The three best days of my life are as follows, in this particular order:
- May 10, 2003. This is the day I married my best friend.
- February 6, 2009. This is the day that I became a father for the first time.
- January 10, 2017. This the day that I became a father for the second time, which is cool because now I share a birthday with my youngest daughter.
If I accomplish nothing else in this life, I will be able to go to my grave satisfied. Why? Because I convinced the woman of my dreams to spend her life with me. I also get the honor of being the father of two amazing little girls. Given the relationship I have had with my own father, being a dad is extremely important to me. I believe in my heart of hearts that exercising and being physically fit help me do a better job at that. Now, don’t misunderstand me, you can be a great dad and not have exercise as a part of your life. So I’m not judging anyone that doesn’t. But for me… for me it’s a necessity. Here’s why:
- Staying physically fit helps me to set a good example. Look, we all want our children to be healthy and live vibrantly. The best way to try to get them there is to model it ourselves. As the old saying goes, more is caught than taught. So if we want our children to lead healthy lives, we need to show them what that looks like. My daughters need to see me eating vegetables. They need to know that their dad is sweaty because he was downstairs working out. And remember that you don’t have to be perfect. I’m sure not. I’m not a perfect parent either but I do the best I can in both instances.
- I can physically participate in my children’s lives. One of the best things I get to do with my oldest daughter in the evenings is to go out into the culdesac and play with these things she won at a school fundraiser. They look like a cross between a cricket bat and a lacrosse stick. We go outside and toss balls back and forth to each other using these weird looking things. There’s a good bit of running that goes on since neither one of us have a ton of control over where that ball goes. That’s just one example. If I’m not healthy and fit, that “play” becomes a real chore and I miss out on an opportunity to spend time with my little girl. Not to get all “Cat’s in the cradle” here but she won’t be little forever. So I need to invest in that relationship and being healthy gives me more options on how to do that.
- It makes me more even-keeled. To be completely transparent, I’m not a perfect parent (I think I mentioned that already). I am not always as patient as I should be. I’m pretty sure I am prone to hypoglycemic episodes if I don’t make good food choices. That makes me cranky and irritable. So good food choices is important for me. Working out also helps to keep me mentally centered. These two things combined just help me to think clearly. As a result, I can make better choices in dealing with my kids. Right now, one is about four and a half months old. She’s relatively simple. Babies eat, sleep and poop. And when she gets fussy taking her for a walk keeps her occupied. The 8-year old on the other hand can be a bit more complicated. She’s smart, a deep thinker (for an 8-year old) and very strong willed. So making intelligent parenting choices with her can be a challenge at times. It requires patience and long term thinking. That means I have to be at my best mentally. And again, there are plenty of times where I could be more patient and measured in how I respond but I do the best I can. And my best is better with good food and exercise.
- I need to do everything I can to be here and be healthy for them. If you read the post on aging and exercise from last week (you can find that here), I’ve already stated that the man upstairs ultimately has control over how long I am here. I don’t think I can add one day to my life that he doesn’t already have in store for me. And given my family history, with obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease on one side and cancer on the other, those days could come to an end way to soon. That being the case, I need to do everything I can to keep this vessel (my body) as healthy as possible. I want to live long enough to see my daughters get married and have kids of their own. I want to graduate from being Daddy to Grampa. That doesn’t even take into account all the stuff I want to do with my wife and our life together after the kids are grown. It’s very possible she and I will buy an RV and just take off chasing 70 degree weather at some point. Kate and I had children a little later in life so if I want to be healthy and capable, not to mention not dead, then I need to take care of myself to the best of my ability.
Okay, so I think I have established my “why” as far as exercising making me a better parent. So what does that look like? How do we (I use “we” in case anyone reading along agrees with me and wants to do this for themselves) live this out? Here’s a few ideas:
- Be in it for the long haul. We need to look at fitness and eating healthy food as a marriage not just a fling. Measure it in months and years, not days and weeks. That means it needs to be sustainable. It also means that you need to keep in mind that your life as a parent isn’t just about you. So that new program you read about on the Google machine that requires 2 plus hours at the gym, will add 100 lbs to your squat, carve up your abs, make that tiny little vein on your bicep stand out and leave you a sweaty lump of goo on the floor may not be right for you. At least right now. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and a place for challenging and pushing yourself. But if you are going to be in this for the long game, there needs to be a “punch the clock” mentality. Show up consistently, put in your work and then get on with the business of your life outside of the gym. Remember there are going to be nights as a parent where you don’t sleep as well as you should. Because babies. Oh and because sometimes in the middle of the night scary dreams happen. That leads to little bodies in the bed. (Someone please explain to me how the smallest body in the bed can take up the most space? Seriously?) So being involved in a program that requires you to snort ammonia, eat chalk and slap yourself into a frenzy to get through is too much right now. So let me repeat the sentence from above. Show up consistently, put in your work and then get on with the business of your life outside of the gym. Coach Dan John refers to this as a park bench approach to training and not only is it sustainable, you’ll get great results over time as well.
- Be well rounded. Unless you are an elite powerlifter or (insert other kind of athlete here) and your sport requires a narrow focus physically, your training needs to be well rounded. What does that mean? It means that you should have strength training, some kind of mobility work and something that gets your heart rate up as part of your training week. There are tons of ways to do this and tons of resources specifically to show you how to do this. So I won’t try to get very deep into that here. But here are a few things to think about:
- Strength training should cover all the movements in the hierarchy. That means getting up and down on the ground. It also means carrying heavy stuff, extending your hips (think deadlift and swings), squatting, pushing and pulling. Again, how much of each is “it depends” kind of thing. Just make sure you’re checking off those boxes.
- I know that fancy mobility flows (where you string together a bunch of yoga-like movements) are one of the “in-things” right now in fitness. Guys like Max Shank have done a lot with this. But hey, foam rolling still works. So does just regular old stretching. Personally, I’m a fan of the Original Strength Resets from Tim Anderson and company. That said, I’m not married to any particular method, just pick the one you will do consistently.
- I dislike “cardio” but here are a couple of things to think about. Kettlebell swings get my heart rate up and I don’t have to feel like I’m doing step aerobics (does anyone actually still do that?). So does slamming a medicine ball, waiving the battle ropes, and sprinting. And as much as I hate them, the squat thrust or burpee will get your heart pounding if you do enough of them. You can plug any of these things in between your strength sets and kill two birds with one stone. You could also just have separate days of strength work and circuits for this kind of stuff. Of course you still have things like the elliptical, spin bikes, and the treadmill (blech) that will fit the bill. Again, the important thing is that you find something you will do consistently and then do it. I can argue for wind sprints or kettlebell swings being great for fat-loss and a strong heart but if you won’t do them, they won’t help you.
- Leave some in the tank. I think this is a key to being in this for the long haul because you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself. Remember folks this is about making a healthier, stronger you, not beating your body into submission. Again, right time and place for everything but leaving yourself spent after every workout may not leave much for outside of the gym. My daughter doesn’t want to hear about “Leg day” as a reason why Daddy can’t play today. To be clear, I’m not trying to preach wimpy workouts, I’m preaching you (and me) being consistent in training so that you can be consistent outside of the gym.
- Be time efficient. This may be the grand-daddy of them all when it comes to fitness and fatherhood. Those two-hour gym rat workouts that you used to get in college (and when I say you, I mean me) are gone. Not happening. Too many other responsibilities to waste that kind of time in the gym. And yes I said waste. Unless you make a living with your body as an athlete (field, strength or physique) you’re wasting time in the gym if you’re there for two hours. Here are a few ideas on how to be more time efficient:
- Circuit train. Move from one exercise to the next as quickly as you can but with as much rest as you need to perform well. You can get a lot of work done that way in a fairly short time.
- Use complexes. Complexes in this usage refers to performing multiple exercises with one piece of equipment. And you get the luxury of not putting that piece of equipment down until you complete your circuit. An example of this is what I call my “Old Stand-By” workout. You perform this with two kettlebells and do the clean and press, followed up by the front squat, a row and then finish off with a 2 kettlebell swing. I’m not giving rep ranges as you can use this for strength by using heavier bells and keep the reps in the 2-3 range or go for a little muscle mass and do 3-6 reps per movement. And if you are into self-mutilation, give 8-10 reps a try. At the end of the day, the benefit of complexes are that you can get a ton of work done in a short period of time.
- Set a timer. Pareto, the Italian economist famous for the 80/20 rule, once said that work will expand to fit the amount of time allotted for it. I think you can go into a gym anywhere in the world and see that play itself out. So figure out how much time you can actually plan for training and set a timer. Then go and fill up that time with all the good stuff I’ve talked about above.
For an example of what this might look like, here is what I’ve been doing lately:
A1) 2 kettlebell clean and jerk x 2-5 reps (depending on the weight)
A2) Stretch- This changes from day to day depending on what feels kinked.
A3) 2 hand kettlebell swing x 10 reps
(I repeat this for as many rounds as it takes to total 10 reps on the C/J. This varies as I wave the amount of weight I use.)
B1) TGU x 1ea (I typically use a significant weight here. I love my 100lb bell and heavy get ups make me happy.)
B2) Farmers Walk (this varies based on whether I’m at home, at the gym and how I feel on that day.)
B3) 2 hand kettlebell swings x 10 reps
(I usually only do this sequence twice.)
C1) Airborne Lunges (stole this from Max Shank’s book Ultimate Athleticism) x 2-5 reps
C2) Pullups x 2-5 reps
C3) 2 hand kettlebell swings x 10 reps
(I repeat this as many rounds as it takes to total 10 reps on the pullups and lunges. It varies as I vary the weight I use from one day to the next.)
D1) Barbell deadlifts x 1-5 reps
D2) Dips x 5 reps
D3) 2 hand kettlebell swings x 10 reps
(I repeat this as many rounds as it takes to total 10 reps on the deadlifts and dips. It varies as I vary the weight I use from one day to the next.)
Each sequence takes about 10 minutes to get through, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. Right now, I’m actually repeating this every time I train. It’s a take on Dan John and Pavel’s Easy Strength Program. (Side bar, if you haven’t read that book, you are missing out.)
Okay folks, that’s what I’ve got. I hope you found this helpful. If you did, or you just enjoyed it, please share it with friends. Again, if you don’t agree with me on the parenting front, that’s okay. I write this kind of stuff out to clarify my own thoughts so no judgement or preachiness intended. Have a great day.