fitness and fatherhood: finding the balance with archie israel and todd vankerkhoff
Fatherhood is ever evolving. You figure out one thing and it's on to the next challenge. It's confusing, challenging, and fulfilling in ways one cannot imagine before becoming a father. A piece of the fatherhood puzzle not to be forgotten is that of self-care. Our Co-Founders said it best when they noted that fatherhood is like the analogy of "tying your own shoelaces first." You've got to take care of yourself in order to take care of others, your children, to the best of your ability.
As we celebrate the father figures in our life this month and this father's day, we're taking a moment to highlight two fathers who are showing up for themselves and their family in ways we truly admire. If you're a father looking for ways to practice self-care (through fitness in this case) and show up as your strongest self, this one's for you.
We sat down with Todd VanKerkhoff and Archie Israel to learn what fatherhood means to them and how they balance it all.
If you could describe “fatherhood” in just a few sentences, what would you say?
Todd: "Fatherhood, for me, has included coming to understand and experience two major concepts - “love” and “responsibility” - in new, bigger ways. I think I must know how the Grinch felt when his heart suddenly grew three sizes! The nature and intensity of the love I have for my kids is just altogether different than what I could have expected. They occupy such a huge part of my mental and emotional real estate now – space I didn’t even know I had.
The responsibility part starts out pretty straightforward with basics like diapers, feedings, etc. (e.g. keeping them alive!), but soon we start teaching them about right and wrong, sharing, expressing their emotions, faith – truly person-shaping principles. These things make me realize how big of a role we’re really playing in their lives."
Archie: "Fatherhood is an amazing gift from God. It is a time in our lives when we can teach, mold, and shape a child’s life to be what God has designed us to be, and that is a human being with the capacity to love."
What does fitness mean to you?
Todd: "I like to think of fitness in terms of both long-term/future and short-term/day-to-day benefits. The short-term benefits include things like the endorphin boost, enhanced energy and focus, sense of physical well-being and body-confidence – and for me, just the in-the-moment, meditation-like state – that exercise brings. These things keep me consistent, and looking forward to my next workout. (In a nutshell, exercise keeps me focused and sane!)
That said, I realize that fitness isn’t everybody’s “thing” – many people get some of the same mental benefits from cooking, reading, or playing an instrument! But as a doctor who cares for patients with conditions like heart disease and kidney failure, I am also keenly aware of the massive long-term benefits of exercise. It is truly one of our most powerful tools for preventing so much of the disease and disability that ravages our society. I am passionate in my belief that “movement is medicine”! At a minimum, people should conceptualize exercise like brushing your teeth, or investing in a savings account – something you do for your future self, to increase the quantity and quality of your years!"
Archie: "For me, fitness means being healthy (spiritually, mentally, and physically) and functionally fit enough to do everything I want to do at the fitness level that I wish to. Honestly, I want to have fun with my family, play sports with my son, and not get tired quickly. My primary goals for this year are to run a 10k and Half Marathon."
What does your fitness routine now that you've got the role of "Dad?"
Todd: "Now I’m all about home fitness – I can’t even imagine going to a gym anymore! It’s so much more efficient, flexible, and conducive to consistency: no commute, locker-room, or waiting around for equipment – just a quick change, head downstairs, and bang out 15 or 20 minutes whenever your window presents itself! My workout routine is “predictably unpredictable” due to my changing hospital schedule and parenting responsibilities. Sometimes it looks like a long run, and often just a quick 10 or 15-minute session after the kids go to bed! I am all about efficiency these days. Lots of circuits, supersets, and kettlebell work that blends strength and cardio all together."
Archie: "In the past, I used to go to the gym and lift heavy most of the time. It’s easy for me to build muscle, but my size and build impacted my heart. My workouts combined traditional bodybuilding fused with functional training movements at least 5-6 times a week. I was usually in the gym for an hour and a half and I remember my wife and me working out together a lot. When our son was born, all of that came to a halt. I was barely in the gym. Now, I train out of my garage, and occasionally I make it to the gym. I have to schedule when I'm going to train because if I don't, my son's activities will sideline my fitness every time. Now I spend more time focusing on my heart and lung health and eating healthier. I still lift regularly, but the most significant part of my exercise is bike riding with my family; playing soccer, football, and basketball with my son; and cheering him and his teammates at every soccer game."
Did you ever struggle with certain expectations or adapting your fitness routine once you had kids?
Todd: "It was hard for me at first to get back into running, knowing I would realistically never duplicate my “glory days” performances. Now I focus on enjoying the process and simple pleasures of running itself, and on competing against myself, now, not 10+ years ago. I also go on a lot of stroller runs, when the weather permits! I have come to embrace the mantra “something is better than nothing,” and to embrace the 10-minute sweat session. Those mini-workouts can really add up - consistency and intensity are key."
Archie: "Of course, I struggled with my fitness expectations because I was so used to being in the gym, and it was hard trying to adapt to a fitness routine with a family. So, I made my goals small and attainable. My main goal was to work out at least 2- 3 times a week, and I told myself if I could get into the gym and do it at least two times, that’s a win for me. Then I wrote that goal down on my calendar and checked it off every time I did it. The next thing for me was accountability. I told my wife I needed to work out, and she pushed me to get to go workout. For me, the small wins made a difference. I didn’t focus on my weight. I focused on what I wanted to accomplish in my workout. It could be lifting a certain amount of weight, the length of my runs, the time under tension for a movement, or the training style. Whatever it was, I focused on my small wins, and the more I did that, I became more satisfied with my progress without the injuries."
Let’s talk about modeling behaviors. How would you say your dedication or desire to stay fit has and will continue to impact your kids?
Todd: "Our 4-year old daughter has grown up seeing exercise as a near-daily thing that mom and dad enjoy doing – I think she equates it to our playtime! She loves to jump in with us. (Although she can be a little more bossy and independent these days!) I have some great pics and videos of her doing planks with my wife, or playing on my Lebert calisthenics bars. My wife and I have talked about how we try to model positive language around exercise (e.g. “getting stronger," not “burning calories/food” or losing weight).
Buying a double-running stroller has been clutch! It’s a great way to get miles in without having to leave my wife in charge of the whole crew while I’m gone! My girls like it, too – as long as I pack snacks! Family walks and scooter rides are also a pretty regular part of our routine, and a great way for my wife and I to blend movement with family time."
Archie: "My son sees me training all the time. He will come to our garage gym now and then to watch me, and there have been times when we have worked out together. At the beginning of Covid, he wanted to do something with me on Instagram, and we created Father Fridays. It started with us having fun, and I wanted him to understand what I do with my clients. He enjoyed it and wanted to do it every week. We are still doing it, and he has grown so much in understanding what it means to stay healthy and strong. He recently wanted to take the lead role, and he surprised me with the type of exercises he came up with and how he was comfortable taking the lead in the videos. So what started as something small two years ago has now blossomed into father and son bonding centered around health and wellness. He's always asking questions about health. He wants to get taller and stronger. He's an athlete, and I thank God for giving me a son who wants to learn about being healthy and fit."
What would you say to new dads who are struggling to find a balance between showing up as "Dad" while still maintaining their wellness routine?
Remember your priorities. You’re a dad, and (probably) not a professional athlete or fitness model. It’s important to invest in your wellness so you can show up for your children and partner, but this may mean setting a goal of being “fit enough”, and not necessarily your “fittest” – at least for a time. Embrace the mantra, “something is better than nothing”, and don’t let “perfect” get in the way of “better”! I highly recommend investing in some basic home equipment (like a kettlebell or pair of dumbbells) that you can use in your basement or living room. Three intense 10-minute workouts per week is infinitely better than throwing in the towel. Be flexible and creative. Focus on long-term consistency rather than worrying about each workout being the greatest. – Todd VanKerkhoff
One of the hardest things for me was to find the balance between fitness and taking care of a child, and the only thing that helped me was to write down in my schedule when I was going to train and what I was going to do when I trained that week. That allowed me to take care of myself and my child. There were days when I did not make every session, but when I wrote down my goals for that week, it allowed me to have some form of structure in my life. It also allowed me to focus on my son, which meant I could give him more attention because I was content. If you cannot make it to the gym, start doing basic movements like squats, lunges, pushups, and core exercises right in your house when your child goes to sleep. Try to eat healthy every day. You might miss some days. That’s alright. Trying means you’re heading in the right direction, and getting your sleep is essential. Sleep is worth more than gold. How will you nurture a new soul if you don’t recharge your body? – Archie Israel