Pardon this rant, it’s most un-personal-trainer-like of me. In the interest of empathy — and the fact that I’ve dubbed 2010 my “Year of Compassion” — I’m going to suspend some of my strong feelings about exercise-uber-alles and illustrate the way many of today’s mothers think:

After leaving the professional world, I spent about seven years as a stay-at-home-mom. I understand the work involved in rearing a child or two, in addition to the thankless task of perpetual housekeeping (which I suck at). It’s not a glamorous profession — we don’t go into it expecting it to be — but even the best of us get knocked for a loop with the sheer magnitude of our new responsibilities. So please, trainers, don’t tell moms to “put themselves first” or “make themselves a priority”. We’re moms, we don’t do that. We carry life inside us for nine-month stints. And it becomes our numero uno priority. No caffeine, no sleeping on the back, no valsalva maneuver, no haircoloring…the list of “don’ts” is extensive. We believe that everything we do is for the health of the baby.

So please, don’t ridicule moms for not focusing on exercise! As a trainer I know that exercise is critical. But when we can barely make it out of bed to the toilet thanks to morning sickness, the last thing we want to hear is how beneficial exercise is to our well being. Particularly when it comes from someone who hasn’t had the same experience (and if you own a penis, never will).

Side rant: It’s obvious that we live in a male-dominated world. Consider the pregnancy test. Designed by a man…because no woman would come up with a test for which you’d need to pee on a stick. PEE.ON.A.STICK. ‘Male’ written all over it. I can get my hands, the toilet seat, the floor and with the right angle, the wall. But you want me to hit a stick?

Once the baby’s born, we don’t suddenly have loads of time or energy. Sometimes we wish the kid would crawl back in “there” because we’d get more done. The perpetrator of this (i.e., Dad) comes home from work and thinks we’re lying around watching TV and eating bon-bons while he’s busy earning a living. Really? Imagine having a job for which you’re on-call 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week for years. You get peed, pooped and puked on. Oh yeah, you don’t get paid for it either, so you’re not considered a productive member of society. Most of your time is spent putting out fires, but the “head of household” questions what the hell you’ve been doing all day, why you look a mess, why last night’s dirty dishes are still in the sink and why dinner’s not waiting for him. Our lives are marathons, except that we don’t have the benefit of being able to train for them beforehand.

First attempts at “making time” for ourselves generally flop. When there’s no one else to watch the kids,  creating “me time” is not so simple. And when we finally get some peace and quiet…sometimes all moms want to do is sit in silence and stare at a blank wall. I know I did. And I ENJOY exercise. What about a mom who’s feeling isolated, depressed and fat, and has had few positive experiences with fitness? You’ll get nowhere by making her feel guilty about not finding time to exercise when she’s convinced that time doesn’t exist. Quite frankly, sometimes it doesn’t.

Forget going to a gym. Exercising at home may be the only reliable option. Videos come in handy here and they’ve come a long way since Jane Fonda’s arm flapping. However, fifteen minutes and six interruptions later, even the most stalwart mom may be ready to give up.

Hey, I’m a hardass when it comes to food choices. I will not take my kids to McDonald’s, and that puts me in the minority, sadly. But believe me, McD’s has a clever marketing department. They put playgrounds inside their restaurants. Moms bring their kids there, buy them Happy Meals…and the addiction to fast food begins. I don’t agree with the food choice, but I understand why they do it. They’re not bad moms, just tired…and in that tired state, vulnerable to the power of suggestion. They’re also stressed enough to accept help in watching their kids from whomever is willing to offer, even if it’s a creepy red-haired clown.

The bottom line: Don’t tell moms to put themselves first. It sounds wrong to them; besides, they don’t need the guilt (they have enough already, thanks). Show moms how they can fit both childrearing/housework and exercise into their day, teach them not to be discouraged by imperfect workouts, encourage progress in baby steps and listen to their concerns…you’ll get more compliance. And accept the fact that there will be times when they WILL be too tired to exercise. Don’t berate them for that. They pushed a bowling ball through a small hole between their legs; with the right support, they’ll get the fitness thing down too.

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If you already have a fitness program in place and want the flexibility that home exercise equipment can give you, go for it. But don’t assume that you’re going to start exercising now that you’ve bought an expensive home gym or cardio machine. If your exercise “habit” has not been established, simply having the equipment available will not change anything. I know, it seems like it should open a whole new world of fitness possibilities for you. It should, but it doesn’t. The same excuses and justifications will still apply.

Likewise, don’t assume that the guilt of spending a lot of money on equipment is going to compel you to use it. True, guilt can be a very powerful motivator, but it’s a negative one and tends to result in avoidance. And before you know it, you’re trying to not look at that treadmill, elliptical trainer, etc. because it reminds you of what you’re not doing. The offending machinery ends up in the closet, basement, under the bed…or serving as an expensive clothes rack.

I’ve heard people say that the greatest “workout” they got from their purchase was carrying it into the house. Only to be followed by the second greatest…carrying it out to the front lawn for their garage sale. Establish a solid exercise habit before you complicate matters by spending money on expensive equipment.

A side note: if you want to get a good deal on equipment (and you have a plan to use it), don’t buy it in Dec/Jan. That’s when all the ‘resolutioners’ are buying. Yes, the stores will be having good deals…but probably not as good as the deal you’ll get on Craigslist/classifieds/ebay/garage sale starting somewhere between March-May when the sparkle of New Year’s resolutions has faded and everyone’s trying to make back some of the cash they lost.