Stroller workouts help new moms get fit as they bond with their babies (and each other).
By Colette Bouchez
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It's enough to drive a new mom to distraction. It seems like everywhere you look, you see photos of celebrity mothers who not only got their bodies back almost as soon as their babies were born, but look better than ever - Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Madonna ...
Of course, most new moms don't have access to celebrity perks like personal trainers, coaches, chefs, and nannies to watch the kids. Indeed, many feel lucky to get five minutes to themselves, let alone take the time for regular workouts.
Enter stroller fitness, a type of postnatal workout that's whipping new moms into shape nationwide - and keeping babies entertained in the process.
"The idea is to use the stroller as a piece of fitness equipment and doing exercises that actually rely on the stroller, or workouts that can be done while your baby is in the stroller," says Lisa Druxman, founder of San Diego-based Stroller Strides.
After her son was born in 2001, Druxman, a former fitness instructor, created a "stroller power walking" workout that also included a series of strength-training activities. She started with a group of moms in her neighborhood, and today there are some 300 locations nationwide offering Stroller Strides programs.
There's also the popular Strollercize program, which began 15 years ago in New York's Central Park. Other well-known stroller fitness programs include StrollerFit in Cincinnati and Baby Boot Camp in Sarasota, Fla.
You can even buy strollers specifically built to aid workouts, and many of the stroller fitness programs are available on DVD.
Burning Post-Baby Fat
While the programs differ slightly, all emphasize lengthening and strengthening muscles, as well as building cardiovascular endurance (perfect for chasing toddlers), burning post-baby fat, and improving flexibility.
"We start with a warm-up, then go into a 45-minute power walk, and every few minutes we stop and do a body toning station -- which might include exercise tubing, which we provide; or it might use the stroller, for moves like lunges or squats; or it might use the environment, [like] a park bench or a table to do push-ups," says Druxman.
Amy Clay, a spokeswoman for StrollerFit, says the company's "MommyMuscles" workout targets the core muscles of the abs and torso, which get plenty of use and abuse during and after pregnancy.
"MommyMuscle is a program that offers a specific combination of cardio and strength training, that when coupled with good eating habits, is a recipe for postnatal fitness success," says Clay.
In addition to allowing moms to spend time with their babies, most stroller fitness programs aim to make the sessions entertaining for babies and toddlers. Instructors may mix in games, songs, and visuals such as blowing bubbles.
"Your baby is not only entertained, but they begin to recognize exercise as a positive and natural occurrence," says Clay. "They develop a foundation early on that makes exercise a part of their life."
More Than Just Exercise
Although most moms join stroller programs for the exercise, many remain for the social benefits, especially the camaraderie that builds among participants.
"One of the most difficult things about becoming a new mom is the isolation and the feeling of being disconnected from your peers, particularly if you were in the work force before and may not be right now," says Druxman.
As such, she says, Stroller Strides focuses not only on new mothers' physical needs, but also the social and emotional ones.
"At each location, we have a playgroup, we have a Mom's night out, we have a variety of different social and family gatherings," Druxman says. "There is a special kind of communication that happens in these classes that is different from what you would find at a gym or other exercise venue.""
Elizabeth Trindade, developer of Strollercize in New York, says camaraderie is key to the success of her program. Each session, she says, includes time for sharing common concerns and issues.
"We talk about sex, we talk about breastfeeding, we talk about getting baby to sleep," she says. "The sharing of information and the knowing that you are not alone in what you are experiencing is powerful -- it can get you through some pretty difficult times."
Moreover, she says, instructors are trained to recognize signs of trouble, including symptoms of postpartum depression.
"If a new mom misses an exercise class she gets a call asking if she's all right, if she needs help, if there is anything we can do," says Trindade. "Our teachers ... know how to recognize when something is not right, and they can encourage a woman to seek medical attention when she needs it."
Other programs say their instructors receive similar training, and most are taught to be facilitators on topics that may trouble new mothers.
While the nuts and bolts of most stroller programs are similar, there are differences.
Some, like Stroller Strides, offer classes indoors as well as outside, depending on weather. Others, like Strollercize, are strictly outdoor activities, conducting workouts even during the chill of winter.
If there's more than one stroller fitness group available in your area, it pays to shop around. Fees for unlimited classes can run as high as $75 a week; others can be as low as $35 a month. Many programs offer a free tryout class, as well as packages of classes that substantially reduce the price.
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Nearly all the classes run 50-60 minutes long, and most programs suggest that moms come three times a week for best results. Classes are often offered seven days a week.
Many programs require instructors to complete a certifying course that trains them to coach new moms. Trindade, who has chosen not to franchise Strollercize, runs a certification class for pre- and postnatal exercise instruction.
Druxman also runs a certification program for her Stroller Strides instructors, and so do many of the other programs. Many of the instructors are also certified by the American Council on Exercise. Still, experts say, it's a good idea to check the credentials of the instructors in your particular group before joining.
Some of the stroller groups require a doctor's note certifying your postnatal health, so be sure to ask about that before signing up.
Published May 5, 2006.
SOURCES: Lisa Druxman, MA, founder, Stroller Strides, San Diego, Calif. Amy Clay, spokeswoman and participant, StrollerFit, Cincinnati. Elizabeth Trindade, founder, Strollercize, New York.
©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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