Fatherhood and FitnessBy Dale Barr | Photography by Christine Fillat
Nine months ago I became a father. I remember seeing our newborn son, Frankie, and holding him in those first few hours. It was surreal. My life from that moment would never be the same. To complicate matters somewhat, I had no experience with positive male role models. I’m from a single parent household. My parents were divorced when I was five so my mom, a hero in my eyes, raised four kids by herself. It made me want to be the best father possible and to be around to teach my kids how to tie shoes, ride a bike, throw a curveball, and shave. There were two main things I was going to focus on to make this happen: one was to find a good work-life balance, and the other was to make nutrition and an active lifestyle
a foundation of all our lives.
Yet, when he was actually born, I, like most men, felt like I needed to start working overtime or even pick up a second job. It didn’t seem like we would ever have enough money. Diapers, doctor visits, wipes, clothes, food, strollers, money, money, money! It can be overwhelming. Then I came across this quote from Louise Hart: “The best thing to spend on your children is your time.” It really
rang true for me. I could spend sixty hours a week on my business and try to make a ton of money, but at what cost to my son, marriage, or my own health? More hours usually means more stress, less time at home, poor diet, no exercise, and it can lead to an unhappy marriage and resentful kids. This was definitely not a part of my plan.
My profession is personal fitness training, and, less than two years ago, my wife and I moved to Annapolis for her career. I decided to start my new training business here, and anyone who has started their own company knows the amount of time it takes to get it up and running. Things were going well, but now there was a newborn in the mix! This was not going to be easy. After many long discussions with my wife, we decided to reduce the time I spent on my business to part-time so that I could be the stay-at-home dad the rest of the time. It would take some juggling, but with the help of my wife and a nanny, we’ve been able to find a balance that has worked for our family.
I found that even with a good work-life balance, once you begin caring for a child, there is not much time left for your personal health. This is why it’s important to make good nutrition and regular activity a priority every day. We have to lead by example and show our children that these healthy choices often lead to longer, happier lives. I tell my clients that 80 percent of being fit is good nutrition, which starts with eating real vegetables and fruit as opposed to processed food, and we follow that idea when we feed our baby. It started with hormone-free formula once breast milk wasn’t an option, and on to homemade purees, such as mashed up sweet potatoes and carrots. What we put into our body is essential and it’s even more important with an infant.
Then there is the question: How do you fit in activity and exercise with a young child? I get asked this all the time and it’s not an easy answer. From the day we brought our son home, we made exercise a priority. Long walks are great for us both physically and mentally. Being out in nature allowed us to collect our thoughts for a second and take a break from the seemingly never-ending diaper changes! I would also put Frankie in his carrier and go out on short hikes, or, with him in the carrier, I would do some exercises such as 3 sets of 10 squats, lunges, and push-ups. That extra weight makes normal bodyweight moves challenging, and it definitely gets your heart rate going, plus Frankie loved it! Just holding your infant for long stretches can be a good workout but make sure to switch arm to arm and hip to hip.
If possible, try to find a gym that offers childcare or ask your nanny to stay one extra hour so you can get your workout in. It definitely takes some creativity. You have to get your workout in when you can and if all you can carve out is 30 minutes, take it, but make it count. Lifting weights is the best way to stay fit with minimal time and allows you to stress and challenge as many major muscle groups as possible. Learn how to lift the right way. If there is one exercise everyone should be doing, it’s squats. No other exercise uses as many muscles, produces that level of central nervous system activity, improves balance and coordination, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue strength, and overall systemic conditioning like a full squat done correctly. It can be an air squat, a squat with your baby in the carrier, or a squat with a barbell. Just do some squats. Your body will thank you for it. In addition to squats, a push (like shoulder press, bench press, or a standard push-up) and some form of pull (pull-up, rows, or dead lifts) should be done. These exercises need to be done correctly so if you’re unsure, find a qualified coach to teach you the basics before going on your own. A sample workout might be squats, shoulder press, and rows: complete three sets of each movement using a dumbbell weight you think you can do for 10–12 reps. If you are able to do 20+ reps consecutively, the weight is too light; conversely if you can only do 3–5 reps the weight is too heavy.
If you don’t have access to any weights you can do bodyweight exercises like air squats, push-ups, and front planks. For 30 seconds do as many squats as possible, and then rest for 30 seconds. Next do as many push-ups as possible in 30 seconds, and rest for 30 seconds. And finally, for 30 seconds hold a front plank position, and rest 30 seconds. You can do this for a specific number of rounds, as many rounds as you can, or for a set amount of time.
Stuck in the office or hotel while traveling? No problem, you can do the three exercises I just explained, adding lunges and sit-ups, plus with an office chair you can do dips and step-ups! That’s seven highly effective exercises requiring nothing more than that chair you’ve been holding down all day. Do the same time scheme too, 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Remember, we’re setting an example for our kids so even when it’s not a typical “workout” you can take advantage of your non-exercise activity training (NEAT). This is all that extra movement you can do during your day such as standing instead of sitting, walking or biking vs. driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further away than usual. There is always a way to get in some kind of activity and movement. Remember that sometimes simple is better. Bodyweight movements like we’ve discussed are great and can be done anywhere, and any movement you do is better than sitting and doing nothing.
We are designed to move. We may not have to hunt down our food like we once did, but the human body (mind, bone, muscle) needs, in fact, yearns for movement and exercise. One hour is only 4 percent of your day. You can find the time but you have to decide it’s a priority. I’m 38 years old, which means I’m going to have to take good care of myself if I ever want to be around to see potential grandkids. If you are not motivated to exercise for yourself, then start doing it for your kid’s or grandkid’s sake. Now get up and MOVE!
Dale Barr is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), as well as a Certified Venice Nutrition Coach and CrossFit Level I & CrossFit Endurance Coach. Barr offers personal training at Dauntless in Severna Park, MD. Resources: d3fitness.com, dauntlessfitness.com From the October/November issue of Looking Good Magazine