A thrusting young buck at work recently approached me to ask for some tips on toning up. He does a lot of exercise but lives pretty generously. That means, whatever his body asks him for, he generously provides. As a result he has cultivated something of a "Dadbod" and has now decided to take action to stem the tide.
Bravo to him, I say.
Because he’s not yet a dad, it’s doubly important we go to work now. Otherwise things could get really ugly when he does have a kid.
Here’s what I’ve told him and it’s the same as I’d say to any dad (or wannabe/gonnabe dad) in the same position. None of this is new or complicated, and, best of all, the advice contained here is easy to follow. Anyone can do it.
But - it's also easy not to do, which is why not everybody does it.
Step 1: Get A Dexa Scan
Management guru and all-round badass, Peter Drucker, said; “if you can measure it, you can manage it.”
Translated for our purposes, this means we need to know where we are starting from in order to measure our progress on the journey to where we’re going.
It isn’t far removed from being absolutely pointless to embark on an aggressive fat-loss / muscle-building program without knowing where we’re starting from.
This is what Zig Ziglar refers to as being a “meaningful specific” instead of a “wandering generality”.
Pay $80-$200 or so and get a Dexa or InBody scan which will tell you your weight, body fat percentage, lean muscle mass etc. It will also tell you if you have a fat head or an overweight right arm (who knows how that could’ve happened, right?)
Step 2: Hack Breakfast
This is so easy yet it took me 5 years to figure out. What can I say? I’m bright like that.
Listen really carefully.
Change your breakfast from whatever it currently is to eggs and green vegetables. For three months. And see what happens.
Don’t do it for a week. Do it for three months. If you haven’t noticed a difference then we’ll have another conversation. But I highly doubt it will be necessary.
If you want to add sausage, bacon, avocado or smoked salmon, be my guest. But start with eggs and spinach and build around those two.
Note: For the purpose of this experiment, muesli is NOT a healthy choice. Even with full-fat yogurt. And toast is seriously banned. And so is fruit.
Trust me on this – it’s been the biggest game-changer for me in the past five years.
Step 3: Ditch The Chronic Cardio
Actually, ditch any cardio. It’s unnecessary and gives rise to the dreaded dadbod: the skinny-fat physique that only Leonardo Dicaprio can really pull off. And he’s not even a dad.
Don’t get me wrong. A one hour trail run has numerous benefits. As does ninety minutes of competitive soccer. Either way, chronic cardio has no place in this plan.
It’s a waste of time that could be spent elsewhere.
Step 4: Get to the bar
I’ve tried the majority of fitness options and the bottom line is this: if you want the kind of body you see in magazines (and even if you don’t but just want to look manly and virile), you have to spend at least some of your workout time under a barbell.
Yeah, there are some thin, wiry types who get by on gymnastics and calisthenics and yoga and still look strong and ripped. But unless you’re Ido Portal or Frank Medrano, chances are you’re going to struggle. We’re talking about average guys here, not super-strong gymnasts.
So, mastering the compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press) and some basic Olympic weightlifting (clean, jerk and snatch) is a necessity to build strength and power, but also, somewhat counter-intuitively, overall cardiovascular fitness.
Until you become competent in these basic lifts, you don’t need to do anything else at the gym (barring possibly some pull-ups).
5 x 5 is a tried a tested program that requires almost zero thought at the gym, leaving you plenty of time to scope babes or look at your phone. You warm-up (I use an empty bar) and then work up to 5 sets at your working weight. On the bench press for me this might look like:
- 2 x 25 with empty bar
- 1 x 10 @ 40kg
- 1 x 7 @ 50kg
- 5 x 5 @ 60kg
I then repeat the process on either the deadlift or the squat, and possibly the shoulder press to finish.
Failing that I really enjoy barbell complexes which build muscle and work you over hard in the process.
Here are some fun barbell complexes you can try.
The buzz you get after a savage barbell workout is hard to beat. Plus, you can be in and out of the gym in 45 minutes.
Step 5: HIIT
High-intensity intervals, along with barbell work (which, actually, can be one-and-the-same) offer a brilliant return on exercise investment. The kettlebell comes into pretty handy here for Dads who can’t get to the gym.
The beauty is there are so many permutations, it’s easy to stave off boredom and keep thing really spicy in just 10-15 minutes in the baby’s nursery or outside your house.
I love Tabata workouts, same with 40 seconds work followed by 20 seconds test, ditto minute-on / minute-off workouts. Lately I’ve been playing around with 2 minute “rounds” followed by 1 minute of rest. The 2 minute round is broken up into 30 second intervals of two exercises e.g. jumping jacks with burpees or mountain climbers with jumping squats.
Be creative and see how much you can sweat in ten minutes.
Step 6: Ditch the booze / soft drink
You might not like this one. Trust me, I didn’t either. Still don’t.
But cutting back your consumption will work wonders for your Dadbod. And your mind. What’s important is you make incremental cut-backs: progress is the only goal here. So if you drink a couple of glasses every night, start by having two night off per week, say Monday and Tuesday.
Stick at this and build to drinking just at weekends, trying to ensure you don’t make up for your school-night sobriety by getting muntered on Saturday. Alcohol is so widely used and accepted as a social lubricant, I’ve untold admiration for anyone who stays teetotal. It’s a battle I’m yet to win but when I’m in the trenches, I know I feel much better for it.
The same goes for soft drinks, juices and other sugary beverages. Slowly cut them from your life and your midsection will thank you.
These tweaks aren’t hard to follow when you view them on the page or the screen. In reality, though, if you’re a regular dad with a young kid and a job and a wife, then you’re going to have your hands full.
But, whilst sticking to these will be a challenge, I can promise you that they will work. Or, at least, they have for me. As usual, if there’s anything I’ve missed or anything I should be trying, let me know in the comments!
This story has been updated since its original publication.