What’s Your Excuse? A Guide to Balancing Family, Work, Gym, and You

Mike McIntyre is a Highland Games and powerlifitng competitor who is learning how to keep up on training with the addition of new family members. His latest article talks about the what he has learned works and doesn’t work when trying to juggle what life throws at you. Check out how he gets things done and maybe get new ideas on how to keep your training on track no matter what. 

As a new parent, staying true to my training has been a welcomed challenge. Becoming a dad is absolutely one of the best thing that has happened to me and I’m sure many other will agree. The truth is, you don’t have any idea how this change will affect you until it happens. But ever since the day I came home to a huge banner that said “Welcome Home Daddy,” I was nothing but over the moon excited. I knew there would be sacrifice, a huge change in priorities, and many new challenges. These could become my motivation or my excuse.

Change Is Inevitable

I was talking to a friend about training prior to my daughter being born and he said “you’re about to experience the main reason why most people give up”. I took this to heart and thought about it for a long time. I realized how easy it is to sacrifice anything and everything for your children, especially once I laid eyes on my daughter for the first time. But, I also thought that it’s a great honor and maybe even a duty to maintain my healthy lifestyle and pass this love on to my children. I have come to accept that I can not make it to the gym 6-7 days a week like I used to and there is no way I’ll be able to train for several hours a day. Most weeks I’m lucky to get there 2-3 times as of late. This new responsibility of a family has me working two jobs and still making family time. So, it is clear to see how one of the easiest things to take a back seat is training.

Now, on to how I’ve adapted my approach in order to stay strong and competitive with limited time to train. One of the first things I’ve done is working out while everyone is asleep. This means, waking up at 4:00am and getting to the gym. This was an extremely difficult change, and I started to make this adaptation long before I became a parent. I knew that this could be a great option once the baby arrived so I began this shift once we made the decision that we were ready to start a family. I highly recommend this early transition. This allowed me to change my mindset on training and I’ll be honest, it takes some getting used to going all out in a workout before the sun even decides to show up. I became accustomed to sleep deprivation long before my daughter was born.

Focus On The Task At Hand

Another thing that has worked is really focusing EVERY single workout to a particular goal. I realize many people already train this way, but I have never been one to follow a set of instructions on a paper or stick right to a training routine. If I have a day where I’m supposed to be working in a 70% range, and I’m feeling it, I always go for more. And, I never used to plan out my accessory work, I always just sort of let it happen. This may be a good or bad thing in some people’s eyes, but it worked for me. Planning my days has been a huge help. I always had a goal when I showed up, but the goal was always sort of, okay, today is a leg day, or today is a speed day, etc. Now, I try to focus every single workout so I can get in and get it done. For the last few years, I have always focus my training around the the main lifts in the eyes of a “power lifter.”  This has not changed, which gives me a great way to focus. I’ve embraced multiple approaches to training including things like supersets and high intensity interval training. I still get to hit everything just the way I need, and build strength, but in a much more timely manner.

Roll With The Punches

Here’s a few bits of advice I have gathered from some of my friends who share my pursuit of strength. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received since becoming a first time parent is to NOT get upset when you miss a workout. It’s going to happen way more than you plan for and all you can do is try again tomorrow. It is also important to NOT skip any pre/post workout warm up or cool down. I try to hit at least a few minutes of mobility work before and after every workout. This is one of the most important parts of any routine, and probably the easiest to skip in order to save a few minutes of that precious time. A final hint of advice was to invest in a home gym. I am currently working towards this, and may have the efforts of this saved for another article….

Staying motivated and sticking to a strict weekly schedule is very difficult for anyone, not just those of us with children. The basic rotation that can work for someone with limited time and sporadic gym time is following a cycle of squats, pressing, pulling, speed/weightlifting, overhead, and one strict cardio/endurance day. When you miss a day, or two, simply pick up where you left off in The cycle. I will be putting together a complete cycle of this training method that I will use to get myself back on the platform this coming spring/summer. I try to limit training sessions to 90 minutes max when I get the chance to hit the gym during the week. This will be a real challenge as I move to start competing again. But, it can be done and I am out to prove it.   You do not have to be a “full time” or sponsored athlete to compete. I think this is something that scares many people away from actually competing. You read the stuff from the “pros” and most people feel like they don’t have a chance. There are so many great athletes out there who have shared their training styles with us through books or blogs. You can just be a Dad who happens to also dominate on the platform. Being open to multiple training styles is something that has helped me stay strong through this turning point in my life. Find what work for your schedule, your ability, and your enjoyment.

The following is a breakdown of a “pressing” day and a “squat” day. Here’s an example of what I have done to stay strong with little time for each training session. This type of pressing work got me to a 505 lbs incline bench press a few months ago, and I am still squatting 500+ on a consistent basis. I am out to prove that you can work, have a family, and still be a power house.

A Typical Pressing Workout

10 minutes of shoulder/upper body mobility

Incline bench

10 x 225 warmup

5 x 5 x 405


One arm alt bench press

5 x 10 x 125 lbs Dumbbells

Superset with

Standing db rows

5 x 10 x 125 lbs Dumbbells


Pull overs

5 x 10 x 125 lbs Dumbbells

Superset with

Pull ups

5×10 x 285 lbs body weight

5-10 minutes stretching/mobility work.


A Typical Squat Workout

10 minutes of warmup and foam rolling

Back squats

3 x 10 x 315 lbs

2 x 5 x 405 lbs

2 x 3 x 500 lbs


Hammer strength shoulder press

3 x 10 x “315” lbs

5 x “405” lbs


Cable Core twists (Low to high)

5 x 10 x 100 lbs

Superset with

Machine crunches

5 x 20 x 200 lbs


Pull ups

3 x 10 (easy)

1 x 16 max out (281 lbs)

Superset with 1 minute of jump rope

With this set up I can get all the work I need in under 90 minutes. I’ve always been a “power” guy and I am always training for strength.

What About Conditioning?

One of the things I’ve incorporated for a few years is “high intensity interval training” (HIIT) for cardio. With my time constraints, I’ve embraced this type of training as a full workout, not just as an accessory. The difference? Heavy weight. For body weight workouts, I recommend a 75 lbs weight vest. For workouts that utilize a barbell, I always hit the maximal weights for the workout. In other words, I always scale up. On the days where I have long work schedule and need to fit in a workout I utilize this approach, and have not had any decline in overall strength.

A typical example for this type of workout would be as follows:

Warmup: 5 minutes moderate jump rope with some light mobility work.

Row 500 m

C&J 135 x 15

Row 500 m

C&J 155 x 10

Row 500 m

C&J 175 x 10

Row 500 m

C&J 195 x 10

Row 500 m

C&J 205 x 10

Row 500 m

C&J 135 x 15


5 rounds of: (for time)

20 KB swings(70 lbs KB)

20 KB squats

20 pushups

20 crunches

20 ball slams (20 lbs slam ball)

My main point is to not limit yourself to one style of training. Sometimes you will have the time to have an epic workout at the gym, but most days time is not a luxury. I’m sure my daughter and I will be training side by side before I know it!

I hit the gym like a mad man when I can, But, I’ve come to embrace training outside of the weight room. For instance, a hike 9 miles up a mountain with a 4-month old, kettle bell swings or throws in between making a fool out of yourself all in the name of getting that little smile that makes your heart melt. Sure, I still feel most at home with my hands on a barbell, but the healthy and active family activities like hiking, going to a park, or climbing mountains can all be wonderful accessories to your training. Take advantage of these opportunities. You get to spend some time with family, and still keep some aspects of your training in check.

There are many new and different challenges but conquering the weights is still possible. Even with this change of lifestyle, I’ve set some of my best PRs since becoming a Dad. I hit a 505 lbs incline bench press and a 365 lbs Clean and Jerk training like this. Weightlifting, powerlifting, training, or whatever you want to call it will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart….and my weekly schedule. Some important things to remember are to keep an open mind with your training and embrace the benefits of training outside the weight room. Remember that being the best athlete you can be does not always mean lifting the most weight, sometimes it means maintaining what you already have built up, being able to enduring a family hike, and just be able to survive anything life throws at you. Embrace your inner athlete at all times, whether your goal is to PR a bench press, run your first 5k, or just be able to spend the afternoon playing with your family. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a workout, always choose an active lifestyle, lift when you can, count your blessings and enjoy every minute of it!  So what’s your excuse?

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