Finding Time to Exercise When You Have Kids

Being married to a former professional athlete and being a former personal trainer, swim instructor, and dancer myself, I used to workout.  A lot.  After college, my weekdays consisted of 4 to 5 days of a solid running program, while my Saturdays were filled with at least 4-5 hours consisting of trail running, a spinning class, an aerobics class and lifting weights.  A little bit excessive, but it brought me joy.  Oh, the bliss of running with only the sound my footsteps against the dirt trail, my breath, my thoughts, and the panting of my running partner (my dog).

When I had my first child, those days came to a screeching halt.  Exercising had to be taken down to an hour at the most and about 3-4 times per week.  At the time, my husband was still an athlete, so we had plenty of opportunities to alternate workout routines.  He would swim and lift weights while I watched the baby or went for a walk with him, and then he would babysit while I took a spinning class and lifted weights.  I would even incorporate exercise as I put him to sleep.  Instead of rocking him to sleep, I would do deep knee bends to calm my fussy boy.  Usually, I got to 350 before he fell asleep.

Once my son was a bit older, I maximized my workout time by running on our treadmill at home and doing circuit training with a friend as my son napped.  While pregnant with #2, my son started liking the baby jogger.  But when the weather got colder, I resorted to workout videos.  Though I highly enjoyed it, it inevitably took me 15 minutes longer to complete any workout because he always wanted to join in.  I even got him his own set of 1 and 2 pound dumbbells.

Finding Time to Exercise When You Have Kids

The entire “running” crew before baby #2 came into the picture. Notice the lazy puppy under the stroller!

With kid #2 in tow, it made things rather challenging.  Okay, really difficult.  I had to come up with more creative ways to be even remotely active, since it was super cold for months after her birth.  And once the weather did finally warm up, she despised being in her stroller.  She’s 15 months now and I can run for precisely 15 minutes before her patience runs out and an all-out screamfest ensues.  Sigh.

Exercise is usually the last thing you want to do or have time for when you have children, but it should be an integral part of your life.  And not only for health reasons.  I especially think it’s important to be a good role model for your children.  If you build those foundations early, there is a better chance that your kids will continue those lifelong fitness habits without giving it much thought or effort.  If nothing else, exercising helps you keep up with your kids by building stamina.  I know it sounds counterproductive, but exercise seriously makes you feel energized even when you’re feeling fatigued.  So how can you exercise when you become a parent?  I’ll be the first to admit that I have dropped the ball on several occasions, but here are a few tips that have helped me along the way:

  • The first thing you must do is to make fitness a part of your life.  Schedule it, commit to it and don’t complain about it. By making it a part of your daily life, you are teaching your children how imperative and natural exercise should be.  If you have to, enlist a friend to do it with you so that you hold each other accountable.
  • Then include your kids.
  • Make it fun for them and seem effortless to include exercise as part of your daily routine.  It’s much easier if you establish and keep a set time (for instance, every morning after breakfast).
  • Remember that kids tire and get bored easily.  And they get hungry as soon as you step out the door.  Plan ahead – bring toys, blankets, diapers, wipes, snacks, and water (they dehydrate faster than adults). I usually can buy myself more time if I pull out a new toy or snack every few minutes when my child is in the stroller.
  • Try not to push the kids’ limits or that will defeat the purpose of having them view this time as a fun time.
  • If  you prefer not to include the kids and enjoy working out alone, that’s certainly okay.  Do an exercise video or use an at-home treadmill during nap time, before they arise in the morning, or after they drift off to sleep at night.  But I am still a big believer in making sure your kids see you workout at least a couple of times per week.

Now that we have that down, you must throw out all preconceived notions of what exercise should look like. Exercise can come in various forms.  Whatever your neighbor is doing or what you used to do may not be what you will be able to do now (for most of us anyway).  Be okay with that.  It’s a different season in your life.

You’ll probably need to adjust your plans daily and even be spontaneous at times.  Some days you may be able to run 30 minutes without stopping, other days you may squeeze in 10 minutes total or have to stop every 2 minutes to pick up a toy or calm a fussy toddler.  Go with it and try not to get frustrated.  At least you got something in.

You’ll need to get in touch with your creative side – the possibilities are really endless when you start to brainstorm a bit.  Here are just a few things you can do with (or without) the kids in tow:

  • Exercise DVDs with the kids.  There are several I have seen online or even at the library that include  children, but I find that my son likes the adults ones just as much.  He’s super cute and uncoordinated while trying the exercises, but gets such a sense of accomplishment when he does.
  • Put on some music and dance, jump rope (even if you have no rope), do jumping jacks, jump on a trampoline or a combination of all four.
  • Use your tiniest tots as weights for exercises like squats and lunges.  Strap one in a carrier or just hold a (wiggly) baby.  I even use my 24-pound daughter as a weighted med ball for crunches.  Boy, does it tire me out faster!
  • Perhaps the most traditional way of working out with kids… get out the jogging stroller collecting dust in the garage.  You know, the one that you vowed to use after the baby was born.  Use it for its intended use – to walk or jog!  (I find that my kids like it better when I go faster.) Make it a better time for the kids by strategically stopping at a playground halfway.  Let them play and stretch out their legs for a while, then walk or jog back home.  When I ran with my son, we would stop at the train tracks (his favorite place).  While waiting for a train, he would get out of his stroller and we would do lunges together until a train passed by.  On days he didn’t feel like joining in, he would “help” me count my lunges.
  • While you are at the playground, run the perimeter as you watch your kids.  If they are on the younger side, make sure you check-in often, as little ones need that face-to-face reassurance.  Many parks have pull-up bars you can use, but if not, use a makeshift one (monkey bars).  While you play with them, incorporate dips, push-ups, lunges, squats, step-ups, intervals – you name it.  You might get a few stares from other moms, but who cares?
  • Go for a walk or hike with a tot strapped to your back for extra added weight (and extra calories burned).  Older children can hike or ride a bike beside you.
  • Like to cycle?  Buy a bike trailer and let the kids enjoy the ride as you pedal through the streets or trails.
  • If your kids like to go to the pool, run or walk in the shallow end while they play.  If your child is not old enough to play alone, carry your child playfully as you walk briskly in the water.
  • Do yard work together – mowing, raking, digging, planting, etc.
  • Make household chores fun by turning on the music and dancing while cleaning. Or make it a race.
  • If you have stairs in your home, put them to use.  Run up and down them several times or jump.  I have even been known to do a modified step aerobics session using my stairs on a few occasions.
  • Make it a goal to “train” for a specific race.  If your child is still on the young side, have them in a stroller as you walk or run the race.  With older kids, have them run with you or sign-up for the kids race.
  • Not motivated enough to workout alone?  Join a class.  Check the web or call local gyms to see what is available in your area, but usually there are a few “Mommy and Me” options and groups – baby boot camp, dance classes and so forth.
  • Make it a family affair.  Walk, bike, go on a nature hike, play basketball, play soccer, play tag, play catch, race each other, go bowling, go roller skating or ice skating.

If you still find it hard to fit in a block of exercise, exercise in parts throughout the day. Do 1 minute of lunges while brushing your teeth or showering.  Do a minute of push-ups (dips, squats, crunches, fill-in-the-blank) after accomplishing a task like picking up the toys, washing dishes, writing an email and so forth.

Just keep it light and fun for everyone’s sake, and soon it will be easy to establish it as a habit.

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to get in a workout after having kids…



Valerie, a God-fearing coach’s wife and stay at home mom of five bright-eyed little ones.   She is the original founder of A Nation of Moms, a “one-stop shop” blog-azine of resources and advice for all moms who, like Valerie, just needed a little help.