Mothers are the lifeblood of most families. Whether you're a work-at-home or work-away-from-home mom, you’re busy! To say that fitting in some exercise between doctor appointments, runny noses, homework, soccer practice and 15 loads of laundry is challenging would be a massive understatement.
After eight years as a parent I've finally figured out that I need to schedule my workouts into my day, the same way that I schedule every other work and family commitment. Deciding to prioritize my workout has represented a huge shift in how I think about my self-care. Through these years of parenting my own kids and training clients who have babies, toddlers and school-aged big kids, I've picked up some strategies to optimize the limited time we moms have for our workouts.
Of course, the right music playlist is sure to get you moving, but I'm talking about having a set of go-to exercises to structure your workouts. Focus on four to six compound movements that incorporate multiple muscle groups to make the most out of your limited time. Squat and deadlift variations, glute bridges, side planks, weighted walks and carries, presses, and inverted rows are my favourites. Decide what you’ll do in your workout the night before and save it on your phone—focus on your body's needs and keep it simple.
Many of my clients set up their "gym space" beside or within their kiddo's playroom. Sometimes the kids join in for a bit, then wander off to play with their toys. To get a great workout, all you need is a space that’s roughly the size of a yoga mat and some basic equipment. Making use of what's available to you. For example: rear foot elevated SLDs with a kid's step stool, surrounded by toys and early literacy tools!
This is great for you new moms to keep in mind for days when you're feeling a little more rested and ready for a quick workout. Babies settle into more predictable nap schedules, somewhere around four months, so before you put your little one down for their nap make sure you're already dressed in your workout clothes. You'll be more likely to actually exercise than just fall asleep along with them! If you do fall asleep with your baby, don't stress the missed workout. There will be plenty of opportunities to exercise.
Pay attention to your body's cues. Rest when your body is telling you that you need rest more than you need a workout.
When your babe transitions to a toddler you can anticipate longer, more predictable naps, giving you time for a longer workout. By then you'll also have caught up on your sleep and won't need as many of your own naps!
In a newborn's first few months, they love anything that mimics their time in utero—your heartbeat, the vibration of your voice, and constantly moving with you. Similar to the weighted walks we love to do in the gym, pacing up and down a hallway with a baby in your arms provides a great opportunity to consider your posture: ribs down, shoulders back, bum untucked. I love having my clients add eccentric (or super slow) squats into the laps they walk up and down their hallways trying to calm their babies. Start with 10 squats, then walk another lap, then perform nine squats, then walk again. Continue until you get down to one squat. At four years old my daughter still loved the backpack carrier. Instead of an afternoon nap, I would strap her on and head for the trails! With her on my back, I'd walk hills and run park stairs.
I firmly believe that most grumpy kid (and mama!) problems can be fixed with a good walk. With a baby in the stroller or carrier set yourself to a steady pace, find a hill, and add in some lunges, step-ups, or incline planks along the way.
You can get a little more conditioning work in your day by adding circuits to your walk. When my littles were really little they would hold hands and race Mama down the sidewalk. Encourage your toddler to join in as much as possible with mini-races. Run to the street sign and do 10 squats. Side shuffle to the next landmark and do 10 incline push-ups. Make it up as you go, and encourage your little one to come up with exercises too.
Show your little one how to do bodyweight exercises, or hold them instead of weights. Shoulder carry squats and lunges? Yes, please! Weighted glute bridges? My fav! Turn that kid into a little human kettlebell! Just remember to maintain good form throughout each exercise. Over the years, I've also purchased kid versions of my equipment. They love being included and feeling as though they're doing big kid stuff! My boy planks with so much style!
When we visit the park I see a playground for my kids and for me! We play tag and make up obstacle courses through the structures and trees so that we can crawl, climb, and run. You'll surprise yourself with how much strength work and cardio you add into your day. Bonus: you'll be helping your little one develop their gross motor skills. It’s a parenting win!
When both of my kids finally started going to school full-time I thought that life would feel less busy. Wrong. Evenings are busy with gymnastics, and dance, and piano practice. Weekends are busy with birthday parties and swimming lessons. Full evenings and busy weekends require a whole new strategy. That one-hour gymnastics lesson is the perfect time to go for a 40-minute run. If their lessons are close to a gym, you can pop in for some conditioning circuits.
For a while I was consistently missing my weekend workouts and feeling pretty grumpy as a result, so I introduced family workout challenges. It started inside with stair workouts. We would take turns running the stairs and doing elevated push-ups, hip raises, and lunges. Then I took our workouts to the lane way behind our garage, and I invited my neighbours to join in. We start every Sunday with a sweaty 30-minute workout, then get on with our day. You’d better believe that I take this strategy on the road when we travel. Last New Year’s Day, after a sweaty playground workout, I convinced all generations of the family to join me for a New Jacks finisher!
Ask your gym if you can bring your kids along, even if they don't have a designated childcare space. My kids are old enough now to hang out in a corner of the gym with their colouring books, a puzzle, or a DVD. Their treat for listening and keeping put during my workout is to put on the boxing gloves and have a few rounds with the heavy bag! In fact, Friday Night Boxing has become a new family ritual and my kids are developing some impressive skill!
These strategies are all great ways to include a little fitness in your busy life as a mom, but the most important lesson we can learn is acceptance. Before I had my kids I was able to dedicate as much time to the gym as I wanted. When my son was born, I had to accept that two-hour workouts just weren’t going to happen for a while. I definitely recognized that I needed some amount of exercise to maintain a semblance of myself, as well as for my mental health, but I needed to find ways to make the workouts fit into this new lifestyle. Along the way I've learned how to still make time for myself and for the activities I enjoy, while also breathing new life into my workouts.
Life as a mom to two very active children has certainly presented me with new challenges. I've grown more as a woman in the past eight years than I could have ever imagined possible. I've missed plenty of workouts to make sure I don't miss dance recitals, soccer games, and doctor appointments. There have been countless sick days and sleepless nights that nullify my workout time. We love family snuggles, and I'll always choose an afternoon nap with my kids over treadmill intervals.
My relationship to exercise is a long-term commitment—I'm less concerned with missing a workout today than I am with making sure I'm still in the gym 20 years from now.
My workouts are focused on making me feel strong without leaving me feeling depleted. They are infused with play and curiosity for what my body can accomplish.
As moms, let's make sure our workouts are energizing our bodies and minds—not only so that we are always up to the tasks of the busiest job we'll ever have, but also simply, because we deserve it.
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