No need for springtime abs

female model wearing a black dress posing in a springtime meadow

Photo by Luis Zambrano on

It’s springtime. In Toronto, this means that the weather is all over the place. Some days the temperatures reach double-digits, other days, there is snow and ice in the forecast. Either way, I often wear the wrong clothes this time of year. Too warm while running and too cold while doing everything else.

Springtime means that some of us are thinking about family gatherings where we will eat chrain (horseradish) on gefilte fish and matzo ball soup or cabbage borscht. Others are thinking about their baked ham with all the fixings or the tofurkey with mushroom gravy or they are dreaming of semolina cake drenched in sweet syrup. Many are thinking about how to avoid THAT relative or THAT conversation at the dinner table.

Springtime also means that there is a high likelihood that people who haven’t been exercising as much as they’d like, during the winter, start thinking they want to get in shape for spring/summer.

A white round clock with black numbers and a light wood trim against a white wall. The time is ten to six. Is it time to exercise?

I think it’s great if people want to increase their fitness level. I am supportive of adding exercise to your life, either at all or more than you already practice. But for the love of spring gatherings, please know that you do not have to “go all out”. You do not need to try for “six-pack abs”. You do not have to go from 0 to 100. Not only do you not have to, but, you shouldn’t. It won’t be sustainable. You may injure yourself. You probably will think of it as a chore or punishment if you go too hard. It frustrates me to think that exercise, which should be enjoyable, is often practiced in a way that makes people think of it as punishment.

As someone who is committed to exercising, regularly, at all times of the year, I offer caution. A friend once said to me that your hair should fit your life, not the other way around. That advice has stuck with me. I think the same is true with exercise. It should fit your life. You shouldn’t have to mold your life too much to accommodate regular exercise.

If you feel you need to ramp up your workout because it’s spring – go for it. But keep it sustainable.

I fear people see the flower buds emerging and start thinking they need to belch off their spring feasts and go all out. That may work for some but I think it is much more realistic to make a plan. Start small. Do a little more at a time. Be prepared to adjust your original plan and tweak it. A regular, sustainable, exercise plan looks more like the steady up and down of a picture of a standard electrocardiogram reading than a picture of going up a mountain one-way. It’s more likely that there will be a regular habit a year or two from now with a measured, flexible, plan rather than a “get six-pack abs my summer” plan.

What does a sustainable plan look like? If you haven’t been exercising at all and you are thinking about taking up running, try a couch to 5K. If you have been regularly running a 5K, think about training for a 10K. I advise against going from nothing to training for a half-marathon. And, if you start a couch to 5K and you feel comfortable staying at 3-4K for awhile, then do that and move along when you are ready.

If you haven’t been doing anything and you want to start going to the gym, try a few out – perhaps try Class Pass or similar where you can try a few different gyms to see if they fit your personality, needs, pace, etc. Then once you find one that you really like consider buying more passes there. I advise against buying a year long membership at a gym that you haven’t tried out more than once. And, if you find you don’t like the gym atmosphere, try some at-home workouts. There are many apps and YouTube videos to choose from these days and they can be just as effective. You can also do your own body weight exercises at home. I may have shared a video about that recently.

Also, don’t try to do too many things at once. If you are trying a new training program, don’t worry too much about what you are eating – other than that you are listening to yourself when you are hungry. Eat things that make you feel good before or after you work out. Different things work for different people. Try to tune out the chatter in some gyms/fitness spaces about what you should or shouldn’t eat. It is rarely helpful information and making too many changes at once is often a recipe for disaster (well, not really a disaster but maybe finding yourself back at square one, which is also OK, because there is always opportunity to try again – with small steps).

You may be encountering “influencers” showing off their springtime abs and telling you how to achieve them. I am here to tell you that you don’t need “springtime abs”. No one “needs” a “six-pack” on their abs. There is nothing in my life that having “six-pack abs” would enhance. But – better focus, stress relief, more energy, better sleep, feeling stronger – all of these things are achievable over time and are sustainable over time. You’re more likely to feel all these benefits for the long haul if you start out small and build, as opposed to, “going out hard” or seeking some other unattainable or unsustainable goal that will only leave you more frustrated.

I came across the following advice on a stranger’s social media the other day, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.”

Apparently this advice is from “The Ethics of the Fathers” a collection of wisdom from the Jewish Talmudic sages, in this case, Rabbi Tarfon, who lived and taught 2,000 years ago.

I am no where near a Talmudic scholar but I understand that the saying “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it” could apply to your career, your family life, and so many other parts of daily life. I think it can be summed up in “enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination”. Similarly, It says you have an obligation to labor, to continue trying and making your way through the world, in essence, making a difference (more likely meant for bigger implications than exercise but how we feel affects how much energy we have to put towards higher social endeavours). At the same time, the advice also focuses you on the effort, not the outcome. The main idea is the project, not the success. Success can be measured in many different ways and I think that is best left up to the individual. But, when it comes to exercise, I think it is wise to consider enjoying the journey, putting in the effort that works for you, that challenges you, for where you are at that moment, and not focus on an arbitrary and not always achievable outcome, such as the shape of a particular part of your body. You are more likely to allow exercise to become a regular habit if you focus on the benefits you receive while doing the work day-to-day and to make the journey manageable and inspiring, rather than, excessive and tiring. You may never have six-pack abs, but you may feel better, body and mind, from doing the regular work.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto and enjoys her regular exercise routine of running, strength and conditioning, yoga/meditation and walking everywhere.

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