I get a lot of stares and questions when I’m out and about in my fitness gear. I suppose I’ve mastered the not-so-soccer-mom look enough to the point that people wonder how it all came about. To be honest, because of the culture I grew up in, I never participated much, if at all, in any team sports. The parochial schools and homeschool settings of my childhood certainly did not offer that kind of opportunity. It was in my early adulthood, near the end of undergrad, when I realized I enjoyed the rush and adrenaline from running. So I launched a personal dedication to good health, slim frame, and eventually, competitive running.
After my children came along, it took a good bit more time, money, and creativity to keep in shape. My size and my weight have fluctuated with pregnancies, adoptions, foster placements, and my own interest level in fitness. These are the important suggestions I can share after nearly 20 years of fitness, failures, and family fun:
- YouTube is amazing. No matter what stage of life you’re in, no matter what level of fitness you are or aren’t, there’s a YouTube video for you. Use it. It may take time for you to find the channel(s) that best fit you, but fitness is not an end goal. Fitness is a lifelong process, and it’s time to get started. Here are a few search prompts that might fit your need: playground workout for mommy, dad’s day out of the gym, pregnancy workout, BeFit, Lifestyle fitness, couch potato 5k, women’s fitness routine.
- Use what’s there. Those people you see in the gym or at the park are friendlier than you think. You may feel intimidated by someone else’s strength, speed, or ability, but the one exchange an amateur fitness guru enjoys is being asked to help. So approach that other mom who’s doing squats at the swing set or the one you just crossed paths with at the gym child care room, and ask her for a half hour. Ask her to walk through a quick workout with you, to give you suggestions, and to allow you to observe her routine. Also, consider budgeting for a 5K charity run once a month. It’s a great way to motivate yourself to practice running. Create a reason, and many of those races have a time chip that gives you a personal result. Then you find another race to practice for and try to run the next race in less time. At that point, you’re not just working out; you’re training.
- Get your children involved as much as possible. Let your pubescent male win the race, and praise him for his abilities. Allow your little girl to take taekwondo or your little boy to take ballet as they are interested. Encourage every fitness avenue you can find that includes children. Even if you’re just the mom observing, you’re learning. Later on, your children will need you to remind them of what they learned. That’s a fitness opportunity. Practice their interests with them at home. There are many summer camp programs, church events, and even free trials at gyms that will engage their youthful energy. Let them see your in-home attempts. Your children may even join you, and that makes for quality time together. Get an old DVD from a nearby thrift store. If it’s not used regularly, it’ll be there for a rainy day or when everyone is irritable and needs a fun break.
- Stay away from intimidation. There’s a time to be bold, ask for help, and take charge. There’s also a time to recognize when a routine is beyond your capabilities, takes too much time, drains your energy, and leaves you emotionally deflated. I don’t want routines where women have more muscle than me, look better in a swimsuit, or whose tans look painted on. That may motivate some, but there’s a time and a place to look for simple and normal.
- Night time or early morning is your time. After my children go to bed, I use a seven-minute workout app to run through a full body routine that takes less time than taking a shower to follow. Fitness isn’t about impressing others; it’s about however small a routine you can make happen regularly. If regular is every other day, or even twice a week, that’s more than if you had not started. I do recommend you begin with a very short and simple routine on a daily basis. You want to start this good habit, so don’t limit yourself to what you think you can handle in your schedule.
- Look for opportunities that accommodate your stage of life. This is akin to “use what’s there,” but it’s more focused. Moms RUN This Town, Meetup, and even Facebook may allow you to connect socially with other parents who have babies in strollers, or school-age children who play at a certain playground, or who have a workout hour already scheduled. Search your area, and find out what’s already formed. If it’s not there, make a group! Fitness is a great way for the full-time parent to connect with other parents, and that accountability will help exponentially.
- Play. When your son asks you to toss a ball or your daughter wants you to boost her to the monkey bars, get out there and make yourself move. If you can catch and toss for five minutes today, try 10 tomorrow. If you can lift your daughter once, then you can lift her five times. Little children make great weights, so there’s no need to invest in expensive equipment in the beginning. If your children enjoy riding bikes, get one for yourself and join them. Watch their play and find a way to move in and around what they’re doing.
- Phone apps are your best friend. If you can download a seven-minute workout and a program for counting calories, you’ve just bought what people pay hundreds of dollars for: the program. There are also apps that connect you to virtual and digital trainers, so you can avoid the extra expense of hiring someone to come into your home. Motivation comes from within, but it’s easier to work on that when you’ve got good ideas at the touch of a button.
- Start again. Getting started is half the battle, and it is acceptable to start over every month. If you can form this good habit, you will start seeing and feeling results. Energy from exercise is better than 12 cups of coffee. I know it sounds strange, but you’re tired because your body needs the right kind of exhaustion. Fitness will regulate your digestion, your metabolism, your sleep, and even your hormones.
- Stick with it. So this month you were only able to make one Meetup, or you only managed to use your phone app twice a week. That’s when you want to give up, because you’re not reaching your goals. You did, though. You accomplished that! It might not have been enough, and it won’t be as much as you will accomplish in the days to come. Dedicate yourself to a lifelong process.
By Yaki Cahoon