Fatherhood requires a lot of preparation. Paint the nursery. Build the crib. Read the baby books. Try not to crack. With the giant checklist staring you down, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, when your child does arrive, you’re going to be using your muscles in a number of awkward — and entirely new — ways. Holding the car seat in one arm as you walk up a set of stairs. Lifting your baby out of the Pack ‘N Play. Swinging your child through the air.
These new activities present a new set of challenges for your muscles and joints. And if you’re not ready for them, the first few months of fatherhood could be even more taxing. All you need to do, however, is train like a dad in the gym. That is, focus on exercises that are specific towards the job of fatherhood. Got it?
That’s why we reached out to Robert Herbst. An 18-time world champion powerlifter, Strength Sports Hall of Famer, and personal trainer, he put together a functional fitness plan guaranteed to get your body ready for your child’s arrival. All the exercises will make you fitter, yes, but they’ll also prepare you for the specific actions you’ll be doing regularly in your day-to-day life as a dad.
Herbst recommends incorporating these exercises into your regular workout routine twice a week, focusing on the lower back one day and the other body parts (legs, shoulders, arms) another. (See schedule below.) Aim for low weight/high reps to build strength endurance because, as Herbst says, “dealing with a child is not max lifting but is long and repetitive.” Perform 6-8 reps of the squats, deadlifts, and other lower body exercises, and 8-10 reps of the arm and bodyweight exercises.
The Dad Fit Movements
1. Holding and rocking a baby
What You Need to Train: Biceps
Perform: Zottman Curls, Hammer Curls
Why: As opposed to doing straight curls, these two variations attack the biceps from a different angle. “It’s the same type of twisting that you do when you’re holding a moving, shifting, squirming baby, and you’re going to be jostling and shaking it,” Herbst says. “It’s good to do exercises that move the weights in a lot of different arcs.”
How to Do Them:
- Zottman Curls: Hold dumbbells in each hand with your elbows close to your torso and your palms facing towards each other. Curl the weights while rotating your wrists so you finish with your palms facing up and the weights at shoulder level. Rotate your wrists so your palms are facing down and lower the weights while rotating your wrists so that your palms are again facing towards each other when you return to the starting position. Repeat.
- Hammer Curls: Hold dumbbells in each hand with your elbows close to your torso and your palms facing towards each other. Curl the weights without rotating your wrists to finish with your palms facing in and the weights at shoulder level. Lower the weights to the starting position. Repeat.
2. Picking stuff up while holding child
What You Need to Build: Everything—legs, back, lats, arms, and core
Perform: Twisting Deadlift
Why: Uneven movements mimic the off-balance loading and unloading you’ll be doing with a child in your arm. “This addresses the situation you’re in when you’re off-balance and what you’re picking up will weigh differently from what you’re holding,” says Herbst. “You’ll be reaching over and picking something up — a changing table, a bag of toys, a diaper bag — at an awkward angle across your body.”
How to Do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Place a light (20 pounds or less) kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your right foot. Reach over with your left hand and pick up the weight without squatting. Stand upright and then put the weight down in front of your left foot. Pick it up with your right hand. Put it down in front of your right foot. Repeat, then switch sides and repeat. (10-12 reps)
3. Carrying your baby in a car seat
What You Need to Build: legs, core, back, arms (biceps and grip), upper back
Perform: Suitcase Carry, Dumbbell Rows
Why: Each works the muscles in your shoulders, back, and forearms while requiring you to stabilize your core. “The suitcase carry is perfect for mimicking the movement of carrying a baby in a 20-pound car seat,” Herbst says. “The key is to try to remain as vertical as possible. The dumbbell rows work the lats, biceps, forearms, and grip, but you’re not hammering your lower back.”
How to Do Them
- Suitcase Carry: Select a dumbbell that weighs 30-40 percent of your bodyweight. Hold the weight in one hand at your side and walk, keeping your back straight and core tight and sticking out your opposite arm to balance. (You may need to lean slightly.) Aim for 100 meters. Set the weight down slowly and with control. If the weight is too light, adjust accordingly, working up to half your bodyweight.
- Dumbbell Rows: Place a moderately heavy dumbbell on the floor next to the weight bench. Resting one hand on the bench, lean over and pick up the weight with your free hand. Pull the weight straight up to the side of your chest. Your upper arm should stay close to your side, your body should remain stationary. Lower the weight with controlled movements. Repeat, then switch arms and repeat.
4. Chasing a toddler
What You Need to Build: Core, legs, arms
Perform: Bear Crawls
Why: You’ll want to get down to your child’s level, but still have mobility. “When they’re two feet tall and you’re down at their level, you really don’t want to be on your knees,” Herbst says. “You’re not fast on your knees and you’ll hurt your knees.”
How to do it: Position yourself on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Lift your knees up off the floor. Move forward 50 feet, backward 50 feet, sideways 50 feet, and then back to your starting spot. “When done properly, bear crawls are miserable,” Herbst adds.
5. Picking your kids’ stuff up off the floor again and again
What You Need to Build: Legs, hips
Perform: Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, Goblet Squats, Shrugs
Why: Each exercise trains you to lift the correct way. “If you go down low with the goblet squats, it’s the ultimate in training yourself to use your legs for picking things up,” Herbst says. “No one lifts a refrigerator the right way.”
How to do them:
- Stiff Legged Deadlift: With your feet shoulder-width apart and while grasping a weighted barbell with your palms facing down, stand, keeping your back straight and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your knees stationary, lower the barbell straight down by bending at the waist while keeping your back straight. Stand up again. Repeat.
- Goblet Squats: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands close to your chest. Squat until your thighs are below parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your back straight. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight. Push your knees out with your elbows. Return to stand. Repeat.
- Shrugs: Standing straight and holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your side, shrug your shoulders as high up as you can and hold. Then drop your shoulders as far down as you are able. Repeat.
6. Lifting a kid out of a crib or Pack ‘N Play
What You Need to Build: Lower back, hamstrings
Perform: Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Bent-Over Rows
Why: You need to train to enable lifting of a weight away from your center of gravity. “When you’re bending over the side of the crib and your kid is a foot or two out, the weight is away from your center of gravity, so the force you have to have to lift is greater,” says Herbst. “The natural tendency is to bring the kid in towards you as soon as possible because it makes the lift easier, to bring him closer to your center of gravity. Raising a kid is not a science, but lifting a kid is.”
How to perform Good Mornings: Position a barbell on your shoulders. With your feet a little more than waist-distance apart, lean forward. Bend at the waist until you’re forming a 90-degree angle (or close to it). Focus on using your hips, hamstrings, and lower back to raise yourself up. Repeat.
7. Walking with your baby strapped to your chest
What You Need to Build: Shoulders, core, legs, hips
The Exercise to Perform: Farmer’s Walk, Yoke Walks
Why: Walking with additional weight requires stabilization, which is why you need to strengthen your core. “You need a gym with space for the yoke walk,” Herbst says. “If you can’t do this, do a lift and carry instead.”
How to do them:
- Yoke Walk: Position a weighted barbell across the back of your shoulders. Looking forward with your back arched, begin walking as quickly as possible using short, quick steps. Continue for 75-100 feet.
- Farmer’s Carry: Select dumbbells that each weigh 30 -40 percent of your bodyweight. Hold one in each hand and walk, keeping your back straight and core tight. Aim for 100 meters. Set the weights down slowly and with control. If the weights are too light, adjust accordingly, working up to half your weight in each hand.
8. Pushing a stroller up hills
What You Need to Build: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Perform: Sled Push
Why: Your legs are where you get all your pushing power. “You’re transferring some force through your upper back and arms when you push, and some triceps in the extension,” Herbst says. “But mostly you’re using your legs. A lot of gyms have the weight sleds available due to the popularity of CrossFit.”
How to do it: Load a pushing sled with the desired weight. Lean into the sled with your arms fully extended, hands grasping the handles. Push the sled forward as fast as possible, focusing on extending your hips and knees.
9. Climbing stairs with baby in one arm, folded-up stroller in the other
What You Need to Build: Legs, shoulders
Why: Stepping up with weight requires quad strength. “Step-ups focus on calves, quads, glutes, and, to some degree, hamstrings,” Herbst says.
The Exercise to Perform: Step-Ups, Farmer’s Walk
Step-Ups: Stand in front of a bench or foot-high block. Step up with one leg and then the other, then step down in the same order. Repeat, then switch legs and repeat.
Farmer’s Walk: Select dumbbells that each weigh 30-40 percent of your bodyweight. Hold one in each hand and walk, keeping your back straight and core tight. Aim for 100 meters. Set the weights down slowly and with control. If the weights are too light, adjust accordingly, working up to half your bodyweight in each hand.
10. Lying on the floor and lifting your child up and down.
What You Need to Build: Chest, shoulders
The Exercise to Perform: Dumbbell Pullovers
Why: Playing in this manner is a blast for the baby, but it can be exhausting for you. “The pullovers are more of a pec and shoulder exercise, but they do work the triceps to a degree,” Herbst says. “You want to feel a really good stretch, so inhale deeply when you go back with the weight.”
How to Do it: Lying perpendicular to a weight bench with only your shoulders on the bench surface, hips below the bench and feet firmly on the floor, grasp a dumbbell with both hands and lift it straight above your chest, slightly bending in your elbows. Keeping your arms locked with elbows slightly bent, lower the weight in an arc behind your head until you feel a stretch in your chest. Reverse the movement to bring the dumbbell in an arc three-quarters of the way to your legs. Bring the weight back to the starting position. Repeat.
Now that you know the movements to do and why they’re integral, here’s the workout plan Herbst set up. Note that movements with heavyweights such as the Sled Push, Yoke Walk, and Farmer’s Walk should be done on separate days or rotated in every other day, depending on feel and personal preference.
Lift and Walk
Stick to this workout correctly and your body will be prepared for all that fatherhood demands of it — the motions, at least. So copy it, paste it, print it, and put it to good use. And when the day comes and your little bundle of joy is wiggling in the baby carrier as you hold it and nimbly ascend the stairs without even batting an eye, well, you can thank us later.