Men's Journal

Don’t Let Your Toddler Get in the Way of a Workout

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Raising a toddler can feel like a workout in itself. But for fathers serious about getting back in shape or sustaining a level of fitness, more can be required, especially if your fitness could mean the difference in your child’s future health. “Young kids are sponges, and everything you’re doing, they’re seeing an internalizing,” says Dr. Anthony Balduzzi, founder of The Fit Father Project. “Be the dad they look up to that’s strong and mobile.” Here’s how to get out there and earn that #1 Dad mug.

Find your fitness tribe.

Being short on time to workout is a universal parenting problem — which means it’s easy to find a group of people with similar goals. Capitalize on that by finding a local fitness group (Meetup.com is a great resource) that engages in activities you enjoy, including stroller runs and park meet-ups where parents get involved in the action. “There’s power in numbers,” says Kellen Milad, M.S. and health coach. “You might find it personally challenging [to play] because you haven’t done it since you were a kid and might be self-conscious. Getting together with a group of other parents normalizes the experience and makes it more fun and engaging.”

Prioritize play over exercise.

If you’re waiting for time to get to the gym to workout, you may as well hang up your sneakers until their fifth birthday. “As adults, we get into this world of fitness focused on linear movements that occur in a designated gym space with specific form,” Milad says. “Play is much more open-ended and just as effective — if not more effective because it can occur at any place, any time.” That’s because play requires mindfulness (no zoning out in front of the TV or plugging into headphones) and encourages mobility-focused movements you won’t get simply running on a treadmill or lifting weights. Plus, it’s way more fun, which means you’re more likely to stick with it.

Exercise like a kid.

Take a cue from the ankle-biters. Challenge your toddler to a crawling race, switching from basic bear crawls to crab crawls to work nearly every muscle from your upper body to your core to your lower body. Milad recommends this routine: On your hands and knees, tuck toes and lift knees to hover two inches above the ground. Crawl or hold for one minute, then flip and crab crawl for one minute. Rest for one minute in a deep squat before repeating the routine five more times.

…Or use your kid to exercise.

Balduzzi recommends creating an at-home circuit of exercises where your child is your added resistance. Start with 10–15 piggyback squats (with your toddler on your back), then do five to 10 piggyback lunges on each leg, then squat and press your child overhead. From there, hit your upper body with a set of 10 bicep curls (except, you guessed it, your toddler is your barbell), weighted push-ups and a one-minute weighted plank with your kid on your back. End with a “board” bench press where you press your child for 10 reps. Set a timer and repeat the whole flow for 35 minutes. “This workout is great because it feels like playtime for the kids, and you can get a really awesome workout with a core of seven exercises,” Balduzzi says. “And as your kid grows, the resistance grows and you get stronger.”

Turn your stretch time into playtime.

For dads looking to increase their mobility or stretch out, especially after a day at a desk job, Balduzzi recommends a yoga series he has dubbed Animal Yoga Flows. “These are fun yoga postures that mimic animal movement, which is great and engaging for kids,” he says. “You gain back essential flexibility and mobility, and your child gains critical neuro-muscular coordination skills.” Mark out a 30-foot path, and then race your child back and forth through bear crawls, frog jumps, crab crawls, and lizard crawls. At the end of each sprint, perform push-ups, air squats, reaches, and cobra-to-upward dog movements before going back the other direction. Bonus dad points if you work in the animal sounds.