A Busy Parent’s Guide to Squeezing in Exercise
Being a parent both the most rewarding and exhausting role ever. If you’ve found yourself sliding off your old workout routines since having a baby (or a few), you’re not alone.
While chasing after a toddler or caring for a baby around-the-clock can feel like a workout in itself, parenthood comes with a lot of sedentary time too (storytime and floor play aren’t exactly aerobic events for us grownups). And let’s be honest, scrambling after kiddos at the playground hits differently than a solo jog through the neighborhood. So, even those who never had a strict workout schedule pre-kids might feel the itch to start moving more now.
Of course, making any kind of plan can be hard as a busy parent…let alone a plan that is focused on yourself. Sneaking in workouts is tough, and no matter how many apps and classes, in-home gym equipment, and motivating workout wear options are out there, the challenge remains.
That’s why we’ve put together a hack-your-way-through-it list of the easiest and most efficient ways to sneak in a workout as a busy mom or dad. Try what works for you and leave the rest in the dust.
Sweat While They Snooze
If your kiddos are on a steady schedule and you can count on them to sleep until 7 or 8am, first of all, congrats! Second, you might consider rising an hour before they do to bang out your workout early. While you might feel sluggish the first time or two, soon your body will crave the new routine and you’ll find yourself buzzing through the rest of your morning to-do list thanks to a very well-timed serotonin boost of that early morning workout.
One time of day most experts do not recommend that overwhelmed parents sneak in a workout is at night. While lots of people exercise as part of their end-of-day routine, getting your heart rate up at this hour can cause you to stay up later than you’d like and drastically cut into your sleep (not a great option for those of us with little ones who still sometimes wake at night). So, skip the whole working-out-while-they-sleep idea if nighttime is the only time you can work that in!
5-Minute Power Plays
Common advice is to aim for at least a 30-minute workout most days, and wouldn’t that be a dream? But experts agree that even short workouts boast health benefits, so get moving when you can and don’t feel guilty about taking a shortcut.
These juicy exercises will tone your core, strengthen your leg muscles, or get your heart rate up on a five-minute “budget” that you can sneak in while your toddler is in a highchair with a yogurt pouch and a TV show on; or during the 10 minutes you’re home between carting your school-aged-kids to their various activities. Ready, set, sweat!
- Plank: With arms extended or on your forearms, a traditional plank pose is a fantastic full-body workout that requires no equipment, no special clothing, and practically no time. Even one 30-second plank puts those abs and glutes to work, while lengthening and strengthening your hamstrings and supporting your lower back. Side plank is a goal to add onto this, making your own little series that lasts mere minutes and will leave you feeling refreshed with reawakened muscles from top to toes.
- Standing obliques: Search YouTube for standing five-minute ab series and start sneaking these in daily. In a pinch, you can even do many of these while holding a cranky babe!
- Pilates leg series: They work your abs as well as your inner and outer thighs; even a five-minute version of a traditional Pilates leg workout is something you can do on the floor with your kids while playing or doing a puzzle together, and you will feel the burn.
- Couch push-ups: Be forewarned that your army of tiny humans is definitely going to love these and want to do them with you! But that will motivate you to do even more. Win-win.
Make (Little) Moves
Even tiny tweaks to our daily routine can welcome more active time, less sedentary positioning, and make us feel motivated to exercise. Whether your workouts are taking place in a gym, at a studio, on a bike, or just with your kids living your daily life, your body cannot tell the difference.
Here are some fun and super-simple ways to make moves without drastically overhauling your routine with little kids:
- Take the stroller: Think about which errands you have to do in a given day or week and how tolerable your weather is, and decide actively to go by foot with your stroller rather than drive for at least one of those excursions. In time, this will become a habit.
Park far away: Basic logic and hustle culture tell us to park our cars as close to the entrance of the building we are about to enter as possible for the quickest trip, but parents trying to sneak in exercise with little time to spare know that parking on the far end of the lot and pushing a cart or stroller packed with kiddos all the way to the door gives their bodies a boost.
- Stand up: Yup, you read that right. One of the largest problems our society faces today as it pertains to health and fitness is that we simply sit down too much. Floor time with the kids, sitting down to eat, and so on are still important. But try to do as many of your seated chores standing as possible for a couple weeks, and see how you feel. Some examples: Folding laundry, sorting and organizing items to go into drawers, paying bills standing at the kitchen island rather than sitting at a table, etc.
Get the Kids Involved
The best way to hack your way through any challenge of the parenting arena is to make it fun for the kids. This applies to whizzing through your chores list and grocery shopping, helping with homework, and of course, making time for exercise! There are so many fun ways to get up and moving as a family, but if you’re looking for inspiration as someone who is not “sporty” and currently feeling unmotivated, give one of these kick-starters a try:
Throw a dance party: Whether in the kitchen or the backyard, throwing on some good tunes and busting a move with the kiddos is a great way to get your heart rate up and bring on a surge of feel-good endorphins. As a bonus, you’re making amazing memories they will hold onto for years to come, with very little effort and at no cost.
- Practice yoga together: Parent-and-me yoga has many benefits, from the actual workout to modeling self-care and mindfulness for your little ones. Even with an infant, you can enjoy yoga as a family. With toddlers and up, check out the book Yoga Bunny and some children’s yoga flows on YouTube to get inspired and start moving together.
- Kick a ball: The athletic level required for this activity is zero. No rules, no outs, no flashbacks to 6th grade gym class when you got picked last for a team. Literally all you need is a large rubber ball, a child, and a hallway, small yard, or local park to kick it around. Chase your child. Giggle. Look at you–you’re exercising!
Sneaky exercise hacks and involving the kids are creative ways to make workouts happen when you are a busy parent with little time to yourself. But it is okay if none of these ideas are the right fit for you or your family. Some people just need to be alone, or take an actual class, or ride on a Peloton, to reap the benefits of exercise that make them feel good.
This is where you need to change your thinking from, “I can’t do this perfectly, so I won’t do it at all,” to “I will find a way to make this happen, even if it doesn’t happen all the time.” Here are some ways to create kid-free exercise time without going into debt on babysitters:
Kid swap: Pick a friend you trust, who has kids that play well with yours, and set up a childcare rotation so that once or twice a week you watch their little ones while they get things done and, in return, they take yours another day so you can work out. It is really important not to pressure this person to also use their time for exercise. Just say you need a break and you bet they do, too, and let them spend their child-free hours on the couch with Real Housewives if that is what they need right now.
- Find a gym with daycare: Always read public reviews and insist on a trial class to make sure you are comfortable, but many gyms, yoga studios, and other workout spots are keying into the fact that adults with young children need a place to break a sweat while their babies play safely. Your local YMCA and JCC are great places to check.
- Hire a “mother’s helper”: If you have in-home gym equipment and just need eyes on your child while you go downstairs for an hour and work out alone, consider paying a neighborhood teen to play with or read to them while you work out. These babysitters-in-training charge significantly less by the hour than a traditional nanny because you are still the responsible adult on the premises. And as long as you don’t require meal prep or clean-up, it’s a sweet deal for them to earn some pocket money.
- Parent rotation: If you’re in a two-parent home, another option is to split the week and cover the kids so each of you can work out a few days. Remember that this will not happen every day and that scheduling conflicts will cloud it sometimes. Set up a realistic rotation with one or two workout days each to start, and see how it goes. Remember, even a 20-minute walk is a great way to start the day.
Give It Time
When you’re in the thick of it with young children, sometimes it can feel like you will never be you again. But every age and milestone whips past in a blink, and soon you’ll be back at the gym carving out a new routine for yourself when everyone is off to school and activities.
This is only a season after all, and when you look back on it, you’ll care a lot more about all the storybooks read and cuddles enjoyed, than how many times you made it to the gym in a given year.
Be kind to yourself, take your reemergence into the wonderful world of exercise slowly, and trust your own process. Chances are, you will find the more you just get up and start moving, the more often you actually start to want to. You got this!
Get more parenting advice:
- How Busy Parents Can Fit in Self Care
- Mental Health Resources for New Parents
- Unofficial Milestones for New Parents
- Parenting Affirmations for Tough Days
- Creative Ways to Connect With Your Partner After Bedtime
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.