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Parenthood and Staying in Shape: a Tough Combination

by Demmy James
7 minutes read

As a parent to a young child, I can truly appreciate the challenges that come with trying to balance a healthy exercise routine with the rest of life’s demands.

Now I should note that while these life demands are without a doubt of our own doing (and I would not change them for anything in the world), they do exist, and managing them can be a challenge (especially when you are as new to this whole ‘parenting’ thing as I am).

Between a chronic lack of sleep, absurdly frequent diaper changes, and of course the constant pressure that comes with keeping the precious life in your care alive, it can be difficult to find time to think, let alone train and exercise consistently.

But it can be done.

Here are the few things that I have found to be effective when it comes to maintaining a somewhat normal exercise routine as a relatively new parent.

Be Realistic

When you have plenty of free time available, you can quite easily afford to get into the gym 5 times per week and train with both a high degree of effort and a large amount of intensity.

But when you’re running on fumes, and have just a few hours free each week, well, not so much.

You must prioritize what specific aspect of fitness you want to maintain, or what specific goal you want to train for, and double down on that and only that.

With this in mind, I firmly believe in finding the bare minimum amount of training required to elicit a response, and sticking to that religiously.

So, for those who want to maintain strength and retain muscle mass, getting in the gym 2-3 times per week and focusing on full body training sessions is likely to be your best option. For those who want to keep up a solid base of aerobic fitness, 2-3 high intensity interval training sessions should do the trick.

Its really all about selecting the method of training that provides you with the most bang for your buck – irrespective of your training goal.

Now I also realize that some of you may be finding it very hard to believe that you can make any progress at all by training twice per week, but I firmly believe that you can. If you make sure that those two sessions are done consistently and with some degree of intensity, I can assure you that they will provide enough stimulus to create a training response.

Discuss your expectations

Once you have established what it is you want to train for (and how it is you need to train), it is essential to discuss your plans with your significant other. While you may see the benefit of ducking away a couple of times each week, there is a genuine possibility that they may view it as unnecessary.

With this in mind, it is important to remember that you are a team – and that making compromises to ensure each other’s sanity is maintained throughout this crazy ride is an essential part of the process.

Clearly outline why and how these couple of hours each week benefit you, and make sure that you both are happy with your desired training schedule.

With all this, I strongly recommend that you also give up a bit of your own time so your spouse can do something similar – whether it be a weekly dinner with friends, their own gym session, or a movie night – make sure you both have some time to yourself where you can recharge and focus completely on you.

Make it routine

There is a lot to be said for making something part of your weekly schedule. Not only are you much less likely to skip it, but that consistency creates expectation and regularity, where both you and those within your life know when you typically train and what to expect with your training schedule.

This may sound a little anal, but when life is full of unexpected developments (a quick trip to the doctors anyone???), knowing each other schedule is essential.

So, treat your workouts like weekly appointments – don’t miss them unless you absolutely must, and keep them at the same times each week to create regularity.

Walking is king

A couple of years ago I would have smirked behind my hand if someone suggested I walk more to increase my exercise levels. I mean walking, seriously?

What benefit will I get out of that?

But, fast forward two years (and one little one) later, and I have changed my stance completely.

Not only is walking a great way to clear the mind of all that mental clutter, it also gives you an opportunity to work on that often-neglected low intensity cardiovascular fitness – you know, that same type of fitness which protects you from heart disease, diabetes, and a sudden death?

And as an added bonus, this can be done with your spouse and your child and at almost any time of the day.

The little guy can’t fall asleep? Why not go for a stroll?

Nothing on Netflix? Walk time.

Your toddler is literally bouncing off the walls with energy? Go for a walk.

Seriously, you will thank me for it.

Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan

This is a big one.

Life is full of surprises – both good ones and bad ones – so don’t be too upset if something comes up and you literally cannot make your workout. The world is not going to end, you’re not going to instantaneously balloon out, nor are you going to lose all the gains you have made from your last few months of consistent effort.

You are going to miss a workout and that’s it.

All you have to do is get right back on track next session and keep those wheels rolling over.

The progress will come.

And the same can be said for exercise intensity. There will be days when you don’t feel up to it, and that’s fine. When you are sleep deprived, overworked, and feeling like trash, take the time to rest and recover, and prepare for the next session.

You will be much better for it in the long run.

Takeaway Message

Exercising as a parent is hard. Not only do you have to deal with limited time, but often on limited sleep and with a serious lack of energy.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done,

By managing your expectations, clearly outlining what it is you want to work for and establishing the minimum amount of work required to reach your training goals, you can easily come up with a simple exercise plan.

And by discussing this plan with your significant other and ensuring you are both happy with your training needs, you can implement it routinely and successfully – just remember to communicate and prepare for the odd failure – life as a parent is as unexpected as it is amazing, so take it as it comes.

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