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During the early stages of parenting, many new fathers lose a sense of themselves. As newborns grow into toddlers and young families expand, the responsibilities of parenthood start to take precedence and individual needs fall by the wayside. This couldn’t be truer than with exercise. What many new fathers forget is that our own self-care and fitness is important, not only to model a healthy lifestyle for your children but to give you the energy to keep up with them in the first place. Finding time to shed the dad-bod is tough, but the benefits far exceed the drawbacks.
As an endurance junkie in my late 20s and early 30s, I trained for and completed in five full marathons, took weeklong cycling trips through the mountains, biked over 500 miles solo from Chicago to Mackinac Island, and competed in numerous other running and bike races throughout the Midwest.
When my daughter was born about four years ago, however, I put my amateur endurance athlete career on hold. With a newborn, I could no longer go on a leisurely 10-mile training run on a Wednesday night after work. I said goodbye to seven-hour, 100-mile bike rides on the weekend. Endurance training meant leaving my wife alone with a newborn for hours on end, and it soon became an afterthought. Even basic exercise transitioned from a hobby that took up most of my life to an infrequent necessity wedged into a busy schedule.
Fast forward four years, a second kid, and a 20-pound spare tire later. Enough was enough. This summer, I finally went after one of my long coveted fitness goals ⏤ competing in a triathlon. Besides the occasional 5k running race, it was the first event that I had to seriously train for since my kids were born. Finding the time and motivation to train for an endurance race was a struggle with family obligations and a full-time job, but with my wife’s help, I managed to pull it off. Here’s how I did it ⏤ and my advice to parents who want to accomplish their exercise goals without upsetting the delicate balance of family life:
1. Temper your expectations
When I was deep into training in my late 20s, I set a goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, because of overtraining and nagging injuries, I didn’t make it. My goal for my first triathlon was more modest. Don’t drown during the swim. I learned to temper my expectations, which was important considering my limiting training time. Unless you are superhuman, you probably aren’t going to win the race, or even place for your age group. The fact that you are even starting (and hopefully finishing) the race is an accomplishment unto itself.
2. Stop tracking your data
I used to always track every single step and pedal with a fitness tracking app. After each ride or run, I would pour over the data to look at how fast I completed my workout compared to other people and my previous attempts. I would love posting my workouts on social media to impress my friends with my endurance exploits.
Now, just stepping out of my house is a success in itself. I no longer track my training data because nothing kills motivation like comparing my mid-30s performance with my late 20s abilities. I know that I will never run or bike as fast as I used to, so why be reminded of that after every workout? Since freeing myself from fitness data shaming, a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Give yourself a break and stop tracking your data.
3. Involve your kids
Before I had kids, I enjoyed the freedom of running or biking whenever I felt like it. Not anymore. With two toddlers and my wife and I both working full time, my triathlon training became another item on our family’s refrigerator calendar. One of the easiest ways I found though to combine both parenting and training was to involve the kids in my exercise routines. Pulling 50 pounds of toddler behind you in a Burley Bike Trailer is an excellent way to cross train, as is running while pushing a double stroller. It also helps to find a gym or YMCA that has a daycare so that your kids can play while you swim laps or run on the treadmill.
4. Involve your spouse
Spending time away from your children for any activity involves tradeoffs, especially when your spouse has to take on extra work. It also can feel a bit selfish at times. To reduce the strain on your relationship, switch off who watches the kids while you each take turns exercising independently. Or have your partner come along on your training runs and bike rides with the kids. Not only are you spending time with your family but exercising together builds a strong foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
Raymond Steinmetz is a K-8 Math Instructional Coach and father of two living in Warren, Rhode Island. He writes about the integration of technology and teaching at blendedlearningmath.com, is a guest blogger at Education Post, and contributes a regular column to eschoolnews.com.