Friday, January 15, 2010

The Built-in Baby Gym

Before Ryan was born, I had some concerns as to how I would take off the pregnancy weight after he was born. I was fortunate that 8-1/2 months of morning sickness kept my weight gain down to 21 pounds (believe me, after 8-1/2 months I NEEDED that silver lining), and since nearly 10 of that was baby, I didn't have a lot to lose. But at 40 years old, even those few pounds can be tough to shed. And being the opposite of a gym rat, I didn't see myself signing up for yoga or Pilates or spinning classes. I knew deep in my heart of hearts that I probably wouldn't be especially faithful about taking the baby out for walks in the snowy weather or even using the treadmill. But what I didn't realize was what a built-in home gym a baby (especially my big ol' sack of potatoes) can be.

The simplest exercise is simply lifting baby from his crib. This is a rare occasion when laziness actually worked in my favor. Since I can't be bothered to lower the side rail of the crib, getting the baby out of the crib begins a gentle stretching of the muscles in the torso and upper arms, serving as a form of warm-up exercise. The actual lifting of the baby works on the biceps, and if the baby is especially wriggly or has rolled or squirmed into an awkward position, may also strengthen the trapezius, deltoid, and abdominal muscles.

Once baby is awake, the "free-form carry" exercises not only various weight-bearing muscles throughout the arms and shoulders, but has the added benefit of encouraging flexibility of the neck in dodging the inevitable sudden head-butt and hones the reflexes for foiling the occasional Full Body Launch Squirm. The FBLS also results in increased wrist strength, as the child's full weight is generally being thrust against the parent's hands during this escape maneuver.

Should the baby doze off while being held, parental laziness can again be beneficial, as many exercises can be performed in a recumbent position with the baby sleeping on the parent's chest or tummy. A child weighing 15 or more pounds will, as any parent of such a child will attest, provide a great deal of resistance to the parent drawing a deep breath, and will therefore tighten and tone the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. A semi-recumbent position (i.e., sitting upright in a chair but with horrifically bad posture so as to angle the child) allows for both breathing resistance and development of shoulder and underarm muscles, as the baby will inevitably slide down the body and will need to be repositioned. This motion is often done in a slow, controlled manner to avoid disturbing the child and bringing the exercise session to a premature (and loud) end, thus increasing both endurance and flexibility.

My personal favorite built-in baby gym exercise is the Dead Lift/Squat. While this manuever can be done without equipment, it is done most safely using a baby carrier or sling to center the child's weight.  Once the baby is secure in the carrier, proceed to a room, such as the kitchen, nursery, or laundry room, where needed items are stored at various heights. Alternating between stretching up on tiptoe, which tones the calf muscles, and squatting low. which attacks the glutes and quads, gives a balanced workout ala circuit training, with the side benefit of doing chores such as dinner prep and laundry folding.

Who needs a gym when you've got a 20-pound baby? He's way better motivation that a personal trainer, and best of all he works for milk and kisses. What's not to love about that?

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