“What are those things in your backseat?” a grungy kayaker asked me at the Green River Narrows takeout, his voice groggy with confusion. “Those are car seats. That’s where my kids sit,” I said. “Whoa. You have kids?” his confusion deepened. “How do you stay in paddling shape?”
I am a former pro paddler and a current stay-at-home dad. We have two sons, a five year old and a seven month old. After the birth of our youngest son, I decided to take some time off from my nursing job to stay home.
I have to admit: some days it would be much easier to hand the kids off to someone else and forget about the family for a twelve-hour shift at the emergency room. But I love my time with the kids, and over time, I’ve found some simple and relatively inexpensive ways to juggle child care with fitness and sanity:
1. Don’t stay at home. Get a backpack, bike trailer, or running stroller and get the kids out of the house. My youngest son and I have been section hiking the famed Shut-In Trail a few miles at time. He enjoys the fresh air and I get a killer workout hiking uphill with 20 pounds on my back.
2. Work out at home. If the weather does not cooperate, just stay home and sneak in workouts while the baby naps. I have learned the value of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. These exercises build muscle, core strength, and general fitness, and they are free. Or think about investing in a treadmill or a trainer for the bike.
3. Get a baby monitor. Our monitor has a 1,000-foot range so I can sneak in hill repeats in front of our house during nap time.
4. Think outside the box. You don’t need tons of gear to make an adult playground in your backyard. I spend at least 30 minutes on our backyard slackline every day. You can make one for next to nothing (or buy pre-fab kits) and it’s a great way to hone balance. You can also build a makeshift mountain biking obstacle course with natural features in most backyards. The kids love playing on these jungle gyms too.
5. Take advantage of the gym. Many gyms have free or cheap day care where you can drop the kids off for an hour while you get in a workout. Bring their swimming stuff and take them to the pool after you’re finished.
6. Get a babysitter. It’s okay to splurge on yourself once in a while and get occasional day care or a sitter.
7. Cook. Take advantage of downtime to cook wholesome meals for the week. It will keep you and your whole family trim and healthy.
8. Find a friend. Hiking, stroller running, and biking with kids is much more enjoyable if you have an adult to talk to.
9. Make sure your partner gets theirs. I generally stay close to home on the weekends so my wife can run or take a yoga class. It’s only fair that she gets some recreation after her weekly grind.
10. Got a light? If you don’t have a good head light, get one. I go for a run or bike ride once or twice a week after everyone is tucked in for the night. Whether I am on wheels or on foot, there is something magical about a good night rip.
11. Don’t drive shuttle. Why drive when you can run or ride? I rarely ever paddle the Green anymore without running shuttle on foot or bike. It does not take much longer, and I get more time outdoors.
12. Anything is better than nothing. There’s a flat section of the French Broad River five minutes from my older son’s gymnasium. Although sometimes it hardly seems worth the hassle, I throw a boat on the car and get a quick forty minute paddle in while he takes his gymnastics class. I am always glad I did at the end of the session, when I pick him up and see most of the other parents smart-phoning in the observation booth.
I am not spending 20-plus hours in the woods like I used to, but I can still stay plenty fit enough to keep up with my young, childless friends as long as I follow these easy and affordable rules.