Many people get an immediate picture in their minds when you say “romance hero.” Great hair, great teeth…and plenty of rippling muscle. Whether businessman, mercenary or kilt-wearing historical Highlander, the image is always one of broad shoulders, tanned skin and, oh yeah, did I say rippling muscle?

Three Hot Men on Romance Covers - Something Like This. Or This. Or This.

Oddly enough—or perhaps not so oddly, if you’ve studied male and female psyches—the ones for whom the clearest “Fabio image” comes to mind are men, not women. Not to say women don’t appreciate beefcake, because they most certainly do (there’s a reason those hotties are on the covers), but women know there’s a whole range of sex appeal out there.

Plus, men are more visual than women. Women are more apt to care that you try to keep yourself in shape than that you actually manage to avoid the chip aisle. But you do have to try, so, unfortunately, the fact that women are more likely to be interested in your mind than your body doesn’t let you off the hook.

Why? Because lack of attention to your health and welfare shows a lack of respect for yourself. And if you don’t respect yourself, no woman will respect you either.

So what’s a poor schlub to do? You’re forty, you’ve never worked out a day in your life, and you can’t afford a gym membership. You’ve got a spare tire, you like beer too much to give it up, and you’re not looking to give yourself a hernia. Well, as any self-respecting trainer will tell you, the first thing to do is get a physical. Find out what you can and cannot do.

conanonbeachOnce that’s done, maybe you should get a dog. Not only are dogs great companions for romance heroes (heroines can’t resist their furry faces), but they require exercise. Get out and walk. Heck, get out and run.

But perhaps your lifestyle isn’t exactly dog-friendly. You travel too much, or your landlord doesn’t allow pets. That’s a shame, but it’s not an excuse. When it comes to fitness and self respect, there are no excuses!

Consensus is that cardio helps you lose fat while working with weights helps you gain muscle. You need to do both. You won’t like both. Nobody does. Generally, people are built for one or the other—weight work or cardio—and forcing themselves to do the other is a major chore.

It’s definitely harder for the average Joe than it is for all the hot romance heroes who inhabit novels. After all, those guys spend their lives running through forests dodging bullets from cartel villains, captaining pirate vessels, and turning into wolves and dashing across the countryside.

But just because you aren’t fighting off raiding neighbors and kidnapping a bride doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Here are a few tips:

  • Start every meal with vegetables. Lots of vegetables. If you eat plenty of veggies, you won’t be as hungry for the other stuff.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Walk whenever you can, whenever it’s an option.

Back in the second lesson, I mentioned that joining your local volunteer FD was a great way to become a reformable rake. It’s also a great way to get in shape. Join up with local guys and train. You aren’t going to be doing the caber toss or anything, you just have to get rid of some of the flab. (Plus there’s that whole “man in uniform” thing. But that’s for another lesson.)

Next, think about the things you do have room for in your living space. Most cardio will be taking place outside unless you have room for a bike or stair stepper or similar in your living space. For cardio, you’ll walk or run or the like. But for weight training, there are plenty of things you can do in a small space.

First, consider going to “back school.” Something like 75% of Americans experience back pain in their lifetime and for a large number of them, that pain is chronic. But “back school,” which is a combination of exercises generally prescribed by physical therapists, strengthens your core muscles to prevent back strain. (Plus, for the lazy among us, most of back school is done while lying on the floor.) You don’t want to lift your new heroine into your arms only to drop her on her butt when your back spasms!

Practicing for the Highland Games:

You don’t need to do this!

Back school isn’t a one-time thing. It’s ongoing. You don’t need special equipment, though a balance ball and some light dumbbells will help. And you should invest in a trainer or physical therapist once or twice to show you the correct form—form is the most important thing when it comes to exercise! Don’t be fooled by all those people throwing massive amounts of weight around. That’s not necessary and it can hurt you more than help you.

Beyond back school, there are all kinds of things you can do using your own body weight. Pushups, squats, stretches, crunches…none of them require any equipment at all. With those light dumbbells and that balance ball, you can enlarge your workout and shrink your waist. You’re not trying to gain bodybuilder status, so don’t worry about the gigantic dumbbells—you’ll likely look like a gigantic dumbbell if you try to use them anyway.

More reps, lighter weight, concentrate on form and on keeping all your core muscles tight.

Most romance heroes don’t work out without a point; they need to be in shape to keep up with the demands of their lives. The high-powered businessmen frequently work out to relieve stress or because physical exertion helps with mental clarity. The cops, firefighters, and military men depend on their muscles every day. The Vikings need to be able to command respect and to fight off their enemies.

You should consider what you want to do once you lose the flab and gain the muscle. Maybe you’d like to be able to play sports with your friends. Maybe you’d like to gain some of that mental clarity (remember to put away your phone when you exercise—workouts are “you” time). Maybe you’d simply like to be able to walk around without your knees complaining so much. Remember that romance heroes don’t work out to attract women. They stay in shape for themselves, and that’s what you need to do, too.