Nothing alerts you to your fitness levels more than chasing kids around – but getting in shape doesn’t necessarily mean turning into Hugh Jackman.
I’m sure many of us will recall back in 2015, when the infamous Vin Diesel dad-bod photos appeared. Paparazzi shots showed the typically buff Fast & Furious star on a hotel balcony, looking like – well – an ordinary forty-something man, with classic male pattern baldness, a pot belly, and not exactly man-boobs, but hardly rock-hard pecs either.
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Diesel, not unreasonably, hit back against being body-shamed, and had soon enough reverted from porky back to beefy in time for Fast & Furious 8. Such is the life of a Hollywood star, and surely they can be excused for letting themselves go between jobs.
In any case, the main thing that I personally took from that whole storm in a teacup was: damn, I work out five days a week, and I still look more like Dad-Bod Diesel than Fast & Furious Diesel.
Now, I should stress right away that I don’t take this as a point of shame. Not long ago, our editor Tom sang the praises of the dad-bod, and I’m largely in agreement with him on the subject, particularly when it comes to the unrealistic ideal physiques constantly being sold to us in the media.
Even so, I make a point of working out on a regular basis, not because I expect to wind up looking like Hugh Jackman, but simply because I feel better for doing so. Fatherhood has played a key role in adopting this habit.
Just to give a little personal history for context: I’ve never been into sports at all, but I was fairly lean growing up (5 ft 10, 30-32 inch waist, 11-12 stone), and had flirted with working out over the years without ever making a regular, serious thing of it.
Around 7 years ago, as my son was just starting primary school and my wife was going back to work after having our daughter, circumstances dictated that I take on the role of stay-at-home dad. (I’m a writer; obviously my wife has the more secure, better paid job.)
Like any good house-husband, my parenting typically involved plonking both of us down in front of the TV with a packet of chocolate digestives. This was a daily routine for much of the first two years of my daughter’s life: “biscuit” was one of the first words she could use in context.
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Naturally, it didn’t take long for this lifestyle to take its toll on my gut (34-36 inch waist, 14-15 stone). This didn’t concern me too greatly, but I started noticing on our occasional ventures outside (i.e. taking her to the shop for more chocolate digestives) that I’d be sweating and short of breath before we were even halfway there.
The real wake-up call came on a family day out to the country, when my son and nephew dragged me into a game of tig. Getting into the spirit of things, I chased after them as fast as I could – and within two minutes I was red-faced and hyperventilating.
Clearly, changes needed to be made. First order of business, cutting down on the biscuits; no easy task, that. Second, I had to start taking better care of my body. But as a stay-at-home dad, I didn’t have the time or money for a gym membership; nor, frankly, the inclination, as the few times I’d been in such places I hadn’t liked them much.
The solution I found was the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, a DVD workout plan which has you doing 30 minutes, daily, for 30 days (duh). Now, this may be the point where I lose some male readers: why would any self-respecting manly man do a woman’s workout?! Well, I’m not particularly manly (nor, as it happens, too self-respecting), but either way I defy anyone, male or female, to not find it a challenge.
While I haven’t done the 30 Day Shred again for some time, it informed my whole approach to working out. Never mind gyms; you can do it at home whenever you have half an hour to spare.
Just get some dumbbells and/or kettlebells, a mat for floor exercises, and some clothes you don’t mind stinking up to high heaven with sweat. And with Youtube, untold numbers of routines are right there for you, free of charge.
So why do all this if it doesn’t leave me as ripped as Chris Hemsworth? For reference, I still wear 34 inch jeans and I’m still over 14 stone, though I’d like to think more of that’s muscle now. Ahem.
But the bottom line is, it simply makes me feel better. I’m far less prone to exhaustion when chasing after the kids. I used to suffer quite often from back ache and acid indigestion; nowadays I almost never get either, which I have to attribute to improved circulation.
Then there are the oft-heralded psychological benefits of exercise. Like many of us, for the longest time I dismissed the notion that endorphins released from exercise give you a buzz; but honestly, it makes a difference.
I find that if I go too long without working out, I feel sluggish, out of focus; not a great state to be in, either as a dad or a writer. On such occasions, I’ll try to get a quick workout in, and it really does give me a boost.
Still, though I’ve upped the protein intake and reduced the junk food, I haven’t given up biscuits completely, nor do intend to. I suppose I could cut out all the sugar, alcohol and dairy, eat nothing but kale and fresh fish, and quadruple my workout time if the “Daniel Craig stepping out of the water” look mattered that much.
But a) I can’t afford to eat that way, nor would I fancy it; b) my spare time is limited as it is; and c) who would it really be for? Certainly not my wife, who’s made it clear that she doesn’t even like muscles like that, assuming she’s not just sparing my feelings.
Not that I’m disparaging those who pursue that kind of physical perfection. If you have the means and the motivation and it makes you happy, go for it. But that’s not the be-all and end-all of fitness, and you don’t have to look that way in order to feel good about yourself.
Yes, I like working out. But when the weekend comes, if it’s a choice between looking down at eight-pack abs or a four-pack of Brewdog, I know which is the more likely result for me. I’ll have one for Vin Diesel while I’m at it.