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“Just wait until you have kids.”

“Must be nice to have that kind of time.”

“Yeah, I used to be in shape, too, before… them." (The speaker points to his children while drawing a long sip of soda.)


I’ve heard sentiments such as these more times than I can remember. They are the go-to of friends and acquaintances who’d rather rationalize my fitness habit as one of those selfish pursuits only habituated by the childless. They find comfort in believing that even their routine-oriented, fitness freak friend, Shane, will let his health fall by the wayside when he has kids. It is just the way life works. Until recently, I’ve always just smiled. What could I say?



However, in the past month, I’ve experienced an exceptionally crazy introduction into fatherhood, while maintaining a daily exercise discipline. My wife and I drove to Georgia and adopted two beautiful babies, a 5-week-old girl, and her 19-month-old big brother. Due to adoption law, we could not leave Georgia to head home until all paperwork was finalized.


True to its reputation, the bureaucratic processes stretched what we’d hoped would be a five-day stay into two and half weeks, three different lodging arrangements, two separate U-Haul rentals, and one frantically rushed departure just in time to elude Hurricane Michael. Now, having returned to work, I’ve experienced a fairly broad spectrum of the fathering constraints that often preclude exercise.


Things certainly do change when you have children, but when you prioritize your health, it is fairly simple to find a way to exercise. The trick is to take advantage of the short intervals when they present themselves. This requires a degree of self-mastery. If you are yet to have kids but know they are around the corner, I highly recommend learning to train willpower first.


Taking Time to Exercise Is a Gift

There is this myth that parenthood requires an absolute sacrifice of health, hopes, and dreams. Marriage must become passionless, purposeful work must be reframed as a necessary evil, and any individual pursuits must be abandoned.


The reality is that self-neglect is the worst thing you can do for your kids. First of all, if you allow yourself to become a fractured version, you will have less to give your children. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Taking time for your own health will magnify your positive impact. Our world often focuses on quantity, but quality time is what always matters most.


Coach Shane Trotter of Inspired Human Development in Mansfield, Texas


Movement is not an activity you fit into your life. It is the essence of living. This is true both figuratively, as nothing is static and we are always growing, and literally. Movement is the foundation of all learning and development. Watch children and you’ll truly begin to respect this truth.


A few years ago my father-in-law fell off the roof, lacerating his kidney. Doctors quickly got him stable and comfortable, but his condition turned scary after days of not moving. His hospital bed induced extreme immobility halted most of the bodies natural processes. An ileus developed, where his bowels completely shut down causing his body to stockpile toxins. He was miserable for days as a tube pumped black poison out of his gut. All of this occurred simply from not moving.


Your model is the most powerful tool you have for influencing conduct. Children will see your example as the gold standard of appropriate behavior. Children whose parents value health are far more likely to grow up exercising, eating well, and, consequently, thriving. In a time when lack of impulse control and lifestyle-related illness are the leading killers, your model may, literally, save their life. You’ll never know it did, but that is alright.



Make no mistake, children complicate everything. They are masters of inserting chaos into your perfect little plans. I do my best writing first thing in the morning. Yet, writing takes a pause when baby girl needs a bottle. She ain’t waiting! The certainty of chaos does not preclude planning, rather it necessitates systems. Just as with the military, there is not one singular routine, but many routines set up for each unique brand of chaos.


Lift Heavy at the Gym

Finding time to exercise could be as simple as communicating this need to your spouse and setting a time where he handles all childcare duties. Having a home gym or gym at work can make this even more doable.


For many, this is all you’ll need to do to fall into normal exercise patterns. If you can only get to the gym a couple days a week, or only for short periods, I recommend prioritizing heavy lifting and compound movements.


Pick one day a week where you do heavy squats, heavy rows, heavy RDL’s, and heavy overhead or bench press. In less than 30-minutes, you send an overwhelming signal to your body that it needs to maintain every muscle. If you get another day later in the week, consider barbell or kettlebell complexes for a tremendously metabolic total body blast, in a very short time.


Become a Bodyweight Guru

Those who are simply trying to make home fitness fit into their daily routine will have to be a little more creative. At our Airbnb, I spent a week with nothing but a TRX. Despite having access to motel gyms in the next week, daddy duty often precluded my escape and resigned me to training in a small, packed room.


If you invest the time becoming a master of bodyweight exercise, there will be no situation where you can’t sneak in fitness. Your training may not be as well-planned and intentional as you’d like, but some movement is better than none. Consider this randomized approach a rediscovery of the unplanned movement the typical human body experienced throughout most of history. You can still be very productive by following a few directives:


  1. Always train total body. It is the best way to stoke your metabolism and ensure balanced movement. With no certainty how long you will be able to train or when the next workout will fit, it is best to hit every muscle, every time. This is really always the best way to train. Shoot for a push, a pull, a knee-dominant squat or lunge, and a hip dominant glute-bridge variation. As Pavel Tsatsouline has shown with his grease-the-groove philosophy, you can even get positive results training total body every day, provided you aren’t hitting extremes.
  2. Alternate strength circuit days with metabolic conditioning days.
  3. Auto-regulate when you need. There will be times you are exhausted. Go low and slow.
  4. Take advantage of low hanging fruit. When your baby boy is at the playground, play with him. Do pull-ups on the monkey bars. When he squats, you squat. If you are going somewhere and not walking ridiculous distances, leave the stroller in the car. Using your baby for a form of loaded carry is a great workout that you don’t have to seek out. You could even standardize a path and progress your loaded carries by doing these daily, just as Milo did with his calf. Your child will grow, increasing the difficulty in congruence with your increased capacity.


Here is a sample of my freelanced work-outs from those weeks in Georgia:


Scenario One: My 19-month-old wakes while mom and the baby are still asleep. No time to waste. I make an executive decision to throw a new diaper on him and initiate a 30-minute workout. This is a new automatic routine. If the 19-month-old is up, but no one else is, I work out with him by my side. He loves this. To him, we are just playing.


After my standard morning 5-minute flow I do 5 rounds of this strength circuit:


  • TRX inverted rows – x10
  • TRX pikes – x10
  • TRX 1-leg squats – x10/side
  • 1-arm push-ups – x3/side
  • 1-leg glute bridge – x10/side
  • Finisher: Bear crawls chasing my young boy around the house along with somesidewayss monkey walks, a la GMB.



Scenario Two: Both kids wake up at the same time. I let Mama catch up on sleep after a few nights of broken rest. At this point, I’m tending to the children’s needs for most of the day. I know I’ll have to insert fitness into whatever breaks the day offers. Around 11, my youngest falls asleep for a bit in her dock-a-tot.


The 19-month-old is playing with blocks, so I know I can get a few quick Tabatas in while I keep my eyes on him. A Tabata protocol is 8 rounds of one exercise, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. The whole metabolism spiking circuit takes less than four minutes. I do a push-up tabata, a superman tabata, and a jump lunge tabata.


Scenario Three: My wife gets sick. It’s Saturday and we’re both exhausted. She’s napping and I’m watching both the kids with the Texas versus OU game on. I’m tired and have done nothing today, but both kids are up and needy. It’s time for a 5-minute wakeup. I hold a kid in each arm and begin 5 minutes of lunges in place.


Baby girl is snug and secure and baby boy thinks this is awesome. I’d only recommend holding children if you feel very strong in your lunges. I rest and repeat this 5-minute challenge after moving each kid to the opposite arm.


Scenario Four: We’ve moved again to the world’s smallest motel room. Morale is low. We can’t believe we haven’t been released to drive home yet and we have no clue what to do in this small town on the Alabama border. Mom is holding the baby and my eyes are on the young wild-man as he explores everything. I set up right next to him and start repeating between this pattern:


  • 50 push ups
  • Play with baby boy
  • 50 air squats
  • Play with baby boy
  • 25 push ups. Stop. Tell baby boy that the outlet is “no.” Get his fake, noisy keys for him.
  • 25 more push ups
  • 50 frogger hip thrusters
  • Pick baby boy up, tickle him and hand him back his keys.
  • 50 air squats
  • Pack up baby stuff in case we get released today.
  • 50 frogger hip thrusters
  • 50 push ups
  • 50 air squats
  • Take baby boy to lunch
  • Put baby boy down for a nap
  • 50 frogger hip thrusters
  • 50 push ups
  • Give baby girl a bottle.
  • Set her up for tummy time
  • Set her down to sleep
  • 50 air squats


There is no rule saying each day’s workout has to happen in a neat 30-60 minute period. I’ve called this strategy of inserting short bursts of exercise throughout the day the 5-alarm method. The basic premise is that by setting five alarms or five consistent three or four minute intervals throughout the day, even the busiest people can piece together a full workout.


This is ideal for working out with children. You can make this as simple or varied as you like. At home I’ll do airborne lunges, front levers, handstands, and 1-leg glute bridges. Some days I’ll just go back and forth all day inserting pull ups and push ups, whenever I get the chance.


The point is to pick a balanced array of exercises and insert them in small, convenient doses throughout the day. To make this easy, select an exercise from each category:


  • Squat or knee dominant: split squats, lunges, jump lunges, air squats, burpees
  • Hinge or hip dominant: hip thruster, 1-leg glute bridge, donkey kick-backs
  • Push: push ups; Judo push ups; typewriter push ups; crawl
  • Pull: reverse push up plank, lying Y-W-handcuff, superman
  • Core: side planks or reverse crunches


Do one round of each exercise at a prescribed number of reps at five different points throughout the day. As you find routines this should be easy to habituate. Define five specific times that you associate with one round of work. The intervals will be specific to you, but if I was staying home it might look something like this:


  1. During baby’s first nap
  2. At 19-month-old’s snack time (he’s in his high-chair crushing a cut up banana)
  3. Again at 19-month-old’s lunch time (I could easily fit multiple rounds here, right next to him)
  4. After baby’s early afternoon bottle, while brother is napping
  5. One round as soon as my spouse returns from work
  6. Any missed rounds are completed immediately after the kids are put down for bedtime


For more clarity and more ideas, I highly recommend consulting my 5-Alarm Method article.


You Can Do This

The reality is that exercise is essential and possible. When in doubt, decide that you will move when the opportunity presents and just start moving. I recommend selecting one go to movement, like air squats, that is your default fill-in whenever you are in a pinch.


All it takes is a little willpower to overcome the inertia. Whether air squats, lunges, push ups, mountain climbers, or supermans, by committing to daily movement you give your family the gift of health and vitality.



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