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How to fit in exercise with a baby or toddler

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Mother and father doing a workout at home with a toddler

Its not always easy to find the time to exercise before having a baby, and now that you've got a baby or toddler it can feel even harder! Don't worry, it is in fact possible to fit in a workout when you have a very young child. Not only will you reap the rewards of the health benefits of working out, but you'll also feel better having been able to do something for yourself. Here are some great ways to fit in exercise with a baby or toddler.

With any form of exercise, if you've recently given birth you'll need to check in with your OB-GYN or physician if it's OK for you to embark on a new exercise routine yet. If you're the parent of a very young baby, particularly one that's not yet sleeping through the night, it's best to keep your exercise brief and gentle at first so that you don't get too exhausted.

Here are some great options for how to work out with young kids around:

Tabata at home

Tabata is a brief, high intensity set of exercises designed to be accomplished with equipment you already have in a limited space. The best news of all for parents of young children is that tabata focuses on doing the maximum amount of effort in the minimum amount of time. Workouts are really short - typically just a few minutes (yay!) but they're really exhausting. You alternate working out at 100% intensity with brief periods of rest. You can tailor your workout for yourself and your fitness goals. Because of the high intensity, you definitely get a strong workout. Typical tabata exercises include burpees, squat jumps, chair step-ups, push-ups, and much more.

If you have a toddler who is independently mobile, tabata might not be for you unless you can put him or her in a safe space nearby (e.g. their crib) where they can see you exercise. This is because it's going to pose a risk to your mobile toddler to be running around your legs while you're doing jumps or burpees.

If you think tabata is for you, I recommend using a phone app for suggested exercises for your tabata workouts - there are many free apps to choose from. Most of the tabata apps have a built-in timer that alerts you when it's time to go to the next phase. The apps also tend to rotate the exercises from day to day so you get a good workout on all parts of the body and you don't get bored.

Dance party with your kids!

This next option is ideal if your kids are already crawling or walking: a dance party is perfect for the whole crew. Turn on some music and shake your booty! The movement and music will lift everyone's spirits. Best of all, your toddler won't judge your dancing. If everyone is up for a few songs worth of dance party, that's a pretty good workout for a decent length of time.

As an added bonus, try doing this at a time of day when everyone is grumpy or miserable. It's an instant success and a great way of switching things up, boosting everyone's mood.

If your child isn't independently mobile yet, don't worry - you can still enjoy your dance workout by yourself with baby watching you from his or her crib or baby swing.

This exercise option slots perfectly into the everyday life of parenting - give it a go!

Join forces with another mom or dad and go running at the park

If you crave outdoor exercise, this is the perfect solution. You and a friend will each fit in exercise at the same session. Set up a playdate at a local park, then in that playdate session you take a turn looking after both sets of kids for 15-20 minutes while the friend runs in the neighborhood near the park (or on park trails), and then switch places. So each adult is getting a run every time you set up one of these playdates.

This is not the place to set a personal distance record! Even if you'd both prefer to run longer than 15 or 20 minutes, I don't recommend it. Keep your runs to 20 minutes or less each to begin with. That way neither adult feels overwhelmed when looking after multiple kids. More than 20 minutes can seem like a long time for the person whose turn it is to look after a crew of babies or toddlers! Keep it short, sweet, and fun - it will leave the adults and kids looking forward to next time.

Also, remember that if you're each running 20 minutes, you'll therefore need to all be at the park for 40 minutes total so you each get your turn at running. More than 40 minutes total in the park will likely prove to be too much for the kids - eventually a toddler will have a meltdown or want to go home or be done playing.

There is nothing wrong with starting at only 10 minutes of run time each, especially the first few times you try this. You can get in a very good cardio workout by running for 10 minutes. Even if you're a mom or dad who is accustomed to running for much longer pre-baby, remember that 10 minutes of running is still an improvement on not being able to run at all.

Sit-ups and planks

If all else fails, you can do sit-ups and planks at your home anytime - even while you're laying on the floor surrounded by MegaBloks. Also, I personally found I enjoyed the idea that I was getting my core strength back again, it felt more like I was doing something for myself. I bet it will feel good to you too.

Do as little as you want - every bit is better than not doing it at all. If baby won't let you go 2 minutes without needing you, this is the perfect exercise - you probably won't want to hold a plank for more than 2 minutes anyway! (or maybe you do but I don't!)

You might not need a jogging stroller

Many new parents immediately think of a jogging stroller such as these ones at when they think of exercising with a baby or toddler. But on the flip side of that, be aware it's a significant cost outlay, takes up space in your home, and can only be used when the weather is OK. Also, it doesn't account for more than one child if you later have a second child. So a jogging stroller has significant disadvantages, and this is why I feel the other exercise options listed above might be better, at least to start with.

The jogging stroller would be best suited if you're literally trying to fit in as much exercise as possible into the course of your day and if jogging is really important to you. For example, if you want to turn the daily stroller ride into a time of exercise, then a jogging stroller could be a great option for you.

Otherwise, think carefully if the cost will be worth it for how often you use it and how much space it takes up.

What to wear

Whatever exercise you choose, don't get hung up on what to wear, otherwise it'll seem like a big barrier to get started if you have to change clothes before exercising. If you're doing the dance party or sit-ups and planks, you can do this in whatever clothing you already happen to be wearing. Of course, for tabata or jogging in the park, you'll need to wear something athletic for freedom of movement, but it needn't be fancy - shorts or yoga pants and a tee are fine.

On the other hand if you're looking to buy some cute exercise clothes to make exercising more fun, by all means do so! Do you love the look of Lululemon but not the price tag? Go for Athleta instead - it's more affordable yet still looks great! Their leggings come in a choice of different materials and different compression levels depending on the type of exercise you're doing. You get tons of different colors to pick from. Athleta is part of the group of brands from Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, so you know you're getting great quality from a reputable US brand.


Even though it seems challenging at first, you do have options for working out when you are parenting a baby or toddler. You have several different types of exercise described above, depending on what type of fitness goals you have. None of these require a babysitter or daycare. You can do this!

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