Friday, April 8, 2011

Training For New And Expecting Fathers

The other day, I was talking to a colleague who is a new father. It goes without saying that he was feeling a bit overwhelmed. In a nutshell, my words to him were:
"Dude, it's not your fault."

If you've ever been a new or expecting father, you know exactly what I'm talking about, but you didn't hear that from me...
I also have some more useful advice for those that are trying to maintain some semblance of a training life as a new and expecting father. This article, entitled "New & Expecting Fathers: Tips For Training and Time Management", originally appeared in Dan John's February, 2008 "GET UP!" newsletter. Coach John's newsletter has some amazing gems - you can find all of his newsletters, as well as his blog at 

New & Expecting Fathers: Tips for Training and Time Management

Fatherhood is a life-changing event. There is “the moment” when the full weight of your new role strikes you. “The moment” may hit others at different times, but hearing that first weak cry when my son was born was it for me. The words “love” and “responsibility” suddenly carried immense weight. From that moment on, I would find myself in a rage when reckless drivers tailgated, swerved, or honked. I’d get angry when people swore around my son. In short, the world became a scarier place that I needed to be able to defend my baby against if the need arose and, in that context, training became an even greater necessity to me.
I can’t prove it, but I believe that becoming a father automatically makes you stronger.
How does this play out in the wild kingdom? Well, take lions, for example; young rogue lions have a rough life - no sex, no pride, no offspring. They have to hang out with other rogue males. They have no pride of their own, which makes hunting harder. When they think they have what it takes, they challenge a pride leader. The king of the pride is probably older, stronger, better fed. If the king loses, he will be stripped of his lionesses, and his cubs will be killed and possibly eaten. Who would you put your money on? Who has more to lose?
The concept of “Dad Strength” is not just “philosotainment” (a term coined by Dan Adams, author of Dilbert) – it actually exists. This may or may not translate to bigger numbers in the gym, but things like being able to open a can of whoop-ass should the occasion call for it, take on a whole new level of significance when you are a father, and not just for lions.
In this modern and sophisticated age, however, your wife probably doesn’t get the importance of being able to pummel young rogue lions (which is your purpose after all, isn’t it?). So, unless you are fortunate enough to be married to someone who shares your obsession with moving heavy things, your “hobby” can take it in the shorts when you are a new or expecting father. There are some things you can do to better your situation and here I present some tips to help you develop or maintain your “Dad Strength” on a limited time-budget. 

*Shift Focus
As a new father, you will find out how heavy 10 pounds can really be. Imagine carrying and protecting a raw egg in your hands while trying to do track and field events – how tired do you think your upper body would get? The answer is pretty damn tired, pretty damn quick. The challenge in holding a small child is not the weight – it is in holding it delicately for long periods of time. Developing “Dad Strength” is a topic for another article, but until your child starts walking, your biggest strength assets will be your ability to carry and load your child + car seat. If you are an expecting father, start doing these exercises NOW: farmers walks, suitcase carries, and “Mr/Miss Stinky Pants Carry” (imagine walking and holding a baby wearing stinky diapers and you’ll get the idea) – you’ll thank me later.

*Front-Load Your Training Week
We all have busy patches when it’s tough to get in a single workout, let alone a string of them. We put off training until later in the week and, before you know it, it’s Saturday already and you haven’t done a single rep of anything except maybe some curls with the television remote. A simple (but not necessarily easy) solution to this is to “front-load” your training week. This means planning your hardest and most productive training session early in the week (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday). If you do this, even if you get busy and don’t train for the rest of the week, you still already have one or two good training sessions in the bank.

*Have Your Mother-In-Law Over for a Week or Two
An easy way to save up on training time is to encourage your wife to have her mother over FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. This will curry goodwill from your wife and, if you clean before Mom-in-law shows up, the reward of extra gym-time is almost guaranteed.
There are limits to this though and diminishing returns with respect to the training time gained. My mother-in-law lives in Japan, so when she visits, it’s not going to be for dinner or chit-chat - it will be something longer than a week and less than a month. After about a week, EVERYONE (including mom-in-law) wants her gone and is looking for excuses to go to the gym. So plan on, at best, one or two weeks of good training with this scheme.

*Get Used To Training at Odd Times
It’s easy to find a solid block of time if you are willing and able to train before everyone else wakes up or after everyone else goes to bed. If you have access to a gym at odd hours or you have equipment at home, the only thing limiting your ability to train is your sleeping habits. Notice that I said your sleeping habits, not sleep. Do not sacrifice sleep, because as Dan John says “Recovery is not a drink. Recovery is sleep.”
Once the kids are tucked in, excuse yourself to the garage or the gym instead of cracking one open. Or, skip the late night websurfing and worthless cable T.V., go to bed and wake up an hour and a half earlier to put in a training session before going to work. Will this suck until you get used to it? Yes, but after a while, you will not miss the time you used to waste watching shows you never really liked that much anyway.

*Give and Ye Shall Receive
If you are a slacker in the “home upkeep” department, you have an uncovered mining opportunity to garner training time. Now, understand that time spent on housework is not directly proportional to training time allowed by wives and, as with mom-in-law time, there are diminishing returns. Too much help around the house will reset long-term expectations of you as a husband, so use this tool sparingly, but, as a general rule, being generous with help around the house will yield more training time.

*Experiment with Time-Based Training Plans
Once upon a time, I believed that if you were serious about “strength” (limit strength, that is), you would stick to low-rep, high-intensity sets with generous rest between exertions. Of course, I still believe that, but after numerous injuries put my non-existent  powerlifting career on hold, I loosened my views of what “acceptable” training poundages in the squat and deadlifts are, especially with high reps and/or limited rest intervals.
As a father, it is hard to find a solid hour or two to devote to training. Training programs like Charles Staley’s “EDT” (Escalating Density Training), or Dan John’s One-Lift a Day routine, or Dan John’s “Training for the Busy Working Guy” plan, or interval training (Tabata, et. al), will let you get A LOT done in less than a half-hour and even less than 15 minutes if you are really pressed for time.
I have nothing but respect for the “It’s Westside or DIE!” types, and if you’re one of them, keep in mind that most of us (unless we were ramping our way up to 600+ pounds) could probably work up to a max single, double, or triple in a given exercise within 30 minutes if we put our minds to it. You’ll have to skip the supplemental and auxiliary exercises, but you can get the max effort exercise in relatively quickly and it’s a simple matter to do supplemental work with extra sessions if you have access to minimal equipment.

*If You Can Do It at Home, Do It at Home
Get Up! readers know this already, but there are a ton of things that you can do at home, even if you don’t own a barbell. With some bands, an Army duffle bag, and a few hundred pounds of sand, you will be able to do most exercises, or at least some variation of them. Throw in plates, rope, duct tape, adjustable dumbbells, and maybe a kettlebell or two and you have a home gym that is as functional as most commercial gyms. Add a “slosh pipe” and you’re freaking cutting edge!!!

*Remember, in the Gym and Out, It’s ALL Quality Time
Staying engaged in life is something that’s pretty tough with the distractions of the modern age. Finding time to train is easier if you can eliminate the unimportant things that distract us from the things that really matter. Television, texting, web-surfing, and video games can be bottomless pits of wasted time. Avoid them.
Those carefree days of admiring gym eye-candy from the water fountain or while you pretend to catch your breath between sets of EZ bar curls are over. Depending on how forgiving your wife is, weekend afternoons playing lazy-ass on the couch are probably numbered as well. You have responsibilities now and you need to take care of business, in the gym and out. Having a vision of where you want to be longer term is important for your lifting career and your family life – invest some time to creating or refining those visions.


Gregory Wall said...

Excellent article, and one of the primary reasons I got into kettlebells (and why I get up at 0430 to swing them). With two kids under 3 years-old, it's just about the only way to meet my fitness goals.

Boris said...

Thanks Gregory - kettlebells made a HUGE difference in my ability to put together great training sessions in a very limited time-frame.

Geoff Neupert said...

Thanks, Boris - appreciate the help. Will need this as a reference shortly I suspect.

Anonymous said...

Hi Boris.

I wrote here a couple of weeks back about some knee issues, and how I "bounced" at the bottom of my front squats. After I stopped doing that, and focusing more on keeping the tension, it feels a lot better.

I have one more question about front squats, more exactly front squats with weightlifting shoes.
I have been using them for front squats extensively the last year or so. I can go deep without them, but I still use them. But I have started to wonder why.
Whats the pros/cons of using them? It feels like my knees travel even more forward with them on.

Is it better to use them even though I dont kneed them to do full range of motion front squats? Why? Why not? Arent more muscles recruited without them?

Thanks, and hope all is well.

Boris said...


I'm sorry - I don't think I have answers for you. IMHO, you are on the right track with your thinking. But, if you are going heavy on front squats (and I know that "heavy" is a relative term), then I think OL shoes are the most appropriate.

Mike Perry said...


You read my mind! We are expecting a little boy on June 3rd. I am attending RKC II four weeks later. Not to mention I am attempting to Tame the Beast. This advice is greatly appreciated.

Boris said...

Congratulations to you and yours Mike!!!