The Dad Workout: Week 1 of trying to get back in shape


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dad bod

“Hold out your arm. I want to measure your wrist.”

The speaker is Pat Henry, fitness instructor and personal trainer to the stars, who has been running his gym in Dublin’s Pembroke Street for over 30 years.

Pat is a big man, burly with a gym-built upper body. He has an old-school way about him; you sense he has seen men broken and rebuilt down here in his basement lair.

When Pat tells you to do something, you don’t mess around. Although I was a little surprised by the request – the wrist was not among the the body parts I thought he would measure – I held out my arm.

“Hmm,” says Pat. “Seven and a half inches. Quite big for a man.”

Pat is assessing me for a six-week fitness and weight-loss programme aimed at losing my “dad bod”, a phrase coined by blogger Mackensie Pearson last year to describe the kind of squidgy, non-threatening body men get when they hit their 40s.

“Girls,” said Pearson in a post last March which has since gone viral, “are all about the dad bod”, which she defined as “not an overweight guy” but not one “with washboard abs either”.

The dad bod apparently says: “I go to the gym occasionally but I also drink heavily on the weekends and eat eight slices of pizza at a time”.

The trend was picked up by New York magazine, which anointed Sex Tape star Jason Segel as the owner of the ultimate dad bod. Personally, I’m more along the Danny de Vito lines.

Pearson went on to point out that women “don’t want a guy that makes us feel insecure about our body. We are insecure enough as it is. We don’t need a perfectly sculpted guy standing next to us to make us feel worse.”

As the owner of a dad bod – or possibly two – I was quite pleased by its sudden and unexpected attraction to the opposite sex. However, my dad bod has passed the tipping point and crossed over into flab. Which is why I am standing before Pat Henry with a measuring tape around my wrist.

The concept of the dad bod would, I suspect, be lost on Pat. He’s seen these fads come and go. As far as he’s concerned, fat is fat no matter what you call it. He doesn’t deal in viral blog posts or tweets; he deals in muscle and pain.

“In our first session, you might feel nauseous,” he says. “It’s just that your body will secrete growth hormone and that can make you feel sick. If that happens, we will stop immediately.”

He gets me to stand on a fancy weighing machine. It has dials and displays and looks very high-tech. I half-expect it to say “Get off!” in a robot voice.

After a few seconds, it spits out a print-out. Pat tears it off and looks at it gravely. He glances at my paunch. Perhaps he will smile and say: “Congratulations! It’s a boy.”

“Not bad,” he says. “Fifteen stone, three pounds. The weight’s not bad. But the visceral fat is not great.” He tells me that a doctor would call me obese because my BMI (body mass index) would be high, but that doesn’t take into account my build.

Immediately, I dislike that word “visceral”. Ordinary fat I can handle, but visceral? “That’s the fat around your organs. It’s at 38 and should be about 12. But we can work on that.”

He measures my waist, biceps and neck. The measurements sound like they belong to another, much larger man. My neck is 18 inches, yet I buy size 16 shirts. My waist is 40 inches, yet I get 34 or 36-inch jeans. I must be retaining fluid, I decide.

Next comes a session with holistic therapist Michael Cantwell, who gives me an eating plan. It’s not really a diet regime, but more of a general guide to eating healthily. It’s based on low-GI foods, which release their sugars into the bloodstream more gradually.

There is very little wheat, sugar, rice or potatoes in there, I notice, and lots of vegetables, fish and lean meat. It’s low-carb, high-protein, but it looks doable. “I want it to be practical,” says Michael. “If it’s too hardcore, you start to resent it and it doesn’t work. Plus, diets that lose a lot of weight quickly just don’t work. The weight doesn’t stay off.”

My hour with Michael is quite reassuring. “The weight loss is 70pc the diet and 30pc the exercise plan,” he says. I am filled with a kind of New Year can-do attitude, a nervous excitement that makes my visceral fat wobble a little.

Back in the gym with Pat, I ask about the wrist measurement. “It’s the most important measurement I take,” he says. “It tells me what body type you are.”

“What type am I?”

“You’re a classic mesomorph,” he says. I discover later that mesomorphs are “hard, rugged, triangular, athletically built with well-developed muscles”, while ectomorphs are tall and thin and endomorphs and soft and round.

“I worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger,” says Pat, “and he was a classic mesomorph too.”

Forget about the visceral fat and the enormous waistline. These are the words I cling to afterwards. Arnie and me. Me and Arnie. Fellow mesomorphs. Brothers.

I pause at the desk on the way out. “I’ll be back,” I say.

My exercise programme was put together by Pat Henry of Henry’s Fitness Centre in Pembroke Street in Dublin, and the diet was overseen by holistic therapist Michael Cantwell. Over the course of the programme I lost 16lbs and improved my muscle tone and posture. It’s not easy – it takes a fair amount of perseverance – but I would definitely recommend it for any guys who used to play a bit of sport but who have let things drift since becoming a dad.

Coming soon: week 2.

Week 1 as it appeared in the Irish Independent.