Your little one doesn't have to prevent you from getting more fit!
With all of my babies, there inevitably came a time when I found myself itching to put more activity into my daily routine — usually right about the 4- or 5-month mark. It wasn’t until our fourth was born that we were gifted with an amazing double jogging stroller from my parents, so until then, I had to get a little creative.
In the process, I found several ways to work up a little sweat and start gently building some strength back up — all while enjoying one-on-one bonding time with my baby. If you’ve got a baby at home, you know how stressful it is to try and exercise while your baby is fussing in protest from the confines of the nearest bouncer or trying to get 15 minutes into a 30 minute workout only to have your baby wake up howling from an abbreviated nap. So in order to spare you from that, here are my top 4 favorite strength-building exercises to do with your baby.
#1 Squat Hold
Squatting is really one of the best ways to build leg and core strength, and it can be done by mamas of any fitness level. If you’re new to exercise (or new to squats), put your baby in a bouncer to elevate him or her and start with a half-squat. Pull your belly button back to your spine, then shoot your hips backwards (like you’re trying to avoid the seat of a porta-potty!) while keeping your chest up. Sink into the squats until you can touch your baby’s hands, then play a quick (10 second) game of patty cake before squeezing your glutes to bring you back to a standing position. Repeat for 10 sets, making sure that your knees stay in line with your ankles and never inch forward in front of your toes. As you get stronger and more flexible, put your baby on the floor and increase your squat depth until you can gently and comfortably rest both palms on your baby’s belly.
#2 Hip Bridge
Deep squats are excellent for strengthening the glutes, but until you can get your booty below your knees, it’s primarily quad activation. Most of us are quad dominant because our culture spends so much time sitting in chairs, so it’s important to work the glutes as much — if not more so — than the quads. The hip bridge is a fantastic way to activate your glutes, and adding baby gives you a little extra resistance and increases the intensity. You can either lay your baby face-up on your thighs or sit him across your hips, but either way, make sure you begin this movement by pulling your belly button back to your spine and keeping that core flat and engaged the entire time. Then squeeze your glutes to slowly lift your hips up as far as they will go, and hold that squeeze for 10 seconds at the top before slowly lowering back to the ground. Start with 15 reps, then begin to increase the hold time at the top.
#3 Chest Press
If we’re going to work the legs, we have to work the arms too — and there’s no better way to do it than by playing “flying airplane” with your baby. This one works best with a baby who is old enough to maintain a straight spine, keeping baby safe and giving mama a steadier resistance. Lay your baby on your chest with your fingers wrapped around his or her ribcage, and bring your thumbs up close to your shoulders. You should be nearly face-to-face with your baby, so give her a kiss and say “time to fly!” Then lift her straight up into the air, making sure your elbows don’t flare out to your sides. Hold her up there for a few seconds before slowly bringing her back down for another kiss. Start with 10 reps and build up reps and hold time as your strength builds.
#4 Plank Hold
This one goes last on my list because while it’s an excellent way to build core strength, it’s not an appropriate exercise for moms who have diastisis recti. If you don’t know what that is or you’re not sure if you have it, you’ll find more information and resources here.
If you know that you don’t have diastasis recti, planking is a fantastic exercise to make sure you never get it. Start by laying your baby on the ground with your hands on either side of his shoulders and your knees on the ground. Bring your feet about hip-width apart, curl your toes back, and straighten your legs behind you, making sure that your face remains directly above baby’s face (this will help keep your wrists directly underneath your shoulders). Hold for 10 seconds before lowering your knees back to the ground. As you build your strength, progress to an elbows-and-toes plank. When baby is big enough, you can let him sit on your lower back as you plank, provided you’re strong enough to keep your back from sagging underneath his (adorable) baby weight.
The best thing about doing these exercises with your baby is that you can avoid putting yourself in a situation where you feel frustrated that your baby is preventing you from doing something you need to do for your own physical, mental, and spiritual health. This removes that potential friction and instead, allows you to take care of yourself while also taking care of your baby, which really is the best of both worlds. Enjoy it, mamas!