I had my annual physical recently and my doctor asked me if I do any regular exercise. I assumed that by the word “regular” she meant some kind of formal class or official workout. Since I haven’t darkened the door of a gym since…well, EVER, I admitted that I do not. She opened her mouth to scold me, but then I reminded her, “But you’ve met my kids.” She just laughed and dropped the subject.
My kids are pretty much a gym, a personal trainer, a cheerleading squad, and a set of free weights, all rolled into one.
Let’s look at the parts of a “regular” exercise routine and see how my personal “mom-ercise” routine stacks up against it.
Warm-up: Lego RetrievalMost exercise regimens begin with some kind of gentle stretching, bending, and reaching. I owe my warm-up exercises to an architectural anomaly in my house. One of the walls in the playroom has a section that juts out a few inches from the rest of the wall. I assume the practical reason is that there’s some kind of structural support beam there, but the practical result is that there’s a 2-inch gap between the couch and the wall the couch rests against. This gap is a black hole that sucks in small objects such as Lego blocks, empty juice boxes, and the TV remote. My arms are just long enough that with sufficient stretching, contorting, and flailing, I can grab the lost items with my fingertips before being sucked into the vortex myself.
Abs: Belly BounceMy 1-1/2 year-old daughter serves as my workout partner for this crucial exercise. I lay on the floor on my back with my knees slightly bent; she straddles my midsection and, without warning, drops her entire body weight onto my abdomen, resulting in a satisfying “OOOOF” from me. This initial drop inspires me to maintain my tensed abdominal muscles for as long as she enjoys repeating the drop. The tighter my muscles are, the less loud my “oof,” and the less exciting the game. She wins when I make funny noises; I win when my abs are strong enough that I can remain silent and she gets bored and leaves me alone.
Quads: Baby SquatsMy daughter serves a slightly more passive role during my baby squats routine. She entices me to pick her up for whatever reason (she knows my hatred of this portion of the workout so often lures me in by offering me a hug or a kiss and then latching her arms around my neck in a position that my husband and I have termed the “koala baby”). She then either drops the item she was holding (a sippy cup, a stuffed animal, my car keys) or points insistently at an item on the floor she wants me to retrieve (an ant, a cookie crumb, an invisible speck of lint). She’s heavy enough that I can’t bend over at the waist while holding her without falling over, so I do a deep plié while carefully keeping my back straight, grab the desired item, and straighten up. She repeats the item drop until one of us gets bored and ends this portion of the workout.
Glutes: Airplane RidesMy 3-1/2-year-old son is the more effective workout partner for this part of my routine. I lie on my back and pull my knees tightly to my chest. My son then leans with his belly resting against my feet, and we grab each other’s hands tightly. I then slowly unbend my legs so my lower legs are perpendicular to the ground and my son is lifted into the air like an airplane. In the high-impact version of the workout, I then tip my legs back and forth and side to side and make airplane noises for an added cardio benefit.
Cardiac Workout: Chase and ReverseMy full cardiac segment is also done with my son’s assistance. Our basement playroom is a large room with a staircase in the middle, effectively creating an oval track. He yells, “Chase me, chase me!” and tears off around the track with me in hot pursuit. When I start gaining on him, he comes to a dead stop, shouts, “Now I chase you!” and we both reverse direction and set off at full tilt again. The endpoint of this exercise is directly related to the level of pain in my knees.
Aerobic Endurance: Dance ChallengeBoth kids get in on this one. I have to admit, this is by far the most enjoyable workout segment for me. We put on some music with a good beat (Laurie Berkner and They Might Be Giants are particular favorites) and boogie down until we drop from exhaustion.
Strength Training: Piggyback RidesMy son weighs 50 pounds. He loves piggyback rides. Once allowed to climb on my neck, he hangs on like a barnacle. Those three factors combine to mean that anything I want to do for the next 15 minutes or so, I do with a 50-pound albatross around my neck. This routine is particularly effective when I’m making dinner, as I alternate between reaching down to retrieve pans from the lower cabinets and stretching up to retrieve ingredients from the upper cabinets.
Cool Down: VariousMy list of cool down exercise options is pretty extensive: airplane swings (holding a child by the armpits and spinning in a circle), tick-tock clock (holding a child by the armpits and swinging him or her back and forth like a pendulum), tickle fights (I think that one’s pretty self-explanatory), diaper wrestling (both children prefer to be pants- and diaper-free as often as possible), horseback rides (similar to piggybacks, but with a much lower impact since I’m on all fours), and the ever-popular spinning in a circle until you get so dizzy you fall down.