I’m not entirely sure if there is such a thing. It’s an illusion. A wavy pool in the desert of parenthood. A fun family workout is a dad’s Atlantis or Holy Grail, something that can only exist in fiction. Like a child who cleans up after themselves and says thank you. The fun family workout can only exist in the mind.
Even my family, a collection of moderately-active rascals with personalities and joy, cannot finish a family workout without tears and a nervous breakdown. We tried. We failed. And darn it, we failed forward into the finish line.
This is my long-winded apology, since I’m the terrible father who ruined fitness.
Parents, I’m so sorry for the emotional damage your child does to you every day. I know you love them; I know you wouldn’t have it any other way, but kids are terrible people sometimes. In college, I’ve had roommates who peed on my textbooks and stole my liquor, but they’re nowhere near as destructive as my 4 basset hounds disguised as cute kids.
I know I can’t be the only one with mean-kid PTSD. You know, when you’re afraid to have your shirt off in front of your daughter because she can’t talk to you without staring at your belly. Or a baby who cries because you won’t let him eat plastic, but somehow his tears make you question whether you’re making the right choice.
Parents deserve more credit.
But we don’t get it.
Ain’t no trophies in this business. You can miss me with all those #1 Dad T-Shirts. My kids would gladly trade me in for a newer model. They’d take any of those totes amazing youtube parents over the guy who makes them wake up at the early hours of 10am.
Still, I’ve found my new reward.
Not just any tears. Fitness tears. Workouts tears. Healthy tears. Overcoming-adversity-and-the-desire-to-quit tears. I could eat them. If Golden Corral had those tears on the menu, I would risk exposure to COVID and kid-sneeze every single day just to nomnomnom those things right into my belly.
And listen, if you’re one of those parents who has it all figured out, then congrats. Enjoy your superiority and pre-earthquake stability. If you can’t enjoy your children’s stress, then you probably still cut the crusts off their sammies, and that’s adorable. I’m not that dude. Sometimes, vengeance is delicious.
A fun family workout with cold, hard suffering mixed in. Like a Jack and Coke to my soul.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Each person completes:
75-meter shuttle: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
*Only one person works at a time.
**While one person is working, family must keep 45-lb barbell and 25-lb plate off the ground at all times.
***If plate hits ground, everyone does 10 burpees.
****This sounds complicated, but it’s not.
This is a five-person workout. Myself, the dad. Joanie, aka #RibRib, the mom. AJ, the teenage angst who would rather play video games. Emma and Bella, the emotionally devastating twins with dueling double-edge swords for personalities. Aran is napping because he’s a tiny gargoyle who must sleep 16 hours every day or he turns into a demonic pumpkin.
I wrote this programming myself. The intention was to make it fast. Under 30 minutes. It took over an hour. It may have been faster with less people, less crying, or sub-100 degree heat.
One final note
I woke Joanie from a nap to do this workout. I told her it would be fun, but later, I apologized to her at the 45-minute mark. She still hasn’t accepted.
Aj starts the workout. He’s doing 10 pushups. Easy. I’m holding the barbell by myself. Joanie is standing beside AJ. The twins are holding the 25-lb plate together.
As soon as AJ finishes, Joanie starts her pushups, the girls stand in line, and AJ holds the plate. Meanwhile, I’m holding the barbell and trying to smile at everyone. “We’re having fun!” I shout into an echo of scowling meerkats.
Joanie finishes her 10, Bella starts her pushups. She’s motivated, until rep 6. Then she says the mat is hot and asks if she can do her portion of the workout inside.
“Inside?” I ask, as if I didn’t hear her.
“Yeah, with the AC. I promise to do it, but I’m hot. I’ll just run in the basement.”
I don’t believe in the silent treatment, but I’m choosing to ignore her. Joanie take the bar from me. AJ keeps the plate. He’s doing shoulder presses. Emma has started on her push-ups. I’m next.
As soon as I finish my push-ups, AJ takes off in a sprint. He knows how we workout. Let’s get as much done as fast as possible and then be done. He’s a great runner, and we’re going to need him later. He grabs the 25-lb plate as soon as he finishes his shuttle. His mom starts running next.
She’s not as fast, but she’s much prettier. Every stride is filled with a silent yearn to curse me out. Her knees are cracking, and her eyes are F-Uing.
Bella moves next. Then Emma. Both twins have the running form of someone who wants to be fast but doesn’t realize that facial expressions don’t make you faster. They run with their cheeks.
I’m the anchor. One shuttle is easy.
“This isn’t bad,” AJ says, already done with his push-ups. “I like the breaks.”
“Can I go inside and get water?” Bella asks, standing in the shade of the garage.
“Do you think clouds have dreams?” Emma asks.
“Snap, crackle, pop,” Joanie’s knees say.
“Great job guys,” I shout, hoping my words sound encouraging. Two shuttles aren’t bad, at all. But I can tell this fun family workout is going to take us a fun family hour. We’re three songs in already.
Joanie is now doing Good Mornings with the barbell each time she’s responsible to hold a weight. AJ likes to take the 25-lb plate and do curls.
The twins have drank all of Joanie’s water.
They left mine alone. I put vinegar, sea salt, and lemon juice in mine. It’s strong. Punchy. Like sucking on a beachbum’s dreadlock.
“Can I take a break?” Bella asks.
This time, Emma cuts her down. “No, we’re doing this fun family workout. It’s fun. We’re having fun. The faster we’re done, the more fun. Just get a tan and move faster.” Who needs a trophy when you get to hear your kids say things like that?
“Hurry!” Emma shouts at me. I’m moving faster than any of them, but apparently she’s noticed a slight slowing of my step. I’m trying to pace myself for the long haul. Especially since we have 48 shuttles left to run. “Go faster!”
“How many of these do we have to do?” Joanie asks, already knowing the answer but wanting me to second guess my choice before she calls the FBI.
Bella has disappeared. Somewhere between shuttles and push-ups. She’s went AWOL. I’m sure there’s a completely reasonable excuse. Probably just going to the bathroom or watching Babysitter’s Club.
AJ is livid, though. “Where is she?” he yells, midway through his 7th push-up. “Did she quit?”
“Going to the bathroom and checking on the baby,” Joanie answers.
AJ doesn’t fight it. But we all know Bella is bound to be gone for a while. Homegirl is absolutely soaking in the AC while her twin sister is expected to hold the 25-lb plate on her own. Emma finishes her push-ups holds on for dear life. This is the life of a twin, when one struggles, then other picks up the slack. Emma will (emotionally) bear the burden of responsibility from her sister. No one really cares that’s she’s gone, but every rep has become a little heavier for our Emma Louise.
Sidebar: The twins don’t have middle names. But I call them Emma Louise and Bella Diane because I’m a fun dad. And when I’m super-fun dad, I call them “Burl and Earl.” They’ve grown to love it.
“Let’s skip her, she can just catch up when she’s back in,” I say, fully expecting her to come back in an hour with an excuse about a stomachache while also having peanut butter and jelly still on her chin.
AJ is flying. He’s just as fast on this set as the first. He’s got a dog in him. Dude loves to run, he’s the perfect person for a fun family workout, because he doesn’t want to talk.
Joanie is having fun too, but I’m going to have to sleep on the couch until Aran graduates from NASA. Just as Emma finishes her shuttles, Bella makes her glorious return. She’s well hydrated and shouts to the neighborhood that she had diarrhea but feels better now. She does her push-ups and goes right into her run.
“Come on girl, you can do it!” I shout to Bella.
“She’s going as fast as she can,” Emma cuts back. “Don’t yell at her.”
Joanie is the light of my world. She’s beautiful, kind, and funny. I only worry about my marriage when I program a workout like this.
We’ve hit the 30-minute mark. Sorry to everyone who’s ever loved me.
Technically, we’ve reached the halfway point.
Bella’s pushups remind me of a bug whose halfway crushed. Her legs are dead, useless, while her upper body is trying to look busy.
I try to tell her, “Do modified push-ups, girl.”
Emma isn’t having it, though. “She’s fine. Let her go. Your push-ups look bad too.”
We’ve hit the breaking point.
AJ has taken the 25-lb plate, but now he just rests it on his legs as he sits down on the ground. He looks melancholy. Seriously, melancholy. Look it up. His face.
Emma looks focused. But not in a good way. She’s holding onto the barbell with her sister and holding in an eruption of emotions. I can’t tell if she’s going to throw the barbell at me, or leap into my arms and cry.
I’m nervous, and excited. I’ve never seen this kind of sick stare from her.
Then it hits me. Her face looks like AJ’s. They’re both harnessing the struggle.
And then Emma stops harnessing.
And then, Emma starts crying.
Tiny tears run down her cheeks. I don’t feel bad, nor do I feel good. It’s a good ouch.
I tell her to walk in the shade and wait her turn. AJ takes the plate from her, I hold the barbell, and Joanie is running. Bella offers to go inside and get water for Emma.
What a servant.
She just needs a moment. Her little lungs are starting to fill up with anxious air. She tries to say something, but can’t get the words out properly. Which, frankly, isn’t all that rare. Sometimes she sounds like a drunk hillbilly with too much peanut butter on her gums.
When Joanie finishes her shuttles, I ask Bella to go. While still holding the barbell, I walk over to Emma and try not to smile. It’s actually wonderful to see the struggle. More than wonderful, it’s like a bite of cupcake in my soul. I can see the wheels turning, she’s angry and euphoric. It’s awesome and terrible.
“Shorten your runs moving forward, okay? From now on, just run 60 meters instead of the full 75.”
She nods with adorable little tears.
“And hey, next time you rub my belly and ask if I’m growing a baby, it’s statements like that, that make me want to do more running workouts.”
This is taking forever. Joanie says we should finish up, just call it quits.
I’m not sure if she’s asking me for a divorce or wanting to end the workout early, so I ignore her. All bets are off at this point.
This one was hard. Realizing that we still have the 10, 9, and 8 shuttle sets left was really discouraging.
AJ doesn’t complain, just runs as fast as he can and then take his 25-lb plate and sits on the ground. The weight is on his legs, he looks like a meditating spider monkey.
By now, the push-ups are really just a nuisance. Not even worth the time.
AJ walks over to my water and takes a sip. We’re out again, and he’s decided my cloudy stank-water is better than dehydration.
“It’s not bad when your taste buds stop working.”
We’re so close, but 19 shuttles still to go. I tell Joanie that I’m going to purposely drop the plate, just so we all have to do 10 burpees.
She looks at me, her eyebrows furrow. And she shouts to the kids, “DO NOT LET HIM TOUCH THE PLATE. HE ONLY HOLDS THE BARBELL.”
Emma isn’t crying anymore, but she might be plotting my death.
Bella has hit the second wind and is killing the run. She’s not moving fast, but she’s moving consistent. “Slow and steady,” she says, smiling like she has already run 36 shuttles. “Wins the race.”
That’s better than a trophy, too.
“Gang, when we finish our push-ups, we’re all going to run our last 10 at the same time. GENTLY set the weights down, and we’ll all run together.”
AJ gets a bright idea. Seriously, you can almost see the lightbulb over his dome. “If I run the last 10 shuttles while carrying this weight, can I have unlimited screentime for the rest of the day?”
Joanie says yes before I can answer.
Here’s a fun little secret, though. I was going to give them all unlimited screen time no matter what. Mat Fraser can’t even do this workout. No, no. This is a fact. He couldn’t do it, literally. There’s only one of him. I had to reward the kids with something.
But I mean, if you want to run 750 meters while carrying a 25-lb plate to get a reward I was already going to give you… then I’ll accept my trophy. It’s a fun family workout, after all.