Help me help my husband put on weight or deal with the way his body is.
May 26, 2012 9:06 PM   Subscribe

My husband has always been skinny. I love his body and everything about him but once in a while, he starts talking about how he wants to work out and gain weight.

There are two issues here: one is a health issue and one is a relationships issue.

The health issue: My husband has always been skinny. The first time I saw him in a pair of shorts, I nearly cried because his legs are so skinny. He's a healthy guy but he's one of those people with a great metabolism. He doesn't work out, he eats whatever he wants, and he's still skinny. I love his body and everything about him but once in a while, he starts talking about how he wants to work out and gain weight.

The relationship problem: When he talks about working out and gaining weight, he talks about joining a gym. I've taken him to a gym before and he just gets bored. My workouts involve yoga and running. He runs with me occasionally but not seriously. Since it's getting hot out, I prefer to run in the mornings but he is not a morning-running person. He's gone to yoga but he doesn't like it. He says that he doesn't like it when people tell him what to do so I feel like that rules out all or most fitness classes. So I don't know what to suggest.

I feel like this is one of those things where we just kind of go around in circles once in a while. I want to be supportive of his interest in gaining weight and working out but he'll say he's interested in joining a gym, I'll say okay, he'll say, no, I mean it this time, I'll say okay, end scene. I've asked him what he wants to do, he doesn't really know. So where do we go from here?
posted by kat518 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Running and yoga will emphatically not help him gain any weight.

If he wants to put on muscle mass, he'd need to be lifting free-weights and lifting heavy. "Lifting heavy" is relative, he'd just be lifting amounts of weight that he can only pick up 3-5 times at a go before exhaustion.

Lifting is, for me, unbelievably boring. Some people like it.

It pains me a little bit to say this, but if he wants to take a serious shot at this, he should probably find one of those gyms that's kind of macho and smells bad and is just a big room full of heavy things. The only machines you'd want to see are maybe some rowing machines for warmup and possibly a squat machine (squatting free-weights is a better workout but substantially more dangerous). If you guys can find one of those around where you live, one of the hulking brutes that works there should be able to set him up with a program.
posted by kavasa at 9:12 PM on May 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

get him a couple dumbbells. he can lift at home as he wants to. if he enjoys it, start looking for a weight bench and a set of weights. he might just not be one for the gym experience.

also, i knew someone with a super fast metabolism that would actually cause him to pass out a few times a week. he started drinking weight gain shakes and lifting and he stopped passing out and grew some muscle mass.

as to the relationship issue - be supportive. don't try to fix more than he wants fixed. check in often to find out how much he's just talking and how much he wants to change something. keep reassuring him that you think he's beautiful but that you support a body shape change if that's what he wants.
posted by nadawi at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Invest in a barbell and power rack: you can pick sets up for a song on craigslist or ebay, and once you have them, they will cover the strength training needs of everyone in the house, liberate you from gym fees forever, and promote proper and efficient training without bother or distractions. The only further expenditure I suggest is a copy of the latest edition of Starting Strength.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:24 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stepping away from statements like

he's one of those people with a great metabolism.

might help make him feel "heard," since if he's self conscious about his weight, pulling the "oh you don't REALLY have a problem, you lucky dog!!" trick isn't going to help.
posted by spunweb at 9:26 PM on May 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

He might enjoy getting hooked into a community like Starting Strength or StrongLifts. Both have online presences, and active forums.
posted by quivering_fantods at 9:28 PM on May 26, 2012

Strongly seconding spunweb. I'm a small woman who wants to gain weight/muscle and I get so much infuriating pro-weight loss/pro-skinny talk from people who are close to me that it really grinds me down sometimes (e.g. when I got food poisoning and lost five hard earned pounds, my mom's response was "let's see if you can KEEP it off!"). I'm sure you are very supportive, but please be aware of how your words can sound less so.
posted by telegraph at 9:31 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends on his temperament, but Fitocracy is a points-based website that tracks workouts in detail. There's also a community aspect where you can find other people with similar goals and encourage each other.
posted by wnissen at 9:39 PM on May 26, 2012

Not to be contrarian, but I don't think just getting some dumbbells or a barbell is enough. Unless you have a lot of room in your house, then you want to join a gym with at least: a squat rack, a bench, and a full set of dumbbells.

Working out and gaining weight means lifting heavy weights, making sure that the protein intake is high enough (you need supplements), and getting enough sleep.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:50 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does he expect you to plan and implement his workout program? It sounds like you've tried to introduce him to a number of things and he hasn't liked them. You described those attempts under the heading "the relationship problem," which leads me to believe that there is some mutual frustration with the fact that you haven't been able to find a suitable activity. If I'm reading your question correctly, my advice is to stop trying to figure it out and be supportive of his attempt to find a solution.
posted by Hermes32 at 9:54 PM on May 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

Having abstract "I want to get bigger/stronger/lose 10 pounds" goals aren't the most effective for actually meeting those goals. The easiest way to achieve these goals is to use them as a means to an end.

For example, instead of working out to get bigger/stronger, perhaps working out to run a 10K/win a crossfit competition/be a good ultimate frisbee player will be a better motivator. In my experience, it's a lot easier to put the work in when those 1-2 hours fly by because you're having fun. He'll also have to eat more if he's working out intensely like this, and he'll just get bigger without thinking too much about it. It's a pretty nice feeling when you complete that big goal you've had in your calendar for a few months, and you just passed a mirror and caught a glimpse of yourself, and your arms look pretty big, don't you think?

Offer some suggestions for activities that he might find fun, and who knows, maybe you'll find an interesting, active hobby too.
posted by marcusesses at 10:07 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

If the issue is that he needs someone else to figure it out for him, and he is not motivated to keep going, then I highly recommend joining a gym and finding a good personal trainer. I am the personality type I just described there, and getting a personal trainer was the fix for me. He figured out the workout and eating plan for me, and having an appointment every week is the only thing that kept me going back to the gym, because he was waiting for me. I went once or twice a week additionally, because my trainer-led workouts would KILL ME if I left it a while week in between. Also, having someone to talk to between sets made it less boring.
posted by Joh at 10:07 PM on May 26, 2012

I have found that CrossFit has put muscle on my previously skinny frame. Though, the instructors will point out what a beginner is doing wrong and correct it. I'm not sure how you could learn to lift weights without instruction though.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:25 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if he (and you) would be interested in a boxing gym? Punching the snot out of a bag is surprising fun, and it might motivate him to also get into a regular heavy lifting routine at the gym.

He didn't like being told what to do in yoga class, but boxing instruction might be different.
posted by quivering_fantods at 10:43 PM on May 26, 2012

I don't understand how it's a health issue. Does he have health problems for being underweight?

He's a healthy guy but he's one of those people with a great metabolism.

Why the "but"? What's the problem?
posted by bearette at 11:03 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gaining weight is boring! Running will not bulk a person up. Lifting weights will. He needs to understand that.

Honestly, it sounds like he doesn't want to put in the work but would love it if bulking up just magically happened. It won't. From the relationship perspective and your perspective, I think your best play is to be supportive generally... but stop short of taking active steps to help or encourage him.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:06 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

He needs to do it himself. It's great that you want to be supportive but this is his deal to manage (or not).
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:22 PM on May 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm lost, what is the relationship problem? He wants to join a gym, you want to run and do yoga. Okay, split up and do different things. Surely you can manage to be apart for short periods of time?

Or is he not doing what he says he would? Why do you care what he does with his body? If its unhealthy, has he seen a doctor? If so, it's between him and his doctor. You wouldn't want him telling you to gain or lose weight would you?
posted by desjardins at 12:11 AM on May 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Speaking as someone who used to be excruciatingly skinny and is now more normally skinny: he will probably gain some muscle with nearly any type of regular, weight-bearing exercise program -- provided he eats enough. People tend not to stress this part, especially because it often seems like they're eating so much already, but in my experience it's very easy to underestimate how many calories a tall male human really burns through in a day. For a point of comparison, I'm 6'1" and I had to consistently eat 3000-3500 calories a day in order to make headway.

(Also, sleep. Anecdotally, I stopped using an alarm clock for a little while and I was shocked at how much easier it was to lift and to keep weight on.)

As far as exercise programs go, some recent research suggests the important thing is for him to pick anything where muscles all over his body feel tired at the end of the session, without him feeling pain in his joints or spine. If he is looking for more specific direction on the exercise front, Starting Strength is obviously a good choice -- but learning the lifts from a book is not easy for a total novice, so he may want a trainer. I think this might not actually be such a hard sell; what I'm talking about is not really someone telling you what to do, though trainers like that exist, as much as someone telling you how to do something you already want to do.

As far as the on-and-off motivation, yeah, that's tough. There is a point where you start to notice positive changes, and I think once you get over that hump there's feedback and it gets easier to keep going. I never, ever thought I'd be in a position where I didn't have to drag myself by the teeth to the gym, and yet it's much less of a big deal these days. That said, I had a lot of false starts, and I think really it's just kind of in the nature of these things that it is going to take him a few tries before it sticks. There are a few little tricks you can also use, like Health Month or Joe's Goals or the Seinfeld calendar method, so if you still want to help him, maybe ask if he wants some help implementing something like that -- but aside from that, I think it's worth just accepting that his efforts may be a little desultory for a while and that that's normal. I think he'll get there.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:14 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gyms bore me as well. To start working out, I made it part of my daily routine - for example, there's this one place in my house where I can reach up, grab hold and pull myself off the ground by my arms because of an exposed beam.

Every time I come past that spot, I pull myself up three or four times, and then I go on with whatever.

As a result (after about a month of effort), I'm slightly more buff and I can pull myself up by my arms - couldn't do that before.

Similarly, every time I see a sign, a fence, bike rack or whatever, I jump over it. Same principle applies.
posted by DemographicLanguage at 1:27 AM on May 27, 2012

I'd second fieldtrip's suggestion of crossfit - which has magically made me gain shoulders! Perhaps if instruction is a problem he could go for a few months to learn the excersises safely and then work out at home?
posted by prentiz at 2:12 AM on May 27, 2012

I want to be supportive of his interest in gaining weight and working out but he'll say he's interested in joining a gym, I'll say okay, he'll say, no, I mean it this time, I'll say okay, end scene.

I know everyone's relationship is different but I have to say that the idea that the above scenario is something that needs to be fixed or is in any way a "relationship problem" is really weird to me. Your husband is an adult. If he actually really has an interest in bulking up, he'll figure it out. It's not a high hurdle and there are tons of resources very easily available to him. Regardless, you've presented several options and he's rejected them all. The dialogue above is perfectly appropriate at this juncture.

"Being supportive" means "sounds like a great idea" and a willingness to change the household's cooking and shopping to accommodate any new routines. It doesn't mean you have to find him an after-school activity he likes or alter your own running to his preferred schedule. If you feel like this is insufficient for some reason, you can add "let me know when you figure out what you want to do / if you need a workout buddy / if you want to go to the mall for anything" or whatever.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 AM on May 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: DarlingBri said everything I came in here to say except one thing - I knew this guy when I was 20 (about 25 years ago) who was delightfully skinny and bony and angular and could eat anything without putting on weight, sought advice on how to gain weight to join the policeforce etc. As far as I can tell from Facebook, he never did take up exercise and he didn't change his diet of pizza and beer, and skinny isn't forever. Whether or not it's about bulking up, supporting someone (without doing it for them) to develop a regular exercise habit is great. Nothing to lose, really.

Perhaps instead of saying okay the second time, you could say, "sounds great, what are your plans?"
posted by b33j at 3:09 AM on May 27, 2012

I think the relationship problem, as you've described it, is that you are taking you husband's fitness on as your project. He's an adult. If there really isn't a health issue then you don't need to be involved at all beyond "cool! have fun!" and maybe issuing an open invitation to run with you in the morning.

I've asked him what he wants to do, he doesn't really know. So where do we go from here?

"Well, let me know when you decide!"
posted by headnsouth at 4:13 AM on May 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing that this is not your problem. And unless the doctor has advised your husband to gain weight, it isn't really his problem either.

Saying "I'm going to join a gym" and then not doing it is so common it's practically a cliche. Just be glad he doesn't pay for a gym membership and then never go!
posted by Perodicticus potto at 5:59 AM on May 27, 2012

I got this book several years ago (I think I was 21) when I wanted to start making an effort towards non-skinniness. It has progressing workout plans as well as diet instructions, shopping lists, and recipes. Major calories & good fats, with low-rep, high-intensity workouts, are key.

For what it's worth, I'm now 27. I'm still very thin, but my metabolism has slowed down enough that it is possible for me to put on weight. Not much, but my waist size has almost gone up an inch for the first time in... over a decade?

I wouldn't get him the book without asking (it's still slightly embarrassing to have on my shelf), but it's a really good starting place if he's interested in gaining weight. And don't be dismayed if, like me, all the "scrawny" photos in the book are significantly less skinny than your SO.
posted by supercres at 7:00 AM on May 27, 2012

Oh, for the "being happy with one's body" aspect, let me add that I followed the diet and workout plans in the book for a month or two and started to put on muscle and weight. When I saw what lengths were involved in doing so (spending a ton on groceries and going to the gym five times a week), I decided I was okay with my body the way it was.
posted by supercres at 7:03 AM on May 27, 2012

Best answer: I resemble your husband. I am thin, I can eat almost anything I want, and I am... hard to direct. My advantage: I was a collegiate athlete and more importantly my wife is a nutrition and fitness consultant (personal trainer).

I would imagine your husband is very good at what he does for work. I'd imagine he is used to being a leader or at least a project lead. I'd imagine that most things that he has done he has been successful at. I'd imagine that's one reason why he hasn't pushed heavily in weight training - because frankly he doesn't know about it nor have a realistic clue about how the body works. And if he read that over your shoulder and just scoffed - hah! He's even more like me.

So, it is time for him to have an attitude adjustment. If he is serious about gaining size and strength, then he needs to put his hands in an expert or at least some expert reading. My wife recommends the following authors for training books: Eric Cressey, Michael (Mike) Boyle, Charles Poliquin, and Allwyn Cosgrove. While books won't teach you form, they will teach you some philosophies and strategies (as well as physiological reasons) on how to train. Youtube the snot out of some of the excercises in the book for form instruction.

Ideally, you would get a trainer with a CSCS (someone with a focus on Strength and Conditioning); however, at a least a NASM or ASCM certification - but with the last two you are still experiencing a bit of a crap-shot with quality, since it is only a cert and the people have to have done current reading on Strength and Conditioning. With a CSCS - they've at least gotten a certification specifically for S&C and - well it is at least a good chance that you'll be in good shape. A quality trainer will likely cost you a bit more - but if your husband is actually serious - let him get his ass kicked by a trainer, otherwise - well... he has no room for complaining.

Honestly, we've finally gotten our kids back to a point where we can both train, and that means that we're putting in the time. In the short time that I've gotten to work with her, she is as good (and likely better) than the collegiate trainers that I had.

Any running will do the opposite of what he wants to do, the body will burn the muscle just as likely as it will burn the fat - meaning that it is about as useful to him as doing nothing. Stamina can be maintained and worked on with other exercises (personal favorite: rowing intervals - 500m/ 1min off)

While she doesn't know anyone in the DC area (assumption that you are based there), if you want to discuss some general specifics, memail me and I'll put her in contact with you.

And yeah, sorry, on this - you'll get tough love from me. If you want it, put your faith in the expertise of others. He's being an idiot about it and not actually interested in his own success if he won't. Good luck. Enjoy the reading.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:15 AM on May 27, 2012

Best answer: For the weight gain bit, there's plenty of info out there, lots of personal trainers, etc. that you two can find (and yes, it seems to be 'shakes and weights' recommended and used pretty much across the board).

That said, I get the impression he 'wants' to go to the gym about like I 'want' to lose 10 pounds. You know, if it can happen without my having to do anything differently. It's not worth WORK. It'd just be a nice thing to have happen. If he feels the same way, well, OK, let him express the general desire for a more gym-goer-y body. And give him a hug and tell him you love him just the way he is, but will happily support him if this is something he wants to do.

I suspect you're feeling a certain pressure to 'solve' his problem. He may even want you to solve his problem. "Honey, I want my body to look like people who work out all the time, but I don't want to work out all the time. Can you tell me how to get there in two hours?" But you can support him just by listening to him talk about going to the gym, or wanting to go to the gym, or hating to go to the gym; and of course by driving him to the gym, helping him out if he wants a higher-protein diet or protein shakes or something, etc. You don't need to make all his choices for him. If he doesn't stick with it, well, that's his own choice.

Now, if he doesn't generally stick with his own commitments, and always complains about things he has no intention to change, those are legitimate complaints for you to have. But just one - and in an area where we are bombarded by so much social messaging that something is wrong with you if you aren't trying to look like this - it's no surprise if he's feeling a certain "I should go to the gym... (but I really don't want to)" cognitive dissonance.
posted by Lady Li at 9:41 AM on May 27, 2012

Honestly, it sounds like part of the problem might be that you want to be really involved in this, and it is something that he'd rather do on his own, so my suggestion is to be encouraging, but let him work out on his own. Maybe buy him some sessions with a trainer, or at crossfit (which tons of people have already recommended and I have several friends who really enjoy it). There's also group training at gyms - in DC, TNT Fitness is one that I've heard good things about. Just make sure you're not present at any of his training sessions.
posted by echo0720 at 10:10 AM on May 27, 2012

There isn't a problem. If he brings it up, just respond that he can do what he wants, but you love his body as-is (since you've told us that you do.) If he doesn't drop it at that point, and says he wants your help, you say that he's welcome to join you in your activities (since you say he is) and he will or won't as he sees fit. If he says he doesn't want to do your type of exercise but still wants your help, bring him to an ask metafilter search for previous questions on how to gain weight, and tell him to read 'em.

Now of course, if you actually DON'T love his body as-is, and you want him to gain weight, that's an entirely different thing...but that's not what you're describing here. Is that what's really going on?
posted by davejay at 11:49 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe if he found a method of exercise that is enjoyable. I bought a 100lb heavy bag and some wraps and boxing gloves, and now exercising is a blast.

He probably wouldn't gain weight doing that, but he would be ripped like a whippet.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:41 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Many, many people go around in circles on all kinds of things. People close to them can't make them quit doing the same things that haven't worked in the past. Let him go to the gym, even if he ends up hating it...joins again and hates it...etc. I know it's hard to witness, but he has to figure it out himself. I found out after lots and lots of frustration that my relationship with my husband is much better when I butt out of things that don't affect me in important ways.
posted by wryly at 3:17 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation about being very thin and wanted to gain muscle. I *highly* recommend signing up with a good trainer. Everyone's right about low reps / heavy weight, but there's also a lot more to it. Nutrition, protein intake, proper form to avoid injury, and the most critical aspect is motivation.

If you don't have somebody in your corner who knows what they're doing and is pushing you harder, it's going to be near impossible to succeed, especially if you're older (I'm in my 30's). If he can also find a buddy with similar goals to work out with, all the better.

Now it's a year later, I still hit the gym about four times a week and don't have a trainer anymore. In retrospect, it's a decision I wish I would have made a long time ago. Good luck to him!
posted by paul336 at 7:20 AM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks for your help. We talked about maybe getting some dumbbells that he can lift at home. He's healthy now and I want him to stay healthy. I realize that skinny isn't forever and I'd love it if he could find something to promote fitness that he enjoys doing but I know I can't make him like something. I also know that I don't have to do anything for him but since I know more about working out and such than he does, he kind of looks to me for answers, the same way I just look at him when my computer does something stupid.

That all being said, the last time he said to me, "I really want to start going to the gym," I mentioned lifting weights and drinking protein shakes and he seemed receptive. So we'll see what happens next.

Thanks again!
posted by kat518 at 8:44 AM on May 31, 2012

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