Having kids is no reason for being out of shape, it's the strongest reason to be in the best shape of your life. I get it and I know, being a parent takes up a lot of mental and physical resources whilst reducing your available time but challenges are not the same thing as impenetrable barriers.
To be honest, whether you're a busy parent or not the secrets to getting the body you've always wanted are quite simple; do the basic stuff that works consistently. I'll never sell as an informercial but it's true.
That said, to get great results parents have to play the margins a lot harder than our childless friends. This is a good thing, it sharpens the focus on the stuff that gives you the most leverage. You can't afford to waste your time and energy on silly "bio-hacks" (expensive distractions that give you average results), overly complicated diet strategies or workouts that look like someones trying to get you to solve a puzzle. If you'd rather just get results here's where to start.
1. LIFT YOUR STANDARDS
Mum bums and Dad bods are really coded terms for complacency. The truth is we live in a time when it's easy to be mediocre and have it celebrated, if you want more for yourself you have to step outside that mentality. Be mindful of who you surround yourself with and what thoughts and behaviours you're inviting into your life.
This might not seen like actionable advice but I assure you it is. The hardest part of physical change is breaking the inertia of current behaviours and thought patterns. If you're not where you want to be something has to change. The good news is if you're reading this you already have a sense of the person you could be, you just need to bridge that gap. To be someone else you really need to be someone else.
If you're completely new to training or haven't trained in a while the most important thing to do is just get moving. Don't wait for inspiration, to feel in the mood or the perfect time just do something. Whether it's simply going for a walk it means you've begun something, everything else is just intellectualising a problem.
If you're really stuck in a rut and don't know where to start do this: THE 7-DAY MIND BODY RESET
Don't think about just do it and it'll change your perception of what you can do.
2. FULL BODY TRAINING
Whether you're time poor or time rich full body training is probably going to be the fastest way for you to build an amazing body. Apart from time efficiency, full body training with big complex movements offers the most bang for the buck in terms of favourable hormonal response, frequency and recovery. Train full body three times per week and you'll look, feel and perform better than almost anyone you know. You don't need tonnes of complexity and variation in your training, you need focus and progression on a handful of basic exercises. This goes for everyone whether they're a parent or not.
To reap the most benefits from full body training each session should be built around a squat variation, a pulling movement and a pressing movement, for example; goblet squat, bent over row and incline press. If all you ever did was get progressively better at these movement patterns you'd get leaner and more muscular - that's not even open for debate. You can add accessory movements by all means but each session must prioritise those core patterns. This is good news for the time pressed because it means, if for whatever reason you don't have as much time as expected, you can abbreviate a session quite easily if necessary.
A full body session aimed more towards hypertrophy might look like:
A. Front Squat 5 x8
B. Seated Row 5 x 10
C. Incline dumbbell press 5 x 10
Rest 90-seconds between sets, several minutes between exercises.
Core and accessory movements as desired
For something focussed more towards fat loss and conditioning you could perform a circuit of:
A1. Back squat
A2. TRX Row
A3. Push up variation
In this instance perform the first set of each exercise for 20 reps with 15 seconds rest before going to the next exercises in the circuit, resting 60 seconds before repeating the sequence. Drop 2 reps each circuit i.e circuit one at 20 reps, circuit two at 18 reps, circuit three at 16 reps all the way down to 2 reps. This circuit doesn't take long but it's deceptively tough.
3. MINI WORKOUTS
Finding ways to fit mini-workouts into your week is a great way to get a little metabolic boost and reinforce a healthy, active lifestyle as your default way of being. These can be as long as 15 minutes but sometimes as short as 5 and don't really need to be scheduled. If I've got 10 minutes to spare I'll might do 10 reps of kettlebell swings every minute on the minute with jump rope for the "rest" on our patio outside. If you don't have equipment you could do the same with burpees and jogging on the spot.
Mini workouts aren't formal workouts but they do make a difference, they help will recovery, work capacity and fat loss. Try putting together a handful of bodyweight movements - squats, lunges, pushups variations, mountain climbers etc - and just cycling through them for an allotted time or until you get disturbed. This works really well for training core, glutes and mobility which seems to respond well to this type of approach. Importantly, don't perform these workouts too intensely, you should be huffing and puffing but not about to collapse.
4. PRIORITISE RECOVERY
Good quality sleep above all else is the cornerstone of recovery. Unfortunately it's one of the main pillars of health that collapses with new parents...I speak here from experience. Whilst it's not always possible to completely control this variable, it is important to stack the cards in your favour. Good sleep really starts in the morning, getting exposure to natural light. This helps set circadian rhythm, allowing for deeper sleep at night. If you can manage a morning walk with the kids it'll help the entire household. The more consistent you are with this habit the better it works.
Beyond sleep, the overarching methodology with recovery is to balance your nervous system. The conditions of modern life place us in a near constant state of fight or flight, the excitatory branch of the nervous system which keeps us alert but simultaneously turns off our capacity to heal and recover. To counteract this we really need to be doing everything possible to place ourselves in a parasympathetic state as much as possible. The most effective and accessible ways to do this are through meditation and breathing.
Although I've written extensively about meditation elsewhere, breathing to stimulate the parasympathetic system should be mastered above all else. You are doing it all the time after all. The most effective way to do this is simply sit quietly and follow a breathing pattern where you exhale for twice as long as you inhale i.e inhale to count of 3 through the nose, exhale slowly for a count of 6. Feel free to play around with the duration but as long as you follow those ratios you're good to go. Extended sessions can be great but even a few minutes will naturally calm your nervous system and assist with rejuvenation and recovery.
5. FOCUS ON FOOD QUALITY
Whenever you hear someone telling you how their diet cult is the best you can assure yourself you've found an idiot. Nutrition has and always will be contextual, no one approach can ever accommodate all needs and goals. Anyone who doesn't understand this doesn't deserve your attention. Whilst I'll leave others to bicker over the minutia of their particular dietary preference, as in all things in life quality matters when you want the best results. As it relates to nutrition that means eating single ingredient foods in as close to their natural state as possible. Animals need to eat their natural diet and fruits and vegetables need to be eaten in season and with minimal processing. Naturally doing this means you'll be side stepping those things detrimental to your health.
If you want to radically improve your health and appearance one of the best things you can do is massively increase your intake of organic, low-starch vegetables. I know it's not as sexy as dropping a boat load of butter in your low toxin coffee (not naming names) but it's way more effective. Prioritising high-nutrient, low-starch vegetables such as asparagus, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower (you get the idea), automatically shifts you from a calorie dense towards a nutrient dense style of eating. If all you did was make this a priority for the next month you'd be amazed at the difference such a simple shift can make.
In practical terms the simplest thing for most people to do is to ensure that every time they sit down to eat a meal at least half of your serving plate is filled with veggies, you should be seeing more greens and colours than anything else. You don't need to weigh anything or count the calories just get them in. Failing that - or in addition - try blending vegetables in a nutribullet or the like with a handful of berries a couple of times a day. My current favourite is one beetroot, cup of spinach, cucumber, knob ginger, handful of wild blueberries with ice water a couple of times a day. Additionally I'll make bulk massive mixed salads dressed with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard and herbs and just base my meals around that.
The good thing about simply focussing on increasing high nutrient vegetables is it will work with whatever resting dietary pattern you might prefer. Whether you're vegan, paleo, pescatarian, keto, intermittent fasting, following weight watchers or whatever, it'll enhance those results. You could literally read a thousand diet books and not find a single strategy as effective for overall health and body composition. Even better, you can start right now.