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Showing up everyday with Joe Ison

I remember when I was a few months from entering fatherhood. People would tell me to enjoy my activities and all my workouts and competitions now, because when you have kids, you probably won’t have time to do those things anymore. I looked at their lives and could see that playing out.


Of course, I couldn’t say much about the impending end of my athletic interests because I didn’t have my baby boy at that point. While I knew the levels of intensity with my workouts would change, I couldn’t see myself giving those up. If anything, physical activity would be even more important even from a health perspective, so as to not gain a “dad bod.” I raced bicycles pretty seriously for about seven years, and then in the past four years, I have gotten deep into the world of grappling, specifically jiu-jitsu.


Now with my son approaching two years of age, I’ve had some thoughts that might be helpful for new parents to hear regarding the balance—or as I like to call it, a “dance”—between parenting and maintaining the life of an athlete. I recently heard another coach say that the difference between someone who exercises versus an athlete is simply their mindset around their workouts, and I couldn’t agree more.

While there is a lot to say on this topic, I thought I would simplify it to a few key ideas that you can incorporate into your own life, especially if you’re a parent.


Non-structured Structure: It’s helpful to have agreed-upon days when you will make it to the gym (and vice versa for your partner), but it’s even more helpful to make sure all is good at home before doing your thing (but sometimes that’s impossible too).


You and your partner should have a mutual understanding of the need to train on certain days, or if it’s a day you skip to prioritize family matters. This allows you to be as present as possible during training so that when you get home, you’re back on family mode. Some days are great—work is good and you’re ready to go, but then the baby has a meltdown and you have to go to Plan B. Many times for me, Plan B is to simply enjoy being home, be a good parent and partner, and then start my training as soon as the baby goes to bed. This is perhaps the single most challenging thing I face on a daily basis, especially when I was used to getting out four to five times per week.

Be Adaptable and Put In Effort: Continuing on the last point about having a Plan B workout is embracing the idea of having to adapt to situations—a bad day at work, when the baby gets sick, when your wife gets sick, etc. Before you know it, the fourth day without a workout quickly approaches.


I’ve learned that it’s handy to have three to four different workouts that you can go do on any given day. Unless you’re training for a specific completion or event (which in that case, work with a coach to strategize with a periodized training schedule to fit your needs), injury aside, some movement is better than no movement. Just because you can’t make it to your favorite class of the week doesn’t mean you can get after it for 30 minutes at home with the same amount of effort and intensity. You just have to make the decision that you will get it done. In order of importance and interest, my current list of activities looks like this: jiu-jitsu > running > strength and conditioning > cycling.


Mindset: While “mindset” is quite the popular word these days, alongside “wellness” and “self-care,” it’s directly applicable in this case. It’s not a matter of whether or not I will be tired before a workout. Chances are I’ll be exhausted before any and all workouts these days: 5:30 a.m. wake-ups with the baby, work all day, play and prepare dinner by 6pm for my family, then head to the gym. On the days when things align and I’m able to get to the gym, the “sacrifice” and grind boils down to the 90-minute window before the workout:  


  • Pick up the baby from my wife and enjoy father-son time.
  • During this time, I figure out how to make dinner for us all and on many days get my son bathed and ready for bed.
  • I usually sit down with my family for dinner, but only nosh on a few bites, enough for a pre-workout. Then I usually have my real dinner when I get home. Think that sounds silly to do? Maybe it is, but it’s worth it.
  • Meditation has greatly supported my daily workouts over the past year. Early last year, I decided to incorporate a two-minute meditation before EVERY single training session with the intention of being as present as possible during the workout. It’s been fantastic to give myself that gift of two minutes of quiet time.

Of course there are days where all this goes out the window and I need to connect to my “Why.” Why am I even doing this? Why does it matter?


I do this for myself. I do this for my family. I do this for my future self. I show up for my coach and my teammates so they can get in their training too. My training matters because it’s how I show up in the world and how I take responsibility for my health and well-being.


Power to all the parents out there doing your thing.


Acknowledgement: gratitude to my wife Saskia for supporting me in all my athletic pursuits.


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National Board Certified Health Coach
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