How to keep cycling after becoming a father
There aren’t many bigger transitions in life than having your first child. Your entire world changes, including your cycling. So how do you keep up your cycling, and still get value from it, when you’re not able to ride as often or for as long as you’d ideally like?
Michael Inglis knows a thing or two about this subject. Not only is he a sports psychologist, he’s also a keen cyclist who has three boys of his own. In this article he provides some valuable advice on how to adjust to parenthood, how to keep cycling, and how to ensure you’re still enjoying your time on the bike.
Transitions come upon us regularly in life; transitioning into school, out of school, into jobs, out of jobs, retiring. However, the greatest transition in life is parenthood and having a first child. This can particularly be the case in a household that includes a cyclist who enjoys their five-hour ride each Saturday.
Having a newborn baby in the house can lead to disturbed sleep which causes decreased energy. Priorities change in the household — with renewed perspective, cycling does not feel as important as it once did. With competing demands at work and home, and significant time restraints, it is hard to justify a long ride anymore. The body is willing, but is the mind?
American author William Bridges offered a three-stage model of transition that is a useful tool for cyclists who are new parents. Bridges defined transition as the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalise and come to terms with the new situation that change brings about.
Transition starts with an ending – that’s when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep.
People then go through a neutral zone; an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. This is when the critical psychological realignments and re-patterning take place. People are creating new processes and learning what the new roles will be, but everything is in flux and doesn’t feel comfortable yet. This is the seedbed of the new beginnings the individual is seeking.
The third stage involves new understandings, new values and attitudes. Beginnings are marked by a release of energy in a new direction – they are an expression of a fresh identity. A well-managed transition allows people to establish themselves in a new role with an understanding of their purpose, the part they play, and how to contribute and participate most effectively.
Cyclists, recreational or competitive, can be rigid with their riding schedule so the first step of ending usual cycling routines can be the most difficult. It is hard to “let go” of what we enjoy and value the most in regard to our training schedule — if we hold this too tightly this can cause psychological strain. So, what can be useful here is to spend time writing down what sessions you are prepared to let go of and the ones you can compromise, so you are knowingly making some adjustments to your training cycle.
A four-hour ride might be reduced to two hours, or the number of training sessions might be reduced from six per week to four. A new development could be adding a child seat to a bike and riding trails as a training session, instead of going out alone on the road. Training might adjust from a 6am group ride to a commute to and from work.
The neutral zone is when we put the above adjustments into place, but they don’t feel comfortable yet; often they satisfy us less than cycling usually would. This is a time when we might question if we want to continue, or we could feel despondent about the new regime.
This is an important time to apply gratitude – asking ourselves what is enjoyable when cycling while also refreshing ourselves on the purpose of cycling. This might include reminding ourselves about what inspired us when we first started cycling, and asking what value it provides for us. This is also a period where new stimulation can be appreciated, such as riding on trails with the young one, or working with new software on the indoor trainer.
New beginnings set in when the individual has let go of what type of cyclist they were in the past — crit racer, weekend warrior, endurance mountain biker — and fully accepts the new values that cycling gives them. With a newborn, cycling is a great way to maintain health and fitness, a vehicle to get to and from work, as well as a healthy way to spend time with the new family.
We might have fond memories of our previous selves — whatever sort of cyclist we identified as — but we can still fully embrace the benefits of the sport we love in a different form.
What are the warning signs that you are not transitioning well? The first is an “all or nothing” response to the changes in your cycling — you feel a need to reach the same level as you were before. Perfectionists struggle with the transition as they want to maintain the highest quality training they can. New parents who struggle more significantly are the ones who see cycling through a performance lens only. They forget what got them into cycling in the first place (e.g. social connection, fitness etc.) and feel no purpose unless they’re at “their best”.
Sometimes people don’t allow enough time to see the benefits of their new cycling approach and prematurely quit cycling as it seemingly isn’t providing the benefits they hoped for.
Parenthood is typically the biggest transition we make in life and is likely to have a significant impact on our lives overall. As cyclists who enjoy our time on the bike and see this as a big part of our own health and wellbeing, it can be difficult to compromise, despite the newfound time demands.
Although our approach to cycling might change, it doesn’t mean our enjoyment of the sport or the rewards gained can’t be sustained. Allowing ourselves to let go of our previous cycling selves, by embracing the new model and its benefits, completes a challenging transition while still allowing us to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
And with that, I’ll see you on the trails with mini-bells ringing, a monkey backpack on, and a Tommee Tippee cup in my bottle holder.
About the author
Michael Inglis is an endorsed and accredited sport, performance and exercise psychologist and has been working in the mental health field since 1999. Michael leads the sport and performance team at The Mind Room, a mental health and wellbeing centre he co-founded in Collingwood, Melbourne.
Michael works with athletes, coaches and teams to build and enhance performance, wellbeing and leadership skills. Some of the teams Michael has worked with include the Holden Cycling Womens’ team, the North Melbourne Football Club and the Melbourne Rebels rugby union team. He is a keen cyclist and father to three active boys.