Dad Bod Is a Lie

Your fitness journey doesn’t end when you have children.

You might have seen articles floating around the Internet about “dad bod.” Dad bod is the new somatotype for suburban American fathers. A certain toy manufacturer has even proposed a new makeover for Ken doll, which would include more dad bod features, such as “a lack of six-pack abs, minimal muscle tone, and an untucked plaid shirt.”

Recently, I was reading an article about this new Ken doll. According to the article, the doll’s proportions are based on a nineteen-year-old male’s body. But most nineteen-year-old guys aren’t fathers yet. That got me thinking: why has this newest version of Ken been touted as the dad bod version? It seems the more accurate title would be “frat boy Ken.”

The fact that these physical qualities are so quickly atrributed to fathers is just one example of our tendency to make parenthood into a scapegoat. You have kids, you lose muscle, and you get a dad bod. Before you know it, toy manufacturers are naming Ken dolls after you.

You don’t have a “dad bod.” You have YOUR bod. [Photo courtesy of CrossFit Impulse]

Let’s Examine the Evidence

Society often assumes that having kids makes you makes you gain weight, feel more tired, and generally err in the direction of lethargy, overindulgence, and unhappiness. There are even studies that support these assumptions. Here are five especially depressing ones I found right off the bat:

Clearly, studies support the idea that dad bod and similar undesirable effects of reproduction (not limited to men) are inevitable.

But what you don’t hear about as much in the headlines are the many high-level athletes who manage to juggle their training with overtired toddlers. To me, these stories are much more interesting and inspiring than the ones about overtired parents.

A few examples:

  • Swimmer Dara Torres made waves when she competed in the United States National Championships fifteen months after her daughter was born. She went on to win three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
  • Jan Frodeno, the only person to win an Olympic gold medal, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and the Ironman World Championship, finished off the 2015 World Championships in Kona by kissing his wife’s pregnant belly. His wife just happens to be retired Olympic gold medalist, Commonwealth gold medalist, and three-time World Champion triathlete, Emma Snowsill.
  • Marathoner Paula Radcliffe famously ran and won the New York City marathon when her first daughter was less than ten months old. She went on to place third in the Berlin Marathon in 2011, just one year after having her second child.
  • CrossFit superstar Rich Froning, Jr. and his wife, Hilary, adopted a newborn baby girl, Lakelyn, in 2014, just before the CrossFit Games. Of becoming a parent, Froning said in a video interview, “It makes you a little bit less selfish. You’ve got somebody else that completely relies on you.”
  • Next time you see one of those Muhammad Ali memes floating around Facebook, remember he had nine kids.

Raising Kids Is Hard

Despite these success stories, the stereotypes about unfit parents are based on a crumb of truth. That truth is, it is harder to keep up when you have kids. Everything you love about your neat and perfectly organized gym schedule changes. If your child wakes up with a fever, you’ve got to skip your planned training session. If she has a snow day, you’re stuck at home. If she has a potty accident at school, you have to leave your workout to go bring her some new underwear. And if you’re trying to do your hour-long workout at home while the toddler is awake and throwing a tantrum because you won’t hold her while you do kettlebell swings, good luck.

But there’s an underlying assumption that fevers, snow days, soiled underwear, and tantrums have an uncanny power to wreak havoc on parental fitness to such an extent that mothers and fathers are destined to simply give up. We are expected to throw up our hands and say, “That’s just the way it is.”

Parenting stereotypes feed on this expectation, as well as the reality that a lot of us parents are dissatisfied with our bodies. Too often, we brush our dissatisfaction aside. We easily excuse ourselves. Parenting really is hard work, after all, and society doesn’t expect much of us in the way of outstanding fitness. But for many parents, the frustrations and dissatisfactions always resurface.

Parenting Is Just Like Training

I just had my fourth child, and I understand the discouragement and frustration you can feel when your fitness isn’t quite epic. It’s okay to complain to a friend that you just can’t find the time to work out because your kids’ schedules are so demanding. But after you’ve done the venting, do something about it. Don’t buy into the B.S. that says you can’t, or even worse, that you shouldn’t because it’s selfish or “just the way things are.”

What would change if, instead of seeing raising kids and keeping up with fitness as diametrically opposed, we thought of them as related, or even complementary?

Start simple and small. Run a race, or just run, period. Lift and throw something heavy and awkward and carry it for a distance (kids count as heavy and awkward objects). Reconnect with your body through yoga or slow, intentional movement. Play a sport with your child. Dance. Go for a walk. Do cartwheels.

None of these things require expensive equipment or large amounts of time. But what if we could say we had done every one of them at the end of every week? How would that change our perceptions of ourselves and of parenthood in general?

You Are Enough

Fitness teaches us to be bigger than our self-imposed limitations. That’s why we run marathons and do workouts that make us uncomfortable, or why we add more weight to the bar when almost every ounce of our being says we can’t do it. Training shows us our potential for growth, just like parenting. The two aren’t as detached as we are often led to believe – or at least, they don’t have to be.

That’s why I don’t like labels like “dad bod.” They’re misleading, because ultimately, Joe down the street who wears plaid and drinks Bud Light doesn’t have a dad bod, just like I don’t have a “baby belly.” I have my body, the one I have formed and shaped by my own habits and choices. It may have some scars and a few undesirables I want to change, but it also has amazing potential. I know if I can take ownership of that potential, everyone will be better off in the end.

In Case You Still Need Convincing:

Good News: You Can Have Have Kids and Be in Shape

Coaches: Parents Are Busy. Maximize Their Training:

Stop Shaming Your Clients – Help Them Solve the Time Crunch

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