Fitting in Fitness with a Young Family
When people think about ‘work/life balance’ they usually think of managing time with the family versus time doing the day job , and that endless childcare juggle — but what about time to do the ‘just you’ things too?
For me, exercise and the gym have been a big part of my life since my early 20s; vital for managing stress and maintaining my health and body image. The type of exercise I have done has changed over time with my interests, age, ability, and understanding of physiology — and I made a conscious decision to maintain my fitness levels as much as possible during my pregnancy — in fact I credit continuing to work in the gym with a qualified pre-natal personal trainer with halting the progression of pelvic pain, as well as a relatively straightforward delivery and physical recovery.
Within weeks of my daughter’s arrival, I was itching to get back to the gym and the sense of self it gave me in the midst of a new parent identity crisis — but the new challenge was how to do it with a baby (now a preschooler) in tow? Here are some of the ways I fit fitness into my family life:
Nap time workouts
Baby monitor on? Off we go! The challenge with nap time workouts it motivating yourself. My tip — don’t shower and put your gym kit on when you first get up — half the battle is getting ready! I also find online classes/videos and challenges to be more motivational than structuring my own workouts, where there’s a temptation to cut reps or sets.
I particularly like the free You Tube videos by Fitness Blender as well as the Sweaty Betty Get Fit 4 Free classes which often come in the form of a month-long challenge; there are of course numerous alternatives depending on your time available, interests and fitness levels.
Exercising with the little one
I know, why waste a precious 45-minute nap time by jumping around, when the exercise can provide entertainment for your little one?
When my daughter was tiny, I took advantage of the numerous parent-and-baby fitness classes in my home town. Highlights were Buggyfit (who run classes nationwide — I particularly liked the harder ‘tough mother’ workout) and mum and baby pilates. All of the local gyms and the leisure centre offered classes with a mixture of body weight and cardio exercises.These were a great way to ease back into fitness with qualified post-natal trainers, none of the worries if baby kicked off or needed a feed, as well as chance to meet like-minded parents.
Since I have returned to work, I’ve had to come up with my own solutions — there is a real gap in the market for exercise classes with children when they are in that gap between being mobile and being able to entertain themselves safely — the point at which the gym becomes a seriously hazardous place! In the summer months we head to the park and do workouts I can involve her in, as well as taking toys and distractions (snacks) on a picnic mat. This will often be some kind of HIIT or body weight exercises. You can’t be too strict on the intervals, but she will be entertained for some time by calling out ‘stop’ when the interval timer beeps, or joining in with running. Some exercises she will copy or get involved in doing too like:
- Running back and forth between trees/markers
- Star jumps or running on the spot
- Tricep dips on a park bench or push-ups with little one on my lap/back
- Squats with little one piggy backing
- Overhead press with a toddler weight (she’s getting a bit big for this now!)
You get the picture! A 15kg toddler can make for quite a good workout aid! As can buggies, scooters (they double as ab rollers!) swings and monkey bars at the playground.
At home there are a few more options. My daughter has been known to suggest ‘let’s put on our gym kit and exercise!’ and I have invested in a few, small, pieces of kit for home workouts including a TRX (doubles as a swing — I don’t get a look-in), a resistance band and some kettle bells. We sometimes turn a short workout into a game using a fit deck — she’ll pick the card and I’ll do the exercise on it.
Personally I think it’s great for a young child to see their parent making time for exercise and their physical health.
The exercise diary date
As parents, my husband and I are both advocates of maintaining our own interests and having some time ‘off’. One of those times is our calendared tag-team gym trip at the weekend. He’ll get back from the gym or cycling trip with friends and take over in time for my weekly commitment to a spin class; we then all meet at a cafe for a family brunch or coffee. Making a commitment to a class or a friend makes it less likely you will cancel. It’s also really lovely to have the ‘me’ time, and almost impossible to worry about anything when you’re maxing out your heart rate to loud music with 7 other sweaty adults!
The other way we manage this is by building in exercise time to our work and childcare plans. Occasionally we’ll arrange an early drop-off at nursery which means I can head to a class or PT session then be at my desk before 9am; or on occasion do a lunch break workout. My husband will swap his usual car-ride for the bike when the weather’s half decent — no choice but to cycle home if you haven’t brought your car!
If all else fails, I just try to be as active in my daily life as I can. With a tiny baby in a pram it was pretty easy — Little one only used to only nap in the buggy, so I could easily do a 5–10km walk most days. As she got bigger the walks became the source of entertainment so we would pull on waterproofs and pound through the park or to play dates on foot.
Now she wants to walk everywhere herself, I’m actually clocking up fewer steps when I’m with her. Instead I’ve tried to add them into my working day — skipping the tube to work in favour of 30 minutes on foot, always taking the stairs, and making some of my conference calls whilst walking. It all adds up, and devices like my Apple Watch are a great way to remind myself to fit the activity in.
With number two now well on the way, I’m still sticking to my 3 workouts a week, although the intensity has been scaled back — I’ve every intention of trying to fit in that all important ‘me’ time as a mama of two — although conscious that this might be a little harder than before. Any tips gratefully received!
I hope this has given you some ideas, of course it goes without saying that if you’re pregnant or have just had a baby you need the medical ‘ok’ before starting exercising again, and I really recommend spending some time with a qualified PT or in a specialist post-natal class to check your form and get some tips on managing those ultra-flexible joints and challenged abs.
This is my first article on Medium as part of the Makelight Thread publication. Usually you can find me blogging about all things gluten free over at Gluten Free B, or about our family life on my personal blog Windsor B.