Anatomy of a Dad

When Pilates teacher Matt McCulloch, 51, could no longer wrestle around with his two young boys, the result of the physical demands of dad-hood, he discovered a playful new way to build strength and stability: using his kids as props.

By Matt McCulloch • Edited by Amanda Altman

Let me introduce myself: I’m Matt McCulloch, studio owner of Kinected in New York City—and Dad to two boys, Jules, 6, and Reece, 4. As a studio owner, I eat, breathe and sleep movement; it dominates my life. As fun-loving kids with boundless energy, my boys follow suit. I’m also 51, with plenty of physical wear-and-tear to show for it.

Yep, that’s me: an over-40 dad. There are many of us out there now. We bring a lot to the table compared to dads a decade our junior—for example, patience, perspective and life experience, hopefully packaged within a young-at-heart mentality. A few years ago, however, I found that my body just couldn’t keep up. I was experiencing a laundry list of nagging injuries: SI joint dysfunction, lower-back pain, knee pain as well as early symptoms of frozen shoulder.

My biggest concern wasn’t how these issues were affecting my golf game, or my long days of deep-sea fishing or my softball swing, it was how they were significantly impacting my time with my boys. I could no longer throw them overhead due to the pain and restriction in my left shoulder. Wrestling on the ground with them was not only painful for my lower back, but my SI joint often felt vulnerable, to the point where one false move while playing my third or fourth game of “king of the hill” would leave me incapacitated. I avoided building forts with the boys, worried that I would get stuck in a small corner and my knees or SI joint would lock up.

Obviously, this dilemma touched me in many ways. Ego-wise, as a fitness professional, I felt I knew better and could resolve these issues—and should have a while ago. Emotionally, being unable to pick up my boys without pain humbled me and was often depressing.

My first attempt to contend with these issues led me back to my old strength-training days—you know, back and bis, chest and tris. What did that get me? Less time with my boys, and more pain and less range of motion.

Cleary, things had changed in my body since I was 25 years old. Not only was I double that age, I was asking my body to tackle different activities as a dad. What was the answer? It occurred to me while on my back, holding my youngest as we played a game of “airplane.” Unexpectedly, the weight of my son overhead gave my shoulder a new sense of placement. It felt more stable. Using my boys to dynamically load my joints caused my deep stabilizers to fire. And I could rehab (or more appropriately, re-dad) my injuries while spending time with my kids and hopefully increasing their interest in wellness. To add a cherry on top, a recent New York Times article reported that active fathers often end up with children with a higher IQ.

I came up with the following exercises using kids as “props” to increase core strength (which includes the pelvic floor) and overall stability. These exercises will keep any dad strong and hopefully injury-free, all the while allowing your children to participate in the activity they love the most: Attack Daddy! This workout should be performed two times per week, if you can get your kids on board. If you have any injuries, especially those involving radiating nerve pain, make sure to get medical clearance first. Hugs are a good warm-up and cuddling makes for a good cool-down. Word to the wise: I would avoid this workout regimen prior to bedtime. The last thing you want is an end-of-evening wrestling fest that gets the kids all hyped up and not ready for bed. PS


PROP a child (If you have more than one, choose the child who you can lift overhead without the risk of injury to you or the child. Less-squirmy children are also preferable, as wiggling will always increase the challenge of the exercise.)
BREATH Exhaling on the exertion, unless otherwise indicated. Also, cueing your living prop (i.e., your child) will help encourage your breath activity. Think: Stay still, don’t pull my hair, no tickling allowed.
REPS 8–10
• Before you begin, clear the area. Make sure there are no obstacles (e.g., furniture or innocent bystanders).
Focus on quality over quantity. When an exercise involves isometric contraction, focus on stabilization of the major joints challenged in the movement (i.e., shoulder, lumbo-pelvic area). Consider your child a major joint—make sure they stabilize.
• Avoid harsh or abrupt movements. Make sure there is a flow to your movement. Channel Yoda—not Darth Vadar.
• Always communicate to your child exactly what the movement is prior to attempting it. Feel free to swap in one of their favorite stuffed animals during the demo so they know what to expect.
• For healthy parents, the child should be no more than 35 percent of the parent’s weight. Moms can do this workout, too, as long as they aren’t suffering from postnatal SI joint issues.

Push Dad Over (AKA Who’s the Boss?)

• Increases core strength and stability.
• Emphasizes leg strength as well as a neutral pelvis and shoulder stability.
• Challenges the child’s balance and core strength, as well as their will and determination.

DAD and CHILD Stand with your feet hip-width apart in a lunge position with your palms pressing together.

1. Contract your core and stabilize your shoulders while you press into each other’s hands; hold for 5–10 counts.

Tips: Focus on your core as well as your glutes and inner thighs. In other words, stand your ground, Dad!

Advanced: Dad kneels or balances on one leg.

Get the rest of this article and more exercise like this in our September/October 2108, available in our Pilates Style Shop and on Magzter.

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