The physical abilities you need to be a useful father are probably not what you think they are. Check out these 5 essential fitness abilities that every father should have. Start training if you want to be a real fit dad.
The Fit Dad Adventure
I turned away for ONE SECOND, and there he was on the other side of the railing. Below him was a 1,000 foot drop, but he was smiling and laughing like he was playing “don’t touch the lava” on the playground. I was about thirty feet away, tying my shoe… not in an ideal position to save him from an imminent fall when his grip slipped. Luckily, I had been using unconventional training to prepare my body for this situation. My triple extension med ball throws had improved my launching ability, hill sprints improved my sprinting ability and foot stability over rough terrain, heavy deadlifting allowed me to effectively brace my core as I reached over the rail, kettlebell juggling improved my grip strength and hand-eye coordination to quickly reach and grasp his fingers as they began to slip away…
Pretty impressive, right!?! Yes, but it didn’t really happen like this. It was actually me over the railing when I was 5 years old; I wasn’t the father sprinting to save my careless son. It was a family trip to Mammoth Lakes at the Minaret Vista, I was being a goofball playing on the railing, and my mom was the one that grabbed my hand, pulled me back over, and gave me a good, hard smack for doing something stupid (rightly so, of course).
The REAL Fit Dad
This reinvisioned version of the event is an illustration of how I thought physical fitness during fatherhood would be put to use, rather than how it’s actually put to use.
What physical attributes you actually need to be as a dad is probably at odds with what you think you need to be. Of course, being big and strong is a good example for your children; every day wants to be seen as a super hero in his children’s eyes encouraging them to be the strongest versions of themselves. But what does it actually take to be physically prepared for the real aspects of modern fatherhood?
For me, it has meant the following list of attributes. My kids are 2 and 3 years old (about 10 months apart), so they have a lot of growing to do and that small gap in age has probably put some additional stress on old dad than the easier, more practical “one kid per year” approach, but the lessons are pretty universal. Please feel free to add your opinion in the comments.
#1: Squatting Under Load
You have probably heard how squatting is one of the most functional exercises you can do, and this is doubly true for fatherhood. Imagine holding an awkward, squirming weight in one hand, squatting to the floor, then reaching for something that has been randomly dropped on the ground in between two cars. Kinda hard to simulate in the gym, but necessary for fatherhood. The most similar exercise you can do to prepare for this would be Kettlebell Front Squats, Sots Presses, and the Double Kettlebell Anyhow exercise.
#2: Extreme Endurance Mindset
You’ve seen this in TV shows and commercials quite a few times… the baby cries in the middle of the night, tired old dad or mom stumbles into the room to pick up the baby, then heats up the bottle and feeds the soothed baby (good parenting 101). However, imagine that you have multiple babies and they have completely different sleeping habits and schedules which they effectively alternate so there are no gaps your sleeping schedule; a little different! Maybe the baby (or babies) are sick, going through a teething stage, have colic, a nightmare, hear a loud sound, or any number of other common sleep-reducing situations. It all adds up to night after night of less than ideal sleep habits for you.
Most people don’t think about this when they’re training, but your mind takes a big hit while sleep is constantly being reduced. There’s no real way to train for this (other than going into the military probably), but you can get into good sleep habits prior to parenthood to ensure that when you do sleep, it’s good sleep. Go to bed without the TV or cell phone on, set a regular bedtime and wake up time, perform relaxation techniques to prepare for a good sleep, and get proper exercise and nutrition during the day. Every minute you get to sleep needs to count, remember that!
#3: Proper Mobility
Proper mobility goes in line with the ability to squat. You need to be prepared to reach awkward angles, move smoothly and fluidly under load, and avoid injuries that will be constantly under assault if they occur. Imagine walking around a room with your baby, reaching for a bottle, filling the bottle, and rocking the baby so he or she doesn’t wake up the other baby, all in the dark 10 seconds after you woke up from a deep sleep. Now, step on a jagged toy. This is a common situation! How about the baby falls asleep while you’re lying on the couch, requiring you to smoothly stand from a lying position, navigate rooms and halls, lay a blanket down, and smoothly lie the baby down in the dark. What if the baby begins falling from a height and all you have time for is grabbing the baby in mid-air and hitting the ground before they do? If you’re not mobile, this could really hurt.
Fortunately, mobility training is something that EVERYONE should do, parent to be or not. Mobility training enhances your joint performance by flooding each joint with synovial fluid. All you have to do is simple, repetitive movements on each joint, wrist circles, arm circles, leg swings, body twists, etc. will all help improve your body’s longevity and injury resiliency. All you need is 5 to 10 minutes a day, and it could even be done in front of the TV.
#4: Core Strength
Preventing back injuries is essential for every dad. Parenthood requires a lot of lifting and holding. When my second son had colic for 5 months straight, I would spend 3+ hours at a time walking around the house with him. That kind of constant, front-loaded weight can strain your back; so can reaching to the ground, lifting a weight at awkward angles, and throwing babies high in the air (that one is just for fun). Building solid core strength is means more than getting “six-pack-abs,” it means solid back strength and upper leg strength in your glutes, hamstrings, and quads in addition to your abdominal muscles. All of these large muscle groups work together to support your spine while carrying loads.
The best exercises for this kind of functional strength are Squats (Kettlebell Front Squats, Kettlebell Goblet Squats, Sandbag Shoulder Squats, Barbell Front Squats, etc.), Deadlifts (Heavy Barbell Deadlifts, Sumo Barbell Deadlifts, 1-Leg Kettlebell Deadlifts, etc.), and Loaded Carries (Farmer Walks, Weighted Overhead Walks, ruck marches, etc.).
#5: Grip Strength
Fatherhood requires a lot of grip strength. A lot of people don’t understand the necessity of specific grip strength training, but consider this: your ability to lift any weight or object is completely dependent on your ability to hold it (pretty simple). As a father, you’ll be doing more than just lifting a bar over and over again; babies and their toys are heavy! Who is going to be the one to build and move all of the strollers, high-chairs, play houses, big wheels, wagons, and play sets? Not to mention that you’ll now be packing more food, more clothes, and more supplies for every outing and carrying more groceries at every trip to the grocery store (get ready for a deep love and appreciation for Costco). These may seem like small details, but if you’re an office worker of any type, it will add up to a more significant amount of physical work than you’re used to.
You can train your grip by avoiding weightlifting gloves when you workout, performing 1-hand ballistic kettlebell drills like Swings, High Pulls, Snatches, and Cleans, and by using any number of sandbag training exercises using a crush grip rather than the handles.
There you have it! I’m sure there will be greater requirements as my boys grow, but for now, these attributes have served me well. I hope they can work for you.