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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
CEO/Head Coach of CTS