Invite me to brunch and bring up weight, weight loss or weight gain in any capacity and I will throw a buttered baguette at your head.
In the grand journey to fitness and wellness, the numbers on the scale provide the least context, reflect the least amount of progress and are therefore, arguably, the most irrelevant measure of someone’s fitness. Couple that with the completely tired ideal that bodies are supposed to look, fit, weigh and carry a certain way at all times, regardless of genetics or life stage, and we’ve got ourselves a classic case of the impossible.
After the birth of my first child, I tipped the scale at 215 pounds. For context, both a refrigerator and my husband, who is 6’2”, steadily weigh 215 pounds. I call this out to further highlight that weight alone is a dumb measurement of someone’s health and fitness. By and large, weight and fat (and for some, muscle) gain is a completely normal and expected part of pregnancy and postpartum. To tap our toes and check our Fitbits in anxious anticipation of our bodies shrinking immediately after giving birth is a product of the Marketing Machine, and not at all a realistic expectation of a woman who just spent the better part of a year growing a human while simultaneously sustaining herself and, likely, others.
After a few months of existing in a new body that was carrying more, moving slower and taking up different amounts of space, I emerged from my mom cave and worked my way back into the gym, knowing full well it’d be a slow and winding road of retraining, rebuilding and re-establishing my footing in the fitness world. Let me be explicitly clear: it is perfectly acceptable and appropriate to appreciate and respect your body while also wanting it to change. An auto-immune disease plus hormonal imbalances as a result of rapid weight and fat gain is a recipe for chronic joint pain and immobility. These issues, plus an admitted sprinkling of the deep-seated social pressures mentioned above, were my motivations to getting back into the gym.
Anyway, one morning, I received a text from my friend and fellow coach asking if I’d like to do the day’s workout together that afternoon. I remember this particular workout had burpees in it and, for the first time in over a year, I would be able to do them without a basketball hanging from my belly. Nobody ever gets excited about doing burpees, yet here I was, giddy at the thought.
While a normal burpee workout would have me feeling fatigued but accomplished, after that workout, I found myself feeling a different type of way:
“Being overweight freaking sucks — this is so hard,” I said to my friend, exasperatingly. This new body with all its heaviness and slowness and space-invading couldn’t do a basic functional movement without immense struggle. But in that moment, I was slapped silly with unexpected perspective, as this experience allowed me to view fitness beyond the lens of a lifetime athlete and instead as a vast majority of our members seeking change, betterment and overall health and wellness — all of whom began their fitness journey from different starting lines with different handicaps of their own.
In The Morning Chalk Up’s article, “Does a CrossFit Coach Need to Look Fit,” the author, Athena Perez, founder of @webelongcrossfit, politely answers in many kind and well-written words: “No, you idiots.”
I found this excerpt extremely relatable and all the more inspiring:
“Does there have to be a benchmark on what someone looks like physically before somebody takes them seriously as a coach? This is not something we ask of football coaches or baseball coaches. In these sports, the coach is judged on the success of his athletes, not his appearance. That is the measure of a coach,” Perez said. “Can he inspire? Can he motivate? And can he give the instruction on what he wants the athletes to do?”
So, as I press on in my coaching career, and as you, fellow coaches, do the same, perspective has to become paramount. Forcing an InBody scan on our athletes and instructing them to bend their body image to an arbitrary baseline is a complete and total disservice to both them as human beings, and you as a coach. Weight, age, body fat percentages, muscle mass percentages … all fine data points when compounded together. But, how can we meet our athletes where they are, instead of shame them into where they “should” be? How can I program a workout for an athlete recovering from gastric bypass surgery and rebuilding years of joint stress and weakness that will inspire them, motivate them and reveal their progress to them? How can I encourage the newly postpartum mom that doing a burpee does get easier, and find modifications that make her feel like she’s scaling up instead of down?
The ability to approach coaching empathetically, and walk each athlete toward their path to success is the measure of a good coach — not necessarily how many likes you get on a Reel of you doing shirtless butterfly pull-ups to a Puddle of Mudd song.
Sadie Flynn is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and former collegiate athlete with a penchant for power lifts. As a new mom, Sadie is deeply passionate about pregnant and postpartum fitness and wellness, and works hard to help women take care of their bodies before, during and after birth. When she’s not coaching at CrossFit Renew, or forcing her 90s alternative music beliefs upon you, you can find her somewhere outside with a beer, her husband, two dogs and their rambunctious toddler.