Getting fit, making friends and kicking your own butt

I just came back from an hour-and-a-half walk with my baby in a front pack. This kid is getting heavier by the day and, right now, he feels about the weight of a baby gorilla, which fits his personality as well.

Since he came around three months ago, I keep thinking about writing about fitness. Here’s why: five-years-ago Diogo would struggle with the physical requirements of parenthood (let’s ignore the mental requirements for now). His regime of short walks on the beach and lying around not doing much while inhaling Coca-cola and confectionery wouldn’t provide his body with the sustenance required by a baby.

A constant fear of five-years-ago Diogo.

The food problem is subject for another post – eating well in itself would not give me the stamina I’m talking about here.

For the past few months, even though my brain might be mush from a hard night or a long day at work, my body still functions well. This means I can go around the house doing chores and go on walks with a baby and not feel like it was hard work. Sleep and lack thereof is also benefited. Among other things, I credit that to being able to stick to a healthy exercise routine for the past couple of years and making a habit out of it.

Here’s the thing, though – I hate exercising. I exercise a lot these days, but I still hate it. Feeling sore is a pain (PUN!), and I do not get the famous “exercise buzz”. I wish there was a way of being fit without having to move your body.

For many years in my life, exercising has been that thing that I HAD to do to not feel guilty (note I say “guilty”, not “unhealthy”). Moving to New Zealand, where everyone rides a bike, hikes a mountain, runs in winter, and generally considers avocado savoury food didn’t help in making that guilt any less bad.

This post is not about how a particular type of exercise saved my life, or how I finally lost all those kilos (I didn’t) and got fitter. I feel like five-years-ago Diogo needs this post so he can come to the future and realise that his guilt around not feeling fit wasn’t entirely because he is lazy and likes muffins for dinner.

And I feel like this might resonate with some people too.

The background

I played many sports growing up. All types of football – that is, futsal, astroturf, large-field outdoors – volley, handball, basketball and had a mild competitive swimming stint in my teenage-hood. Playing team sports was always fun for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my teammates didn’t feel the same way.

I feel you, sister.

You see, I’ve never been a graceful loser. I’ve got much better in the past few years, but mostly I have always been that guy that yelled at his teammates for minor mistakes and made sure that they felt the pain of not being the best player in the world. (I have music to thank for helping me get better at that.) Make no mistake, I’ve never been a great player of any sport I played, so generally I just did shoddy work and made sure I distributed the responsibility of the loss to others.

Once I mysteriously stopped being invited to join any teams, I had to pursue other ways of exercising because I was just becoming a fat blob. I repeatedly tried different gyms, personal trainers and group classes. I did the whole 3-month “Hey, I’m feeling pretty fit now!” thing, but then I got bored out of my brains. There’s something about gym equipment and the headphones, and the whole mirror attitude, that really never did it for me.

That’s not counting holidays.

Okay, what then?

Look, I know Crossfit people can be very annoying because I’m one of them and I’m very annoying. Please, keep on reading, and you will see I have a point and the answer isn’t Crossfit.

In the end, I always had to force myself to exercise because I just never felt like it. But then I tried Crossfit, and I fell in love with the thing.

I wasn’t aware of why I enjoyed it so much until people close to me tried Crossfit and quit. Only after talking to them, I realised why it ticks so many boxes (pun intended) for me. This is what this post is about.

(Clarifying note: If you don’t know, “box” is the name of a Crossfit workout “place”. I’m now a dad and have the license to freely use puns, so sit back and enjoy.)

Team sport, but not really

Exercising alone or in a gym didn’t satisfy my inner social butterfly. The lack of interaction always made the whole enterprise feel lonely, and that didn’t help with my motivation. “What about the group classes?” I hear you ask. I tried them too, but in the end, it was just a bunch of people not talking to each other while facing the same direction and following the same dance moves, so no thanks.

A+ teamwork.

In Crossfit, you are all going through the same terribleness together. There’s cheering up other people and sharing tips and asking the coaches the silliest things. That makes my extrovert self feel good. You take note of the people around the same level as you and make a bet with yourself to out-do them. And instead of getting angry at everyone for not carrying their weight (you’re welcome), you want then to do well so you can push each other.

This plays perfectly to my need for interaction and makes sure I’m a nice person to the people exercising with me. If I don’t live up to the goals I set it’s on me, and the best I can do is ask them how they did it and try to learn.

This is the reason why some people I know did a few months of Crossfit and decided it wasn’t for them. Some people are more disciplined than I and are able to motivate themselves. Some people don’t like the bar work. Some people like their headphones and being in their own space.

Lastly, I remember having a good time with my friends from the teams I played in after a game, especially a few hours after I had the chance to calm down. Crossfit also facilitates this. I have people I enjoy and look forward to seeing around. We have in-jokes and stories to tell. I never ever got that from a traditional gym.

How I wish we celebrated every time we improved a personal best.

Traceability

Most people are not a competitive monster like I am and are just happy to move their bodies around and get a workout. I have to make sure one-month-ago Diogo has something to look up to.

Realistic goals are important.

When I started, I had very little ability to do Crossfit-y things. I couldn’t squat, do a push-up or pull-up, let alone lift heavy things. I know that because I have a record of most of the workouts I’ve done since I started, and I often go back and see how I did in the past.

A couple weeks ago I managed to clean and jerk 100kg (220 pounds in the silly system). That means I picked 100kg up from the ground and in two movements lifted it over my head. When I started, I could barely do that with 40kg. Although far from any athletic level, there is a weird sense of pride that in two years I taught my body to lift its own weight off the ground with (hopefully) good technique.

The traceability fact plays well with my academic and professional life. I know what I’m weak at (upper-body strength, cardio) and what I’m good at (lower-body strength, long workouts) because I can look at my logs and see it. I can come back to it and check where I should concentrate my efforts and see how I’ve improved. And also know exactly much my knee injury from a damn football tackle set me back.

So Crossfit then, aye?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Crossfit is the answer for me, for now. I don’t know how this might change in a few months. Crossfit just happened to play in two aspects of my personality that made exercising become something I’m able to tolerate and look forward to.

Like everything, once you get into something, you’ll obsess over it. I watch the Crossfit Games. I follow the big names. I’ve been through two Crossfit Opens, finishing twice as a strong middle-of-the-pack-er, thank you very much. I bought weight-lifting shoes that are completely impractical for any activity other than weight-lifting. On the days where was playing football and swimming a lot, I did similar things. And I regret nothing.

Yep, been there, done (doing) that.

So what’s changed?

Nothing, other than the fact that now I know better what makes me happy. This means I get a healthy amount of exercise included in my routine and enjoy it.

I never ever really felt the benefits of exercising or felt like it made any difference other than made me “feel stronger”. But now, when I don’t exercise, I can feel my afternoons getting longer and my brain getting cranky. I feel like a million dollars after a good workout, and it clears out any niggles that might be clogging my brain. I finally made it to the other side after years of avoidance.

I’ve lost some weight, but not nearly enough to be ripped or thin. I’ve spent years of my life working on my chubbiness, and I’m not willing to give that away that easily. I feel healthy and great, so my extra kilos aren’t a problem.

Damn straight.

I’ve flirted with the idea of taking it up to the next level a bit as it is getting harder to beat myself on my numbers. I’ve considered going to particular skill and barbell sessions. I researched Paleo eating, supplements and what “gluten” really means. In the end, I realised that wasn’t the point for me and carried on with the basics as I always have. Again, I feel healthy and great because I’ve found something that gives my body a good challenge.

Mind you, given what I said above, I could easily overdo it. Overwork is one of Crossfit biggest criticisms, and I’m glad I have coaches around me that always call me when my confidence levels go above my skill.

The only significant change I’ve made is starting to eat better, but mostly for two reasons. First, the documentaries around sugar from the past two years made me get smart. Second, as a consequence of the first, I started learning what real food is and loving it too. But still, I want to enjoy my food, and I mix that up with eating too much. I’m terrible at controlling portion sizes. I will always overeat, just to be on the safe side in case all the food of the world ends in the next couple hours.

It’s important not to waste.

Closing remarks

As well pondered and scientifically based as this post is, I have only one message to pass across. As it is evident by now, my experience above makes me an expert.

I’ve got lots of experience with those too.

I tried going to a gym for three years in a row, and I repeatedly failed. I tried going for runs alone, and I failed (I’ve now found a running group which I try to go to some Saturdays). At some point, I decided to try that thing where I saw some people flipping tyres and thought I could mix things up. The reasons the sport grew on me were not related to tyres at all.

Maybe you want a sense of accomplishment. Maybe what’s important to you is looking good or doing something someone hasn’t done before. The lesson from my current exercise life is that I had to try a whole bunch of different things until something worked for me, not because it was the right or perfect exercise, but because it gave me satisfaction in other areas that I love (namely social interaction and excel spreadsheet management).

The next time I feel like whatever I’m doing stops working, I’ll ask my friends what they do and why, until I find something that looks interesting. I’ve now finally reached a stage where I fully feel the benefits of exercising, as opposed to just knowing that it’s good for you. I’m not bothered about it being fun anymore, because, as I said in the beginning, the exercise part will never be fun for me. But the capsule around it is.

It took me many years of my life to finally embrace something that is good for me and my body, and although what I wrote above might be obvious to you, it wasn’t to me. I’ve read many things about the science of grit and sticking-to-it-ness, but things never were as simple as they looked in the books to me. I hope I wrote is of use to you. :)

Also

I’ve just made a whole post using Friends GIFs.

It sure is!

Being a dad in a male world

People talk a lot about being a parent, and the joys of children, seeing them grow up and whatnot. What people don’t realise is that I have been preparing myself my whole life to be a professional dad joker. I would like to make clear that 49% of my parent activities will be dedicated to that. I’m not saying that I will not dedicate myself fully to the other 51%. I’m saying I’ll work hard on the “normal” dad part, and that I’ll also work hard on matching up my dad joke game so the balance is right.

Anyway, this is not a post about children, or parenthood or pregnancy. Is about being a male parent in a world that is mostly set up so men are better off.

In recent conversations about children with the woman I plan to have children with we talked about life balance, professional plans and how we’ll deal with it all. This conversation didn’t start from thin air – I was wondering what to do with my professional life and the topic of making humans came up as a potentially big point to consider. At some point I said that I’m sure my future employer would be open to the idea of me working from home a day a week so she could have time to work. Her answer to that was a lovingly yet sharp “Well, we’ll have to work on that because I don’t want to be the only one to have my career affected once we have children”.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA. What is that crazy talk? Me, the man, the provider, the family superhero, the guy that spent all his life working on being the best on what I do will have to discuss a compromise with my employer and jeopardise my career so you can carry on with your career? Who does that? I’m already willing to have the awkward conversation with my boss so I can have a full day working from home and you want more? Look around you! Women normally take 3, 6 or 12 months of work to take care of newborns. That’s what they DO. And now you want me to do that too?

Honestly.

This conversation happened a month ago, and many variations of the arguments above went through my head. Top that with the excuse that I was raised in the context of South America, with strong male biases and with women that are largely raised to be full time moms and dependent on their husband, and a small storm has brewed in my head about the topic. In the end, more and more I see it’s all bull crap and I feel extremely silly about it all.

Try and put yourself in the female perspective here. Does it mean that women’s efforts to have a good career are less valuable than men’s? That they are the only ones that have to put the career aside and miss potential new opportunities and promotions? That the hard work that they put into bringing money into the household and feeling respected and valued by the work they do is less as important than the effort men go through?

Rationally, there are maybe only 2 weeks (actually even less, maybe a month if you really want to stretch it) where the female body is weakened by the process of giving birth, on which males usually take leave to support the initial setting up anyway. But other than that, there is nothing, physiological or physical, that requires me to be the one to be at work while she stays at home. In my case, my partner actually makes more money than me and has more recognition in her work field than I do in mine. We both have opportunities to work part time or remotely. And we can both compromise similar amounts to help raising a child.

What gets on my nerves is that I use the word “compromise” all the time when it comes to re-arranging my professional life to have more time with my children. I’ve been trying to edit this post to not use it, but in the end, it is how my mind still thinks of the situation, and that’s telling. It’s my children, my partner and my family, for heaven’s sake. I shouldn’t be feeling like there’s any loss here. Working less and finding alternative ways to allow me to spend more time with my family is a good thing. And still, why does my brain keep thinking it’s a problem?

Is stepping down from the full-time provider role that problematic for my masculinity? Will I be regarded as less of a man? What does that even mean anyway? Are my kids going to see me as less of a father? And, most importantly, will my penis shrink in size?

What privilege?

This whole thought is so uncomfortable because I come to it as a male and I was trained to think that fathers to a large extent do the “operational” stuff when it comes to children (bring the money in, drive them school, discipline, coach the sports team, protect them from stray bears, do the irresponsible things that are likely to get them injured) while the mother is the one that have the responsibility to raise them and deal with the things that keep them alive (feed, clean, comfort, help with homework, sew them up when the dad hurts them). [Note: I know this is an exaggeration to an extent. But in the motherland of Brazil this is not a distant reality either.] Anything other than this stereotype conflicts with years of children’s books, cartoons and Hollywood movies, and henceforth must not be truth. But in my experience with grown ups, the day to day small stuff is what makes you connect with people, and I can’t see how that would be different with your own children. Being an outside of 9-5pm and weekends dad is what men usually do, depriving themselves from amazing experiences with their little ones.

I have two major opinions about the topic. Here they are.

Opinion #1: I may have it easier when it comes to finding a job opportunity anyway

When I’m looking for a job, should I mention that I plan to review my work schedule once I have children, I believe I probably would have a disadvantage against other male candidates. I have the option to tell my interviewers, and I don’t because I’m scared that it would affect my chances (yay me!). Why would I?

Women don’t have that option. (I’ll refrain to get into any of the other billion problems when it comes to gender bias on hiring here, so let’s stay with just this one for now and remember that this is a small part of a bigger problem.)

Also, if I am that afraid it would affect my chances, I’m probably biased when in the role of the interviewer. Isn’t it being able to grow a beard just great? (No offence to the dudes out there that have difficulty in that department.)

Opinion #2: It doesn’t matter as long as everyone is happy

The whole division of labour thing between women and men in a family is gigantic topic for me to even try to dip my toes into here. But when it comes to children, if you’re arguing someone is the one that do this thing because of the role they are supposed to play and therefore you won’t do it, you’re an idiot. It’s your family. It’s your children. The more time and the more you dedicate yourself to them the better for your partner, your children and you.

Each one will have their life situation, and I’m sure it isn’t up to anyone to judge that. But you either:

  • Decide one of you will stay home and the other one goes to work to bring the money in. The two conditions that I think are okay is that first, the woman is not the one that has to stay at home by default. Maybe, for a variety of reasons, everyone is better off is she is the one that gets to go to work everyday. Second, there shouldn’t be any resentment. The whole “I spent the whole day at work, you just stayed at home with the kids and did nothing” is outright wrong. I’ll assume here I don’t have to elaborate further on the whys, but if this is what it is, each one do what they do for the good of the family and no one should be making each other feel guilty about that.
  • Both compromise, cut down their hours at work and balance their time working and taking care of the kids equally. Again, things like “I gave up on a huge opportunity for this so you better be appreciative” is no help, and remember you’re doing this together for whatever reason you believe this is the best setup.
  • Or you’ll end up somewhere between the situation above.

Whatever is that you think is best, you should be prepared to re-think it along the way too. This is not an annoying distant aunt that will go away in a month and you’ll just have to keep up with a few days more,  or an obnoxious colleague you don’t like dealing with. It’s your family. You will live with them everyday. The happiness and professional satisfaction of your wife/girlfriend should be just as important as yours because, you know, it’s your freaking FAMILY and it’s not just about you or your ego. You shouldn’t assume everyone is happy doing what they do just because that’s how people have been doing it since forever.

I still don’t know what to do. I mean, I know I want to balance my working hours so my partner can also have the space to keep developing her career and so I get to spend time with my children. I just don’t know how to feel comfortable about that yet. But whatever comes, I know I’ll pour my heart to it.  I’m not a dad yet, but I’m pretty sure this whole family thing supposed to be about love. And, because of that, I know it’s worth pushing through any discomfort I might have about what I think I’m supposed to be as a man, as silly as it can be.

Seriously, dad jokes.