I’ve been working out for four weeks now, after having to recover from my emergency C-Section 12 weeks ago. Sitting the bench (er, couch) for two straight months took its toll on my fitness level, but ironically I’m feeling more alive and healthier than I’ve ever felt before as I exercise these days.
Last week I did my first real run — five miles looping through my neighborhood, averaging just over nine minutes per mile. Honestly, I was shocked to be running anything under 10-minute miles. I’m 25 lbs overweight, was running in the middle of a hot summer day, and have logged most of my workouts post-surgery off the handle of the stroller. Truth be told? I think that baby buggy is my secret weapon. It’s forcing me to change my perspective on fitness (five miles of walking with a stroller can be just as taxing as seven hours riding a bike!), and pushing me to get more creative with workouts (you say stroller, I say portable gym!).
Sharing is caring, so I thought I’d put together a list of tips for anyone who finds their hands tethered to the toddler-mobile these days. All hope is not lost — you CAN get an effective workout in with your stroller, and it doesn’t have to be boring.
Stroller Workout Rule #1: Lose your ego
Before you read the rest of this, make peace with the fact that
you will look slightly crazy you will look like an over-caffeinated psycho trying to stifle a deluge of nervous ticks as you walk around your neighborhood doing your workout. Why? Because in order to make walking into an effective aerobic workout, you have to werk that walk. I follow two rules when I’m walking for a workout:
1) When walking at slower paces, take the biggest step you can by placing your heel on the ground as far away from your body as is comfortable, then rolling through the foot and pushing off on the toe. Focus on squeezing every muscle in your leg as you step the body forward.
2) When walking at quicker paces, think of each step like a sharp, precise dance move. Snap your gait into a rhythm and keep the speed consistent like a metronome.
I usually have music on while I’m walking, so I let the song dictate which pace to go with. It promises you some variety over a series of miles, and will force the body to switch gears as you move along. Try to channel your inner speedwalker. If you’ve never seen actual speedwalking, do a Google search on it. It’s not your leisurely shuffle through the neighborhood. It’s actually much harder (and more aerobically effective) than a slow jog — but it will make you look straight cray.
Stroller Workout Rule #2: Change the way you see your neighborhood
You see Stop signs, I see “Challenge Stations.” In my neighborhood, there are a series of streets that connect in a big figure-8 pattern. Each figure-8 is approximately one mile, and there are several Stop signs along the route. In my attempt to be less bored with doing the same figure-8 over and over again to complete a five-mile walk, I started to weave in some challenges to be completed every time I encountered a Stop sign. Some of the challenges include: Running sprints between every other Stop sign; Stopping to do 15 squats every time I pass a Stop sign; Doing 20 burpees every time I pass a Stop sign.
My favorite challenge workout involves LOTS of lunges. I’ll walk a brisk warm-up mile to start, then do more mile-loops with the following rule: On the first mile, I must do 10 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the second mile, I must do 20 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the third mile, I do 30 walking lunges at every Stop sign. And in between Stop signs, I must walk with the pace of whatever song is playing (See Rule #1). The key to a good walking lunge is to make sure you bring the body up from the lunge position while keeping the weight in the heel of the foot on the standing leg. You’ll know you’re executing the movement correctly if you find yourself squeezing your glutes tight at the top of each lunge. Burn, baby, burn!
Stroller Workout Rule #3: Don’t forget your upper body!
It might seem impossible to engage the upper body in a stroller workout, since you need your hands to push the unit forward. Truth is, you only need one hand for that. The other hand can hold an eight-pound hand weight and give you the opportunity to tone your arms as you cover mile after mile. The trick here is to focus on high rep work, so you shouldn’t go much heavier than a 10-lb weight at the most. You can time your reps however you’d like to — stick with bicep curls for a full street, then switch to tricep kick backs on the next street, or count reps before switching muscle groups or moving the weight to the other hand. Whatever you do, keep the balance equal on both sides and be sure you’re using a weight that you can control as you’re walking. The moment you find yourself swinging your arm around all willy-nilly is the moment you should decrease the weight factor or lose the hand weight totally. You can still tone the arms simply by squeezing the muscles!
And what about the core? That can play too. Find a flat grassy patch to stand in, and turn your body so that the outside edge of your hip is perpendicular to the back of the stroller. Grab the handle bar with the hand that’s closest to the rig, then take a big side step away from the stroller so your arms form a “T” and one hand is holding the handle, while the other is outstretched away from you. With your hand gripping the bar, lean the body to the side, away from the stroller, then lean the body back toward the stroller using your core to push it forward and backward. This side-to-side motion works the obliques, and uses the weight of the baby and the stroller to challenge the muscles. Do 15-20 reps, then flip your body to work the other side. To make this harder, you can also do the exercise with the stroller on an incline (I like to stick to grass to create more resistance, but you can do it on pavement if you’d rather).
Stroller Workout Rule #4: Stay hydrated
When I first started “working out” with the stroller, I didn’t think I’d be taxing my body the same way I do when I’m really working out. I was wrong. Many of my stroller workouts take place between 10:00AM-3:00PM, during the hottest part of the day. “Just five miles with the stroller” didn’t seem like anything I’d need to manage with nutrition or hydration. If you’re breastfeeding, you NEED to keep fluids and snacks handy especially when you’re working out. The good thing about working out with your stroller is that you have a great place to stash this stuff, so there’s no excuse to let your body get depleted on your walkabout.
The stroller might not be the carbon-fiber sexy rig I’m used to using when I go out the door for a workout, but the change of pace has been exciting for me and the challenge of making workouts work in the context of motherhood was one I was happy to accept. One year ago, I completed my third Ironman, crossing the finish line in just over 13 hours. It was a personal best for me by more than a half hour at the 140.6 distance. A month after that, I became pregnant and had to change the way I worked out (I stayed active throughout pregnancy, but had to really dial back on the intensity). I’ve missed the feeling of pushing and challenging myself.
While I don’t have an A-race that I’m training for, or any specific goals to accomplish with my workouts at the moment, I have enjoyed these past four weeks of getting to know my body as “mom.” Getting to look down and see my son’s smile as I push the stroller mile after mile reminds me that the sacrifice of faster mile splits, smaller bras, and shorter shorts is well worth the reward of his presence in my life. He makes me feel 10 times more alive than any workout ever could.