a new father’s guide to staying fit and changing diapers
As a new father looking to continue training, the name of the game is making the best use of your now extremely limited resources. Before your little bundle of joy came into the world, you could afford an extra 15min at the gym gabbing with your buddies about Bench Press PRs, but those days are over. Now, instead of Rowing Intervals, your “finisher” might be running to the Grocery Store to pick up diapers and Vaseline. This doesn’t mean your fitness is reduced to beer curls though. Follow my simple rules and you’ll come out the other side, fit, and most notably, a decent father. Here’s your fitness survival guide to being a new dad.
Family First: Make no mistake about it, the number one priority in your life as a new father is, and should be, your family. If I have to choose (for myself or my clients) between getting jacked like Wolverine or being a better father/husband, the latter will win out every single time. Repeat: EVERY SINGLE TIME. The world needs good parents way more than it needs another yoked dude stomping around Golds Gym. As a result, the main objective underlying this entire essay concerns your new full-time job: being the absolute best father and husband you can, every single day. Luckily, there are a few tricks to making sure your fitness doesn’t completely fall apart during this hectic time and maintaining a “Family First” mentality is top of the list. That means, if your wife is stressed and needs your help at home, the gym gets set aside that day. Instead of 10x10 Bench Press at the gym, you’re doing 10min Max Push Ups in the kitchen. It might be a tough pill to swallow at first, but adaptability is just as much a part of fitness as strength is, so grab a watch/timer, and start doing Push Ups. Your wife will appreciate it.
(Pictured: Dada and Cece enjoying some morning curls.)
Second Only to Your Family is Recovery: When They Sleep, You Sleep. When They Eat, You Eat: You’ve heard it before: “There’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering.” It holds true now more than ever. Being a new father means that there is a new definition training. It’s no longer just something that happens in the gym. You are constantly training. The long nights doing frog jumps holding a 15-pound baby in the front rack position in hopes that he/she falls asleep may not involve a barbell, but you can bet your ass it’s a training session. It costs. You pay. These impromptu training sessions put you in a perpetual state of under-recovery. Now, it is more important than ever that you exercise as many recovery practices as possible just to get back to “even”. The goal is survival. The first thing people ask you when you mention that you have a newborn at home is, “are you sleeping?” The answer is almost always, “No.” Sleep is hard to come by as a new father and even HARDER to come by as a new mother. The same goes for eating. Going into my first few weeks as a new father I decided to made one small amendment to the classic newborn advice of “When they sleep, you sleep,” adding, “when they eat, you eat.” Since you are constantly training by our new definition, you will need sleep and food to fuel/survive your day-to-day. This is also true for your newborn.
For example, recovery is never more important than when trying to build muscle. During a Mass Gain program, the muscles need to be destroyed to spur growth and then quickly and thoroughly recovered to execute that growth and prepare for the next hard session. The analogy applies because babies are on the ultimate Mass Gain Program. They go through gigantic growth spurts and need enough food and sleep to fuel the giant mental and physical gains coming their way on a daily basis. Fueling these gains means they eat and sleep CONSTANTLY. In the beginning, both happen just about every 2-2:30hrs. As a father, (especially if your wife is breastfeeding) you will not be able to help all that much during feedings, so take this time to eat. It’s easier said than done, but if you can follow the rule, “when they sleep, you sleep. When they eat, you eat” at least half the time, you’ll end up on the better side of the recovery discussion. Your newborn gains will also be your gains, you and your newborn will literally grow together, and you’ll be one step closer to making sure her first words are “Da-Da.”
Use Your Time Wisely: Along with rest, another resource that you will be perpetually short on is time. If you thought you were busy before, you are in for a rude awakening. I recommend making the absolute best use of your time in the gym. This could mean a variety of things depending on your goals. Here are a few examples of how you could potentially adjust your fitness goals to align with your new compressed training time: (Pick any one of these, or come up with a goal of your own, but just be mindful that you will be short on time every day. It is okay to use this as a determining factor for your goal, but don’t let it become an excuse keeping you from training.
Go into a Strength Phase - Get into the gym, do your strength work, and GET OUT. If you stick to 4x4 on 4min rest, you should get in and out of the gym in about 30min.
Build Your 2k Row - Use this time to focus on Rowing and Power Endurance. While this isn’t the ideal 2k row program, most people could easily improve their 2k Row TT just by rowing more 30min Max Meters, 10k, 5k, 2k, & sprint start pieces on a daily basis. If the longest piece in your week was a 10k row, then you would be spending, at most, 45min training on a daily basis. The real time saver here is that you’re only using 1 piece of equipment every day. I can tell you from experience, that you can get really fit just by using the concept2 rower, even if it’s just for 30min/day. The limiting factor to your fitness is not the equipment but your willingness to work hard.
Mass Gain – My personal goal of choice when my daughter was born involved in a Mass Gain program. I had plenty of other reasons for gaining weight, but aside from getting huge to protect my daughter from potential suitors (boys stay away!!!) I knew I could get a lot of low cost, high-quality reps into my daily training in a short amount of time. Since the point of Mass Gain is to put on weight, the primary focus in the gym is sufficient muscle work/fatigue. The weight that you are pushing from rep to rep is truly inconsequential as long as you bring the appropriate muscles to fatigue/failure so they can be destroyed and rebuild for growth. As a result, you can work between 40%-65% of your one rep max (which is very low cost on your joints compared to strength work), for 10 sets of 10 reps on 1 min rest and spur some serious growth. With warm up and a small cooldown/finisher, you can get in and out of the gym in 35-40min. Another great part about this goal is that the bulk of the work done as a part of a Mass Gain program is NOT done in the gym at all, but at home, in the kitchen. I saw this as a huge time saver, and a chance to be around the house more to help with our new baby. Since this was my goal of choice an "Example Workout" is as follows:
10x20 Under Hand Bent Row at 65#
Strict Push Up: 60sec-90sec rest.
I promise the pump will be intense and it will push your breathing. Plus, you get 200 quality reps of opposing movements (Push and Pull), and you’re in and out of the gym in about 30min TOPS.
Staying Motivated - Unfortunately, as a new sleep-deprived-zombie-of-a-dad, there is currently not an FDA approved pre-workout formula on the market strong enough to get you jacked up to train. You will almost always feel sluggish and tempted to make that age-old mistake of “going through the motions.” That is why you need to enjoy it. During this time, your home-life will undoubtedly be as stressful and out of control as it has ever been. So use your time in the gym to make you better equipped to handle it by making sure it is a time for you to “let go” and enjoy the work. If you pick a goal during this time that you do not personally care about or enjoy, I promise, you will lose interest, and quickly. So this is your free pass to do the work that you enjoy doing. You still need to work hard, but it’s okay to do a bit more of the stuff you enjoy (within reason… you can’t do skull crushers every day). Aside from mitigating an inevitable lack of motivation, enjoying your very limited time training will ultimately make you a better father. I know that I personally use the gym as a sort of meditation. It allows me to clear my mind, and no matter how short the session is, it makes me feel like I did something that was 100% FOR ME. As such, I always return home ready and willing to support my wife and daughter in any way possible. Truthfully, that was the most beneficial part of my training during this hectic time. It was for me “in the now”, so I could be better for them “in the forever”.
If you always keep these 4 rules in mind, then you’ll be well on your way to surviving the blessing that is being a new father. It is undoubtedly the most gratifying experience of my entire life to date, and I do not think I could have done it without having my daily sanity check at the gym. Remember, being a new father is all about making the best use of your now insanely limited resources. But, I’d rather share my rations with my wife and daughter, than be stuck in the bunker alone.
Red Sullivan is Fully Certified Gym Jones Instructor located in New Jersey. For more information on his fitness background, Training Philosophy, and Contact Information visit www.