Becoming a new parent is a perhaps the largest change to your lifestyle you will ever make. It’s simultaneously the most challenging and rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
Your daily (and nightly) routine gets thrown in to chaos, your energy and focus levels fall through the floor and any time you had to yourself vanishes.
If you had twins, like I did, then it’s all this x2!
So, how can we stop developing a ‘dad bod’ and maintain and/or make gains to our fitness levels with seemingly zero time and resources?
In this article I’ll discuss my own exercise programming in relation to becoming a new father, but a Dad Bod Workout can apply to anyone who is pressed for time in their daily schedule – be it from a busy professional & family life, or any other situation where you can no longer squeeze an hour or two out of the day to get some exercise.
Be clever about your exercise
The trick is to exercise intelligently – be organised, be precise, be motivated. Work out how much spare time you have each day and engineer a targeted programme to hit the elements you want to work on – be it cardio, flexibility, fighting off the beer belly, or even sculpting your arms and legs.
The key elements here are time and energy – doing what you can, in the time you can, but remembering to save some energy in reserve for the pressures of life.
Adding the fatigue of a full workout or PB run to insufficient sleep, childcare duties and professional workload is not advisable.
Right now you need to save some energy for the night shift, the evening work, the day job. Remember, don’t attempt to workout if you are simply too tired; your technique will suffer, mistakes will be made, injuries will happen.
As long as you are doing something, you can be making progress and not falling behind. Go easy on yourself; don’t beat yourself up if you can’t achieve a full workout like you used to. If you get interrupted, roll with it, don’t get frustrated or try to finish quickly.
You can always pick up where you left off later. In terms of progression, the ‘new normal’ for now is a slow jog, not a sprint.
Dad Bod Workout – no cardio?
It’s worth remembering that while all types of cardio burn fat – low-intensity with high-volume, and high-intensity with low-volume all work roughly the same – you don’t strictly need cardio to lose fat and stay fit.
Resistance training with weights or bodyweight will do that as well, providing you with enough health & strength benefits for now – although I would recommend against ignoring cardio for the long term!
Three sets of fast dumbbell squats will certainly give your heart rate a spike, and gaining stronger arms from bicep curls will come in handy for all the lifting and carrying you’re going to be doing.
Whether you are going to program yourself a resistance training schedule only, or cardio only, or a combination of the two – I shall provide some ideas below to help you plan your own.
The key thing here to remember is balance, making sure your approach is holistic, and that you work all areas of your body evenly.
A combination of resistance training & cardio is best for fat reduction results, but again, work with what you’ve got. During the first year-and-a-half of fatherhood, I found I was able to keep bodyfat off, and make strength gains, with just resistance training alone.
Once my girls started nursery, I was then able to run home three times per week after dropping them off. Again, it’s about squeezing in what you can, where you can.
Split routine & balance
The key to the Dad Bod Workout is a split routine and balance. Here the word ‘balance’ refers to the standard push/pull, front/back, upper/lower body etc., divisions of exercise.
Split routines are generally used by experienced weight lifters and athletes who are at the stage where working out one muscle group – e.g. bicep curls – can take a prohibitive amount of time.
Split routines also allow for greater recovery times. The level of sleep you need to recover properly – and to produce that all-valuable human growth hormone – will simply not be there, so giving your muscles 2+ days to recover after each session will be of benefit.
While exercise also releases human growth hormone, as much as 75% is released during the first period of Stage 3 Sleep, also known as a Deep Sleep, so try and grab it while you can.
In my own Dad Bod Workout I was hitting each muscle group/exercise once per week, one exercise per day: Monday biceps, Tuesday triceps etc., and so wanted to make it really count.
I did that by doing 4 sets of drop sets with an increasing rest period in between each drop set, to really hit the muscle groups hard, getting those hypertrophy gains in 15mins per day, but without tiring myself out.
Drop sets are where you perform an exercise until failure, then immediately reduce the weight load and perform the same exercise again, with three ‘drops’ recommended per set to give optimal increases in muscle size and endurance.
However, they can be time-consuming, here’s my example:
4 drop sets of 20kg, 10kg, 5kg @ 1min 30s per set = 6mins of lifting time
3 x rest periods: 2mins, 3mins, 4mins = 9mins
Total = 15mins
And that’s without any distractions, stopping to drink water, going to the bathroom, checking your phone etc.
The above bicep curl routine for me resulted in 6 reps x 20kg, 10 reps x 10kg, 13 reps x 5kg = 28 reps (285kg) in total for just one set, so it’s easy to see how you can accumulate a large amount of time/volume in terms of weight shifted.
Remember, be cautious if using drop sets as it can be easy to overtrain if you are not an experienced lifter. Use lighter weights than you would normally because you’ll be doing more reps in total and you can easily damage yourself.
If you are not an experienced lifter/exerciser, standard multisets are recommended, and will take less time – you can also play around with the rest periods too, to see what gives you the best results.
Here’s an example:
3 multisets @ 45s per set = 2min 15s of lifting time
2 x rest periods: 1min = 2mins
Total = 4mins 30s
Below is a holistic Dad Bod Workout routine, incorporating the basic principles of push/pull, front/back, upper body/lower body, compound/isolation.
For both dumbbell and bodyweight exercises, perform reps to strength failure. Select weights you can perform around 12 reps with, with good technique.
For the isometric exercises (boat pose, side planks, Supermans and/or glute bridges), aim for 30secs to 1min and then aim to add 5secs to your holds each session. Each of the daily workouts below takes around 15-20mins.
Dad Bod Workout routine
Monday: Upper body compound
(chest & triceps) – Press-ups followed by press-ups from knees / x3 sets / 2min rests
(rear deltoids & upper back) – Bent rows with dumbbells / x3 sets / 2min rests
Tuesday: Lower body compound
(quads & glutes) – Squats / x3 sets / 2min rests
(hamstrings & glutes) – Glute bridges / x3 sets / 1min rests
Wednesday: Upper body isolation
(triceps) – Tricep extensions / x3 sets / 2min rests
(biceps) – Bicep curls / x3 sets / 2min rests
Thursday: Lower body isolation
(calves) – Calf raises / x3 sets / 2min rests
(abductors) – Lateral leg raises / x3 sets / 1min rests
(adductors) – Supine scissors / x3 sets / 1min rests
Friday: Shoulders mixed
(deltoids, upper pecs, serratus, triceps) – Overhead press / x3 sets / 2min rests
(lateral deltoids) – Lateral shoulder raises / x3 sets / 2min rests
(abs) – Boat pose / x3 sets / 1min rests
(obliques) – Side plank / x3 sets / 1min rests
(lower back) – Supermans / x3 sets / 1min rests
Modifications & alternatives
The above daily exercises can be performed in one session, or if time is even more scarce, could be spread out throughout the day (e.g. 10mins on biceps in the morning, 10mins on triceps in the evening).
To save even more time, you could introduce a ‘supersets’ approach: take Wednesday’s tricep/bicep isolation exercises and perform them back-to-back with no rest period in-between to minimising standing around time.
Split or compress your routine as much as you need to and remember you don’t need to be confined to a weekly cycle – start adding in alternate cardio days (15mins skipping, 20mins running etc.) and extend the programme out over several weeks.
Also, try experimenting with combination exercises to replace two or more individual ones. For example, if you want to hit the upper & lower body in one session, and for a real cardio blast, you could programme in burpee jump squats one day instead of push-ups & squats. Fifteen minutes of those x3 times per week will definitely keep your fitness levels up!
With your exercises, play around with weight, number of sets and rest periods to find out what’s achievable and what works for you in the limited amount of time you have.
If you have no weights at home, then experiment with alternatives (e.g. elbow raise instead of bent rows), in order to ensure you are hitting all body areas with the same frequency.
Don’t worry if you are only managing one exercise per day, at least you are still doing something. The important thing to remember is that you are leaving yourself with plenty of ‘general’ energy to do the housework, look after the babies and run errands!
Speaking of energy, take care with your diet when you’re up against it. I actually got some symptoms of anaemia from drinking too much coffee when my girls were around 1yr old – studies have shown caffeine and the tannins & polyphenols found in coffee and tea are major inhibitors of iron absorption.
Iron tablets and quitting coffee for 48hrs had me back to normal pretty quickly.
Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals from fresh fruit & vegetables, not supplements. Keep your fruit bowl well stocked and eat from it regularly. Avoid alcohol.
Remember, take your time and enjoy what you’re doing – have fun, progress and stay healthy!