June 17, 2016

Let's Talk Fitness Bodies

I knew it would happen. It was inevitable really. As a member of the fitness industry, I assumed that eventually body image would become "a thing" that I was drawn into. After all, the fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely focused on looking fit, chiseled abs, and thigh gaps. In recent years, there have been improvements and progress to have a more diverse range of bodies represented but we still have work to do.

The other day in my post, I made a random comment about wondering if my body is right for the fitness industry and I was really interested in the comments that rolled in. For the most part, I'm pretty comfortable with my body. I understand it. I know it. I am honest with myself when I need to cut back on the treats. I know when I need to bulk up on calories when I am marathon training and historically, have dropped lbs. Most of the time, I don't obsess over my size. Every once in a while, I'll think about what would happen to my abs if I quit eating ice cream. But then after dinner, I say "screw it," cookies and cream ice cream is delicious. I have a pretty healthy relationship with my body and food.

It started last week with a few simple things. A meeting at the gym led to discussions of fitness videos and ensuring the trainers had the "right look" for the videos. Immediately I wondered if I fit this image. In my head, I assumed not, thinking about my thicker thighs and less than perfectly sculpted abs. And then a client asked if I had played soccer. I told them "no" and tried to put it out of mind. Deep down, I knew the question was an inquiry into my thicker (read: strong) legs. It stung a bit. I'm not ever going to be a leggy girl. It's just not my build.

When I think about my legs, I don't usually worry about their size. Instead I worry about what's going on inside. Are my quads strong enough to support my creaky knee? Are my hamstrings smooth and long, instead of adhesion-filled knots? These legs have carried me countless miles. They have helped me hike technically challenging trails. They have pushed off thousands of pool walls. They helped me leap off the blocks at swim meets. They have carried me across four marathon finish lines.

And then there are abs and the ever-present photos of abs that often surface in the fitness industry either as motivation or progress photos. In the last year, I have developed my own set of baby abs. I don't really bare them much unless I am in a bathing suit. I have to work really hard for them. My mid-section tends to be the spot where any excess fluff collects. So when my baby abs start to pop out, I feel psyched. But they're not Jillian Michaels-quality abs. They are Christine Suter abs. And in all honesty, I'm pretty stoked to see them peeking out these days. They remind me that I am getting strong and lean.

When the topic of fitness bodies or runner bodies surfaces, I can usually count on my circle of friends to come to a quick and simple consensus - there isn't one body type that represents fitness (or running). And I agree, 110%. It isn't about being a size two, having ripped abs or a big thigh gap. As a trainer, I would much rather see a client improve basic health metrics like blood pressure, BMI, lean body mass, and waist to hip ratio than get down to a size two. So I guess it's time to apply this logic to myself, yes?

I've spent several days pondering this and have arrived at my own thoughts on what having a "fitness body" means.
- Strong
- Capable
- Resilient
- Possessing endurance
- Flexible

That sounds pretty generic, doesn't it? Well in some ways it is. I don't really believe being fit is about having a specific look. Some people are blessed with a predisposition for slender legs while others are blessed with dense muscle fiber making muscle definition easier to attain. At the end of the day, if someone is an appropriate weight, and seeks opportunities to enhance their physical well-being, they're good, right?

Related articles:
- Why aren't more gyms and fitness trainers embracing body positivity? from Well+Good
- Yoga Bodies discussion from Well+Good
- Fitness Professionals: Do you Feel Pressured to Maintain 'The Look'? from Fitknitchick
- The Fitness Industry: Does it REALLY pressure you to look a certain way? from LAQFitness

So tell me, what does the term fitness body mean to you? How do you define fitness in a physical context...or do you?


  1. Fitness body? It's a body that's strong and can get things done. In my 50s, I'm thrilled with what my body can do. I think I'm finally at peace with how I look. I spent most of my life hating my wide waist and rounded belly. I'm disturbed by the Fitspo posts that permeate every facet of social media! Again, we are bombarded with unrealistic body images. Sigh! I'm actually working on a post about "race weight", which is another subject that gets to me...

  2. I'm not in the fitness industry, but things like fitness bodies don't bother me. If the personal trainer or group instructor knows their stuff, that's what matters, not necessarily what they look like. There's only so much you can control and a lot of it is genetics (some people build and show muscle more), diet, hydration, the types of workouts you're doing, supplements, etc. The people who are pictured in competitions or showing off muscles don't look like that year-round or even for more than a day or so if it's a competition. It just creates unrealistic expectations. And don't even get me started on before and after pictures. I'm convinced there's a guide out there to taking them that tells people to look super depressed in the before but smile happy in the after... so no wonder the pics look better.

    One of the best personal trainers I know is a guy who lost a ton of weight. He has some sagging skin and doesn't have a fitness body, but he knows his stuff, cares about his clients, and is a rockstar athlete. Personally and attitude is more important than me than what someone looks like.

  3. I believe fitness comes in all shapes and sizes! Just because you are a size 2 doesn't necessarily mean that you are in shape. Not everyone has the body type to look like what society deems as fit. Each day I am amazed at what my body can do. I don't have those chiseled abs but I'm happy with my body. I think that's what matters.

  4. amen, girl! thank you for writing this - i'm right there with ya!

  5. Because people come in all shapes and sizes, I don't believe that there can be just one definition of a "fitness body." What is considered to be fit for some may lead to somebody else being under or overweight, particularly when you factor in their height and body composition. The way you feel about yourself is much more important than how you physically look to others.

  6. I'm with you on all of this and I think your checklist is spot on. THOSE are important qualities of a fitness body. My personal fitness is about making progress and improving in some manner. It doesn't matter if my abs are lost because I won't cut out "bad" foods, but bit by bit progress (distance, effort, speed, consistency) does matter to me. :)

  7. Ah . . . body image. You know I struggle with that one. I think sometimes being in the fitness industry an be quite dangerous for some people, too.

    As to abs, yeah, I have rolls. I also have really nice obliques actually. But the rolls are there. I know they stem from my food choices, for the most part, although sometimes I also wonder how much is due to gaining and losing 40 lbs several times in my life & the fact that I'm in my 50s.

    So I don't work my abs to get abs, per se, but because I know a strong core is good for every aspect of my life. I sort of accept the fact that I'll never have a 6 pack because I love my sweets and probably always will.

  8. Everyone has their own reason to work out. Not necessary to lose weight or to get those chiseled abs. I know a lady had mentioned this one time at our gym and one of the instructors had said maybe she's here to have some"me" time away from her kids. Maybe she is happy with herself and just enjoys working out to feel good. Not necessarily with an end result in mind.Being fit means different things to everyone.

  9. i love this! everyone is different and people have various definitions strong. it is about what the person does-I dont think I would make a great crossfitter but I do enjoy running so I focus on building my endurance

  10. I have to say, I am turned off by fitness magazines and video with people who are really long and lean, because I'm not either. My brain tells me they are not for me. So, yay for body diversity in fitness programs.

  11. I guess we are all different. I was asking a trainer at Orange Theory about a move and he was nicely trying to find a way to say that I was able to use a weight more similar to the men's than the women's for that particular move because of my... stutter...stutter... awkward pause - so I just said it for him "big man thighs" and laughed.

  12. If there is one thing I've noticed in my running group the last few years, it's that there is not perfect runner body. We come in all shapes and sizes and I've learned not to pre judge someone's running ability by the way they look.

  13. Great post, and I love how you are thinking about having "a fitness body." I like to think about what my body can do for me and what I can do for it-- not so much how it looks. As a society, we seem obsessed with the way bodies look and I am not sure why.