As a stay-at-home mom, my reasons to avoid working out were as easy to come by as Cheerios crammed into a car seat. At first, it was sleep deprivation and breastfeeding. Then, it was being overwhelmed by a roving crawler, followed by white-knuckling behind a wobbling toddler. By the time my catch-all “figuring out motherhood” excuse clocked out, I was expecting my second child.
While being the mother of two is the world’s greatest excuse to not exercise, my children became the main reason I started doing it. When my son was a few months old, it was the dead of winter. The snow was piling up, and so was the laundry. The walls of the house were closing in. I craved conversation with adults. I must’ve hit bottom; I agreed to join an exercise class at the YMCA with a friend.
This small act kick-started an unexpected commitment to fitness that has lasted almost three years.
Make exercise a family event
My first excuse killer turned out to be that YMCA class. Twice a week, the other moms and I would roll into the gym and meet instructor Joey Bolduc. Joey would lead us in a series of running, pushing, lunging, and jumping exercises using the strollers, all while the kids snacked, slept, or eyeballed us cautiously from inside them.
The class was ideal: I could break a sweat while keeping an eye on the cargo. Granted, it wasn’t peaceful. “Some people are screaming, and some are taking a nap,” Bolduc mused, recalling the scene. “At the same time, you hear a lot of laughing. The things that we did provoked you to laugh. And that’s important, not only for yourself but for your kids.”
It’s true. Begrudgingly, I could admit that boot camp was fun.
The class evolved as we moms got fitter. When the kids graduated from strollers, we decided: If we couldn’t contain ’em, invite ’em. My daughter now knows how to plank, and my son can do the semblance of a pushup.
“I didn’t realize that was going to be such a big part of it,” Bolduc said. “The modeling you can do for the children. They’re just playing, but really, they are watching us like hawks. They’re taking it all in. And if they see you having fun and taking accountability for yourself, then later in life, they’ll be having fun and taking accountability for themselves.”
More family-friendly ideas
- Look for parent/child incorporated classes at gyms. For a more focused workout, seek childcare options within an or-ganization.
- Sign up for a road race. Many races are designed for all levels, from walkers to runners. My children and I did one in which I pushed my son in a stroller and my daughter alternated between walking and running. Bonus: A lot of races benefit local charities.
- Turn on the tube! Fitness channels abound on TV. Make room for your child to “work out” alongside you. Borrow exercise DVDs from the library. The Internet is another great source. Search YouTube for any genre, and you’ll get plenty of hits. “Yoga with Adriene,” for instance, offers options for beginners to advanced practitioners. You can choose a workout based on how much time you have. Want a lesson for morning, evening, powering up, or calming down? Check. Have a knee injury, scoliosis, stress, nagging sciatica? Covered. There are 36 videos under the “Yoga for Busy People” category alone.
- Play with your kids. Soccer, basketball, tennis, and riding bikes are great cardio options. When I coached my daughter’s kindergarten soccer team, I tried to do every practice drill with the kids. That included dribbling exercises, jumping, sprinting, relay races, and scrimmages. My heart rate always rocketed into fat-burning levels, and I logged at least 4,000 steps in each 45-minute practice.
When Liana Thomas and her husband, Brian, decided to tackle their first marathon, they couldn’t just hit the road running. With two young kids, they had to get creative.
The Thomases took turns squeezing in training runs before sunup, or after the other had bedtime underway, or when a friend or family member could tap in. When she couldn’t train outside, Liana Thomas boarded the “dreadmill.”
For her, fitting in fitness is “a critical part of how I keep myself well. I’m always prone to putting others first, which I think is your instinct as a mom, but then I take a step back and realize my well-being is good for the well-being of everyone in my family.”
The thing that helped the most was having the goal of the marathon and sticking to a set regimen. “I held myself accountable because I had the plan,” she said. “Once it’s part of your schedule, it doesn’t feel like, ‘Ugh, I have to go work out.’ It wasn’t a burden; it was part of the routine. That’s really important.”
A marathon may be too much to bite off, so set small goals to start. Park as far away as possible from any store and walk the extra distance. Take a single bag of groceries in from your car, then repeat. Work in squats while you fold laundry. During TV commercials, do leg lifts, planks, or crunches.
I received a fitness tracker as a gift two years ago, and this was a final game-changer. This wristband records daily steps, heart rate, and calorie count. The statistics have been motivating.
I like competing—especially against myself. The proof is right there; the tracker doesn’t lie. If I’m a slug one day, the tracker tells me so. If I’m doing great and my resting heart rate is more like a 30-year-old’s than a 60-year-old’s—kudos to me!
I can also challenge friends and family members to competitions using tracker technology. More than once, I have been transformed into a bloodthirsty animal, running madly in place in my bedroom at midnight, to try and beat them.
While I wouldn’t call my relationship with exercise a wildly successful marriage, it has become a steady friendship that gives more than it takes.