How to Keep Fatherhood From Ruining Your Fitness Routine

The years after your kid arrives are an "emergency zone" for your physique

May 24, 2023 6:45 am
A kid sitting on his dad's shoulders outside on a walk.
Bringing a newborn into the world is an amazing thing — and at the outset, a huge threat to your fitness routine.
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Few forces on earth can derail a longstanding fitness routine faster than the arrival of a newborn infant.

There’s the guilt of prioritizing one’s health over the needs of their child (not to mention a beleaguered spouse). There’s the postpartum depression at play, which does indeed impact men. There’s the trickiness of balancing a mountain of new responsibilities with inadequate paternity leave. And of course, even the most dedicated morning warriors have a tough time getting up and at it when their sleep patterns are at the mercy of regularly-scheduled screams.

Over time, it can feel easier just to accept this new reality: the muscles of your chest and back shrink as your waistline expands, and you learn firsthand how the “dad bod” came by its name. 

But while having a baby might be a death sentence for existing fitness routine, it doesn’t have to spell all-encompassing doom. Within your new familial framework, there are endless strategies you can employ to keep yourself moving in tiny and mighty ways.

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Lean Into Your Limitations

If consistent trips to the gym are now impractical, learn to leverage your surroundings and level-set your expectations. It’s okay to diagnose the bare minimum effort threshold required to maintain an acceptable personal fitness level. For example, if you know that evening nap time might provide you with a window of at least 20 minutes, arrange your home training environment so that you can extract the most out of those precious few minutes. Consider this abridged chest day: three sets of push-ups, three sets of bench presses, three sets of chest flys and three sets of dips. Aim for 30 seconds a set, with one minute of rest in between. That should keep you within the allotted timeframe.

In other words, configuring a space in your home for fitness and getting straight down to business will help you realize how much time you were devoting to travel to and from the gym. (If this didn’t sink in already during peak pandemic.) Use the knowledge that you’ve got a baby to tend to to your advantage. Let it keep you on task and off your phone, so you can get the work done.

Apply the “Pareto Principle” to Your Training

Also known as the 80/20 Rule, the Pareto Principle is often used in the world of business to explain how 80% of a company’s revenue almost invariably comes from 20% of its customers, while the remaining 20% of revenue will come from the remaining 80% of its customers.

Applied to physical training, the Pareto Principle says that the bulk of your gains will arrive from a few essential lifts. Full-body compound movements are critical: squats, deadlifts, the bench press. The same goes for military presses for your shoulders, either rows or pull-ups — ideally weighted — for your back, along with weighted chin-ups for your biceps and parallel dips for your triceps.

In short, we’re placing the greatest number of muscles under the largest amount of tension in the shortest duration of time. Yes, bicep curls are fun. So are leg extensions, tricep extensions, chest flys and lateral raises. No one is saying you can’t do them at all or that you’ll never get to do them again. The point is this: when your workouts could be derailed at a moment’s notice, arrange them so that if you have to call it quits after only five minutes, those five minutes were as meaningful and beneficial as possible.

Capitalize on Small Openings

As for cardio, if you have a treadmill at your disposal and your only objective is to burn some calories, there’s no critical difference between a single three-mile jog or a few one-mile jogs. If we’re talking about bodyweight exercises, the floor is always free, and a doorframe-mounted pull-up bar is less than $30. Make it a point to squeeze as many push-ups, pull-ups, free squats, mountain climbers, chin-ups or plank jacks as possible into a two-minute time period on a daily basis, which will guarantee that you’ll at least maintain a competent level of strength in the majority of your muscle groups. 

The fact that you’ve sustained your fitness level for this long is a feat that you should take a great deal of pride in. But this period is a sort of emergency zone for your fitness — if you don’t make a conscious, creative effort, it can slip away. So do whatever is necessary to maintain your physique. Build good habits and stick to them. After all, someone far more important is now watching you and learning from everything you do.

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