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How to Make Time to Work Out When You’re a Working Mom

After having a baby, it’s so easy to develop a negative self-image. Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought, “Ugh, disgusting. I wish those stretch marks would go away. That saggy skin is so disappointing. I need to lose more baby weight”? If you have, you’re not alone. The problem is that we live in a society where things generally happen instantaneously. We want a hamburger – poof! We want an iPad – click. We want to talk to our friend – text. Our kids want a dinosaur – done. So when we want to lose baby weight and it doesn’t happen quickly, we begin to lose faith that it will ever go away.

The thing is, baby weight is not an embarrassment. It’s a beautiful sign of the miracle and blessing that coincides with pregnancy. Some people have good DNA. They can lose that baby weight like nothing. Other people bounce back quickly and are able to hit the gym one week after giving birth. Then, there’s the rest of us. We have to work hard to lose that weight, and it might be a journey to get there.

In today’s post, I’m offering some ideas and inspiration for how to approach baby weight loss and fitness in general when you’re a working mother. Sometimes when we are buried under mounds of paper, it’s easy to prioritize our work over our health, but it’s not a wise decision. So, how can we make time to exercise when we are busy juggling the realities of working and parenting?

Prioritize the workout.

Many people ask me, How do you find time to work out? I’ve learned that if I want to exercise, I have to figure out when my optimal workout window is and not miss it. There are a few ideal options available to working moms.

Option 1: Get up early and do it before work. This one just doesn’t work for me. I can’t function at 4 a.m. on a treadmill. Some people can. If that’s you, or if you don’t have to be to work until 9 a.m., set that alarm!

Option 2: Exercise immediately after work before going home. This is what I do. My gym is literally on the way home. If I decide not to work out any particular day, I have to drive BY the gym and feel guilty all the way. As a result, I generally don’t skip a workout. 

Option 3: Get your sweat on after the kids go to bed. Because of how early I wake up, I’m a zombie after 8:00 p.m. But, I know people who do this religiously and have no problem at all. A word of caution…working out before bed might cause you to have more difficulty falling asleep.

Think about your schedule. When would you be the most motivated to exercise? Choose that time and run with it. If you’re not sure, try all three to find out what works.

Choose a conducive setting.

After I had my first child, I realized I was going to need to start attending a different gym. The recreation center I was attending at that time was fifteen minutes from work, and it wasn’t on the way to pick up my son from daycare. It’s really important to choose a workout location that might not be the newest, most popular, or fanciest in town; rather, choose one that is convenient and quick if time is an issue. So what are your options? Here’s some food for thought:

The Gym: If you’re wanting to use equipment and resources that are not available to you at home, you need a gym membership.

Your House: Yes, I know your kids are there (more on that in a minute). If you have a treadmill, stationary bike, or small gym set-up in your home, it’s a good place to sneak in some sweat time. Not all, but many people I know who say they are going to work out at home find excuses not to…so if you really want to work out, make sure your house is the most conducive environment for it.

Outside: If it’s above 40 degrees and not pouring down rain, I do my workouts outside. I love running and cycling, and I can do those things in the neighborhood or on nearby streets. Sometimes I pull my yoga mat out into the yard and incorporate some stretching and resistance band training. It’s not only good for my body, but the fresh air and sunlight are improve my mood as well.

Work: Some of my co-workers enjoy using the school weight-training facility to work out before they go home. If your building has this option, you should try it…maybe it will be the motivation you need.

Make arrangements for the little ones.

I have three – currently ages 5, 3, and 1. With each additional child, making time to work out becomes more and more difficult. I’m sure you can relate. Sometimes, I imagine myself taking all three cherubs to the gym with me, dropping them off at the childcare room, and blissfully getting my workout on. Then, reality sets in. Thinking about the struggle of taking three children to the gym with me is just enough to deter me from going completely. If you can relate, these tips are for you.

Involve them. When I do my workout outside, I invite my kids to come out with me. We live on a cul-de-sac, so sometimes I sprint up and down the road or do my exercises in the yard. My kids put on their tennis shoes and run in the grass cheering me on and giving me high fives, or they lay on our extra yoga mat and imitate me. I love it.

Ask for help. My husband works 24 hour shifts, so on the days when he’s home, I ask him to watch the kids if I want to go to the gym after work. On the days he’s gone, I occasionally ask family to pick up the kids for me so that I can go to the gym quickly before heading home.

Let them play or do quiet time. If your kids need some down time after school, let them play in the same room as you, flip through some books, or watch a cartoon while you complete your workout. You can still talk to them during this time, which eases some of the guilt many moms experience when thinking about whether or not they should make time to exercise. You’re modeling healthy living, and they are learning by example.

Make it a habit.

They say it takes anywhere from one to two straight months of repetition to develop a habit. I could sit at my desk and grade papers until the sun goes down (that’s an easy habit for any teacher to fall into), but that isn’t the best idea for my mental health, nor is it for yours. If you have a history of “running out of time” to workout, these ideas might help you to develop heathy exercise habits.

Remove yourself from your phone. Unless you’re on a piece of stationary equipment, don’t even have your phone in sight. I know from experience. It slows you down. Instead of running three miles, you end up running one and then walking for twenty minutes while you text a friend. If you had five weight-lifting exercises on your list for the day, it’ll take you twice as long to complete them, or you’ll skip some.

Have an accountability partner. Don’t ask someone to be your accountability partner unless you really want them to motivate you. Luckily for me, my husband sends me a text message every day at work around 3:30. “You going to the gym? Supper’s at 5:00.” And that text is the push I need to get away from the desk and start moving. If encouraging you to exercise is not your spouse’s strength, ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable for your workouts.

Pack your gym bag the night before. How many times have I arrived at the gym only to find I forgot my socks at home? Woops…can’t work out today, I would think in frustration. The only foolproof way I’ve found to circumvent this issue is to pack my gym bag the day before…and to use a checklist. Socks? Shoes? Hair tie? Shirt? Sports bra? Pants? Ear buds? Lifting gloves?

Pick certain days. I know for a fact I don’t enjoy working on out Fridays. It’s just not my style. I love working out on Saturdays and Sundays because I’m usually home all day, so taking thirty minutes to an hour of my day to work out is no big deal. Pick three to five days a week that you feel you can really commit to exercising. If you don’t have a schedule in mind, it will be too easy to fall into the inevitable “I’ll do it tomorrow” trap.

Have a plan. 

One of the biggest flops you can make when it comes to getting into a workout routine is to go into it without a plan. If you’re serious about losing weight, staying healthy, or just feeling good, you need to develop some exercise goals and visions.

Frequency: I used to work out six days a week…in my pre-baby days. Some days I would run seven miles. Others I would lift for an hour. Once in a while my husband and I would go for a five-hour bike ride. Then we would stuff our face with whatever food we wanted (donuts, ice cream, pizza) because we just finished burning hundreds of calories. Coming from that mindset, it’s been a difficult adjustment for me to realize that it’s not necessary to exercise every day. Slowly, I’m beginning to ease up on my expectations for myself and my body. If you can fit in three or four days a week, you’re doing great, and I mean that. Working moms are busy!

Injuries: Don’t be a hero. Be realistic with the workouts you plan for yourself. Pregnancy causes many changes to every aspect of our bodies, so if you push it too hard, you might get injured. And that stinks. Take it from me, the girl who tried to bike 240 miles in three days five months after having my second child. I still have injuries that flair up from that experience if I am not religious about keeping up with my physical therapy exercises. If you were inactive during pregnancy or reduced your activity significantly, you’re going to want to start very slowly.

Routine: Develop a routine that contains variety. Make sure you are planning activities you enjoy. Most importantly, if you’re prone to skipping workouts due to time constraints, make them quick. The best way to develop muscle tone and lose weight is to surprise our bodies, so if you’re simply going out for a walk or run using the same route and the same pace every day, you’ll eventually plateau. Here’s an example of how I structure a week’s workout (keep in mind these exercises can be completed with weights and resistance bands to add difficulty, but if you are not sure where to start, just use body weight; also, maintaining proper form is imperative to reduce risk of injury):

  • Day 1:  dynamic warm up (like this),  run four miles (if you have no running background, you might want to start by running for one minute and walking for one minutes for twenty minutes instead), clam shells (3 sets of 10), single-leg deadlift (3 sets of 10), calf raises (2 sets of 30), planks (3 x 30 seconds), side planks (3 x 30 seconds), stretch
  • Day 2: dynamic warm up, bike for 30 minutes, single-leg star drill (3 x 5), band walks (2-3 sets each), single-leg bridge (3 sets of 10 each leg), superman with medicine ball (3 x 10), push-ups (3 x 10), stretch

I would then continue alternating high-impact cardio with low-impact cardio on subsequent workout days. If you don’t have time to complete toning and strengthening exercises on the same day as cardio, just alternate days. Know what you can handle and what you have time for, and create a plan that is realistic and achievable for your circumstance.

Ultimately, doing a small workout is always better than doing no workout at all. Feeling good about the body you’re in is the goal. Losing baby weight is not easy; neither is embracing a body that you don’t love. Learning to be patient and appreciate the way we feel more than the number on the scale or the size on our clothes is an important key to being happy with who we are while we wait for those pounds to melt away and the muscle definition to appear.

If you liked these tips, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and stay tuned for future posts about health and wellness for working moms. We need to stick together and encourage one another in this thing called life! What are your tips for success when it comes to making time to exercise? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

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