Sue Fleming on making exercise fun

Sue Fleming on making exercise fun

Author of Buff Brides and former reality trainer to the stars Sue Fleming shares her tips on making exercise something that fits with your daily lifestyle plus other tips. (Note: she has even gotten Zibby to work out more!)


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sue. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.”

Sue Fleming: Hi, Zibby. How are you doing?

Zibby: Good. How are you doing?

Sue: Great. I’m good on a snowy Monday morning, February 1st. We now finally have a snow day in New York City.

Zibby: This is so nice for me because, as you and I know but other people don’t know, you and I met through a friend of mine and have known each other and have been working out together for how many years? Eight? Something like that, crazy long time.

Sue: The twins were, I think, four when I met you.

Zibby: Yeah, now they’re thirteen. Nine years. Crazy. If only I did it with some consistency, I would be in the best shape ever.

Sue: Listen, we had a good run. We were working out almost three, four times a week at one point.

Zibby: There was one point where I was very good thanks to you. Thank you.

Sue: That’s it. That’s a key for everybody, just to get into that routine no matter what it is, twenty minutes a day, whatever it takes. The routine is the hardest. Make yourself get into that.

Zibby: I have to say, with you and being able to chat with you while I worked out was the highlight. You have to work out with somebody that you genuinely like or else it’s going to feel like torture.

Sue: That’s true. You get to know people. You have to like each other.

Zibby: Sue, why don’t you tell everybody about — when I met you, you were fresh off the heels of your incredible book debut and all this stuff. Tell me about your whole book past and even, how did you get into being a trainer? Then now you’re also a physical education instructor. You do all sorts of stuff. Tell me about your whole thing. When did you know you were an athlete?

Sue: Even as a kid, that’s what really pushed me, athletics, and was able to go to college on an athletic scholarship. It was always part of my life and my passion. Then naturally fell into teaching health and wellness and then started personal training adults. That was great for me to ignite something or a passion in people and to see them thrive and when they have success. That was always cool for me to see and to implement lifestyle changes, which is hard to do as an adult. Then how the book started, my first book, Buff Brides, getting in your shape for your wedding, when I started personal training, I found a pattern of women hiring me to prepare them for their weddings. They would hire me before they bought their dresses or they would buy their dresses a size or two too small. I was like, this is kind of weird, but I just went with it and found it was developing healthy lifestyles. If we can use the wedding as an excuse, so what? If it’s a lifestyle change forever, then that’s a homerun. That’s how that started. Then of course, the husbands-to-be started getting into the routine as well. That was almost going to be another book. Then the same clients became friends. Then they were getting pregnant. Then it was Buff Moms-to-Be and then Buff Moms, getting your bodies back on track. My fourth book was Fashionably Buff, workouts for every closet, buff in jeans, buff in a bikini. It’s a little fun take on fitness, again, just to ignite passion in a healthy lifestyle.

Zibby: It’s so cool.

Sue: The Buff Brides book actually was the most popular. Discovery turned it into a reality show back probably right before I met you. It had a really good run. Still selling the Buff Brides book. People are still getting married, even in a pandemic.

Zibby: You tapped into the perfect market. Awesome.

Sue: Right. Then I saw that started, definitely, a wedding fitness trend back in, I think the book pub-ed in 2011, the first book.

Zibby: Were you involved with the show?

Sue: I helped find all of the actors, as you will. We followed ten women over three months. I trained two of the ten and filmed those series and then helped pick the trainers, all of that. It was really fun. We were flown to Chile for a premiere in Chile. We were going to LA all the time. It was just a wild ride. If you would’ve asked me as a kid, would I be writing books and being on a reality show…? It was just a really fun time. Continues to be a fun time, unexpected part of my life.

Zibby: What’s going on with the whole Buff franchise now?

Sue: Stuff like this. I’ll get picked to do some interviews, especially wedding-themed fitness. I continue to private train, boot camps. Now I think the thing has become bachelorette parties. It’s a healthy take. Before you go out and go crazy, I’ll come over and give the bachelorette party a boot camp.

Zibby: Are you going to do any more books?

Sue: When the first book, Buff Brides, came out, there wasn’t really content online for that stuff. That’s why it became pretty popular. Now it’s very easy to download workouts. The fitness market has definitely changed, which is fun too. I love seeing the Peloton and the Mirror, all of those things that you can get in your home. The world of fitness has changed a bit in terms of buying fitness books.

Zibby: Maybe you could do Buff Kids.

Sue: That was a thought. Then I think my editor was like, “Parents really want to think that their kids are overweight,” something like that. It’s a whole mind thing. Yeah, you can put a on it because even now teaching at school, it’s more fitness space because we can’t share equipment. We can’t play the traditional games right now, so it is a lot of fitness stuff. Try to get a sixth grader to tap into that. You have to be pretty creative too for kids to buy into working out, and for adults. We all know. We get kind of bored. You always need to keep refreshing and thinking outside the box a little bit to keep people motivated. That’s the number-one thing.

Zibby: What is it that you offer that you’ve put in your books and that you do in your workout sessions when you train people and in a boot camp and all of that? When you’re talking about people developing life-long habits and wellness, what are some of the fundamentals behind that for you?

Sue: Again, people want to have fun. They want to show up, so creating workouts and exercise that kind of mimic everyday life patterns too so people can relate to what they’re doing. Really, again, putting a fun spin on working out, bringing old-school things back from your childhood and putting a fun take on it. I think that’s what success of — even being a personal trainer, you have to add some energy and fun to it or who’s going to want you to come to their house three, four days a week?

Zibby: What if you’re having a terrible day yourself?

Sue: As a teacher, that’s all part of that. You can’t close the door and say, I’m not taking any meetings today. That’s the challenge of being a teacher, just having to show up and putting on your game face sometimes when — sure, there have been times at four AM when the alarm goes off and I have to go the Upper East Side to see a client. It’s like, ugh, but that’s what you do. That’s part of the gig.

Zibby: For someone who is like, all right, maybe I’m not going to be paying for a trainer right now or I’m not going to be seeing anybody because of COVID, but I really am committed to my fitness and I need to improve, what should they do?

Sue: I just had a class before this podcast. I’m teaching in my living room to a Zoom class. Even for me, it’s a challenge. I have a small space, but that’s an excuse. I don’t have time to go to the gym. I don’t have the equipment. You don’t need any of that. You just need your own bodyweight and a small space. That misconception of having to belong to a gym or have to show up somewhere, you really don’t need that. You can keep yourself in shape or have a good workout in your tiny living room or bedroom with minimal or no equipment. I do it every day with my Zoom classes and the kids that I teach, so I think getting past that, getting past that you need all of these things in order to be healthy. You really don’t. You just have to be committed in your head. That’s the hardest part.

Zibby: How do you help with that?

Sue: Just try to make it fun, trying to make it fun for everybody. It doesn’t matter how old you are. What’s the old saying? It takes fourteen days to maybe lose your taste for something. I think it’s the saying, once you’re in a routine and once you find success and once you catch the bug. It’s helping people try to catch the bug of feeling better, seeing results, feeling results. Once that lightbulb comes on, that’s the joy I find in people. You yourself, once you start to feel better mentally, ninety percent of it is the mental challenge. It’s just trying to ignite that in people and just small, little success.

Zibby: For you, I know that you do all this teaching and training and all of this. Yet you’re like, and then I just ran five miles, or whatever it is you do. How do you keep wanting to work out yourself? Even though you’re around it all day, do you just have the bug? Does it make you feel better? What does it do for you?

Sue: Definitely, mentally. It makes me feel better mentally. If I don’t, if I go a couple of days, you don’t want to be around me. I know me. I’ve learned that part about me. If I don’t do that for myself, I’m not going to be happy with myself. I try to surround myself with challenges. For instance, in the month of January, I was in a challenge with about ten friends, the most running miles in a month. That helped me because then I would hear the ding on the app that someone just worked out or just ran. The competitiveness in me definitely comes out. I was determined to get a hundred miles in the month of January. Yesterday, this is the last day of the month and I was three and half miles short, so I made myself go out and run 3.5 miles to get to the hundred yesterday. So I did that. Those are things that I need to do as well, be in a challenge, bring my competitiveness out. That helps me too. I probably would not have run yesterday on a Sunday. A snowstorm’s coming.

Zibby: Good for you.

Sue: Those are little things that help me. It probably can help a lot of people. And showing up. If I’m knocking on your door at six AM, you’re going to let me in.

Zibby: That’s true, yes.

Sue: A friend of mine has the Mirror. I tried it. I love it. They shout your name out. There’s little things like that that can make you feel good. Someone’s paying attention. That helps me. Someone’s paying attention. I got three emails this morning. “Great job getting the hundred miles in last night.” I’m like, yeah, that was a good job.

Zibby: That’s awesome. You just hit the nail on the head so much. Somebody’s paying attention. That’s really all we all need for basically everything, just someone to say some little thing, just something to make you feel seen or that your efforts matter. Not that we all have to rely on external validation, but just to have a little bit of, oh, okay, I just needed that tiny pat on the back, that one little heart or something. It helps so much.

Sue: I do that all day. It’s rare that I get it, but I’ll take it.

Zibby: Congratulations on your hundred miles.

Sue: Aw, thanks. Hundred-mile club. I hope no one starts a new challenge for February. I just want a day where I don’t have to think about it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Aside from mental health benefits, do you think that the physical benefits actually motivate people? What do you think it really takes to stick to a workout regime? I’m sure everyone out there has tried something or gotten into something for a little bit. I know I’ve tried every single workout there is, I feel like, at this point in my life. What makes you stick to it? What’s the secret? Is there a secret? I don’t know.

Sue: For me, I need, like I just said, a challenge or an event. March, I’m hoping to go somewhere on vacation. That gives me seven weeks. I keep finding those challenges or events to help me stay on track full year-round. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people to help them jumpstart. Once the event’s over, you don’t want to stop. Think of a new event. Think of a new goal. Finding those monthly, weekly goals and then rewarding yourself. My reward will be I’ll get to go on vacation and feel good.

Zibby: Amazing. Vacation, that’s not even in my short-term plan. I love hearing you say that you think you’re going away. God willing, this will be all over and we can all —

Sue: — Or treating myself to something. Say it doesn’t happen. March is my goal. Then I’ll treat myself to something, but I better keep on track, stay on track. It’s simple, right? It sounds so simple, but it’s not.

Zibby: I like it. It’s having lots of short-term incentives and then just re-upping. That’s the key to everything. You write a paper, you get a grade. There’s something coming. There has to just feel like there’s something coming. I think with real life, sometimes it just stretches out. Am I going to be on this stationary bike forever? Am I going to be sitting here in fifty years? My mother’s in her seventies. She still is running and running to the gym. It’s not like it ends, so there has to be some shorter term — we just have to break it down. Maybe that’s the trick to the whole thing. I like that.

Sue: Mixing it up too. You can’t do the same thing every day. You’re going to get bored. That’s why I love all of the new things coming out, because it does motivate you to show up, so if you can mix it up as much as possible. Your body reacts better to mixing it up as well. You sort of plateau if you’re just running.

Zibby: I don’t think my body would plateau for a very long time if I kept running. I think a plateau is months and years away, perhaps, for a running plateau.

Sue: That’s simple too, the running. You just put on shoes and go. I’m lucky to be teaching in a place where I do have options, the bike or elliptical or doing something with the kids. That’s part of my job too. I know I’m lucky to have that. Someone sitting at a desk, I think I would go nuts.

Zibby: I’ve been sitting here all day. I’ve been sitting since five in the morning.

Sue: But I know you. You work hard. You work pretty hard.

Zibby: Sue, thank you. I loved this advice. I think it’s actually quite actionable, what you’re suggesting. I feel like whenever this episode comes out and whoever’s listening, making a goal for just the next month and not thinking past that, or just the next week, and having some sort of payoff or finding one partner to do something with or small group or an online challenge or one of these things with accountability and small, consistent payoffs can really change your life over time.

Sue: That’s the key. You can’t get too heady over it. You can’t think, well, a year from now. It’s just too much to wrap your hands around. Showing up, having a challenge.

Zibby: I definitely can’t think a year ahead.

Sue: That is true. Just don’t think too much about it. The challenges, I think, are the best, having something to look forward to. Showing up really helps me.

Zibby: Love it. Thank you. Thanks for coming on the podcast.

Sue: I’ll be over in an hour for a workout.

Zibby: See you in an hour. Thank you. Enjoy the snow day.

Sue: I hope to see you soon.

Zibby: I hope to see you soon.

Sue: Bye, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye, Sue. Thanks.