Top 6 Success Tips for Parent-Athletes

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Balancing a career, home life, and training can be difficult, and then adding children to the mix further increases the degree of difficulty (and joy). Creativity and flexibility are essential for success as a parent-athlete – defined as the ability to continue achieving your competitive or non-competitive goals – and we have compiled some of the best tips we’ve utilized and/or learned from our athletes.

Get Focused

Parent-athletes have far less wiggle room when it comes to your daily schedule. Your “window of opportunity” isn’t as large or easy to shift around. Babies don’t care about your long day and the middle school basketball coach doesn’t want to hang out with your kid until your finish your intervals. Not only do you need to focus on carving out time for training, but successful parent-athletes are also more focused during their workday and errands to pry open a space to fit training into.

Get Efficient

To be a successful parent-athlete you need to be ruthlessly efficient because you have neither time nor energy to waste. Cut out the lollygagging and junk miles. Have a goal for every training session, warm up only as much as you need to, and bang out your intervals or whatever you’re doing for the day. Cool down and be done. A quality 60 minutes will do you more good than an “okay” 90 minutes, and a hell of a lot more good than a crappy two hours.

Get Gear

Get a power meter if you’re a cyclist or a GPS unit if you’re a runner. Investing in quality training tools helps you get more efficient. During workouts data-collection devices increase your precision. Instead of intervals that are almost at the power output necessary to create a training stimulus, you’re able to dial in that intensity. Instead of wondering if you have accumulated enough vertical during a trail run, you’ll know.

Get Into Indoor Training

Being outdoors is one of the leading reasons I’m an athlete, and I hear the same from endurance athletes all the time. Training indoors may not be your first choice, but I encourage you to reframe your perspective on it: Quality indoor training allows you to wring more joy out of those opportunities to get outside! If economically feasible, parent-athletes benefit greatly from investing in quality indoor training equipment. As a cyclist with a recently-broken collarbone, I’m spending a lot more time on a Wahoo KICKR smart trainer, and I highly recommend it. After riding every iteration of indoor cycling technology (rollers, turbo fan, magnetic, fluid, etc.), nothing comes close to the experience of a smart trainer.

Get Apps

When you’re focused, efficient, and have the tools to both train and gather data, you have to use that data to move your training forward. First, make sure you download/upload the training data from your device. Many devices now allow you to do that wirelessly via Bluetooth or wifi; you just have to take a few minutes – once – to set up the connections. The four training apps I use most are: Wahoo ELEMNT, TrainingPeaks, Zwift, and Strava. The ELEMNT app allows me to sync data from the ELEMNT computer to both TP and Strava, including the data gathered during indoor training sessions on the KICKR. Zwift makes indoor training far more enjoyable than staring at the wall of my garage, and I use TP and Strava to aggregate and analyze my data.

Of my four most-used apps, I think Strava is the most indispensible. It provides a good snapshot of my power and performance data. You can’t dig into the data quite as much as you can with TrainingPeaks, but I don’t always need or want to. And when I do, the data is in TP as well. I also like being able to easily gauge my performance against my previous efforts. I’m not all that interested in KOM’s and leader boards, but my own performance on segments provides motivation and accountability.

Get Real

None of the tips above will matter at all unless you get real about your goals, priorities, and communication. To be a successful parent-athlete your spouse/partner/co-parent has to be on board and informed. You have to understand placing emphasis on your athletic training comes at a cost. You’re going to have to make compromises; you have to give to get. Family comes first, so you’re also going to need to be flexible and okay with missing or rescheduling training sometimes.

Many of the most successful athletes in the world are parent-athletes, and so are many of the top amateurs and masters athletes in your area. I’d love to hear from the experienced parent-athletes out there in the comments section below: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give a new member of the parent-athlete club?

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 15

  1. I’m a father of 4 daughters, a husband, a pediatrician and felt like I could have written the article because I have been following your advice for years!! I have 4 bikes (Road, Gravel, Mountain, Trainer) each with a power meter. I use Training peaks, Strava, and love to Zwift when needed. At age 45, maintaining a training schedule that is flexible is key. I am the “Time Crunched Cyclist”. However, using all of the above tools, let me finish the Dirty Kanza 200 just behind Chris Carmichael himself in 2013 at age 40 (before the sun set!!). I’m planning on competing in this for the 4th time this next year-2018. I hope Chris is reading this!! Chris do you remember me thanking you after crossing the line? We were both a little delirious.

  2. Excellent summary. I find incorporating the family is key. My kids ride bikes with me on my long runs. And coordinate with my spouse to ensure she is getting time for her activities as well. Come race day it is then a family celebration. I cannot emphasize the importance of my coach as well. We review all my obligations family and professional to adjust training accordingly. Lastly, I find just like in the race focus on what’s in front of you. If it’s time for work then that’s my focus, with the family then that’s my focus and when training make the most of that time, no wasted moments. End of day it’s something we all GET to do not HAVE to do.

  3. Good article.
    I think we all agree that getting up super early is one of the best ways to be able to get the training done.
    In my case that means waking up at 4:45 to be out the door at 5 AM. 15 minutes sounds like a short time to get ready and go, that is possible leaving everything ready the night before. Clothing, lights, food, water bottles and bike ready in the case of cycling so you can get some extra minutes of sleep in the morning.
    The other advantage of doing that is less noise around the house when everyone is sleeping.
    I also get a workout done during lunch time (run, swim or indoor interval bike training) . I have the possibility to have lunch on my desk, so I use the lunch time for training and then once done with that I come back to the office and I catch up on emails while I have my lunch in front of the computer.
    Another opportunity to workout is when going with my kids to their sport lessons, rather than seating playing on the phone on the side of the rink (ice skate) (like most parents do), I use that time to do core workouts. If they have a longer training session I have taken the bike and trainer and set it by the rink so I can watch them (they love you being there) and get my workout done too.

  4. So my daughter is 4,5 yrs. When the wife goes to Boot camp in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I stay home with the little one, get done for the day (PT at home). Tuesdays and Thursday mornings is mine and Saturday morning (the whole) is mine, then the wife spends QT with little one, and get to sleep as late as she wants to. I am now trying to get a gym session in during luch, emphasis on trying.

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  6. Communicate with significant other. Important long ride on Saturday? Let them know a week in advance. Help the others who rely on you know the workouts/races that are critical to you and the ones that are nice to haves.

    Plan out days in advance together. “I’m on bike from 6-8, will take kids from 8:30-12 so you get some time and afternoon together!”

    ++ on early mornings. Lights, trainers, whatever works best. Now if I could just get my 6 month old to sleep past 5am so I can have my mornings back!

    Oh and coffee. Lots of coffee.

  7. Get your training in EARLY. Like 5 AM early. Unfortunately, I have a difficult time doing this because I have to be at work at 6 AM. So I really need to get up at 4 AM to get in an hour before getting ready for work. I can’t commute to work because I’m a police officer and my cruiser sits in my driveway. But nobody misses you before 6-7 AM… the longer you wait to get in a ride or run, the more things that can crop up during the day to derail those plans. Something as simple as coming home from work with a migraine will eliminate any opportunity for training that day, unless you did your training workout before you went to work.

  8. I just wrote an article for our local cycling magazine on this very topic. I would say that my biggest piece of advice is perspective. Parents, especially women, stop their sports because it takes time away from their kids. We need to remember a couple of things. 1. Make the time with your kids good time, being together, playing games, etc. If you can, hire out things you don’t need to do. 2. Our kids need to see us set goals, work hard to achieve them, fail and try again. Those are powerful lessons for our kids to see us teaching.

  9. I looked for ways to include my kids into my training. All recovery rides were with them. If I had to do intervals, I’d ride out and back and use the recovery to be with the kids. It taught them independence. You are never that far away as they are moving as well(ok, he’s faster than me now and needs to come back to me).

  10. I have found a benefit to training and being a parent. I am more present (focused) when I am with my family because I have consciously decided to take time for me and as a result I am way easier to be around- less restless. Also I am a more flexible human because the workouts are important but parenting is no compromise so recognizing that some workouts will suffer is not the end of the world. This turns what is an unconscious irritation into a conscious decision and I am better able to deal with the stress because I have made a conscious decision about priorities-decreases FLOPPY ( are family code for whining) behavior on my part.

  11. This article is exactly where I am at right now. My daughter will be 2 in December and my wife works weird hours, so getting the miles and time in is tough to say the least. Several months ago I bought a smart trainer and a TrainerRoad subscription. What a good investment on my part (wife didn’t think so at first). The indoor trainer allows me to get a more concise, focused and targeted ride, all the while having to never leave the house, which in turn, keeps the wife and baby happy. Happy training y’all.

  12. I try to workout early in the morning while everyone is asleep. Not my first choice but as you pointed out you have to compromise. Definitely agree with you about the power meter. Having a plan is key.

  13. First, be flexible. You may have a hard interval session planned, but its not going to happen if you’ve been up all night with a sick child.

    Whenever possible, get two birds with one stone. You can get long runs in and also get a toddler to nap if you take them along in a jogging stroller. Its not perfect training, but it helped me train for a marathon. I lap swam when our kids were taking swimming lessons at the Y.

    You always need to take your children’s developmental stage into account. 5 and 6 year olds love to bike attached to mom or dad on a tag-a-long. 10 year olds want to bike on their own bike. Our middle son liked to ride his bike while I ran, but this only lasted one year. You have to constantly adapt your approach to their developmental stage.

    Always think about safety. Don’t let small children get behind you when you are on an indoor trainer. Spokes can cut off fingers.

  14. Probably one of the beast articles I’ve read around life-family-training balance. Thanks for posting this! Great read for all parent-athletes and a nice reminder to keep the main thing (family) the main thing. Well done.

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