Lessons In Lifting From a Dad: Year One
My son was born January 31st, 2017.
He’s a few days short of turning 14 months old and I have to say, at the expense of coming across a tad braggadocious, I’m pretty darn proud of myself and my wife: Julian’s happy, healthy, and has only been caught once running around with a pair of scissors.
It was twice.1
Far be it from me to describe every parent’s first year with their first child in the same light, but for us the past 365 days and change can best be described as somewhere between organized chaos and a dumpster fire.
Lack of sleep, colic, blowouts, lack of sleep, breast feeding, lack of sleep, 10 pm “how to swaddle” Google searches, lack of sleep, 11 pm walks in a blizzard (goddam colic!), more blowouts, lack of sleep, he just pissed all over the place, Llama Llama Red Pajama, lack of sleep, what did he just put in his mouth?, scissors, and lack of sleep.
Okay, it wasn’t all that bad. In hindsight Lisa and I did a pretty damn good job.
That said, lifting heavy things was/is probably last on most guys’ minds during this period of time, let alone the notion of actually making progress in the gym.
What follows are some tidbits and insights on what most dads can expect to accomplish on the training side of things in year one.2
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of an outlier here.
I’m going to wax poetic below on how most guys need to pump the brakes with regards to their training and that training will often take a backseat to life (and laundry) once they become a Dad.
However, this past year was arguably one of my best training years in recent memory, highlighted by the fact I finally achieved a long-time goal of hitting a 600 lb deadlift.
40 Years Old + (A Then) 9 Month Old at Home = #humblebrag
To put things into perspective, though:
- I work in a gym. I have/had no excuse not to train.
- I had a wonderful support system in place.
- I did implement much of what I write about below.
- I’m pretty awesome.
1. Expectation Management
Lets cut to the chase: The idea of training 5-6x per week needs to be given the kibosh right out of the gate.
Well, you can train that often; it just won’t be good training.
It behooves everyone involved to have some feel and a degree of expectation management in the weeks (if not months) after baby is born. Think less “I’m going to train for my first powerlifting meet while also competing in my first Ultra-marathon while also following a ketogenic diet” and more “lets try to get through 20 minutes without falling asleep in the power rack.”
In short, attaining a minimal effective dose is the name of the game.
For most guys a reasonable goal would be to aim for 2-3x per week of full-body training revolving around the compound lifts
2. What Does Minimal Effective Dose Even Mean?
Basically, it means doing as little work as possible while still creating a training effect.
You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym in order to make or even maintain progress during this time.
For most guys who are stressed and woefully sleep deprived, a reduction in both training volume and intensity is warranted (and wise).
Most will read that and assume they’ll lose all teh gainz; that the diminished training frequency (and loading) will turn them into small, weak, girly men.
On the contrary I’d make the case those 2-3 training sessions per week can and will be very productive sessions.
Counterintuitively, as an example, it’s rather “easy” to maintain strength levels with a reduction in both training frequency and intensity.
As Dr. Vladmir Issurin notes in his book, Block Periodization, in order to maintain maximal strength, there’s a window of 30 +/- 5 days to work with.
Meaning, regardless of any secondary emphasis you can leave alone and maintain certain qualities for “x” days without much (if any) reduction in performance.
If you’re still not picking up what I’m putting down let me put it like this:
“You don’t have to do a lot of something in order to maintain something.”
When it comes to maintaining strength, the body (or, more specifically the central nervous system) just needs to be nudged or reminded every 30 +/- 5 days that you’re into it and maybe want to make out.
For the sake of brevity, the bulk of my training hovered in the 60-85% range most of last year with some 90-95 percenters peppered in every 3-4 weeks.
That’s pretty much it.
3. Okay, That’s Cool Tony….But I Could Give Two
S***ts Jars of Pureed Beef Pilaf and Vegetables About Being Strong.
I can respect that.
I got your back.
I wrote an article a few months back on BodyBuilding.com catered to the newly-minted Dad and it described what I felt would be a highly effective – and reasonable – 2-3x per week training program most could follow without batting an eye.
You can check it out HERE.
What It Highlights
1. EDM (Estimated Daily Max) Sets
I like this concept for a lot of dudes, but especially for sleep deprived ones who feel like a bag of dicks for a lengthy period of time.
Utilizing a bit of auto-regulation in your training and taking into account day-to-day fluctuations in energy and one’s ability to recover is key.
The key advantage to EDM sets is they still allow you to lift some challenging weight…albeit based on how you feel that day.
Here’s an example:
A. Squat Variation – 5 EDM
- Work up to challenging set of 5. Pretty self-explanatory.
B. Same Squat Variation – 3×3
- Whatever your 5 EDM ends up being, use the same weight and perform 3×3.
Those nine reps should be crisp, beautiful, relatively fast reps that will make me roughly 65-70% aroused.
2. Embrace Your Meathead
There’s a lot to be said about utilizing more isolation, bodybuilding type exercises to keep guys motivated to train, improve their ability to recover, and to help maintain training economy.
This can be as simple as tossing in a little “gun show” work at the end of a session in order to feel a pump.
Here’s a favorite (stolen from the guys over at The Strength House):
- DB Hammer Curls x eight reps, rest 15s, repeat for six minutes.
You can also utilize Density Sets. Here, all you’ll do is set a timer for 8-12 minutes, pair two exercises together (or maybe a circuit of 3-4), and do as much work as possible during that time.
Lower Body Example:
- DB Goblet Step-Ups x 8/leg
Cable Pull-Through x 10
Foam Roller Bodysaw x 10
Upper Body Example
- DB Bench Press x 8
TRX Row x 12
Upper Cut a Grizzly Bear x2/side
The permutations are endless and what you choose is dependent on goals, what hurts, what doesn’t, and equipment availability. The bigger picture to appreciate, though, is that something is better than nothing.
And your workouts don’t have to be marathon sessions. You can get quite a bit done in 30 minutes.
3. Sub-Maximal Training Works, Trust Me
Even when a baby isn’t thrown into the mix, sub-maximal training (60-85% of 1RM) is something that should be stressed more often.
You need to build strength, not test it.
What’s more, hanging out in this range won’t beat up the joints as much
4. You May Think It’s Lame…But Walking Will Prevent You From Wanting To Kill People
Baby can’t sleep? Go for a walk.
Baby is aimlessly meandering around whining? Go for a walk.
The Price is Right just ended? Go for a walk.
Going for walks is what keeps parents sane. Exercise doesn’t have to be in the form of lifting things. Walking is actually a very underutilized modality and something I did often with my little guy.
I’d put him in the stroller, put on a podcast, and walk around the neighborhood.
In addition my walks spawned the #popupjulian phenomenon, which initially started as a way for Lisa to keep tabs on us when she went back to work after maternity leave. During my walks I’d send Lisa videos of Julian “popping up” around Boston.
BU Strength & Conditioning
Go for walks.
A lot of them.
5. Teamwork & Asking For Help
My wife is the shit.
Training is every bit as important to her as it is me…so it wasn’t a hard “sell” to ask her to take over watching Julian so that I could go train; and vice versa.
We were (and are) a team.
Teamwork is vital during this time. Sacrifices and compromises are par for the course.
“Sure, babe, you can go have drinks with the girls…for a small fee of 37 foot massages.“
Moreover, and this is something Eric Cressey wrote about when he was a new father, many guys will balk at the notion of asking for or taking help as if it’s a strike to their ego to do so.
To that I say, “bull to the shit.”
Someone offers to watch your kid for a few hours so you can have a date night? Take it. Emphatically.
Hire someone to write your programs. That’s what I did.
It’s okay to ask for help and/or to delegate tasks when needed. I mean, shoot, Batman had Alfred.
Even he didn’t do things all alone.
6. You’re Going to Fail…and That’s Normal
Sometimes you’re going to have a case of the “Eff Its” and not want to train. And that’s okay.
Sometimes you’ll prefer to order a pizza. And that’s okay too.
My friend, colleague, and new(ish) Dad himself, Bryan Krahn, put things into perspective:
I have ZERO insight. From day of birth to month 6, I was an abject failure at training/nutrition. Though the past month has been better — I sent the kid off to Pyongyang for his “education” — so I’ll be jacked again soon. https://t.co/rKJxn50nfu
— Bryan Krahn (@BryanKrahn) March 27, 2018
You’re going to fail.
You’re going to be less than perfect.
Welcome to the club.