Quickly Turn Your ‘Dad Bod’ Into Lean Muscle With These Tips

Quickly Turn Your ‘Dad Bod’ Into Lean Muscle With These Tips
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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.


    • Except “Step 5: HIIT” is cardio. So the advice is don’t do cardio, but do cardio. 0_o

      Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with cardio. I was told by my trainer a few years ago to do light cardi on off days (as in days not doing weights). Don’t run for an hour or two, but light cardio like a 10 minute ride or walk or row is still good.

  • Lost credibility as soon as he said skip cardio, then suggests HIIT (an intense form of cardio).
    *yawn*, just another PT who thinks he has a human physiology/dietician’s degree.

    • It might be more worthwhile if you have something a bit more constructive to offer. Constructive criticism/disagreement or an alternative methodology. Otherwise, save the bits – the universe only has a finite number.

      • I have to agree with Corvus, and I’m not sure how his comment was constructive? The constructive and accurate criticism I got was; If you as a PT want to remain credible don’t say Cardio is a waste of time and then go on to suggest a high intense form of it.

    • Chronic cardio – long periods of endurance training at a steady state for over 75% of your max heart rate.

      HIIT – a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue.

      So he didn’t say skip cardio. Just said to do a different type.

      • So he didn’t say skip cardio. Just said to do a different type.

        He did both. Dude literally used the words “Actually, ditch any cardio,” right before telling us to do a type of cardio.

  • Is that soft/hard boiled or fried eggs and how many? Or doesn’t it matter? I’d like to try this out and see if I can get past the brick wall I am hitting right now.

    • Any kind of eggs. They have one of, if not, the best protein availability ratio of any food. Hard-boiled are easy to prepare in advance. I cook a 3-egg omelette every morning which takes around 7 minutes all-up.

  • What can I eat instead of eggs? I seriously cannot stomach the taste, smell and texture of egg unless its baked in a cake where you can’t taste, smell or feel it.

  • disagree on the gymnastics/yoga.
    i started adult gymnastics at age 30 after years and years of not doing regular exercise.
    depending on the class you go to, stretching and strength training takes up a big part of the classes, then its about technique, which is controlled precise muscle training which is beneficial to reduce injury, increase core strength as well as muscle mass and tone. and depending on what apparatus your coach decides to base your lesson around, you can make it as high or as low intensity as you like. not to mention you gain a lot of strength in your ligaments and joints if training properly and not overdoing things.
    doing HIIT workouts with weights is a great way to injure yourself if you have no foundation to start with. e.g. no technique, core strength, and precise muscle movements and joint strength.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly on gymnastics as one of the best foundational practises. Sadly, it is harder to stick to for a lot of people and can be slower to get into than HIIT classes, some of which are terrible, some are very effective.

      • yes, its definitely something you dont want to rush if you have never done it before, it took about 6 months to a year of 2 classes a week for me to notice big improvements, (only a couple of months to feel better in regards to stretching ad flexibility, which eased up some back issues i had) but i think if i had pushed it too much more (for my body in particular) i would have injured myself, i always had to keep telling myself to go at my own pace and not to try and keep up with those that are more advanced than myself.

        • That’s great advice in general when working out. I’ve seen it over the years doing fitness training for touch football, or working out at the gym. Often people look at someone else as a benchmark and say “he’s doing that I should be too” without realising the differences in body and training behind it.

  • Ketosis eating plan – 1kg drop on average per week (with 1.5KG drops in the first several weeks)
    Best thing I have done!
    10kg drop over 8 months on eating anything I want , when I want but small quantities, example KFC, not buying the lunch box, 3 wicked wings is plenty.
    Then 12kg on Keotisis in 3 months!

        • ” with only daily walking and cycling exercise”. I think those are the key points. Practically *every* diet you’ll lose weight if you exercise as well. And obviously the less you eat the less weight you need to exercise off.

          That said, the article was not just lose weight, it’s about building muscle too. So just just dieting and light (cardio) exercise isn’t going to do that). It’ll just make you thin.

    • I would say to up the HIIT-type training to accelerate fat-loss, especially if you’re already muscly. I’m guessing you want to aim to lean-bulk i.e. retain muscle-mass but strip down some fat. HIIT type classes should be effective for this. Alternatively, barbell-type complexes (or kettlebell) but for long-ish durations with light-ish weights will give you a cardio workout and maintain muscle.

  • What about us Dad’s that enjoy running? I am trying to combine a 5×5 program 3 days a week with running on alternate days, between 7km – 20+km longer runs, pushing for my 2nd marathon next year. Finding it pretty tough though, legs are either heavy during a run, or struggle when squatting as still tired from the run before. From that I don’t think it is possible to combine heavy lifting 3 days with running on off days?

    • I’m the same and what I do is that I add weights to power-walking. This is facilitated by the fact that I have a treadmill So I can put the weights (5kg dumbbells that I worked up from 1kg–looking to move up soon again) down and pick up for short but energetic bursts of pumping the weights, all without stopping. This has caused noticeable muscle development and slow but reliable weight loss.

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