My six-year-old daughter is off school for the summer, and she’s been having fun taking care of her two younger siblings, ages four and almost two. The other morning she decided she wanted to get them dressed. I told her to give it a shot.
About fifteen minutes later, she paraded them in proudly. Their outfits matched and she had proven to be adept with the diaper. She had even brushed the four-year-old’s hair. But there was one problem.
“Sweetie, they look amazing! Great job! But…where are your clothes?” I asked.
(She was buck naked.)
“It was too hard! They were all squirming and he kept taking his diaper off and I just forgot!”
Immediately I thought of the many times I’ve made similar excuses. Suddenly they seemed so ridiculous.
My three kids, fully clothed, during a family workout.
The Parenting Challenge
Parenthood can throw all sorts of wrenches in peoples’ routines. The nights you don’t sleep more than three hours at a time. The medical scares that bring out a kind of anxiety you’ve never felt before. The desire to give your child everything he or she needs, even at your own expense.
It’s easy to be on top of things for a week or two, but when you have a family there is a new kind of ebb and flow. And fitness is one of the first things to get lost in the current, right up there with date nights and extended periods of quiet.
Shift Your Perspective
For four years, I was a smoker. And not a casual smoker, but a pack-a-day smoker, and that was on a good day. I tried quitting many times, and I failed over and over again. Quitting for good didn’t happen until I got pregnant with my first child during graduate school. There are two reasons I finally succeeded:
- I Had a New Focus: Once I got pregnant I just stopped caring about cigarettes. I was shocked out of my addiction by something with more gravity than my Marlboros. That new motivation outweighed any setbacks I faced.
- I Created New Habits: With new focus came new habits. My diet changed and I didn’t spend as much time in the pub with my professors and classmates. I started exercising more and said goodbye to Belgian beer. I found a new clarity about what I did and didn’t want in my life.
Staying active and in shape as a parent requires both of these elements. You have to want it, and your life has to reflect that. There is no shortcut.
How to Change Your Ways
If you are struggling to get back into fitness after becoming a parent, there are three things that might help:
- Enlist Your Family: This means including your family in your workouts, but it also means making fitness a family goal, not just an individual one. You could have a family workout once a week, or go to the gym with your spouse and get a sitter for the kids. Your family is your support system, and you will be much more likely to succeed if you all pursue similar goals.
- Don’t Be a Weekend Warrior: In my experience, weekends are the hardest time to work out when you have a family. Don’t save fitness for the weekends. Find simple, efficient ways to incorporate movement and exercise into your weekdays. It doesn’t have to be drawn out and complicated, but higher frequency will help you make fitness habitual.
- Own Your Stuff: Literally. Outfit a home gym and use it. Having your own equipment will prevent you from having to outsource your fitness at a gym. This will come in especially handy on the days when you or one of your family members is sick and you can’t make it to the gym. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. In my home we have a bench with a set of dumbbells, five kettlebells ranging from 10kg to 28kg, a pull up bar, a punching bag, PVC parallettes, jump ropes, and a barbell we found on Craigslist. (And of course, three children ranging in weight from 20lb to 50lb).
Me working out while wearing my youngest child.
Jump Start Your Fitness in Four Weeks
Here is a four-week program I designed with parents in mind. It has five components:
- 1-mile run/walk: Five days a week. If running is too challenging, you can walk, jog, or use run/walk intervals.
- Grease the Groove (GTG): Five days a week. GTG is one of the first things I recommend to busy parents. It’s a simple method that is very effective, and if you stick with it you will see results. If you’re unsure what Grease the Groove means, read this in-depth article detailing how to do it.
- Strength Workouts: Three days a week (See Sample Workouts below)
- Flexibility/Yoga: Two days a week (See Sample Workouts below)
- High Intensity Workouts: Two days a week (See Sample Workouts below)
You can distribute the workout components however you want over a week-long period. You can do the components at the same time to create one long workout (for example, a one-mile run followed by a strength workout), or you can do them at different times during the day. The individual components each take about twenty minutes.
Use these basic guidelines to create your own weekly schedule, based on your daily commitments. Here’s an example of what one weekly schedule might look like:
Sample Flexibility/Yoga Sequences:
Sample Strength Workouts:
Find a kettlebell that is challenging to press for five reps. For ten minutes, press the kettlebell 5 times on each side, with one minute rest between sets. So it looks like this:
- Press (Right) x 5
- Press (Left) x 5
- Rest 1 minute, then repeat as many times as you can in ten minutes.
Follow the presses with 10 minutes of push ups:
- On minute one, do one push up
- On minute two, do two push ups
- …and so on until you reach ten minutes of total work.
You can also do this sequence with lower body exercises. For example, replace the presses with goblet squats and the push ups with weighted lunges.
Sample High Intensity Workouts:
Perform the exercises without resting. Rest 1-2 minutes after you complete all the exercises. Repeat as many times as you can in 20 minutes.
- Goblet Squat x 10
- Chin Up x 5
- 30-second Plank
- Lunges x 10 per side
- Dips x 5
- Jump Rope x 30 seconds
- Warm up for 5 minutes with light jogging.
- Sprint 30 seconds. Rest 90 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.
Create a Habit
If you haven’t worked out in a while, the plan above might be challenging. Creating a habit requires focus and dedication, but I guarantee if you stick out the four weeks, you’ll see fitness in a new light. After week four, take a week of active recovery – you deserve it. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!
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