The Dad Bod Project is AskMen editor and new father Ian Taylor’s attempt to take aim at his misshapen, doughy torso. He’ll be charting his efforts in weekly articles that cover the workouts, nutrition and black-belt time management required to get into shape, stay fit and beat the dad bod.
It’s 3am and during the zombie-shuffle across the landing to deal with the latest weapons-grade nappy, here’s a thought that doesn’t occur to me: “Hey, after I’ve washed my hands, I could do a HIIT session.”
Trying to get or stay fit as a parent, especially a new parent, is all kinds of complicated. Fitness requires energy, dedication, consistency and intensity. You have none of those things if you have a baby. What you do have are dead legs and hourly sugar cravings.
And yet, here I am trying to get in the best shape of my life while also raising a newborn.
I’m convinced it can be done, but it’s not just common sense that’s against me – science is, too. A couple of years ago, a study in the American Journal of Men’s Health confirmed that the dad bod is a real phenomenon. After becoming a father, the average 6ft man puts on almost 2kg. All these new responsibilities quite literally weigh heavy on you.
So what can I – and what can you – do to stop the inevitable? Well, for starters, we can listen to men who have already done it. I spoke to three fathers who balance six-packs and nappy sacks, big guns and little ‘uns. One’s an Olympic champion, one’s an international fitness model and one runs his own crazy-successful gym.
Below, they give us their essential tips for surviving fatherhood with your physique intact.
1. Train whenever you can
One thing every new parent hears is this: “Sleep when they sleep.” When double Olympic champion Greg Rutherford first became a father, he took a slightly different approach. “My son was about a month old and I had to get back into training,” he says. “I remember doing a few sessions at 11 o’clock at night. Or if he was up stupidly early, I’d tell myself, ‘Well, I might as well go and do circuits at 5.30 in the morning.” Your body clock will be going through some weird rhythms, so take advantage of them.
2. Smuggle a workout into your day
Shaun Stafford is an international cover model, bodybuilding champion and the owner of City Athletic gym, but he’s also a dad who knows that you can’t always get to the squat rack. On those days, he says you have to be creative with your time to at least make sure you’re burning more calories. “Cycle to work if you can,” he says. “Or load up a heavy backpack for your commute. Use your body’s power whenever you can.”
3. It doesn’t have to be an hour session
“Thirty minutes is plenty of time to keep you ticking over in the first few months because you are tired and probably low on energy,” says Tim Walker, father of two and founder of Evolution of Man Fitness. He recommends the following workout for a quick way to train your whole body effectively:
Sprints 10 x football pitch
Chin-ups – 5 x max into 12 hanging leg raises
Press-ups – 5 x 20 into 15 dorsal raises
4. Make it count when you do get to the gym
“If it’s a rare day that you make it to the gym, don’t spoil the effort by getting on the cross-trainer!” Shaun says. “You’ve got to make it efficient, so do the big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts. And the same goes for cardio: be efficient. Concentrate on HIIT sessions to get the most bang-for-buck from your workout.”
5. Use your offspring in a workout
“A 4kg wriggling dumbbell may not sound that much but if you are walking back and forth for 30 minutes then the little guy will start to feel heavy,” Tim says. “Both my kids like being swung around so holding them under the arms in front of you and slowly lifting them up and down is fun for them and a shoulder burn for you. You can then do sit ups with them on your chest, press them above your head, squat or lunge holding them, bicep curl and (my favourite) the car seat kettle bell swing. You open your legs quite wide and then hold the car seat by the handle and do kettle bell swings. The kids love it and it’s actually quite hard.”
6. Buy a skipping rope
“When I first became a father, I bought a skipping rope and found an ab app for my phone,” Shaun says. “That was invaluable because you can burn serious calories with nothing but a rope. Likewise, you can buy some dumbbells or kettlebells and get a good workout in at home.”
7. Use coffee, but use it wisely
When you’re exhausted, it makes sense turning to your old pal Joe to fuel your workouts, but don’t get addicted, Tim says. “Coffee will give you a little boost 10 minutes before you workout. However don’t drink more than two cups of coffee a day as in the long run it will make you more tired and will make the inevitable crashes even more severe.”
8. Stock up on casein protein
“If you’re low on energy and have a sweet tooth, casein is great because it tastes like pudding,” Shaun says. “You can mix it with yoghurt, put it in the fridge and it tastes like ice-cream. But as well as satisfying that sweet tooth it will keep you full for longer than whey protein because it’s slow-releasing.”
9.Turn your home into a gym
Greg Rutherford knows that when there are small humans running around, it’s not always easy to get to the gym. So when he created his own online fitness portal, Take Flight, a lot of the exercises were ones you can do at home. And I can vouch for that, because I’ve done most of them during the Dad Bod Project on a yoga mat in my living room.
They mix bodyweight circuits and intervals, but Greg says that what really makes a difference is plyometrics, something that literally propelled him to the Olympic podium. “Plyometrics involves bounding, jumping of some sort, hopping. It’s all stuff I do to help build explosive power, and get the body burning fat and building muscle.” Just watch the light fittings when you’re doing squat jumps.
10. Outsource your nutrition
All three of our experts say that nutrition is more important than training. “Meal prep is the single biggest thing for me,” Shaun says. “It’s time-consuming but totally worth it. If you can afford it, I’d highly recommend using a food-prep company who deliver calorie- and macro-tracked meals directly to you. I’ve been using Fresh Fitness Food for three years and they’re amazing. Failing that, there are healthy ready meals you can buy for when you’re stuck, and stock the cupboards with nuts and protein bars so you have an emergency source of energy where the calories are mostly coming from a healthy source.”
11. After a bad night, train early
“I always find that on the nights where you have no sleep you absolutely have the biggest crash after around 3pm so the thought of doing more than stumbling home after work is not even going to happen,” Tim says. “Get your training in as early as you can before the shit can hit the fan.”
12. Tag-team with your partner
“Division of labour is critical for new parents,” Shaun says. Just like you share the 3am nappy changes with your partner, work in shifts to allow each other some time to yourselves. “As well as headspace away from the baby, it gives you time to work out. My partner and I do that and it really helps us out.”