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Message to New Dads: What worked before, may not work now. And that’s OK.

By Coach Chris

Keeping up your fitness during the first few years of fatherhood can feel like treading water in a storm. Every time you feel like you finally have your head above water, another big gust of wind comes along and sprays you in the face. Another rogue wave hits you, and you find yourself gasping for breath. It seems like the harder you kick, the more fierce the storm grows. It feels like maybe it’d just be easier to give up and it yourself sink.

Don’t get me wrong — fatherhood has been a life-changing, amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Watching my son grow and change and develop a personality is a gift that I cherish more than I could have imagined. However, that doesn’t mean its without complications or compromises in other areas of my life. It’s really hard!

Before we picked up our son Jaxson for the first time (he was a 6 month old, our first foster care placement — now officially adopted), “Athlete” was an identity that had a prominent place in my life. I was a gym owner and CrossFit coach, and I usually spent 90 minutes or more training in the gym each day. I was driven to become a better athlete, do better in competitions, and see how far I could take my fitness. When our foster care license was approved and we knew we’d get a kid somewhat soon, I figured I’d basically be able to keep training the way I had been and it would be fine. Looking back, that idea was laughable.

Jaxson suffered from serious sleep disruption issues, and would wake up for hours at a time, several times a night, every night. I went from sleeping 9 hours every night, to 3 or 4 non-consecutive hours per night. I went from a solid, healthy clean diet to eating whatever was around, and resorting to “comfort foods” every night. Survival mode became our default mode.

Stupidly, I tried to keep up my old training plan. Over and over again it left me frustrated, exhausted, injured, and discouraged. I was trying to live like an athlete, while having none of the necessary recovery pieces available to me. I refused to change my habits to fit in with my new lifestyle. I was clinging to my old “Athlete” identity.

Eventually, after my frustration reached a boiling point, and I had succumbed to yet another minor injury from intense training under heavy fatigue — I realized things had to change. Six months in, I’d lost almost 20lbs of muscle since Jaxson came home with us, and certainly softened up around the middle. Obviously, what I was doing was not working. I didn’t like how I looked, how I felt, or how I was treating my family.

I adopted a new mantra to help me appreciate my time working out, without worrying about the outcome. “Something is better than nothing.”

To me that meant, “Hey dummy, stop being so stubborn. This is a new phase of life. It’s going to require different behaviors, habits, mindsets, and activities, if you want to be successful. Just because you’re not doing what you used to do, or your exact favorite way to do something, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.”

I simplified my workouts. I cut my workout times down from 90+ minutes and 3-4 pieces per day, down to one piece. One lift, or one conditioning piece per day, plus some mobility or accessory work for fun if there was time and energy that day. I focused heavily on simple bodyweight movements, and workouts I could do at home. Instead of focusing on the outcome (I need to back squat this much weight!!!) I focused on the process. Did I work out today? Then I accomplished my goal.

I cleaned up my eating gradually. I stopped buying the sugary foods. I started eating a lot more veggies. My wife and I started meal prepping again, bit by bit. It took time, and we didn’t try to change everything at once.

Amazing things started to happen. I stopped getting injured all the time. My body composition started to improve. I was having fun working out again. Jaxson loved watching me exercise in the living room, and started to spontaneously do burpees and squats for fun.

Do I have all of my previous strengths and skills from the Pre-Jaxson era? No. I’m a different athlete than I was before. But different, doesn’t have to mean worse. Different is just different. The numbers — my lift maxes, workout times, etc. — are less important to me now. My focus is on feeling good, having energy for my family, confidence in how I look, and setting a good example for Jaxson.

It all started with a mindset change: What worked before, won’t work now. And that’s OK. I had to let go of the past and embrace the NOW.

To all the dads out there with young kids, who find themselves frustrated; who struggle with finding the time and energy to work out; who struggle with healthy eating; who feel like everyone else seems to have it together; who feel sapped of energy.

You’re not alone. You can do this. You can be an amazing dad, spend quality time with your family, have energy to spare, AND be in great shape. But it will likely require some new habits, thoughts, and skills. It won’t be easy, but together we can make it happen. You have to be open to change. It all starts in your head. You have to decide to take action, even if it’s imperfect action.

Guys…I’m here to help. I’m dedicating my Instagram account to helping dads everywhere find their fitness, eat better, have more energy, and be the awesome father and spouse that their family deserves.

I can’t pretend I have everything perfectly figured out, but who can? I’ll share what’s worked for me, and do whatever I can to help you find what works for you.

So dads: let’s hear from you. What is your biggest struggle right now? What do you need the most help with? Do you know what you SHOULD do, but can’t find the motivation or time to do it? Do you have no idea where to start? Let me know how I can help you!

Email me: [email protected]

Follow or message me on Instagram: @strongdad_in_training

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