Exercising with a Toddler

I started exercising after my first month at university. All that additional walking couldn’t make up for a month of stress-eating non-home cooked food, and I gained five kilos. On my rather petite bone structure, the five kilos looked like 50, so I joined the gym. I wasn’t an athletic child, and I’m not a very athletic adult either, so I need to push myself to exercise, and that’s only become harder since I became a mother.

It’s challenging to find the time to exercise when you have a (or more) little human(s) to look after all the time. If you’re working full-time, then you’re often even more stretched for time. That said, exercise is beneficial for your body and your mind. Regular exercise decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, depression and a host of other ailments. Exercise also improves strength and flexibility, elevates self-confidence and boosts memory. Exercising releases endorphins, which increase happiness and reduce stress, and regular exercise can even improve sleep. For mothers, exercise has the added benefit of weight loss. If you’re like me – a strong believer in the benefits of exercise, but struggle to find the time to make it happen, keep reading!

Over the last two years, I have tried and tested (and failed at) a whole range of tactics to fit in about 30-50 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week. Here are some of the strategies that have worked for me, and I hope they can help you too!

  1. Mom and Baby Exercise Classes

These are fantastic for when you’re on maternity leave, or if you’re a stay-at-home mother with a mellow toddler. I used to attend classes by Urban Energy Fitness in Dubai when I was on maternity leave, and while I’d exercise, Baby A would be in an adjoined room playing with toys and other children her age. They held the classes at one of the big play areas in the city, so the children had stimuli and supervision, and they remained in the line of sight of the mothers at all times. Baby A and I started going to these classes as soon as I got the green light to exercise from my gynaecologist, 6 weeks post-partum and we went regularly till I went back to work when Baby A was 9 months old. I tried going back once I quit my job, but by then Baby A had blossomed into the energetic, curious toddler she is now, and she spent the class trying to climb on top of me, push me off my exercise mat so that she could take my position, or pull out the contents of the bags of the other women at the class. Needless to say, I didn’t take her to the class again.

Urban Energy Fitness are fantastic and I’d strongly recommend them. I exercised with them throughout my pregnancy as well and for a few months prior to getting pregnant. Pure Fitness also runs a host of baby friendly exercise classes in Dubai, including buggy run. Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi runs Ballet Bump classes for pregnant moms and those that are a few weeks postpartum, as well as mother-baby yoga classes. I couldn’t find any such classes in Pakistan, so if you know of any, please let me know!

  1. Naptimes

I know that moms have a million things to do when the baby naps, and often you just want to sit down quietly and gaze into space, but nap times are one of the best times to get in a work-out. If you have someone at home that you can leave your sleeping child with, head out for a run, or to the gym. If like me, you’re home alone, you can still get a lot done with a home work-out. I follow exercise videos off YouTube and do most of my work-outs at home. Fitness Blender do very good exercise videos, and most of them are available free on their YouTube channel. You can also purchase longer exercise routines from their website, but I only use the free ones. I would recommend you exercise caution when following exercise videos off the internet, especially if you’re new to exercising, because there’s also the potential to get hurt if you don’t do an exercise properly.

Nap-time work outs were much easier when Baby A was taking 2-3 naps a day, but now that she naps right after lunch, I can’t work-out on a full-stomach. I’ve therefore recently discovered the miraculous, 10-minute work-outs.

  1. 10-Minute Workouts

10-minute workouts are exactly that, and if you can find time for 3-4 in a day, that’s your complete workout. Fitness Blender has quite a few of them on their YouTube channel and they’re lifesavers for those days when you really can’t squeeze in a half an hour, because it’s much easier to keep your child entertained elsewhere for 10 minutes rather than 30.

Baby A usually joins in for these, either by imitating me or following the workout routine off the iPad like I do. If you’re imagining that these workout sessions look anything like those adorable mother-daughter workout videos you’ve seen on the internet (where they wear matching clothes and the mother kisses her daughter while doing push-ups), then let me clarify that they are far from it. Baby A is often trying to push me off the exercise mat so that she can do her workout in peace, and on more than one occasion, she has jumped on my stomach while I was mid-crunch.

  1. Wake Up Earlier

This was the only way I could work-out on weekdays when I was working. I’d get up before Baby A and my husband, and drag my sleepy self to the gym. First thing in the morning has always been my favourite time to work-out, because once you’ve gotten it out of the way at the start of the day, you don’t have to spend any time thinking of excuses to skip your work-out. Even before I became pregnant, and for the first few months of my pregnancy when I had the energy to get up at 6am, I would go to the gym before going to work.

  1. School/Nursery/Day-care/Spouse

This might seem obvious, but I always have so much to get done when Baby A goes to nursery, so I’m assuming you do too. That said, if your child goes to school, nursery or day-care, then that is a great time to work-out without interruption! On the weekend, I get my workout done while Baby A hangs out with her father, even if it’s just in the other room. I’ve started swimming lessons recently (yes, I don’t know how to swim), so I’ve planned them for Saturday afternoons so that Baby A and Daddy A can spend some quality time together (trust me, you’re doing them a favour).

  1. Jogging/walking with a Stroller

There are plenty of jogging strollers available in the market, but if your current stroller has big sturdy wheels, you can use that too. Baby A isn’t too fond of sitting in a stroller since she discovered that she can walk, but I’ve done my fair share of brisk walking with a stroller in the early months of Baby A’s life. If your baby usually falls asleep in the stroller, you can use the nap time to add on some strength training as well!

  1. Get Active with the Little One

If all else fails, do what your toddler does and if they’re anything like Baby A, I’m sure you’ll burn as many calories as you would’ve with a work out. Today Baby A and I raced with a toy stroller and a toy trolley around the house for about 15 mins and my quads were burning after all the running and squatting! On slow days, you can put on some dance music for your little ones and dance along with them – I even manage to throw in some squats and lunges and Baby A thinks I’m just doing some crazy dance moves!

  1. Consistency

The reason I mention consistency here, is because consistency builds acceptance, and makes exercise normal for your children. My husband is very regular with his exercise – he doesn’t leave the house without his daily workout. In the five years that we’ve been married, I can count on one hand the number of times he has stepped out without exercising. For Baby A, daddy’s morning exercise is part of her routine, just like eating and bathing are. Every morning, she tries to join in, and while he does his push-ups, she strikes a rather hilarious mermaid pose and vigorously shakes her neck up and down. She does it nearly every day, but I still burst out laughing at the sight of it!

Now you don’t need to be as consistent as my husband, but if you exercise regularly enough, your child will accept it as part of your and their daily routine, just like they might have accepted you stepping into the kitchen to cook. That acceptance will not only make it much easier for you to work-out, but will set the stage for healthy habits for your child as well.

That rounds up all the strategies that I have for now. If you have something that works for you, that I haven’t mentioned above, please let me know, as I would love to add it to the list above and to try it out for myself.

Remember, if you’ve just had a baby, you need the green light from your gynaecologist before you can start exercising again (usually 6 weeks post-partum for normal delivery and 8 weeks for C-section). Exercises in the first few months after delivery are slightly different because your pelvic floor needs some time to recover (so it’s best not to do sit-ups or aerobic exercises) and you may also suffer from diastasis recti, which is the separation of ab muscles due to pregnancy. Diastasis recti is quite common and can be fixed with special exercises that your doctor or professional trainer can teach you. I had mild diastasis recti, and my instructor at the mother and baby classes gave me ab exercises accordingly. Pregnancy hormones can also affect joints until up to 6 months post-partum, so it is best not to engage in high-impact exercises. For all these reasons, I chose to join mother-baby exercise classes so that I’d have the peace of mind that I was training with somebody who was qualified in post-partum exercises, but you can choose whatever suits you best.

It’s much easier to get back into exercising after having a baby if you were exercising before and during your pregnancy. If you weren’t though, and you child is now five, it doesn’t matter. It’s never too late to start! Best of luck!


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