Disclosure: I didn’t want this post to turn into a shill-fest of promotion, but I did want to give specific examples of things I use and link to them. All products mentioned in this post were bought and paid for by me or a loved one. I do not receive any compensation for presenting these.
Family is more important than anything, and certainly more-so than training. Still, you take better care of your family when you take better care of yourself. When you’re able to combine family time with training time, it’s not just good time management – it sets an example to the kids about living an active lifestyle. Some caveats:
- First of all, I stick to sprint and Olympic distance triathlon; my biggest problem with half- and Iron distance is less about the overall volume of training time , but the uninterrupted stretches of time spent on long rides/runs. It’s simply too much to ask my wife to hold down the fort for that long (besides the time I spend at work). There are those that manage to do Iron distance and claim to balance work and family too (I hope to review David Mills’ “The Distance” soon), but I know what will and won’t work for my family.
- Second of all, these tips and tricks can’t be *all* of your training regimen. You’ll still have to get out there on your own sometimes.
Endurance Training with Family
My biggest tool in balancing family and training is our Chariot Cougar 2. Jogging strollers and bike trailers are popular with active families, but what I love about our Chariot is that it’s designed from the ground up to be modular. If your bike trailer simply add a kit to become a jogging stroller (or vice-versa), the functionality and your experience (including that of your child) will suffer, in my opinion.
I take my son jogging, and sometimes ride on the bike; I’m lucky in that I have a second bike beyond my racing/tri bike that I use for commuting to work sometimes (another time saver/training tip). The earliest I’d recommend putting them in one of these things is 6 months, but it depends on their neck strength and your individual judgement as to their safety.
We both wear helmets during the bike (he knows it’s time for fun when I break them out of storage in the basement) and the suspension system on the Chariot is adjustable according to his weight (I need to adjust mine soon, he keeps growing!). I recommend helmets for biking as you are moving faster than while jogging; it’s the law where I live anyway. The Chariot is designed to have enough room for the helmet as well as the child’s head, which is important to consider. Finally, if I did take a spill, the hitch is a ball-joint, meaning the carrier would stay upright, guaranteeing safety.
The jogging kit is a little puzzling at first, since the front wheel actually prevents steering with the wheel locked straight ahead, but I’ve realized that keeping a straight line can actually be challenging when your body is jostling at a run. Try jogging a regular stroller (preferably without the child in it) and watch it weave all over the road – any lateral motion in your upper body translates through the handle to the stroller. I just pop the front wheel a few inches off the ground when I need to corner.
In addition to biking and jogging, we use our Chariot cross-country skiing, the benefits of which I’ve mentioned here. That kit is my favourite, because I was shocked to find that skiing while towing the carrier feels so similar to skiing without it – my technique is the same, it’s just a little harder going uphill and a little faster going downhill. I skied once with my son in a backpack carrier; it really affected my centre of gravity and made me extremely nervous. The benefit of a backpack carrier is that the child gets some of your body heat, and it’s easier to monitor their temperature and well-being, so if you do take your child out in colder weather, please bundle them up adequately and take a break to check up on them periodically.
I spoke with a sales rep who takes their kids inline skating (there are kits for hiking, regular walking too), but without a hand-brake (other models have this, or you can install one separately, but it looked too complicated for me), and considering my lack of skill on skates, I’ve opted to leave this out.
Pushing/pulling your child’s extra weight requires extra strength, so I recommend using these workouts as a substitute for heavier workouts like speed or hill training.
I haven’t found a way to include swim training in family time, but I do want to recommend swimming lessons from an early age (ours started at 6 months). It’s a great bonding experience, and giving kids a positive attitude toward the water is the first step in a) teaching them to swim, which may save their lives at some point and b) having a family that likes spending time near the water – important for triathletes!
Strength Training With Family
There’s a lot of back and forth discussion as to how beneficial strength-training is for endurance athletes (as compared to whether they put that time back into swim/bike/run), but if you’re like me, multi-sport appeals because it is multi-faceted, and you want multi-dimensional fitness, so you try to address things like strength, balance and flexibility when they don’t get addressed through swim/bike/run – so here’s some strength training tips for family-oriented athletes.
Immediately after my son’s birth, I used a book called Buff Dad to get back in shape. Training at home was crucial, because I needed to be on hand/on call even when the baby was sleeping, so a gym or a run wasn’t a great option. The workouts in the book can be done with a few dumbbells and a Swiss ball. Though workouts are advertised as taking 30 minutes, I found them to be closer to 40 or 45 in practice; especially if you want to ensure good technique and stretch afterwards (you do). Still they were strength circuits, which are quite fashionable these days since they save time, and since they also offer a simultaneous cardio challenge (in addition to the strength work) I found the workouts to be right up my alley as a triathlete.
During his waking hours I try to find ways to get extra exercise; chasing kids is exhausting, but it doesn’t burn as many calories as you might think. If you’re just that tired, I’ve been advised to try and structure games with ball or other toys that have them running around, and you sitting still, but if you want to keep in shape reverse that structure.
There is a whole school of thought dedicated to natural movement and play-based exercise – so why not turn playtime into exercise? It probably looks like I’m ‘helicopter parenting’ when I follow my boy up onto playground equipment rather than sit on the sidelines (or they just think I’m crazy) but since being a parent means being judged by strangers all the time anyway, I have nothing to lose but calories.
I have even used my son as a weight during squats, lunges and push-ups (with him on my back), or I will adopt a crab walk position
during horseplay (which comes with the occasional bump or bruise, so this is more of a toddler activity than an infant one) and see if he can ride on my torso. Turning this into a structured workout isn’t necessarily possible since attention spans are even more limited than my endurance, but I do like to squeeze every ounce of potential exercise out of a given moment.
If you ever find time when the kids are in bed or somehow not underfoot, re-connecting with your partner is important for happy family life too. If you can’t leave the house to go for a run together, for example, there is the Fit2Touch DVD which demonstrates how to get a workout at home using your partner for assistance/resistance; the physical contact involved build intimacy. It’s a little sexy, so be sure to do it with your partner, not a sibling/buddy!
Integrating physical activity into the family routine is almost more of a mental exercise than a physical one; you need to flex your creativity and create flexibility in your routine but just as the effort goes beyond the physical, so do the rewards.
UPDATE: Here‘s an article about kids, playgrounds and parental activity.