All the weird muscles you build up as a new dad

Being a dad involves a lot of schlepping.
Being a dad involves a lot of schlepping.
Image: Nir Elias/Reuters
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Just about a year ago, I became a dad. There were many surprises, none bigger than how quickly things changed—and not just with my son. Although I have always been thin and athletic, the dadbod took hold fast, and its form is not what I expected.

Obviously what happened to me is nothing compared to the changes my wife has experienced. And sure, I can be blamed for not maintaining the greatest diet, or finding ways to sneak in regular exercise during these first, chaotic months. But the thing is, I’m not completely unfit–I’m just differently fit.

Let’s start with what happened in the earliest days. I had six weeks of paternity leave (thanks, Quartz!) and it was intense. Every baby is different, and after sharing war stories with other new parents, I feel comfortable saying my son fell a bit more on the difficult end of the fussiness spectrum. He was also an emergency c-section, which limited what my wife was able to do early on. This resulted in what I’ll call my cardio period. I was in constant motion. Dishes, laundry, grocery shopping. Even better, the kid would only fall asleep when vigorously rocked or pushed rapidly in the stroller. I was rocking and strolling so much that my physique resembled that of a marathon runner. My wife started calling me The Machinist.

By mid-February, I was back at work. The constant motion became less constant, and I started eating a respectable meal or two a day. My face was less gaunt and my clothes fit better. What I was doing now was Schlepping.

Because if you want to go anywhere, there are things to schlep. There’s the car seat that also fits the stroller; that’s 30-plus pounds with even a little guy in there. There are bags. Many bags. Going to the park? Need a bag. Going out for a meal? Need a bag and the attachable high chair. We like to get out of the city on the weekends, so tack on a bag of clothes—maybe two. Plus a bag of food, including bottles, plates, and cups. Oh, also the Pack ‘n Play. Toys. Our luggage. I now call my ability to carry six-plus bags up and down three-plus flights of stairs “dadding.” I am but a humble pack mule.

Schlepping is when you really start working your shoulders, arms, and obliques through endless reps of bent-over rowing, side bends, and curls. If you want to tackle your posture and lower back, just strap that guy into a Babybjorn. Trying to ramp up weight? With a baby, the weight ramps up itself.

There were times in my life when I was fairly dedicated to lifting, sometimes as often as four times a week. But I will tell you this: My arms were never as strong as they are today. My son is roughly 26 pounds now, and very solid (a stranger once remarked, “Well, that guy has never missed a meal”). You try holding a weight flexed in your arm for several hours a day, every day, and see what happens to your arms and shoulders. Better yet, throw the weight up over your head a dozen or so times. (Unfortunately, yours won’t giggle like crazy when you do it.)

Have we talked about legs? Let’s talk about legs. Before my son, I cycled a good deal—2018 resolution: back on the bike!—so leg strength is not an issue. However, I will admit I never went hard on squats. I’ve got a bad knee (and also leg days suck).

I do squats now. All day long. Do you know how often you need to bend down with a kid? I’m 6’3. I have to go low, and I’m often coming up holding my favorite 26-pound weight. I walk everywhere holding that dumbbell. For a couple months, my legs just ached. But now I’ve built up that strength. My slim-fit jeans are now skinny jeans thanks to my dadquads.

I know what you’re thinking: I shouldn’t have said dadquads. Also that, other than the Machinist phase, this all doesn’t sound too bad. Except that we’ve neglected one crucial area, which I’ll let my colleague Adam Freelander, also a new dad, explain: ”All the limbs get strong, but the middle is just mush.”

I’m 40, so “the middle” was probably going to start sliding anyway. But for the past 20 years, I’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining my size-34 waist. And while I haven’t bothered weighing myself in some time, I know what I see. I know that trying on a two-year-old suit a few weeks ago was depressing. I know that early parenthood means conserving energy (if you don’t have to move, don’t!) and a good amount of food delivery. And I will admit the early days can also be a bit boring. I may have occasionally enjoyed a few beers while waiting for the next diaper change, feeding, or brief (so brief) afternoon nap.

So here I am: an increasingly squishy torso with ripped extremities and a dumbbell that just learned how to walk. I’m not sure which muscle group will get blasted next, but here’s hoping that the post-schlepping phase of the Dadbod Development Program involves a focus on one’s core.

Just kidding. There’s no such thing as post-schlepping.