When I became a father little over five years ago, I had an unstoppable fitness regime: bike riding, running, lifting weights in the gym a minimum 4 days a week—I thought I was strong, and I felt like a champ.
Fatherhood placed impressive demands on my time and sleep, and I figured it would take a toll on my health as well. Well, mentally speaking I’m definitely a bit more loopy. Physically, however, things have actually improved. I had to drop my days at the gym down to two, but that turned out to be the single most valuable factor in teaching me how to train with more intelligence, and with better results. Here are two training principles I was forced to adopt:
Train the Entire Body in One Day
It might sound like sacrilege to conventional body builders, but training everything in the same day gets the job done. At some point I absorbed the conventional wisdom that in order to gain muscle, one needed to train body parts individually or in “splits.” Monday I would work chest, Tuesday back, Wednesday legs, etc. I would do five exercises for one muscle group. The notion that you “have” to do this turned out to be a giant load.
Instead, I began doing exercises that allowed me to hit every major muscle group twice a week.
Smarter Exercise Selection
It was taking me four days a week to work all muscle groups once. In order to hit all muscle groups twice, in half the time, I needed to get more efficient with my exercise selection. Out went most of the isolation exercises: biceps curls, triceps extensions, chest flies, etc. It turns out these were not as essential as I thought they were when it came to building a strong physique. I had to practice some new moves:
- Squats—hits every major muscle group in the legs, and excellent for core work.
- Deadlifts—butt, lower back, and hamstrings
- Chest press—chest and arms
- Shoulder Press—shoulders and arms
- Pull ups or rows—mid/upper back and arms
- Powercleans—explosive strength, and awesome full body exercise. I think this is one of the most enjoyable moves you can do, once you learn them.
That was basically it. I performed some variation of these exercises about twice a week for two years. I got stronger, and I gained lean muscle mass while working out half as often! And I wasn’t spending two hours in the gym. Each visit took one hour or less.
I was wasting time in the gym before I became a dad. Exercises like biceps curls, triceps push downs, and other new and nifty machines are fun, but they don’t offer much bang for your buck. For most people, these are nothing more than distractions that get in the way of truly useful movements.
The average person pressed for time would do well to focus on basic, compound exercises that target the major muscle groups: squats, dead lifts, presses, and rows. They don’t generate much fanfare, and they might make for some awkward body language, but they are effective—this is the sort of stuff that’ll keep you from being the first one to die in The Hunger Games.
It took some time for me to learn how to do these exercises properly, and I’m definitely in the minority at the gym when it comes to exercise selection. Five years later, I’m much stronger than I was when I was lifting 5 days a week, and I am much more discerning on how I spend my time at the gym.
I’m at the gym less, I’m keeping up with my kids, and in ten years I’ll take my son and daughter to a gym and show them how they helped their old man become smarter, faster, and stronger.