If your pants suggested New Year’s resolutions to you this year, Dr. Kelly Starrett is pretty sure you can blame your kids. “Hang out at any elementary school and look at your cohort of people — these people don’t look great,” says the New York Times bestselling author, Olympic trainer and CrossFit pioneer.
A father of 2 himself, Starrett knows that “having a child dissolves you a little bit from the inside out,” and he’s developed a 30-minute regimen to help new dads reverse that trend. More importantly for you and your fitness resolutions, Starrett sees all the work he does with elite-level tire-flippers as simply proof of concept for fitness ideas that are accessible to the average guy. What follows isn’t modified triathlon training — really, the only hard part is that you have to give up bagels.
“You’re doing the one thing that kills a stressed animal: putting it under more stress.”
Starrett says one of the biggest mistakes he sees new dads make is to try and exercise their way out of being in terrible shape. Even if you had the time to run more miles or lift more weights (and you don’t), your body won’t respond the way it did when you were younger. “If you’re sleeping less than 6 hours a night, you’re 30-percent immune compromised and are going to be pre-diabetic for the next 24-to-48 hours,” says Starrett. “If you try to train yourself out of this state, you’re doing the one thing that kills a stressed animal: putting it under more stress.” So do this instead:
- Keep your carbohydrates to under 100 grams a day, and cut out all the bad ones – basically anything that’s pure starch or that you’re liable to eat with a spread or sauce, like bagels and pasta.
- Stop eating unnecessary sugar.
- Eat more salads and high quality protein.
“This isn’t a diet,” Starrett maintains, it’s simply controlling the things you can control to mitigate the ones you can’t – like early morning bottle feeding or toddlers pinning you to the bed on a Saturday morning. “Now, we don’t see body composition getting out of hand because you’re managing it. Anything you put in the exercise tank is a bonus.”
It doesn’t even have to be high quality: Did I go downstairs and work up a sweat or not? It’s a 1 or a 0, did I do something today?
“It’s a mental switch that gets flipped,” Starrett explains. “You can’t get to the gym for an hour anymore or go on a run, and what happens is people stop everything. So, we’re going to keep it simple.” Simple means committing to 20 minutes a day in a space large enough to do a lunge or swing a kettlebell — he calls it his “Kitchen Workout” because he’s done it in a kitchen:
- 10 minutes of light warm up, where you break a sweat. Starrett suggests jumping rope, walking lunges, and doing pushups with your hand against the wall.
- 10 minutes of interval training, in which you perform bodyweight or kettlebell exercises, all-out, for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest, 10 times per exercise.
Starrett is pretty agnostic about what sorts of exercises you do in this routine – burpees, pushups, kettle bell swings, air squats – but suggests flip flopping between different ones for each session to keep from getting bored. He recommends Gymnastics Workout Of The Day for videos and detailed explanations of bodyweight exercises; if you don’t personally know any Russian athletes from the 1920s, you can find an explanation of kettlebell basics here.
While Starrett says that the 53-pound kettlebell is his “standard men’s weight,” keep in mind that his “standard” is established at the gym he owns, which is one of the original CrossFit gyms, where screaming while you exercise is standard. Start with the 35-pound jobs and work your way up, Mr. Universe.
This will get you the warm up you need prior to intervals, but more importantly it will let you relive the training montages from every Rocky movie (except Rocky V, because Rocky V sucked).
Starrett’s workout is based on the Tabata Interval. It’s named for a Japanese guy who discovered that, when used consistently, the 20 seconds on/10 second rest approach showed better aerobic and anaerobic results than a traditional aerobic workout performed more frequently. Pro tip: If downloading the app is too much effort, your partner’s contraction timer from when she was in labor does basically the same thing.
A lot of stretches can be performed holding a kid or while sitting on the couch. All that “Holy crap, I never used to get this sore” stuff you feel after any workout these days? Just one more symptom of sleep deprivation, according to Starrett, which leads to chronic inflammation in your muscles. That’s why the final component of his workout is focused on stretching and mobility. This stuff doesn’t have to happen immediately before or after the interval exercises, and doesn’t require that you carve out the same amount of time – a lot of stretches can even be performed holding a kid or while sitting on a couch. Just do this:
- 10 minutes of maintenance a day.
- Use a lacrosse ball for certain stretches.
- Use a foam roller for others.
Save the actual sport for prep school jocks in mesh half-shirts, but these balls are the perfect size and density to target muscle knots in your feet, calves, hips and back. Tape 2 together and you can massage the muscles on both sides of the spine at the same time for less than a professional masseuse spends on oil.
Technically, foam rollers are all about “myofascial release,” or loosening the tissues that connect muscles to your skin. Less technically, they’re about not walking like the guy from Up just because you’re exercising for 20 minutes a day.
“When you start training, don’t compare yourself to your world record 20s,” says Starrett. “Just try to train every day for 30 minutes. You have to make that commitment and maybe it’s going to suck, but it doesn’t even have to be high quality: Did I go downstairs and work up a sweat or not? It’s a 1 or a 0, did I do something today? Be consistent before you’re heroic.”