Dave Kirschen's Daddy Hacks

TAGS: happy father's day, daddy hacks, Father's Day, dave kirschen, powerlifting

Originally published in June of 2015

On August 12, 2013, I became a father.

While I knew that my life would now be different, I didn’t exactly know how yet. And to be honest, although there are tons of “what to expect” types of resources out there for expecting parents, I never really found any that were of any appreciable help. Most, in fact, were downright worthless, because they seemed to lean more towards the philosophical.

To be honest, in that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about what it means to be a father, or how parenthood would define me as a man. I knew that I would be able to rise to the occasion on the big stuff. What I wanted to know was how to balance this new responsibility with my goals in powerlifting.

This may sound petty, but keep in mind, at this point, I had been lifting weights in one form or another for over 20 years, and competing in powerlifting for over 15. And while my family comes before my training, (it’s the only thing, in fact) I have to admit to being concerned that there wouldn’t be room for both.

Fortunately, as most parents do, I figured it out. And not only was I able to continue training and competing, my performance actually improved, and in the six months following my son’s birth, I hit two lifetime pr totals, including winning the 198 class at the XPC Finals.

david kirschen

If you make an effort, you probably won’t have to scrap your training goals just because you have a kid, but it isn’t always easy to strike a balance. And when your training interferes with your responsibilities outside of the gym, you’re going to have a problem.

So for all of the new or soon-to-be dads (or moms) out there, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Take it easy after the birth.

Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that the experience of the birth for Dad is even in the same ballpark as it is for Mom, but you still want to be careful about how you approach training in the weeks that follow. Even though you are just along for the ride, the whole process can be way more taxing than you might realize.

If you’re planning on staying with your wife/baby mama at the hospital following the birth (you totally should, by the way. And if she says “that’s okay honey, I know you’re really busy”, what she really means is “go ahead and leave me there, shithead. I’ll just occupy my time by naming him after the dude I dated before you”), know ahead of time that the extreme stress and lack of sleep are going to take a huge toll on you in the short run.

Hospitals are terrible places to get a good night’s sleep. If you opt to keep your baby in the room with you (you will), you will be woken up at all hours of the night for various tests and procedures.

And then there’s the bed. Now we all know how bad hospital beds suck, but guess what, Hot Dog? This won’t be a problem for you, because you probably won’t be getting one.

You see, most maternity units don’t actually set aside a bed for Dad, even though it’s common for him to stay.

Instead, you’ll usually get a narrow, uncomfortable chair that, folds out into a narrow, uncomfortable cot. And if you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance you’re big, and won’t have a prayer of fitting in the damn thing. At 5’5” and 215, I’m relatively small as far as strength athletes go, and even I couldn’t lay on my back because my shoulders were mashed up against the arm rests.

Due to my wife’s c-section, we stayed for four days. After two, my back was jacked up and I sweet-talked the nurses into letting me claim a vacant bed, which still sucked, but was a whole lot better than that fold-out bullshit.

I then attempted to train full-out the following week, and ended up with severe back-pain that would haunt me for over a year.

Bring an air mattress just in case you can’t get a bed, and give yourself a few weeks before training at anything close to full intensity.

2. Address current and potential injuries. NOW!

Like a lot of lifters, I never gave much thought to injuries until it was too late. Even if my training left me in pain for the next few days, I figured everything was fine as long as I felt good enough to do it again by the next session.

If this is your philosophy, you’ll quickly find out, as I did, that this approach is fucking stupid when you’re a parent.

Fatherhood introduces a whole new list of physical tasks that you’ll have to do on a daily, hourly, and even minute-to-minute basis. If you’re not in shape, you’re going to suffer.

Are your hips tight? Enjoy stepping over the baby gate 30 times per day.

Back issues? Nothing better for that than bending over the side of a crib to retrieve a squirming, screaming, kicking, 30-pound medicine ball.

You ever see a father tenderly holding his young sleeping child, wishing the moment would never end? It’s a whole lot harder to get lost in that moment with your biceps tendonitis screaming.

Address nagging injuries now and you’ll enjoy parenthood a whole lot more later.

3. Disinfectant is your new best friend.

You know those pathetic pansies that run around with that little bottle of hand sanitizer wherever they go? That’s you now, at least when you get close to a meet.

Kids are little adorable petri dishes, and even if you take every precaution imaginable, they will still do everything in their power to get you sick. My son coughs and sneezes on me with such regularity I could set my watch by it. One time, while I was buckling him into his car seat, he launched a wet sneeze into my face with such force I actually had to hold back a sob.

One time, while I was holding him, and couldn’t put my arms up to defend myself, he sneezed into my open mouth and eyes, then wiped his nose on my beard.

Carry hand sanitizer and wet wipes with you wherever you go, and wash your hands (theirs as well) like a mental patient.

joey smith

4. Protect the testicles.

If there’s one piece of information that I wish I could have gotten before, it’s that all of the possible pitfalls you consider before parenthood (cost, loss of free time, dirty diapers, destruction of everything you own) are nothing but minor inconveniences compared to what I’m about to tell you.

If you are planning on being a father, get used to taking a lot of shots to the nuts.

And I don’t mean like once or twice a week either. For every hour you and your child are in the same room, count on at least three solid strikes to the marble bag. They won’t be intentional of course, but after around the 15th direct hit of the day, you will seriously start to wonder.

And it won’t just be punches either. Feet, knees, elbows, toys, and whatever else they can pick up and hurl dick-ward will all be the little sociopath’s weapons of choice, and he/she will rain them down upon your junk in every configuration imaginable.

Sometimes my son will simply nail me in the berries with a broom handle, fly swatter, or other swinging implement. Other times, he will (under the guise of wanting to sit in Daddy’s lap), climb into my chair with me by grabbing my yam bag and rappelling up my legs like a rock climber, digging his elbows and knees into my oysters during the ascension. He will then sneeze in my face three or four times, then hop off, sinking a final elbow into my coin purse on the way down.

Every once in a while, as I’m walking up the hall to my bedroom, he’ll appear at the other end, as if out of a dream, like those creepy twins from The Shining. He’ll then snort and stamp his feet like a bull and duck his little head (I’m assuming because he read “Starting Strength” and thinks he needs to maintain postural alignment). He’ll then sprint down the hall at full speed, nailing me in the doorknockers with his inexplicably hard forehead.

Sometimes, I can’t help but think he secretly resents being born into this crazy world, and is literally trying to destroy his creator.

Mind you, outside of wearing a cup 24/7, there’s really nothing you can do but accept the inevitable, and know that somewhere your father is laughing his ass off in a much higher pitched voice than he had before you were born.

I realize this has nothing to do with training, but I thought it was important because none of the books or articles I read on parenting saw fit to mention this. I find this odd. I mean, a couple of years ago, Apple released an IPhone that might have lost a little reception if you held it a certain way, and everyone lost their minds over it. Just imagine the response if instead of dropping an occasional call, the thing zapped you in the cojones 15 times per day.

Yet nobody ever seems to pull you aside and mention this when you’re proudly showing off that first sonogram.

Jl holdsworth

5. Embrace the big box.

And yes, by “big box”, I am referring to mainstream commercial gyms.

I realize that must of us in the strength community do our best to stay out of these places and prefer either garages or key-clubs, but there’s one important feature that these places offer that most serious gyms do not: child care.

As soon as my son was old enough (in this case, a year), I marched right over to the chain gym down the street and joined. I pay about 30 bucks per month, and it may be the best money I spend because it’s a hell of a lot cheaper and easier than hiring a babysitter. While I still do my two main days with my crew at a real gym, the ability to drop him off and get my extra work in stress-free is priceless.

Once in a while, when the boy is laying down a particularly ambitious path of destruction in the house, I’ll take him to the gym even if I don’t need to train that day, just to get a breather for an hour.

There’s even one elitefts lifter who will remain nameless, who has been known to drop his kids off at his local commercial gym’s child care, then go home to train in his garage.

This is a great man.

6. Be there for Mommy.

Becoming a new father is a scary transition, but not nearly as scary as becoming a new mother.

Over the nine months of her pregnancy, Mommy has developed a bond with baby that you have not. Which means that whatever fears or emotions you are feeling, she is feeling tenfold. Not to mention the fact that when the baby wants to be comforted (which will be often), they want Mommy, with Daddy in a distant second place.

This will change with time, of course, because your bond will come more through interaction, rather than biology. In the meantime however, your primary job is to be there for your spouse while she figures all this upheaval out. This could mean supporting her when she starts to break down emotionally, or picking up the slack around the house so she can catch a precious nap.

You may feel like you two are in this together, but when she’s up every two hours breastfeeding in that first month, she’s gonna feel alone, and your ability to lift weights will be the last thing on her mind.

If pitching in means missing a training session here and there for a couple of months while you two figure all this out, DO IT. After a couple of months, when the kid starts sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time, both of your stress levels will creep back down, and you’ll get better at managing your schedules. You should be able to start hitting the gym hard before you know it.

That is if she isn’t holding a grudge from all the times you bailed on her to go to the gym while she was in the weeds. Man up and do the right thing now and you’ll have a way easier time of it when it’s time to get back to the grind.

And in case I didn’t make it clear, protect the testicles.


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