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Hummel column: Why I'm keeping my shirt on

Do this right now: pull up your shirt at the waist and take a look at your belly. Rub your hand across it. Does it feel hard and look rippled like a washboard? If you don't know what a washboard is you can probably find one at a flea market or a museum with a display of old home devices and appliances. But we're talking about abs (abdominal muscles) today, not washboards and the cool bodies have abs that are rock hard and ripple with muscles and tension. Six pack abs they call them. They call them six pack abs because the abs look like the tops of six cans, three on each side. Very dramatic. Your belly doesn't look and feel hard and rippled? Neither does mine. Ok, now you can pull your shirt down again and we'll talk about abs.

America is going in two directions at once. First there is the epidemic of obesity that we read so much about and we can plainly see as we look in our mirrors and walk up and down the street. Bellies and butts are bigger than ever. But in spite of that, maybe because of that, there are more exercise machines on the market now than ever before, most of them targeted at our abs.

A recent one to catch my attention is a little bucket seat with handles on the sides. The handles are stationary but the bucket pivots from side to side. Shown on tv, you see a slender model sitting in the bucket, her legs out in front and she smiles and turns from side to side. She's working her abs. She's wearing a shirt without a middle and you can see her hard, flat tummy. "You too can have hard, flat abs in 15 easy minutes a day." All the ads emphasize EASY. No sweat appears on the girl's face or body. But you can imagine standing on the floor, no chair and no handles, hands on your hips and getting the same movement and exercise without the apparatus.

There's another gadget where a lovely, slender model rocks in this plastic bucket on the floor with handles over her shoulders. "No need to suffer with hard crushes (sit ups). It's easy and your abs will look like this in just six weeks." No sweat.

Now I've tuned in to another fitness ad and I'm looking at Traci -- "a 39 year old mother of four (in five years)." She signed up for a 12 DVD exercise and nutrition program with a resistance band thrown in. Traci is in tip top shape with what appears to be a 20 inch hard, tight waist, but her program says nothing about "easy." She does boxing moves, pushups, jumps, twists, turns and bends. Real sweat. The program is only $129.84 in four easy monthly payments. Dramatic results in 90 days. Just look at the "before" and "after" photos.

One machine is an inclined platform. You lie down on your back or stomach and pull on the handles and your entire body is pulled up on rollers. It looks easy. Not much sweat. You will see it demonstrated by the Texas Ranger and the former super model (I forget their names). They both look very fit. He looks muscular and she looks absolutely svelte. By changing their grips or rearranging the pulleys, they work different muscle groups.

There are machines that rock your feet front and back like you're skiing and the machines that move your legs from side to side, and based on photos, they shape your legs beautifully. Also no sweat. Just this morning I saw a new machine that is guaranteed to "sculpt your core." Promises, promises.

Or there is the super exercise machine with straps, pulleys, pushes and pulls of all designs and directions, a different exercise for every muscle of the body. This machine will cost you big bucks, but look at what it can go for you: it features a gorgeous model in a swimsuit, just walking out of the pool. No sweat, just suntan lotion. She claims she's a 50 year old grandmother. If she is, we should all get one of those machines.

What none of the ads tell us is that muscles are also built by honest physical work. I remember a guy named Barney who was on a section crew of the Soo Line Railroad. Every day Barney went out with a pick and shovel and labored under the hot sun wherever the railroad tracks ran. Nobody called it easy. Heavy duty sweat from morning till night. He didn't have time for workouts because he was working out for a living. Barney was a middleweight, but he had forearms like a heavyweight Popeye (can you remember Popeye the Sailorman?). I never saw Barney's abs, but I just know they were hard and flat. Shoveling dirt and sand, digging ditches, pitching bundles, laying bricks, concrete work, farm work, building and construction work all add attractive muscles. Big time sweat. Pushing a lawn mower rather than riding one also helps the waistline. The more labor saving devices we invent, the more we bulge around the middle.

The moral of the story is that if it looks too easy, it probably is. The slender gals who never sweat were born skinny. Flabs are easier than abs. No sweat, no six pack abs. Meanwhile, I'm keeping my shirt on.