportunity to provide the specific breed they seek. That’s the world we live in. Because I understand that, GoDaddy’s ad didn’t bother me.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m not an activist. I don’t go out in the world trying to make tangible changes. But, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried in the past. I started Meetup group in San Diego a few years back in an effort to change the world. The goal was to have like-minded people come together and share their ideas on how they could change the world on any scale (small or large). We would then discuss those ideas and agree on ways to fine tune them so that the ideas leaned more towards altruism than self-serving. Within that group we would assign random accountability partners that would make sure that the person to whom they’ve been assigned was actually following through on action items to implement their idea for change in the world. We had two successful meetings before a shrew infiltrated our group and criticized our plans and process. She kept insisting that “this isn’t how you change the world.” She went on to protest that everything we were suggesting was insufficient to effect global change. When asked how we could change the world, she had no specific answer, only more criticism of our attempts. I asked that she never return. It was after that that I moved away from San Diego and returned to school. I never re-started the group. I’m not an activist, I’ve never lobbied for anything in Washington, I’ve never called my local Congress woman. I want to make changes in the world, but much like personal training, I’m only willing to help those that are willing to help themselves (more about that later). While I’m not a reactivist, this blog post actually makes me a reactivist by the definition I laid out above. (Hello, self-awareness.)

Do you remember that time that everyone wore clown noses for poor kids? May 21st was Red Nose Day. I bought one of those noses from Walgreens. Basically, I paid a dollar for something (that doesn’t really fit on my big nose) so that 50 cents would go to “a campaign dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun”.  Based on a quick search it looks like over $100,000,000 was raised this year. I think that’s great. But, after the money is dispersed to help these kids, then what? (I want to be clear, I’m not criticizing Red Nose Day. I support Red Nose Day. I’m just suggesting that more can be done.) When I lived in San Diego I was a volunteer tutor for the Monarch School. “The mission of the Monarch School is to educate students impacted by homelessness and to help them develop hope for a future with the necessary skills and experiences for personal success.” In the spirit of doing more, we can give 50 cents to poor kids or teach them how to be successful. We can give them a fish or teach them how to fish. When I was there, six years ago, there were only two schools of its kind in the country. Why aren’t there more? With an estimated 1.6 million homeless children in the United States why isn’t there more action to elicit change?

Do you remember that time that people dumped buckets of icy water on their head in lieu of donating money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)? When given the option of donating money for ALS research or dumping an ice bucket on their head, so many people chose the latter that the trend went viral. “Fuck you, Lou Gehrig! I’d rather get this ice shower than donate money for research!” I know, a lot of money was raised for ALS research. But, did you ever survey friends that were doing the “ice bucket challenge”? How many of them had even heard of Lou Gehrig? How many of them had seen examples of how the disease manifests? How many reactivists did it because they were following a trend? How many people actually got involved by volunteering to help those living with ALS when their bank accounts didn’t offer the convenience of a donation? “Jet, come on! These ice showers were creating awareness!” In a society that has an attention span as long as 140 characters and about six months of pop culture happenings, that awareness won’t last. Try talking about the ice bucket challenge in ten years. You’ll get the same looks I get when I quote Chappelle’s show. Some people in the room get it, others think I’m weird.

It’s worth mentioning that the attention span of some people has been referenced in regards to the length of my posts. “That post was soooo long, I couldn’t read it.” It’s been suggested that I break up the density of words with pictures and other visual distractions. It’s been suggested that I write less. Fuck that. Read more, read faster, or both. I’m not going to water down my content because of short attention spans.

Do you remember that time that social media actually fueled a tangible revolution in Egypt? There are some instances when we see the benefits of social media. When typewritten words actually evolve into action and that action is the catalyst for change, that’s activism (root word act).

Do you remember that time that people changed their Facebook profile pictures to cartoon characters in order to “create awareness” about child abuse? Yes, that happened and it was just as pointless (read: stupid) as it sounds. The concept of creating awareness should not be confused with eliciting change. I actually got into a comment thread dispute with this one dude because he couldn’t answer a simple question. How will changing my profile picture stop children from being abused? I doubt that any child stopped being abused because someone had Mickey Mouse as their profile picture. Expecting any real world events to change or stop due to your profile picture is reactivism defined (read: ineffective).

Some would argue that the concept of control is a fallacy. But, there are some things that you can control. We have control over more than we realize. Have you ever heard the story about the person that was afraid to workout in a gym setting because they were concerned about judgment (of their lack of strength) from their peers? You read that right, some people have a fear of lifting weights due to physical weakness. How do you overcome physical weakness? You guessed it, lifting weights. Activism can also apply to the work that we do in the mirror to dismantle body image issues. It’s hard to go out and tackle world changes if you’re not confident in your own skin.

Do you remember that time when internet reactivists were outraged by body shaming? Well, it happens every goddamned day. What are they doing to elicit change? Well, here’s one stellar example. A man was dancing at a concert and others made fun of him because of his weight. The internet caught wind of it and decided to throw a dance party in his honor. Another rare example of social media doing some good. That’s activism… for that one dude. What about a more significant effort to elicit change against societal body shaming? As I mentioned above, I want to make changes in the world, but I’m only willing to help those that are willing to help themselves. Frustrated with the repeat occurrences of body shaming, I made an effort to elicit change. I came up with an idea to help change the conversations (and hopefully confidence levels) surrounding our bodies. I’ve posted about it before. I wrote, “It’s time that we talk about what we love about our bodies and the gratitude we have for our abilities (which comes from our bodies). Let’s change the conversation from Body Shaming to Body Faming. I’ve started a community art project called The way it will work is that people will submit anonymous (faceless) selfies with words of love, gratitude, and beauty about their own bodies. Take pride in your body, no matter the size.” The site has been active for almost two years now. I’ve had exactly two submissions. Perhaps I need a celebrity on a megaphone to make the site popular. Where’s Oprah when you need her!? As I mentioned, every goddamned day internet reactivists are lamenting on body shaming. But, what’s being done to fight back and take action? When I tell people about the response is always a bright and cheery, “that’s a great idea” or “I’m totally going to submit a photo”. After 100 of those responses, I’ve had exactly two submissions. When expressing my frustration for the lack of response, my friend reminded me that “people would rather complain than be creatively proactive about subverting the norms they hate”. That’s unfortunately true.

Takeaways If you don’t remember shit else…

~A hashtag is only a start, it is not the change itself. If you truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter then why haven’t you protested black-on-black crime with the same vigor as the recent deaths at the hands of police?
~This blog post isn’t intended to provide an instruction manual for activism. There are times when I try to make changes in the world, that’s just because I get tired of hearing myself complain.
~Use your intelligence to determine the difference between writing letters to empowered decision makers (read: not your like-minded friends on Facebook that will click ‘Like’ and keystroke your ego), pragmatic protests with specific and clear goals (think Selma), and the potential dangers of ochlocracy (looting and burning your own neighborhood only happens in crowds, think for yourself).
~This post is not an attempt to make change in the world, only to challenge the way you think. Before you consider yourself an activist (of any sort) ask yourself how much vigorous action you’ve taken versus the amount of typing you’ve done. Get up, get out, and do something. Are you living and breathing your cause or just posting something when you’re offended?
~Figure out the difference between starting/perpetuating conversations and taking (nonviolent) action as a catalyst for change. What are you doing to proactively elicit change in the world? If you’re doing nothing, stop complaining.