When I woke up, my arms felt as if they were shot through with hard plastic. I had been carrying a toddler, my 22-pound niece Marie, up and down the beach the day before. It couldn’t have been more than 40 minutes, I thought. As I kneaded my aching biceps, I came to a sudden realization: Children, in addition to all the other joys they bring, are a burbling biological weight set. I mean, I always knew babies were cute but it never occurred to me that they were also dynamic dumbbells that grew heavier as you got stronger. I decided there was money to be made in the baby-as-fitness-regime idea, or at the very least a quickie trend article.
Having no children myself, I set about gathering evidence by blitzing friends and families who had, by having kids, unknowingly bought into my family-as-fitness theory. The first response gave me hope, at first. “It turns out, in fact, that this is why I had a child,” the email began. “I am in the best shape of my life and I have never felt better. Justine and I are considering having another child because I’d like to further increase my VO2 and anaerobic thresholds.” It all seemed too perfect—and also funny. I got worried.
Then my friend went on soberly and began dismantling my dream. “There is just no way to find time to exercise in the first several months of having a child. It takes the lowest place on the new significantly expanded list of priorities.” Others put it less diplomatically. “Square peg…round hole. I don’t buy [your] premise,” offered one former workmate with uncharacteristic brevity. Another agreed that babies were heavy, but not exactly a healthy option. “Try repetitive stress injuries. That’s more like it.”
One friend who recently added a baby to the family said, “With the first kid, I thought I was getting stronger, practically doing curls with [the baby] daily. Plus I had time to actually run and stuff. Now, it’s game over—with two, I’m lucky to play tennis once a week and have definitely packed on a few in the past six months—or maybe it’s just winter weight.” ‘Maybe,’ I thought, as I saw my theory and its accompanying article crumbling under the weight of fact-based reality.
For most, it seemed parenting resulted in a marked decrease in fitness. Some did admit to bulking up in part. “You will get some nice guns to show off at the beach,” one wrote. “In fact, parents may come to resemble those meatballs that hang out at the free-weights section of the gym, spending a disproportionate amount of time building those two muscle groups: pecs and biceps.” He went on, “But this is clearly not a good fitness regimen. Many muscle groups go unattended and there is (unless you are one of those jogging stroller people) no aerobic exercise to speak of.”
So babies aren’t the total fitness solution, they’re just cute. Sigh. Babies for their own sake. That’s just not compelling—from an editorial standpoint.