All photo are courtesy of Susie McEntire. Used by permission.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: I went to your website and the song SKY FULL OF ANGELS started playing. You sing, “I ain’t afraid of nothing”. I believe it. Your husband said you did 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups --- and finished before him. Sounds a little dangerous. Trying to see how quickly you can join that sky full of angels?
Susie McEntire: Ha! At the time, I thought I’m about to “go live with the angels” but in the long run, it’s absolutely to the contrary. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes runs in my family and I want to avoid singing with the angels for a while. I also want to be able to sing for a long time. In that same workout, I also did 300 full squats with a 25lbs Kettlebell load, all in twenty-six minutes.
FF: All those sit-ups must really strengthen your abdominal muscles so you can belt out that country music. Share about your music career.
SM: I’ve definitely seen a difference. I sang with my siblings, Pake & Reba McEntire when we were youngsters growing up on the rodeo circuit, in competitions, and in country-western band class at our school in Kiowa, Oklahoma. My mama loved to sing and wasn’t able to pursue a career of her own because of where she was raised and how she was raised (pretty poor financially). So, she poured her talents into us by giving us lessons (from the kitchen stove or from the front seat of the car, driving to school). I went out on my own in 1984 when God called me to sing Christian music.
FF: Describe your audience. How much do they know about your fitness lifestyle? How well do you think they relate to it?
SM: I get comments from teenagers, young moms, and ladies my age, and I’m pleased to say, my fitness has been an inspiration for others to get in shape. I’ve had people tell me that they said, “Well, if SHE can do it, so can I”. I just had an 81 year old man from south Texas congratulate me on my fitness…he didn’t have a whimpy handshake at all. Folks congratulate me on my weight loss, love my arms, and want to know how I did it. I am humbled and grateful to be able to offer some perspective on fitness at this point in my life.
FF: Physical fitness appears to be an important part of your life. Has it always been that way? What led to the increased interest and what role does fitness play in your daily life?
SM: I was “on and off” with physical fitness. I was very active in sports in high school and college. I lost a lot of weight my senior year at Oklahoma State University due to the loss of a romantic interest. More recently, I gained forty pounds after I separated from my husband of twenty-five years in 2006. I was by myself, could eat when and what I wanted and just, plain and simple, got a little too happy to my detriment.
I finally got a bit of a “nudge” from my sister Reba McEntire after a vacation in Cancun. I said, “Reba, I’ve gained so much weight!” She didn’t console me or tell me lies, but said, “Yep, you have”. It woke me up. We got a little wager going and I lost thirty pounds in five months. It was just in time for our sisters/mom vacation. Reba couldn't believe it when she first saw me. All she could say was “Wow!” After a three year separation, ending in divorce from my first marriage, I met Mark. He is very into fitness and was involved in gradually updating my workouts and helping me to firm up and get stronger. Now I feel lost if I don’t do some kind of workout. We are very strategic in how we get a balanced diet…especially when we are on the road.
FF: People exercise in many different ways. I understand you and your husband Mark choose to exercise together?
SM: We do. Mark is a certified Level 2 Crossfit trainer and mountain climber. So fitness has been a way of life for him. He’s smart, wise, gentle, aware of my fitness and very complimentary of the way my body has improved. He pushes me when I want to do less. We are both very self-motivated and that helps to make us a great workout team. We have a workout room in the house, on the porch, and up on our wonderful “hill”. There’s room for lots of variation here at our ranch so we don’t get bored.
FF: Your marriage experience wasn’t always that positive though. Share about your previous marriage. How did it shape you physically and spiritually during those years?
SM: Within a few months of saying “I do” I realized there was a side of my first husband I didn’t realize existed. Mental, verbal, emotional, physical, even spiritual abuse existed for many years in our relationship in the midst of being leaders of a traveling ministry. I was thin because of high levels of traveling and stress. But - I wasn’t fit. Spiritually, I did religious activities because I was afraid of God. I wanted Him to love me because I had done my duty of praying and studying. Yet, I couldn’t face Him as the good Father He is. I hid from God, hoping He wouldn’t find me in my state of disrepair. This was consistent with my twisted view of faith in those days. Being free of that "doing"-based religion has freed my spirit and released me to actually worship and love the real God rather than the one I had created.
FF: So, how is married life now? How is it a part of your music ministry and your touring experience?
SM: Mark and I are best friends. I haven’t laughed this much in years! Of course, we travel together, and Mark has infused his talents with mine. We are waiting on what God has for us to do in ministry work, but doors are already beginning to open. We are different as daylight and dark; different cultures, different dialects, different states and different lifestyles. That makes our marriage infinitely interesting for both of us.
I used to have a lot of tears. Sad tears, hopeless tears and tears of fatigue. There are a lot of places I don’t remember where I sang because of being closed up due to the stress of my life then. The tears I have now are of joy, and because of that, my heart is actually free to be moved by something other than fear and hiding. I realize now that I had almost completely killed my female heart. Unlike many men, Mark is not afraid of my tears and encourages me to continue to discover my feminine beauty again. It is absolutely fantastic.
FF: Looks like you have a busy tour schedule. How do you plan so that physical fitness and time for spiritual growth both get reserved time in your 24-hour day?
SM: That’s it…plan. Mark is a great planner. We communicate with each other about our schedule for the day and we can get it planned. Our workouts can be done in the parking lot, down the hall of a hotel, or in the hotel room. We don’t need a lot of equipment to get a great workout. When I was traveling by myself, all I needed was a couple of 15-pound weights and a chair from the hotel.
But, disruptions are naturally going to happen…sometimes with our schedule the whole day is shot with interruptions and changes beyond our control. When we get absolutely nothing done on our physical or spiritual workouts we just pick up again tomorrow. We don’t beat ourselves up. Today it just didn’t work out. Tomorrow is a fresh start.
FF: Describe your exercise routine. What are your favorite exercises and why?
SM: Situps, pushups, pullups, overhead walking lunges, back extensions, squats, step ups, ring dips and hill running. I like anything that does not isolate a particular muscle to protect weaker ones. We strengthen the weaker ones with the multi-joint movements. However, we add load whenever we can and we do it all at a level of intensity that Mark says creates metabolic change. He reminds me that the gold is in the intensity piece. Most times we are done in well under an hour. Sometime 20 minutes or less. After the workout we are always really tired. Mark’s background as a Crossfit trainer is so valuable. I am getting the hang of it and now can do well on my own when needed. To paraphrase from Mark’s old Crossfit days our workouts are: Constantly varied, multi-joint, functional movements, done under load and at intensity. I hear this all the time. Apparently it works!
FF: I hear you have a home gym. Can we take a look at it? Give us the tour and tell us how you customized it to meet your needs.
SM: When I was building the house, I wanted a multi-purpose room that would double as an extra bedroom, sewing room, and workout room. Right now, it’s only used as our workout room. If one is looking for a Pec-Deck, stair climber, treadmill and ab machine we don’t have them. Our personal gym is pretty bare in that regard. Mark installed a “stud bar” which is basically a horizontal bar hanging from our 9 foot ceiling. He bangs out kipping and strict pull-ups while I get assist from the bands we have. So far I have a few pull-ups but not enough! The bands help get the strong back that every woman wants and really needs.
We have a set of rings attached and can do all sorts of variations of dips, pull ups, pushups and planking movements with those. On the floor is a mat for ground-work. In addition, we use a speed rope for jumping rope. We have 15, 25 and 45 pound kettle bells for swings, cleans and pressing. A few small dumbbells round it out. Keep in mind we use our front porch about half the time and also do laps around the house. We are fortunate enough to have a steep ¼ mile hill on the property and Mark really uses that to train for climbing. He has even put me in a Fireman’s Carry and lugged me up the hill. I am proud to say that yesterday I ran the whole thing for the first time ever. In my wildest imagination, I never would have considered myself able to run that hill. It makes me realize just how much progress I have made.
FF: On the road, how do you eat healthy? At home, what do you do to make good nutrition a way of life? How important is it for you to maintain a balanced diet? Why is that important?
SM: Sometimes it’s really hard. It can sometimes be more expensive to eat healthy. We pick and choose from the better restaurants and comb the menu for healthy choices. We don’t eat big portions. We cut costs by splitting meals and adding an extra portion of chicken, beef, fish or any sort of dense protein to a huge salad. It is really important to maintain a balance of carbs, fats and proteins. We try to apply the “ZONE” rule of 40% good carbs, 30% good dense proteins and 30% good fats. We eat for fuel now, and not so much for convenience, comfort or pleasure. Mark is an excellent cook…it’s so much fun to prepare our meals together. I call myself the sous-chef, He usually does the actual cooking and loves to spice up our food. He’s definitely into presentation. Our plates of food are beautiful.
One of the hardest things is when we are guests on the road. Our hosts work so hard to make us “down home meals”, i.e. meat and potatoes. We appreciate and enjoy them, but a week of that can really set me behind.
Another thing that makes eating on the road difficult is not being able to avoid the hormonal spikes that come from not eating often enough. These hormonal spikes make fat “grow” more easily. When we are on airlines and have travel schedules, we tend to eat at odd times so we like to pack some healthy snacks to avoid the hormonal spike. It is difficult to eat small amounts of food often – the schedule we prefer. So we flex, do the best we can and when we are home we try hard to be disciplined. That way when we aren’t on our normal regime it doesn’t harm us as much.
FF: How else do you maintain an active life on the ranch?
SM: We live on the family ranch, but we are not in the cattle business. We are in the business of helping people to relate to God and to one another in healthy, respectful and wise ways. BUT we love to take horseback rides…it’s a great form of exercise and stress relief. When it is time to build fence, the exercise comes naturally.
FF: Beyond your music for your audience, how do you minister to your friends and interact with them in fellowship and support?
SM: I have a handful of friends with whom I regularly connect. Although since I’m a newlywed, my time with them has been reduced. I’m a huge on using Facebook, email and text to keep in touch. We all lead busy lives and understand that just because we don’t talk every day, it doesn’t mean we don’t love each another. When I was single I had a greater ability to have conversations any time of day. Now I have a husband and companion, Mark. Our relationship is now my first friendship of course. My friends understand this and encourage me there. We are hosting a small Cowboy Church in our neighborhood every Tuesday and that helps to keep us connected.
FF: What do you feel are the biggest challenges women face these days? How would you encourage them to make both their faith and personal physical fitness a part of their everyday lifestyle?
SM: I would say guard against having too much to do in too little time. We as humans (male and female) try to fit so much into our day. Everyone’s needs seem to come before ours. A wise woman told me one time, “If you don’t take care of yourself, there will be nobody to take care of your family because you will be sick or dead”. Mark and I are under different circumstances than most people. We work on weekends and our children are on their own. So, we have a little more time than the average person. As is the case with everyone, we make time for what we really WANT to do.
There is one aspect of life where I really want to motivate women. We have a tendency to stifle our feminine heart. The heart of a woman wants to come around her man in encouraging and wise ways, offer tender strength to her children, walk with her friends in honest and substantial conversations and still survive in a tough world. That is hard to do. So many women I meet are either mush and weak or they are efficient and hard. Both extremes, I feel, are murder to the womanly heart. They are the ways we close off others in an attempt to stay safe while pretending to be a woman. I want to be wise in how I move into others’ lives and remain open and liberal with my feminine beauty. At the same time I want to be able to move in a world that is inherently dangerous to femininity. This keeps life interesting for sure.