A couple of years ago, Tom Santone, a 39-year old school teacher from New Jersey, found himself in a place he didn’t like: he had joined the “dad bod” population. “Over several years of little activity, I was overweight, and my blood pressure and blood sugars were too high,” he says. “My doctor told me that if I lost some weight, I’d live a longer, healthier life.”
While there has been a trend to embrace the dad bod — a typical middle-aged male physique complete with stomach paunch — as Santone’s physician told him, it’s not healthy. Numerous studies, in fact, have revealed that fat centered around the abdominal area greatly increases the odds of cardiovascular mortality. But for many men who juggle fatherhood, career and other commitments, finding the time to transform a dad bod into a fit bod is a huge barrier.
Recognizing this, athletic trainers are designing and rolling out dad bod workouts to help this busy population regain health. That’s the goal of Gene Shirokobrod, a Maryland-based physical therapist, gym owner and dad himself. In an effort to figure out the best way to go about it, Shirokobrod decided to “decondition” his body, then design and follow a dad bod workout program before offering it to his clientele. “I realized that I work 10 feet away from the gym area of our facility and even for me, fitting in a workout can sometimes be difficult,” he says. “So I spent 14 weeks with no workouts to walk in the shoes of men who have lost fitness, then began moving my way back in as efficient manner as possible.”
Losing his fitness, says Shirokobrod, was akin to “slowly boiling a frog in water.” In other words, he didn’t necessarily notice the differences right away. But before long, he found carrying groceries, picking up his children and even experiencing clarity of thought far more challenging. “I began to empathize with the dads who struggle and find fitness routines daunting,” he says. Shirokobrod determined that simplicity had to rule when designing the program: “From what I learned, you have to take away the complexity in order to remove all the barriers for this population,” he says.
That’s the same viewpoint of Brian Manalastas, a California-based chiropractor and father who developed a popular Facebook-based dad bod program and community. “After my son was born, I found that getting in my usual workouts wasn’t easy, so I came up with a quick and easy plan for myself,” he says. “Before I knew it, I had other people joining in and getting results, and things blossomed from there.”
Today, nearly 2,000 dads have joined in the dad body workout community Manalastas created, so it’s clearly striking a chord. This is where Santone found his tribe, in fact, as well as his health. “Everyone can make 30 minutes a day to work out,” he says. “I get up half an hour earlier and get it done.”
Take the first steps
Want to join the party and ditch the dad bod? Here are the basic tenets of an effective dad bod workout, according to Shirokobrod and Manalastas:
- Make it quick: Both Shirokobrod and Manalastas designed workouts that can be accomplished in 30 to 40 minutes. “We broke our workouts into six main exercises that are plug and play,” says Shirokobrod. “You can tailor it to your ability level and get maximum benefits in about half an hour.”
- Focus on the health aspect of the workout, not the aesthetic: While a leaner body is part of the goal of dad-bod workouts, you’re more likely to stick with it if you know the end game is better health. “For most men, a ripped set of abs might not be realistic, but the chance at better quality of life is,” says Manalastas. “That’s the big picture.”
- Commit to 21 days: Manalastas says that with this mindset, your workouts will become a habit before you realize it. “You’re going to get sore at first, but if you can make it three to four weeks, you’ll find the work becomes much easier for you,” he says.
- Look for incremental changes: No one is going to see drastic changes overnight, so to keep the enthusiasm going, focus on the small improvements as they come. “Compare the number of push ups you can do from day one to day 30, for instance,” suggests Manalastas. “You will see tangible wins and that will keep you motivated.”
- Find your tribe: By joining a community of like-minded dads, you’re more likely to stay in the game. Santone says dropping into the Facebook group regularly and seeing that other dads have already completed their workouts on a given day often lights a fire for him to get it done, too.
Since working his way through the first 16 workouts in his dad bod program, Shirokobrod is feeling more like himself and has added nine pounds of muscle to his frame. My energy is much higher,” he says, “and the most shocking aspect has been how much clarity I have regained.” For his part, there’s no going back, says Santone. “Since starting, I’ve lost 40 pounds and returned all my stats to normal range,” he says. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
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