PictureMy fitness “me-time,” on a weeknight when the kids are in bed

Growing up in a family with three kids and a stay-at-home mom, I don’t recall my mom ever “working out.” Between constantly chasing us around and keeping the house in order, she didn’t need to exercise for the purpose of burning calories.

But was her active lifestyle enough? Was it OK that she never stepped foot in a gym, or should she have been more intentional in pursuing fitness?

In my opinion, my mom did a decent job of staying fit considering the time and money restraints on our family. But I do think she could have taken better care of herself. On the outside, my mom looks amazing. She is thin, attractive and actually pretty strong. But, there are a few things to note.

  • She has a lot of imbalances. In fact, she is quite crooked. It’s hard to tell how or when her hips became uneven, but they are now at a point that certain types of exercise cause her pain.
  • She was stressed out the entire time she raised us children, and she has never effectively learned how to manage stress. (Side note: Two years ago she had a heart attack, which was related to several factors, stress being one of them.)
  • At 56, she’s starting to lose muscle mass and would like to strength train, but she doesn’t know where to begin.

PictureMy super cute mama and her granddoggy

You’ve gotta make time for you
There are plenty of moms who pour their energy into their kids and don’t find time to exercise. There also are moms who do make room in their hectic schedules to work out, but when they get to the gym, they spend all of their time reading magazines on an elliptical machine.Here’s my take on this. Everyone—no matter what your daily routine looks like—should aim for at least two purposeful, interruption-free workouts a week.

Spending time alone with your body gives you a chance to connect with your movement, appreciate what your body can do in and of itself– beyond all of the work it does to serve others. Lugging groceries, getting kids in carseats, and cleaning floors on your hands and knees is great exercise, but it’s the kind of stuff you do while holding your breath, tensing your shoulders and clenching your abs. Sometimes you just need to breathe!

Equally important, working out in a purposeful manner is your opportunity to build functional strength and correct imbalances before they become a problem. Moms move a lot during the day, but we tend to have terrible posture and crappy movement patterns. That’s where strength training comes in.

So you finally made it to the gym …
We all know that feeling: You’ve got childcare covered, you have an hour for yourself, and you’re finally ready to get your workout on. Except that when you look around at all of the weights, balls, bands, etc., you’re so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to begin.

If you do have access to a personal trainer or class where you can learn some strength-training basics, I highly recommend taking advantage of these resources. But even if you’re totally on your own, here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your fitness me-time. 

  1. Perform twice as many pull exercises (such as rows, pull-ups, chin-ups) as push exercises (such as push-ups, shoulder presses, dips). Most moms spend all day in a forward posture, leaning over to do chores or hold babies. Therefore, we need to spend extra time strengthening our back muscles.
  2. Perform at least two exercises that target your glutes. These could be deadlifts, lunge or squat variations, lateral band walks, bridges, etc. Just make sure that you’re feeling the burn in your butt, and not just in your quads. Women tend to be quad-dominant and have weak glutes, which sets us up for injuries and doesn’t look great, either.
  3. Perform at least one single-leg exercise. Women in particular need to strengthen the muscles that stabilize our hips, as we are at greater risk for related soft-tissue injuries. We’re also more susceptible to osteoporosis, and having good balance prevents falls.
  4. If you do “core” or “ab” exercises, make sure you bring your pelvic floor and diaphragm to the party. These guys, along with your transverse abdominus (deep lower abs), help create stability for movement and also prevent you from having a variety of pelvic health issues.
  5. Skip isolation work unless you need help activating a muscle or are rehabbing an injury. In that case, make sure to do these exercises early in your workout. You’ll be able to transfer this muscle recruitment into bigger movements, and you won’t be so fatigued that you lose good form.
  6. Question every exercise and don’t do anything that that doesn’t serve a purpose. Just because you saw someone else doing biceps curls on the BOSU doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. Also, if you’re not sure whether you’re doing something right, don’t do it.
  7. Use free weights (dumbbells, barbells, bands, balls, etc.) instead of machines. Don’t use machines. Just don’t.
  8. Don’t do anything you can and will do with kids around. For me, that means I rarely include things like push-ups and planks in my solo workouts, since I can squeeze them in while playing in the yard. I also prioritize lifting over running when I have an hour to myself, since I can always run with my kids in the stroller.
  9. End your workout with breathing. Find a mat, lie on your back and practice diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale, allowing your belly to expand laterally. Exhale and let your abs gently contract. Just be careful: This is so darn relaxing that you might fall asleep.
  10. Perform at least one exercise that you hate doing—because it’s probably what you need the most, and perform at least one exercise that you love doing—because working out should be something you look forward to doing!