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How can you start exercising regularly, even when you have young kids? I didn’t think it was possible without sacrifices that I simply wasn’t willing to make. (I’d seen a few friends who figured out how to start exercising
I had many excuses, but my favorite was that I didn’t want to spend time away from my children. Only recently have I found what feels like a reasonable balance. It finally feels like it’s worth building into my routine because it’s manageable for the long-term. With most topics that are health-related, it’s easy to understand the tremendous importance on a logical level. However, working on healthy habits doesn’t seem urgent until it’s too late and there’s a pressing problem. Health is much better when it’s managed proactively.
During the first trimester with my son, I was too sick and tired to drag myself to the gym. After having our son, I was often just as (maybe more?) tired, and my body was even more out of shape. Additionally, I had new factors to contend with, like I didn’t want to be apart from him to exercise. I also lacked the discipline to exercise at home, which would have enabled my son to be with me. I was as active as I could manage, fitting in walks where I could. However, I kept coming up with excuses as to why I couldn’t do challenging workouts and struggled to identify solutions.
After having our daughter a couple of years later, I knew I had to figure out how to start exercising. Waiting until both kids were in kindergarten would take too long. Otherwise, my health journey was going to become more reactive than proactive. This is not to mention I wouldn’t be setting a good example for my children!
Great news, it IS possible to fit exercise into the busy mom life! Here are 11 tips for how to start exercising!
What is your WHY? It’s impossible to feel motivated long-term if you don’t understand precisely why it’s important to you. To lose 10 pounds isn’t a good enough “why” because it’s superficial. (And let’s face it, even if we achieved that weight, the mom body wouldn’t look the way we wanted it to and we’d want to lose more.) You’re not going to be motivated to figure out how to start
We have all been hearing the long list of benefits of exercise for years. And yet it’s never inspiring or motivating enough to compel consistency. That’s probably because few benefits are immediate and exercise frequently falls into the important, but not urgent category. As a brief refresher; exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones, reduces your risk of chronic disease, improves brain health and memory, improves sleep quality, reduces stress, helps you lose weight, and it can make you happier, to name a few.
Why do you want to be healthier, stronger, and/or faster? If you had greater health and endurance, what amazing things would you do? These answers could be anything! Some examples could be just getting down on the floor to play more with your littles or to play chase with them. Or maybe you find living a long healthy life important so that you have more quality time with your kids. Exercise would enable your family to become more active together, like going hiking or surfing! Whatever it is, the more you can tie into your why, the better. If you exercise with a friend, you’re also getting social time in and strengthening a relationship. Maybe the boost in mood enables you to be a more patient and compassionate mama. *HUGE WIN*
2. Mindset shift for how to start exercising
Instead of thinking of all of the reasons why exercise will NOT fit into your life or how it’s hard, force yourself to STOP thinking those thoughts. When they come to your mind, simply think, “no thank you” and direct your thoughts to the positive. Instead of letting the negative thoughts roll around in your head, use that as a trigger to start thinking about the reasons why exercise WILL work and how it CAN fit into your life.
Many of us create what are called limiting beliefs around our health. Limiting beliefs are how we define or judge ourselves that constrain us in some way. These beliefs may hold you back from taking chances, blind you to opportunities in your life, or simply keep you stuck focusing on the negative aspects of your circumstances.
Some examples of limiting beliefs that prevent us from figuring how to start exercising are:
“I don’t have time.”
“I don’t have the willpower.”
“It’s too complicated.”
“Small changes won’t make a difference.”
The list goes on and on. Another belief that some people have developed over time is that exercise is punishment for overeating or something similar. The first step in shifting your mindset is identifying what limiting beliefs you have. They difficult to find because we have believed them for so long that we see them as facts instead of thoughts. Just because you THINK something does NOT mean it’s TRUE. *mind-blown* Once you change your thoughts by replacing the negative with the positive, then you can change your beliefs, and then your reality will change.
3. Start small and commit
Starting with the most modest possible goal is essential for formulating a plan for how to start exercising. Getting started is the hardest part. Tell yourself you’ll exercise for 5 minutes, and once you’re started you may even want to keep going. Do not force yourself to start too big. It’s too easy to burn yourself out by doing too much too fast. You may even place lofty expectations on yourself, even without realizing it. Even a mama can find 5 minutes in the day.
If you want to exercise and you want to do so consistently, make sure you have a plan that is a long-term solution to what is a long-term problem. A healthy lifestyle is something that’s never “done”, it’s an ongoing practice. If your plan is focusing all of your energy on exercise to get to an endpoint, then you won’t be successful in the long-term. The secret to immediately creating a long-term solution? Set a minimum baseline of exercise that you could do every WEEK for the rest of your life. Make sure your goal is for the week to give you flexibility. It’s unlikely that you’ll never miss a day of exercise, since there is a myriad of factors that come up in life, such as sickness.
Unless you’re training for a specific event, there’s no endpoint to your training routine. Ask yourself “what could you do for the rest of your life?” NOT “what is the perfect ideal athletic training routine”. Meet yourself where you are at now; be honest with yourself.
If you set your goals too high at the onset, you set yourself up for failure. When you fail to run 5 days per week, you’re reinforcing failing and practicing failure. We’re looking at lifelong habits here. Sure, a short walk every day sounds great, but what if you have a sick baby or you’re summoned for jury duty, or your car won’t start – you know, the multitude of life things that seem to pop up? Even with the craziness of motherhood, maybe one or two walks each week is a reasonable place to start. We’re going for consistency for life, so start small, and when you achieve your small goals, you’ll bolster your confidence for the next step.
When you’re planning how to start exercising, be sure to start small and prove to yourself that you can do the little things and build from there. Starting small helps eliminate excuses because your goal is something you genuinely know you can accomplish. Even with starting small, you have to commit to yourself. The small goal has to be something you know you can, and you WILL do. Then not only are you practicing success when you accomplish little things, but you’re also building confidence. The key is starting small, and your body will begin to crave the movement, and you can build up from there. It’s the small things over time that make the most significant difference, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re “too good” to start small, as many of us do.
Some examples of starting small could be finding a way to fit walks in with your littles. This will be good for you AND them. Walks outside are the best because you’re getting fresh air and connecting with nature, even if it’s right outside your front door. Many communities have walking tracks and trails, so it’s worth researching – maybe you’ve never noticed because you’ve never looked. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
I love getting some friend time in during walks, too, so I often invite a friend to join us. It also helps me commit to a time to make the walk happen and prevents me from deciding at the last minute laundry is more important. After you have managed to fit walks in for a bit, notice what time of day works best for you. For me, the morning is always the easiest. We’re all fresh and the day hasn’t snowballed on us yet.
4. Schedule it
Scheduling a time to is essential for figuring out how to start exercising because it takes it from a nebulous “want” to a concrete plan that will fit into your life. I recommend exercising at a consistent time of day to help build a habit and make it more comfortable as time goes on.
Personally, I hate all the advice that says exercise first thing in the morning. I understand the benefit is that it’s done and you don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day, and there’s a smaller chance of derailing your plan to exercise. However, it’s tough to do and requires a ton of willpower to maintain. Even if I manage to be consistent for a while, just a little vacation can buck me off the habit, and I have to figure out how to climb back on to that bucking bull all over again.
For me to be consistent, exercise needs to happen in the morning, just not as the very first thing. I understand there are benefits to getting the oxygen flowing, but that’s why I do ten reps of something first thing in the morning, but not a whole workout. Instead, I do most of my morning ritual first and wait for the energetic boost of the bulletproof coffee to inspire movement. By that point, I genuinely want to move instead of having to force myself.
Inventory Your Energy
Take an inventory of your energy throughout the day; when do you feel the most energetic? I take the stairs on the two days that I work, and I’ve noticed it’s MUCH more difficult in the afternoon. Dragging myself to exercise in the afternoon or evening would be exponentially more difficult for me. I have a friend who regularly enjoys yoga in the evening. Do whatever works best for you!
The most significant change, even if we exercised before children, is finding safe quality childcare while we exercise. Finding a kid-friendly group and being able to bring my littles WITH me made ALL the difference for me (details below). Truly a game-changer. My most significant pain-point wasn’t necessarily finding childcare so much as I didn’t want to be away from my littles. If you prefer to have workouts be “me time” you’ll need to join a gym that provides childcare. You can find a babysitter, trade childcare with another mama, or find a willing family member. Don’t let this piece derail you in figuring out how to
6. Group Exercise
One of the greatest way to figure out how to start exercising is to start with whatever type of exercise/activity you enjoyed doing in the past. Hint: it may be as far back remembering what activities delighted you as a child. There’s a group you can join for most types of exercise. Even exercise that can be done alone, such as running, there are running clubs. A sense of community is tremendously helpful for maintaining a consistent exercise routine. Stroller Strong Moms (SSM) makes it possible to bring my littles and invites you to become part of a community of empowering badass mamas! (There are Stroller Strong Mamas across the country, find one near you! If there isn’t one near you, maybe you could start one 😉
You could even search for an online Facebook group of mamas to help you stay motivated and work through challenges. Discovering SSM was a dream come true! This is the exact type of exercise I’d fallen in love with AND another group of encouraging women who offer a supportive smile and notice when I don’t show up.
Bring your kids with you!
PLUS, the fact that we all BRING our kids eliminates the hassle/expense of finding childcare and missing out on time with our children. The babies hang out in strollers while the older children play with each other. If your baby is fussy, no worries, snatch her up and instead of holding weights in your hands during those squats, hold your baby in your arms! (A carrier can be handy for a baby to snuggle in and hang out for the duration of your exercise 😉 Maybe you can’t participate in things like jumping, but there’s always an alternative to keep moving, like squats!) Occasionally my toddler needs a little attention, too, so he’ll hold my hand while we jog a couple of laps together or sit and talk to me while I hold a plank.
I get an extra boost of endorphins when I notice that my kids are watching me, seeing an example of healthy habits in their mama. We’re all teaching our children that exercise is essential and leading by example; that’s significant motivation! (Another advantage of this specific community is that the trainers know exactly how to adjust exercises for pregnancy or post-partum, so you don’t have to worry that you may be doing a type of exercise that you shouldn’t be.)
A bonus of SSM is that these women are also ALL mamas (with kiddos at a variety of stages), and after our hour-long sweat session, you have access to a room full of fellow mamas. There are mamas all around to ask for advice, or you could end up arranging a babysitting swap for date night with the gal who was doing push-ups next to you earlier. A room full of motivated, healthy mamas who support each other is POWERFUL.
I was a little frustrated at first because I thought I should be able to attend at least two or three times each week, but often only made it once or missed a whole week. (Be okay with starting small here, too. There will be days when you found the motivation to get to class (on time even!) and your baby throws up in her car seat on the way.)
When I can attend more frequently, and I’ve found that over time I’ve forged more friendships with workout buddies. It took longer than I expected because I’m not able to make it as frequently as I’d like, but I cherish the supportive community!
A supportive community helps you to identify as an in-shape mama. Instead of thinking “I’m trying to exercise”, think “I exercise”, and when you label yourself as something, your mind will unconsciously work to be congruent with that belief. It doesn’t hurt to have all the help we can get!
Any sort of group exercise is fantastic for staying inspired and motivated. I’ve attended some family or mommy and me yoga classes and those were a lot of fun, too. In almost any exercise class though, if there are some other moms or even just one other mom in the class, you can cultivate new friendships. I’ve found mom friends are the BEST resources for ALL of my troubles 😛 (Honestly, that was the inspiration for this whole blog, a place to share our best tips and tricks with each other!)
I find it’s much easier to do something when I see that someone else is doing it. How can I make excuses saying it’s not possible when I see someone in front of me has figured out how to make it possible?! (I’m lookin’ at you mama of 3 boys under 5 years old who manages to show up every day and even TEACH some classes?!) At times it’s more difficult than others to make it to class, but if you can make it even one time each week, you’ll feel good about getting at least that one awesome workout.
I’ve found that what has been coined “micro-workouts” are brilliant. These are super short workouts, just 5-7 minutes. It’s always possible to make excuses, but truly, you can ALWAYS find time for a 5-minute workout. I love the Seven – 7 Minute Workouts app on my phone. (I use Mel Robbins’s 5 Second Rule and count back from 5- 5,4,3,2,1. It’s that simple- you start moving before your brain starts thinking up excuses to talk you out of it. Mel wrote a whole book about why this works, but just take my word for it ;-)) I put on exercise clothes (or not!), start the app and GO! Yes, sometimes I’m interrupted by a baby who dives for the cat food dish, but just about anything else can be put off for 5-7 minutes. Discovering how to start exercising doesn’t have to be as complex as we tend to make it!
Home workout videos are convenient on the rare occasion that I’ll do them, but I find I’m much more consistent with the shorter workouts. If they’re a good fit for you, you could work up to more extended programs like T25 or PiYo, or the plethora of free workouts on Amazon Prime or YouTube. The Couch to 5k app is also a great coach if you’re interested in running.
8. Accountability partner
If you’re not able to participate in a group exercise (or even if you are), an accountability partner who is at approximately the same place in her fitness journey is a tremendous advantage. (Some people were blessed with the ability to hold themselves accountable to their goals, but I’m DEFINITELY NOT one of those people.)
After you have set a goal, find a friend who has a similar goal and
I have a girlfriend who is in much better shape than I am (she’s pregnant now so I can almost keep up with her
9. Nesting habits
A great way to start a new habit is to link it to a current habit that is already remarkably consistent. Before I brush my teeth at night, I select my workout clothes and set them on the top of my dresser. This eliminates delaying my workout as I find something to wear and reduces the possibility of getting sidetracked. Linking this with brushing my teeth ensures I never forget! Create the path of least resistance and build an environment that’s conducive to human nature.
The biggest KEY for me is forcing myself to EARN my breakfast. I will be hungry for breakfast at some point, so I make sure I’ve at least done a micro-workout before eating. In the past, I found that one of my excuses for not working out was that it would be uncomfortable because I just ate, so this eliminates that excuse. (I’ve heard some people “earn their shower”… that would never work for me because I’d definitely skip the shower and go for the dry shampoo thank-you-very-much LOL)
Plus I HATED the days when I’d let planning to workout
10. Uppers over downers
Don’t kill the messenger, but giving up alcohol in the evenings makes me feel much more energized in the mornings. I know some days are LONG and fantasizing about that glass of wine at the end of the day might be the only thing getting you through it. BUT, if you can make that sacrifice and start exercising instead, maybe you won’t crave that glass of wine like you once did. You can replace that bad habit with a positive one. Sacrifice temporary benefits for true, long-lasting ones! Hint: a couple of cups of delicious coffee may be just the boost you need and can be the new thing that you look forward to instead 😉
I still don’t understand all of the factors that contribute to why, but some days are much harder than others. A great trick I’ve found to boost my energy is to pump the tunes. Music has an impressive way of changing our moods for the better and pumping up our energy! I use this trick to increase my energy while we’re driving to group exercise or during a micro-workout at home. Yes, if I want to encourage my littles to participate, I play “Baby Shark,” and we all get excited and feed off each other’s energy. Embarrassing as it is, this often provides the vigor to clean my house after a micro-workout; the music keeps me going 🙂 This was a brilliant stroke of insight when I was figuring out how to start exercising!
Start small and commit to that one small change. These small changes will build over time and make a BIG difference. Schedule your small steps so that you create space for them to happen. Find childcare or find a way to include your kiddos. Group exercise is a fantastic way to find an encouraging and supportive community to help you along your fitness journey. The mom life is a busy one, so even a 5-minute micro-workout is fantastic. Find an accountability partner for an extra boost of commitment. Nest new small steps to existing strong habits, like brushing your teeth (hopefully ;-)).
With littles not only do you have to fight your excuses, but some days they’re sick or extra needy, and that adds a layer of difficulty, but you CAN do it. Do not let yourself forget about the importance of exercising even though it never seems urgent. Make exercise, no matter how small, part of the daily routine that you strive for!
What are your best tricks for figuring out how to start exercising when you have young kids?