9 Ways to Work Out When You Have a Toddler
“When you have kids, you have to learn to let go of some of your previous notions about exercise,” says Liz Neporent, co-author of The Thin in 10 Weight-Loss Plan (Sunrise River Press; October 2012). That 30- or 60-minute block of time you used to spend at the gym just isn’t happening! But, Neporent says, exercising in short spurts can be just as effective to help you fight weight gain and tone your body. Aim for three to four 10-minute workouts a day. One easy tool you can use to get those mini workouts in: exercise DVDs. Choose one that’s broken down into 10-minute segments. This gives you the flexibility to do just one segment at a time, when you’ve only got minutes to spare.
Don’t think you’re a runner? Neither did Lara Hudson, Pilates pro and star of the DVD 10 Minute Solution: Tighten and Tone Pilates. But with two kids under the age of five, she’s come to appreciate the efficient workout. What changed her mind? A jogging stroller. “It’s the perfect way for you to get your cardio in, and it’s a great way to give your kid an exciting adventure,” says Hudson. “Usually by the end of the run, my daughter or son would be napping.” If you’re also lucky enough to eke a nap out of it, you can use that “me” time to sneak in some strength training and stretching.
If Hudson can’t sneak in a workout, she tells her kids it’s time for a dance party. “I download Culture Club, Devo, the Go-Go’s. I don’t know what it is about the 1980s, but every single toddler loves that era’s music.” And, of course, don’t sit and watch! Hit the floor along with your toddler to get your heart rate up, burn some calories and maybe even have some fun, too. “If you put aside 20 to 30 minutes and just dance with them, you’re going to be surprised at how many calories you burn,” says Hudson.
Nope, we’re not talking about cleaning your house (finding time for that is a whole different article!)—this is a little-known trick to tighten a postpregnancy paunch. “The abdominal wall is four layers deep, and you want to fire up the deepest layer, the transverse abdominus,” explains Hudson. It’s hard to find, and engage, the muscle, but this trick from Hudson will help: Imagine that there’s a vacuum cleaner on the underside of your ribs that sucks everything from the toes upward into the vacuum. Once you feel the muscles engage, you can visualize that internal vacuum to activate those deep muscles — anytime, anywhere — to exercise that area.
“There’s a reason gym class calisthenics are still around. They work—and they work a lot of muscles at once,” says Hudson, and you don’t need to hit the gym to do them. Take push-ups, for example. Whether you do full push-ups or modified ones on your knees, your entire body is engaged. To get your toddler in on the action, make it into a game. Have your toddler lie right underneath you, and for every push-up you do, he gets a kiss. You can also enlist your toddler for modified sit-ups. Place him on your stomach, bend your knees, and then roll up and roll down. The added weight will act as resistance and will increase the calories you burn. With a 12- to 18-month-old (depending on his weight), you can roll up, lift your child over your head, and bring him back to your belly before you roll back down.
Make the most of your time with “figure-eight lunges,” which can tighten and tone your entire body in one minute, says Neporent. Stand with your feet together, abs tight and arms straight out in front of your chest, hands clasped together. Keeping your back straight, and looking straight ahead, with your right leg step a stride’s length forward into a lunge position, bending both knees about 90 degrees; then step back to the start position. As you step forward, reach your arms to the right across your body and “scoop” them down toward the outside of your right hip. As you step back to start, complete the figure-eight movement with your arms by scooping them up and back in front of your chest. Repeat on the left side. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as you can with good form for one minute.
You know you’re already down on the floor playing with your toddler. While you’re there, try this plank variation, which really targets abdominal muscles while also strengthening your arms and legs: Start on all fours with your knees directly beneath your hips and your palms beneath your shoulders. Draw your abs up and in and lift your knees a few inches off the mat, being careful not to raise your hips. Keep your spine straight and your core strong as you walk your hands forward to move into an extended plank, hands a few inches in front of your shoulders. Reverse direction and walk your hands back to the start position. Make sure your hips don’t pop up above shoulder level and don’t let your back sag. Repeat for one minute.
After all that leaning over to feed baby or hold her hand as she walks, mom-slouch can rear its ugly head. This exercise can help get your posture back on track. Here’s how to do it: (A) Stand with your back against a wall and your feet a comfortable distance from the wall, heels together, and toes apart. Pull your abs in, and gently press your entire spine, including your neck and shoulders, into the wall. Keep your arms at your sides. Drop your chin to your chest, and then peel your neck off the wall, followed by shoulders, upper back, middle back, and then lower back, leaning forward. Keep your tailbone and butt against the wall. Hang forward a moment and then slowly reverse the movement, pasting your entire spine back onto the wall until you’ve returned to the starting position.
By now, you probably know that kids benefit greatly from routines (snack time, story time, bath time, bedtime), and so do adults. Carve out a structured routine for you to exercise—even if it’s just 20 minutes. If necessary, sit down with your partner (or someone else who’ll care for your toddler) and see when he can cover for you, then write it in on both your calendars as an appointment that you always make. For extra motivation (and couldn’t we all use that?), call a friend and ask her to join you. “If you can carve out that time for yourself, you’re going to be a better mom. It’s really true,” says Hudson. Taking care of yourself sets you up to be able to take care of your kids that much better. Oh, and you’ll look hot, too.
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