Babies teach you how to put your own needs to the side, and as your kids grow their lives only get more complicated. Family logistics become huge. If you managed to keep your fitness regime or sports up in the free hours you had while your baby or toddler was in childcare, that’s great. If you’ve only regained the energy to make time for training when the last kid is potty-trained, ties her own shoe-laces and brings her own plates to the kitchen sink, you’re in the majority.
Any coach recommends baby steps. Don’t be too ambitious. Luckily gains show quickly when you go from nothing to something. Women don’t need to feel ready for the lingerie catwalk. Aim for firmer upper arms, a toned stomach or better posture. You can achieve this in a few weeks. Where to begin? Was there a particular style of clothing you loved to wear pre-kids? Do you miss feeling comfortable in shorts, tank tops or jeans - then focus on getting back into those. Whatever strength and conditioning work you do, you’ll feel better all round, it normally helps your cardiovascular fitness too, and your sleep is likely to improve.
The advantage of a basic circuit-training regime is that you can do it at home if you don’t want to leave your kids unsupervised. Once the drills become familiar, almost automatic to you, you can sneak in quick sessions while you’re watching your kids’ activities. And you don’t need to spend a penny to look and feel better, all you need is comfortable clothing and the same kind of self-discipline which you proved you had when you raised your baby and toddler. You know you can do it!
You can target an area and work on it three times a week to notice quick gains, or you can gun for all-round improved core strength. The latter sets you up for a whole range of sports. A lot of athletic skills you see on TV might look like dexterous legwork or strong arms - a lot of the time it’s the back, chest and stomach doing most of the work. A gymnast’s pull-ups? Core strength, not biceps. A footballer’s goal from an impossible angle? Core strength, not foot control. We recommend sit-ups because they require no gear, they build versatile strength for all kinds of activities and in combination with healthy eating they make you feel fabulous, quickly. From one week to the next you will be able to do dozens more. Frequency is key - make time three times per week. Now and then try to plank for a short time, you will be motivated by how much longer you can hold out for thanks to your stronger abdomen.
Flexible, effective, low-tech drills
Leg lifts are an easy, complementary drill. You don’t need any gear and you’ll move from 50 to 100 to 150 in a short period of time. Rotate your feet from upright, to left-tilting, to right-tilting to challenge different thigh muscles. As your legs and tummy get stronger, you can move on to planking in its own right. It’s great for your back and arms as well, and it’s a really effective drill for time-pressed parents. Another super-effective short drill is the Joseph’s chair, which happens to be perfect when you want to slip in a little body maintenance in a hectic family schedule. You lower your perfectly straight back against a wall until your thighs are parallel with the ground. It won’t take long until the legs start burning. Repeat this a few times in half an hour and next day it will feel like you’ve climbed a mountain.
For this to work you really need to slot them into your weekly routines. Sit-ups while you watch the evening news. Leg lifts while you’re on the grass, watching your daughter play hockey. Planking while you wait for the kettle to boil. Joseph’s chair in the swimming pool corridor while you wait for your son to get changed. Make these habits and you’re set for a much healthier and stronger middle-age, and you vastly reduce the chances of injury in an odd game of tennis or a one-off skiing holiday.
However, all these drills require you pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable to make a difference. The last 10 or 15 seconds of any of them are unpleasant. If you don’t have that determination as a characteristic, and you don’t wish to learn it in your 30s and 40s, then there’s a simpler route to looking and feeling better. Improving your posture won’t have your lungs or muscles burning, but you can take years off your appearance.
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