The Postpartum Mom’s Guide to Navigating the Gym

Woman Exercising

Last month, I coincidentally signed up for a gym membership on the first day of school. There was no correlation (my kids are under two), but I’d like to think there is some unseen force in the universe that will motivate me to like the thought of going to the gym as much as I once obsessed over color-coordinating my class notes.

It’s been awhile, you see. I’ve spent the past three years either belly-first in the cankles and all-day sickness of pregnancy or clawing my way through the sleep-deprived shroud of postpartum land. I could not be less motivated to exercise, unless you count calf raises while shushing my son through the night or lunges to keep him from cramming cat kibble in his mouth.

Step 1: The Plan

In the spirit of dressing for the part, I bought three pairs of high-rise yoga pants and a gym bag. After all, I couldn’t exactly make my grand gym debut in saggy maternity pants and a diaper bag. I did not appreciate the beauty and functionality of the high-rise until the after-baby baby (that flap of skin akin to a deflated beach ball) made itself at home on my lower belly, courtesy of housing a human for nine months and rendering all low-rise pants unwearable.

I then got up the nerve to go to the gym after a relatively good day. I’ve since learned that the probability of going to the gym (or doing anything that’s not watching Netflix while eating dessert after the kids are in bed) is directly proportional to how my day went. Props to the demigod moms who are still somehow disciplined enough to peel themselves away from an apocalyptic day and sweat it out.

But I digress.

Step 2: The Warm-Up

I started with cardio and quickly discovered my earbuds weren’t cut out for jogging. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t listen to my ’90s playlist I compiled just for the occasion, so I tried, instead, to think of a song to focus my pace on.

Once, there was a time when I prided myself on only listening to indie artists and could conjure lyrics of teenage angst from memory for my AOL Instant Messenger away message. On this day, the only song I could come up with was the ABCs . . . so the alphabet it was for the next 15 minutes.

I wobbled my way through the cool down, cursing my threadbare bra that was clearly not meant for holding the aftermath of nursing, pumping, and weaning for two in three years, and added new ones to my cart. Bras, that is, though new boobs is admittedly a tempting thought.

Step 3: The Grind

As I wheezed my way through the workout, I began to notice how eerily similar it was to my daily life as a mother of two small children (albeit, mostly my toddler son).

  • Squats: cleaning up the house-wide radius of food flung from my son’s highchair.
  • Planks: rescuing pacifiers, loveys, and Hot Wheels from under cribs.
  • Sit-ups: bolting awake throughout the night each time my kids exhale.
  • Bicep curls: bobbing my five month old to sleep when we’re out of the house and I’ve forgotten my wrap or carrier.
  • Shoulder presses: heaving Costco-sized boxes of snacks at record speed onto the top shelf of the pantry so my son doesn’t see them.
  • Lateral raises: snatching up the baby before my son careens into her for the umpteenth time.

Exercise Stretch

Step 4: The Reward

Eager to leave the gym with enough time to shower before bedtime — a strict 11:00 p.m. so I would have enough shut-eye to promptly roll out of bed when my drill-sergeant-toddler yells for me — I debated walking on the treadmill one last time. But then I thought about how I even showed up at the gym in the first place (one gold star) and how I did the work (two gold stars for continuing sans-Backstreet Boys and for basically repeating my stay-at-home-mom life work out), and I decided to head home and help myself to a few chocolate chips.

Hold your fiddle leaf figs, did I just mention eating chocolate chips in a gym guide?

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this is not your typical gym guide. You see, navigating the gym in the throes of postpartum land is no easy feat. Most days, you can find me defusing toddler tantrums while putting my baby down for her nap (often in the same room), or arriving 20 minutes late to everything because getting out the door on time is a near-Olympic feat. The tension of trying to meet two completely different needs, all day, every day, can make me physically, mentally, and emotionally implode on some or — let’s be real — most days.

As I’m leaving behind the sleepless nights of juggling an erratic newborn schedule and baby sleep regressions, I’m learning that prioritizing my kids’ needs means prioritizing mine. To be able to take care of my kids, I need to take care of myself first. These days, that looks like showing up and doing the work, which, dear mom, is definitely worthy of a few chocolate chips.

Emily D
An east coast native, Emily met and married her husband Tom in college (let's go, Hokies!) in 2013. Three years and seven address later, they finally landed in Fort Worth in 2016. Together, they have two littles, two cats, and a 90-lb dog who thinks he's a cat. When she's not sprinting after or throwing snacks at her kids, Emily freelances as a graphic designer, and helps lead a local preschool playgroup for refugee women and children. In her two minutes of free time, Emily D loves to travel, hike, and camp - all with an iced coffee in hand.


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