Every Saturday morning I participate in an amateur strongman class. A core group of us has attended for the past six years, finding creative ways to pick up heavy things and put them down again. During that time, guys have gotten married and divorced. They’ve switched careers. Those milestones didn’t generally have a lasting effect on fitness. One did: having kids. As more of the class became dads, the locker room small-talk shifted from conversations about cured meats and the nuances of pro-wrestling to recommendations for booster seats and the general insufferability of Paw Patrol. The new fathers began putting focus on functional movements as opposed to big lifts. They’d miss classes for recitals or birthdays.
Most of the guys in the class are a couple of years older than I am. I’ve always looked up to the group, leaning on them for life advice and using them as inspiration for how I want to conduct myself inside and outside of the gym. But watching my friends become fathers has been a trip. They’re in charge of shaping a child’s life; I’m barely responsible enough to consistently water a house plant. I wondered how they stayed in shape.
I spoke with a number of dads about how their workouts have changed since becoming fathers. We chatted about shifting priorities, changes in eating habits, and how to stick to your goals when there is a small human screaming directly into your face. I’ve compiled their collective wisdom below.
Shoot for consistency over intensity
Geoff Girvitz is a personal trainer and the head of Bang Fitness in Toronto—he also blogs about working out and raising a kid. When his son Miles was born three years ago, he was surprised by how little time he had for his own fitness, even as a person who owned a gym. His workout windows were shorter. His stress levels were higher. As an expert in the industry, he knew all of the things he should be doing, but following through was a challenge. Getting things done meant a shift in mentality.
Girvitz encourages consistency and accountability—he deemphasizes high-impact and extreme classes and training. He says those workouts can cause new dads who are already operating under trying circumstances—like when your kid decides they’re exclusively eating buttered macaroni for the foreseeable future—to burn out. Instead, he suggests looking at the minimum effective dose.
“In a lot of ways I’ve lost the intensity that I used to have at the gym,” said Girvitz. “But what I’ve traded that for is consistency,” he says. “I look at what can get done daily with the least stress possible: I recommend frequency over intensity. I look at movements that are going to maintain my weight and elevate my mood. And that stuff can get done in as little as fifteen to twenty minutes. If I have more to give, I give it. If I don&apost, I know that I&aposm still maintaining.”
For Girvitz, the best workout is whatever you’re able to get done consistently. In his exercises he opts for speed and efficiency. Practically, that has meant a focus on things like bodyweight training and kettlebell swings, presses, and squats.
“Kettlebells come with a learning curve, but they’re adaptable for whatever level of workout you’re trying to get done. Getting familiar with bodyweight exercises and basic mobility drills can also help out a lot. Twenty minutes of constant motion is meaningful—particularly when it&aposs integrated with some kind of strength training.”
Stick to a low-maintenance healthy diet
Jeremy Fernandes is a trainer and nutritionist. He works with new fathers to create strategies for fitness maintenance and weight loss. If Fernandes had a tagline, it would be “helping dads avoid dad bod.” His focus is convenience and simplicity: He helps men develop an attainable, healthy diet to hit a nutritional baseline.
“You can do extreme programs and get great results, but those require an all-or-nothing compliance. That isn’t practical with kids,” said Fernandes. “Stick to basics: a lot of protein and vegetables with enough carbs to keep up performance and stay sane. Batch cooking is your friend. Chilis and soups. Think about what you’re comfortable making and set aside an afternoon to make a lot of it.”
If you can afford it, being a new dad is a great time to think about healthy meal delivery services. Having Tupperware meals delivered to you weekly saves time and offers a convenience factor that can be worth the cost on several different levels—especially if it gives you a bit more sleep.
“People don’t realize how much sleep plays a factor in weight,” said Fernandes. “If not having to cook can give you a little extra rest each morning that could be worth it. If you don’t have to think about food in the nighttime, that might be worth it.”
Remember that a healthy dad is a good dad
For a lot of new dads, it’s easy to justify skipping a workout to spend more time with the kids. But if you can budget the time, making sure you get a decent gym session is part of bringing the best version of yourself to the family. Last week, after strongman, my buddy Isaac and I grabbed coffee to catch up. Issac has two kids, a boy and a girl—both under five. Over coffee, he told me the gym is the only time he isn’t focused on work or family.
“I love my kids, but I haven’t taken a shit alone in three years,” he said. “They’re always around and they always need things. Working out allows time by myself to clear my head. It helps me focus. Honestly, that makes me a better dad and a better partner.”
Comedian Faisal Butt told me something similar. He resolved to get in shape when he became a father: Years of being paid in beer tickets and comedy club chicken fingers had left him with some pretty bad habits that began seriously impacting his health.
"I got gout! Can you believe that? Gout! " said Butt. "That&aposs a disease for some decadent king from the 1800s, not a stoned Muslim comedian with commitment issues."
Ignoring the advice of his doctor, Butt put off getting fit for years. Instead he opted for alternative treatments for his gout symptoms: namely fried food and getting really drunk when flair-ups got painful. But all that changed after he had his kid.
"After I got in a long-term relationship, I was really looking forward to just kind of giving up on looking good. Like, who did I need to impress? But then we had the kid and… I didn&apost want to be the doughy dad. I want to be able to do things with her. So I&aposve been trying to work out to keep up with my kid. Even though I hate working out."
Besides having the energy and patience to parent well, staying in shape also helps dads set a good example for their kids. Nick Villote is a high school English teacher who doubles as a wrestling coach. He also has a five-year-old daughter and a son on the way. Villote always had examples of physical fitness in the family, and he says it’s important to him to be a role model to his kids.
"Growing up, my dad had big muscles and tattoos,” he said. “I always saw him running and biking. He boxed. As a kid physical fitness was the norm. Being a dad meant big muscles and tattoos.”
Thoughts of the future—walking his daughter down the aisle, being able to babysit his potential grandkids, and maintaining his mobility—keep Villote accountable to his routine. He’s also changed some other habits.
“When I was younger, I’d go out and throw down easily twenty shots in a night,” said Villote. “Now that I’ve got more responsibilities, I keep it to something reasonable. Like six shots.”
Originally Appeared on GQ