Fitness and Fatherhood: The Importance of Natural Movement

Whether planned or unplanned, becoming a parent is one of the most life-changing events that can happen to a person. Recently, I’ve been thinking about all the transitions that take place for men becoming dads, and how natural movement might support these transitions. I envision many potential ways natural movement could benefit new dads. Being a parent has provided me with a keen insight into how important fitness and fatherhood play in nurturing a strong base and support structure for an enduring, prosperous, and healthy life. As a result of my tenure as a dedicated, fit dad, I will offer some insights and perspectives on my fitness and fatherhood journey. Based on these insights, I’ll be offering some interesting ideas and concepts on how to integrate fitness and fatherhood using natural movement in everyday life.

Any parent will tell you that, while you can predict and plan, there is really no way to be fully prepared for this life transition. In taking responsibility for someone else, parents are thrust into new roles and challenges. These changes do not diminish the importance of their health and fitness, but parents must make decisions about how they’ll manage their time and energy. When life shifts, it rattles the foundation of any routine. Health and fitness will inevitably be interrupted, but parents can reclaim balance by integrating new health practices into their parenting.

We’re given broad recommendations for what fitness should look like, but they are often framed as a hobby or obligation more than a way of life. Taking a lifestyle-oriented approach to fitness helps us optimize time and access deeper benefits. Fitness can keep us grounded and help us adjust to changes. Life’s unpredictability is only amplified by becoming a parent. The stakes are raised higher. When it comes to your health and fitness, it’s time to evolve, because it’s no longer just about you.

The Bigger Picture of Fitness

As a parent, every aspect of life is put in a new perspective. Fitness is no longer solely about sculpting a nice body or burning calories. There is a broader awareness that your personal health matters to your family. The idea that fatherhood could lead to a bigger picture of understanding in relation to how health and fitness impacts our lives is fascinating to me as the commitment, dedication, perseverance, and fortitude needed to attain physical progress in an ever-changing world cultivates a rock-solid foundation for long-term success in life.

Mortality and Natural Movement

Men often describe that fatherhood leads to a heightened awareness of their own mortality. You experience a shift in perspective that your actions and practices around health are impactful not just to yourself, but your family as well. The ramifications of staying active and eating well became more tangible; their little people served as a constant reminder. This sense of mortality does not make you retreat, but question how you could make the most of your time? Slowly but surely, you began refocusing your priorities on sustainable health and being present for your kids.

Natural movement is an approach to fitness training that develops practical ability, fortitude, and strength, think strength and conditioning training models that simulate real-world activity, require a wide range of abilities, and develop functional strength and movement patterns. Strength and mobility are trained to be applied in everyday settings. These qualities are developed for the sake of being helpful to others. This approach emphasizes that we maximize benefit with less time and resources. Natural movements teach us to make the most of situations and environments. Getting a great workout and spending quality time as a family need not be mutually exclusive.

Adaptability and Releasing Expectations

The concept of "the dad bod” is a pop culture reference that has snowballed out of control. The idea is that amidst the new life demands of fatherhood, men will naturally fall out of shape. In preparing for this article, I delved into the conscious and subconscious mind to evaluate the inner workings of fit dads, like myself, to unearth what specifically attracted us to the idea of staying and looking svelte well beyond our prime. Some dads express that fitness is something you do for yourself to be the best you can be for your family. Even with less time and more obligations, many dads maintain fitness as a priority. Other dads admit that although the nature of their workouts changed, they were willing to let go of their expectations. From their children, they learned adaptability, how to go with the flow.

These values are embodied within natural movement. A training session can take place anywhere, at any time. You train to adapt to your surroundings and accept any outcome. The workouts can work around or involve the kids. The experience becomes one in which fitness and family connection occurs simultaneously.

Communication and Creative Problem Solving

Another common thread that requires creative problem solving is the male tendency to fix what’s broken. As men, we’re hardwired to be problem-solvers. We are conditioned to tackle obstacles head on and use brute force to impose our will. There are areas in life where this approach is successful; parenting is not one of those areas.

Dads need to improve communication and diplomacy in their interactions with their children. Rather than attempting to impose their views by force, you have to learn to soften your communication style and explore alternative solutions when issues arise. When tough questions arise, dads have to be committed to being as unbiased as possible. When you do not know how to answer a question, openly, honestly assert that you do not know the answer, but are openly committed to exploring answers.

We can also see these traditional male values of leadership and competition emerge in fitness and sport; we take charge and go hard towards our goals. Natural movement represents a shift in these ideals. Leadership is reframed through cooperative efforts and outside-the-box thinking. Traditional fitness focuses on the application of intensity to imposed demands—the approach is straightforward. Natural movement training favors movement complexity and the application of strength and skill to meet the demands of a given environment. This shift may indeed foster the type of thinking that is conducive to effective parenting.

Modeling Behavior

The desire to be a positive role model in lives of their children is also a notable theme. Parents quickly become aware of the sponge-like nature of developing children, and are conscious that their actions speak louder than words. Modeling behaviors of health and fitness set a standard of “normal” human behavior that imprints on children. Kids see that adults exercise and want to imitate.

This is a first step, but in reality, we have it backwards. We encourage our kids to play, but in time, play gives way to a mixture of sports and desk culture. We are now seeing that play holds unique value that exercise does not address, such as variety and mental engagement. Natural movement integrates play and fitness to continue the physical development process we begin in childhood. It models movement as a practice that keeps us healthy for a lifetime.

Redefining Masculinity

How did the definition of masculinity change since becoming a dad? The common realization is that being masculine is about letting go of stereotypes and standing confidently in your commitments. Initially, it feels awkward to let your guard down. You learn to present yourself as stoic and strong, but over time you began to see the limitations in this rigid structure. In order to truly connect with your children, you see the importance of taking on roles that challenge your traditional ideas of masculinity.

Taking on new roles drives an expansion around your ideas of masculinity. You realize that singing and dancing, braiding hair, cooking, cleaning, and playing "make believe” are not inherently masculine or feminine, but parental privileges. These actions challenge your comfort zone and allow you to develop a deeper sense of masculinity. You focus less on traditional gender roles, and more on internal confidence to define your masculinity.

Natural Movement for Superhero Dads

The themes we’ve explored offer insight into the parallels between parenting and movement. Not only are there strong philosophical connections, but the application can fit well into the busy lives of parents. Fitness can take on many different forms, but natural movement training is particularly well-suited for dads who strive to be superheroes for their children. Here are a few thoughts on how to bring natural movement training into both your fitness and your fatherhood.

Be a Student

As a parent, you are responsible for the development of your little humans, but understand just how much there is for you to learn along the way. You are simultaneously shaping and being shaped by your kids. Study how your children move through their different developmental stages. Take note of how Mother Nature guides them to become competent movers through exploration. As they play at higher levels, see how they don’t require structured programs or periodization to make their gains. Notice that these gains are not just physical, but mental and emotional too. Incorporate these concepts into your training. Your success as a parent is correlated with your personal development. While guiding your kids to be their best, also recognize they’re teaching you at the same time. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can help you become a more mindful adult.

Interactive Workouts

It would be easy to claim you cannot get a workout in because there is no one to babysit, but there is a compromise. Let go of the need for an exact structure, and you’ll see new opportunities to train while being with your kids. Lie in the grass and stretch together. Let them crawl over you while you stay stable. Chase each other in circles. Carry them. Balance on logs. Throw rocks into the lake. I could go on all day, the main point is that what they call “playing" and what you call “training" can be one in the same. Yes, there will be a new set of parameters. They’ll challenge you to keep exploring, they’ll fuss at times, and they’ll want to go longer or pack it in sooner. Adapt. Stay in the moment and make the most of it, and you will create something far beyond fitness.

Mobility

Your kids already have all the mobility they need for a childhood full of adventure. You, on the other hand, have been subject to a culture where acceptable adult behavior doesn’t include much movement. Why don’t you move like they do? Because you’re “old” or because you’ve been sitting in a chair every day since high school? Playing with your kids is a chance to reclaim the mobility you’ve lost. Rather than fitting them into the box of how adults move, take cues from them on how to create mobility through more diverse movements. A simple place to start is by getting up and down from the ground. Move your spine laterally and rotationally, move your limbs in all possible directions from different positions. This may seem abstract, but consider how wrestling match or a game of follow-the-leader would make this all happen organically.

A Child-Optimized Home

Children are constantly learning through their interactions with the environment. This does not stop in childhood, but we do “dumb down” our environments for the sake of excessive safety. We create homes that are “child-proof,” where every potential danger is neutralized. I advocate for a “child-optimized” home, where serious dangers are accounted for and opportunities to play are abundant. Balance on 2”x4” boards. Set up a web made of string. Build a small climbing wall. Set up targets to jump to and play “hot lava.” Think of it as play permaculture. Yes, it takes some extra work, but the entire family can benefit from a more sensory-rich living space.

Strength Training

The gym will always be a viable option, but it’s not the only place where strength is built. Your kids will likely be willing training tools. Think of them as the ultimate odd object training. Squat, lift, lunge, hinge, and press them overhead. The fact that they are precious cargo means you’ll move more mindfully. Go explore nature together and seize the opportunities to lift rocks and logs; hang from playground equipment and trees. Get dirty, defy some social norms, and demonstrate that there is value in taking calculated risks. Show them strength is more than a physical endeavor. As you build yourself, you’re imparting strong ideals.

Mold Your Fitness to Your Life

After delving into the stories of dedicated family men and drawing some parallels to natural movement training, it becomes even clearer that fitness has a higher purpose. It is easy to see fitness as concept that we learn and replicate. Less often do we take the time figure out how to shape our fitness practice to support the roles and responsibilities we take on.

For those of us that choose the path of parenthood, it is likely to be the most important role we will play. Fitness can either be another obligation on the to-do list, or it can be an opportunity for self-development and family enrichment. Natural movement training represents a shift in the approach that can bring men closer to their little ones. Through diverse movement, communication, interaction, and adaptability, men can stay fit and healthy while staying grounded in the bigger picture of being the best caregiver, role model, and mentor possible. Every dad is a superhero, and natural movement is a way they can fully own it.

Stay Strong,

Brett Place