Friday, April 10, 2009

How'd You Get Those Abs? Here's How.

I am about to do something incredibly self indulgent. Several people have commented on my abs in past posts and have even asked me to blog about them. This cracks me up, because I see them as just my abs and not something that is particularly blog worthy.

You have all made me realize that my abs may just well be my best asset. I don't have any boobs to speak of, my legs are not long and slender, I have no waist or curves and look like a ten year old boy, and I am far from being someone who would turn any one's head. Don't even get me started on my toes and teeth.

I do, however, apparently have good abs. Honestly, I don't know what the secret is to toning the abs. But here's my story and some tips for what it's worth:

I have always been active and athletic. I will say, however, that I have been very inconsistent with exercise over the years and have greatly varied the type and amount of exercise I did.

I was a gymnast since the age of twelve (and was actually told by my coach that since I weighed 112 lbs, I need to lose 5 lbs...and people wonder why girls have eating disorders...although I will say I never had one although I did have "food issues"). Gymnastics really developed my core strength from an early age. Into my high school years I continued some gymnastics, but moved more into aerobics (did Jane Fonda religiously, remember the striped leotard that rode high on the hips?).

In college I was a sloth and gained a good 15 lbs made up mostly of beer and poor eating habits. Junior year in college a room mate introduced me to long distance cycling and took on this activity with a vengeance riding at least 100 miles/week, although I kept the 15 lbs. I did tone up quite a bit at this time. After college I pretty much stopped all exercise and looked like this (yes, this is me).
At my highest, I weighed 138 lbs, which is 28 lbs. more than I weigh now. I lived with a bunch of girls and literally all we did was drink and eat crap.

When I was 25 I moved to Richmond and met Ken, who is my current husband. I think it's true that when you fall in love food takes a backseat to all that adrenaline, lust and sex and you can quickly drop weight. I think I lost 15 lbs without even thinking about it. Ken and I cycled long distances (30-40 miles at a time and century rides). We moved out to Colorado and continued with the cycling, only this time we were riding on mountains. We did the famous "Ride the Rockies" one year which took us 600 miles in five days over major mountain passes.

Then...I got pregnant. You never know what your body will do during and following pregnancy and that 's pretty scary. Seeing my weight creep up on the scale was weird and not being able to exercise at the level I wanted to was difficult. I didn't obsess about this and just figured I would deal with getting back into shape after the baby came. This is where I got lucky and it really was luck vs. anything I did.

I gained 35 lbs when I was pregnant the first time and had lost 30 of those pounds within the first month of giving birth. My body just bounced back. I know people probably don't want to hear this, because this can be such a tough road for so many people (that is, losing the pregnancy weight). I swear it is must be in my genes because my mom did the same thing. For me, I did not exercise when Sam was a baby, but ate reasonably and nursed for a year (and this burns a ton of calories).

When Sam was two, I got pregnant again and had two miscarriages. My body was pretty messed up by this time because I had to have DNCs both times and my hormones were nuts. I was also pretty depressed. After emerging from the sadness, I trained for and completed my first triathlon (1/3 mile swim, 24 mile bike, 5 mile run). I was getting stronger and regaining lost muscle.

Then I got pregnant for the fourth time...and this time it stuck. Emma was born eight years ago. Actually today is her birthday.

I gained 30 lbs with Emma and quickly returned to my normal size. It wasn't until four or so years after Emma was born that I resumed any type of regular exercise. I will say that any time I exercised, I did at least 100 sit ups. I started running and cycling more and three years ago I started yoga. Yoga has done wonders for my strength, balance, muscle tone and mental/emotional/physical outlook. I only go once per week for 1 1/2 hours, but I am consistent.

With yoga it is very important to find a good teacher and to understand the importance of breath, relaxation, focus, slowing down and intention. I love yoga because it is all encompassing. When I started training for my first marathon last September, I never skipped yoga because I knew it would help prevent injury and keep my muscles lose and strong. I attribute my marathon success and first time marathon time of 4:03 to consistent training, yoga, and pure determination.
Here are my tips despite the fact that I am no trainer or nutritionist:
  • Take up yoga for relaxation, strength building, sculpting, balance and healthy ageing
  • Anytime you work out, end the workout with 100 sit ups - preferably crunches, bicycle and my favorite - laying flat on your back, arms extended over year head, legs stretched out in front, bring your knees up to your chest while simultaneously bringing our arms down to meet your knees.
  • Back in the days when I was struggled with my weight (in and after college) I found a book called "Break Free from Compulsive Eating." The message of this book was simple and one I have carried with me ever since: listen to your body. Food is not bad, food is good and food is fuel. If your body is hungry, decipher what it wants and feed it. DO NOT eat if your body is not hungry. Feel what it feels like to be full and satisfied. Just because it is lunch time does not mean you have to eat if you are not hungry. Listen to your body, this is the best way to detect what your body needs. Also trust your body to be honest with you. It may crave some kind of junk food, but it will soon want something healthy. Just listen and get in touch. This book was paramount in teaching me how to know myself better and the pounds started to disappear.
  • Be proud of your body regardless of the flaws you see. I have always been self conscious about my legs. They are muscular and I think they look like tree trunks. I have come to accept that these are the legs I will always have and am starting to appreciate that they are strong and capable even if they don't look the way I would like.
  • Always have a fitness goal be it a race, a class you attend, anything. This keeps you motivated and on track. The more you work out, are in touch with your body and realize how food and drink can help or hurt your workouts, the more you will pay attention to eating well and listening to your body.
  • These days I have a very healthy view of eating a good body image. Sure I eat crap sometimes and I probably drink more than I should. But I also eat very well in terms of balanced and healthful meals. All of our meals are home cooked by me. We don't do anything from cans or boxes and all fruits and veggies are fresh, not frozen. I buy organic stuff when I think it's warranted (strawberries, apples, the stuff that has the highest levels). It truly is all about moderation, exercise and eating only when hungry.
So you see, I have had my ups and downs with weight. I have also struggled with my eating issues at times. My exercise routines have been inconsistent over the years. But I'm happy to say that at 42 years old I'm at a great place physically, health-wise and emotionally. It just took some time and perseverance.


  1. Damn girl! Those are some sick abs.

    All great stuff. I'm trying to get pregnant right now, and honestly, "getting fat" is a real concern. It's comforting to see that someone somewhere who isn't in Hollywood with a personal chef and a tummy tuck can work their way back to shape while living a real life. You're an inspiration girl, and you better believe I'll be doing 100 sit-ups after my run tonight.

  2. Thank you for sharing this!

    My gut is my weak area. Yoga has helped a lot, but I need to take it more seriously to get rid of it. You've definitely inspired me to get it in check!

  3. WOW! Those abs are killer. I enjoyed your story and I am impressed. I think you have good genetics, a strong core, a solid understanding of what you put into your body and you exercise.

    I think I need to start doing sit-ups right now at my desk.

    Did I say WOW!

  4. Well, you just gave this thick-waisted, zero-hipped, flat-chested, tree-trunk-legged girl some hope. :)

    Your body has been through a lot and you've taken care of it beautifully. Happy birthday to Emma!

    As for running Richmond-- I am hesitant because when my friend ran it, it was terribly hot and he got a cramp during mile 15 (which had never happened in training) and basically walked the rest. Horror! From the little I know I think Philadelphia might be faster.

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  6. Wow....those are some awesome go girl! I love reading your story and all of your tips. :)

  7. wow you really do have amazing abs!!!! such a great post and definitely so inspiring. its always nice to see moms that are looking awesome, esp for girls like me who want babies sometime down the road and are nervous about the whole body aspect of it. thanks for sharing your story and workout tips!! i have really tried to be better about my abs this time around, and i can see little changes, but i just need to be more consistent i think.

  8. WOW.. Great abs.. I am so super jealous. Even when I am at my goal weight my belly is not so pretty. It is obviously my problem area. Someday I hope to have nice abs to be proud of.

  9. What a great story! It's very inspiring to see a person whose body gets better with age! Thank you for sharing about that book, it looks like one that I'm reading right now by Bethenny Frankel, I think I'll give this one a try as well.

    Thanks : )

  10. Well Beth....this was extremely inspiring and I think you from the bottom of my heart.
    In fact my blog will be a response to yours but because I am going to talk about some harder issues I will be posting it on Lisa Unleashed.

  11. Great Lisa. I will wait for it. Can't wait to read.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story. It is very inspiring. You do have incredible abs! Wish mine looked that good! Have a great weekend!

  13. officially jealous. end of story.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  15. Beth you are such an inspiration!!! I want to grow up and be just like you! :-) You're the best, and you are just as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside! Love you!

  16. Wow, I hope I have abs like that after 2 kids. You look amazing. Great post about eating habits too, I completely agree with your outlook on hunger, it really is about listening to your body.

    BTW - my spelt tortillas are from Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers. They are Rudi's brand.

  17. ok i was one of the people asking, so thanks!! first that college pic does not even look like you!!

    well I'm doing daily ab work and hoping the yoga starts kickign in for me too :)

  18. Wow I am in love with your abs.. and that was a great story! Thanks for the inspiration! I love your blog too by the way =)

  19. Wow..those are impressive abs. I'll have to take notes and continue up with all my exercise. 100 crunches is a great idea at the end of the workouts.

  20. My mom tells me I have tree trunk legs. Other than that, I love her.

  21. dude, you DO have good abs...your body type sounds like mine. 5'4, 110lbs, No boobs, no waiste.....just built like a boy lol.but your abs are SO much better than write more but I have to go do some sit ups.....

  22. This is a really late comment but this post totally spoke to me. 16 months after having a baby I still have muscle pain where his stubborn head was jammed into my ribs for 9 months. I don't lack motivation to run, but I need to Shut Up and Do Crunches!