In the March 7, 2008, edition of South Carolina Barbell’s email newsletter, I cited a short article on “muffin top” and how it can be battled with weight training. Prior to reading this article, I had never heard the term “muffin top” and was somewhat amused at its meaning. Muffin top is the bit of unsightly fat that pushes out of the top of your pants, giving your middle the appearance of the poofy top of a muffin. This particular blurb pointed toward post-menopausal women and showed scientific evidence that muffin top can be fought with consistent weight training.

Ok, so everyone in the fitness industry knows this. It’s what most of the programs we put our clients through are based on—getting rid of body fat. “Muffin top” and strength training aren’t new concepts. They’re just repackaged and more “catchy” than before. This article cited that strength training two times a week for 30 minutes is enough to fight this dreaded fat. You and I, as trainers, know that it takes a little bit more dedication than one hour a week to see any improvement or weight loss.

Well, in the interest of showing that people do read our newsletter (at least my mother does), the next time she and I got together she started a muffin top debate. She started the conversation by saying how depressing she found the article on muffin top to be and how unfair it was that life threw these things at hardworking people. (True enough—muffin top sucks!) She went on to talk about her personal genetics and the body shapes of her friends, who are all women in their 60s. She was trying to make the statement that because of genetics, muffin top must be a forgone conclusion that all these women can do nothing about.

I, getting a little bit tired of this argument, got feisty. “But mother,” I said, “you don’t strength train two times a week, and you are not on any cardio plan.” I proceeded to tell her about my clients who are in their 50s and 60s and who long ago made a decision to exercise. They strength train with me three times a week, walk five mornings a week, and remain active playing golf and tennis and doing yard work and other tasks. These women have fought muffin top and will probably always be in terrific shape. Now, with all of this said, I’m not saying that my mother is in bad shape. She is pretty fit because she rarely sits down and is constantly taking on some project or another. However, the one thing she doesn’t do is make enough time for structured exercise. That’s the difference between my clients and my mother.

Unfortunately, my mother fought back. “Well, I just don’t have the time. Your clients are probably all retired,” she said. “I guess I will just look like I do forever.” I responded that yes some of my clients are retired but some are not. All of them have families, grandchildren, elderly parents, jobs, husbands, and other responsibilities that cause them to lack just as much time as she does. Her response was, “Well, they have help doing things and I don’t. That is the difference.” She was getting pretty hot with me. I knew I had to get out soon, but my final comment was, “No, the difference is that they make the time to do the things that they need to do to stay fit, slim, and healthy. It is a choice.” Her parting shot was, “Well, I guess I am just not committed enough to make the time.”

Eureka!! After all of that, the truth is revealed. She is just not committed enough to make the time. Well, quit complaining about it then! I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the dichotomy between people’s complaints about how unfair life is that they are fat and their inability to commit to doing what it takes to fix the problem. I’m not just trippin’ on my mom here. It’s rampant, and the media doesn’t help. Every morning, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and even Martha Stewart do segments on working out that show bland, useless workouts focused on incredibly light weights and low set/rep schemes. They talk constantly about the need to be careful that you don’t hurt yourself. You NEVER see a segment that says exercise is hard. It should not be barrels of fun, and it may take a commitment of 2–4 hours a week to see the kind of results that you want. They don’t say this because it would scare people, but by not telling the truth, they are actually doing more harm than good.

I give talks to local women’s groups about my three hypotheses on women, aging, and working out. The crux of my talk is that as we age, our lives become more comfortable. We start to resist anything that feels like work. I find this especially true for those people whose children are grown and who are retired. I usually start my talk by asking for a show of hands of who works out. Then I ask those people what they do, and I get a variety of answers. Some women really are working out hard, but mostly, I get answers like this: “I walk every Saturday and Sunday with my friend. We walk about a mile.” “I play golf two times a week with my girlfriends, but we take golf carts because our bags are too heavy.” My favorite is, “I garden. You would be surprised at just how tough getting up and down is, and I have to use the wheelbarrow a lot. I just know I’m getting a ton of exercise.” I long to scream that this is what they do for fun. It’s just human movement for entertainment and has nothing to do with a regimented exercise plan. Yes, hauling 40-lb bags of mulch is difficult, but it isn’t exercise.

We all know someone middle-aged who has injured themselves leaning to pick up the remote or taking the garbage out. Usually these people are shocked that they got injured because they “workout.” It must be age they say and everyone around them shakes their head and says, “Yes, age is the one thing you just can’t fight.” Ask these people what they do to workout and they will probably tell you, “Well, I do the circuit at the Y and run on the treadmill.” Delve deeper and you will find out that the last time they did the circuit was a week ago, and though they ran on the treadmill this morning, they only had 15 minutes. “At least I did something they say. That has to count.”

In Columbia, our little gym gets a bad rap. Many of the trainers and gym owners in this town try to turn people against joining our gym by telling them that we are too hardcore, that they will get injured at our gym, or that we will push them into a training routine that is too rigorous. Instead, these gyms sell their clients cheesy circuits, jazzercise, low impact cross training, and other dinosaurs of the fitness age. Nobody sells hard work as a way to attain personal goals. Absolutely nobody! Our label as “hardcore” chases away potential clients who would enjoy and benefit from the cool, unique training tools that we implement on a daily basis. Nobody gets bored at our gym because they’re always doing something different, fun, and exciting. And it is ALWAYS difficult.

I guess the point of this manifesto is that fighting muffin top takes commitment and that is what we need to sell the public. Working out is a challenge, a learning experience, and a new way of life. Strength training, cardio, and nutrition are not for the feint of heart. To do it right, get results, and see the lasting benefits, you must take the time to do what it takes. A middle-aged woman should be strength training three times a week minimum with a decent amount of weight and intense bursts of cardio. A middle-aged man should follow the same routine. As trainers, we need to start selling this because nobody is making any progress following the workouts they see in the media.

I think it’s also imperative that we sell personal training. The point of training is to have an hour of work that is structured, paced, and fitting for the individual. Most people training themselves lack the focus and knowledge it takes to put together a program that can take them where they need to go. Most people who enter a gym don’t even know that they have problems that need to be corrected.

I’m changing my tune and telling everyone that they need to work with a trainer for the bare minimum of one time a month for at most three times a week. I push people to join group classes like the ones we have at our gym (kettlebells, yoga, and tai chi) taught by professionals as a lower cost alternative to one-on-one training. We have got to get people moving appropriately if we want to make a difference.

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