The Busy Mom's Exercise Schedule

Real mom's dish on how they find time to work out with crazy schedules, clingy toddlers, tight budgets, chronic sleep deprivation, and zero athletic talent.

mom smiling doing yoga with baby
Photo: Stephanie Rausser

Call us crazy, but when it comes to reading advice about staying fit as a parent, the experts we want to hear from are moms who are making it happen. These fit moms find a way to workout even when it seems impossible, so we asked them to share their stories, secrets and best exercise tips so you can to.

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“I commit to exercising at the office.”

Eliza Belle, mom of Marley, 4, and Avery, 2

My Story: “The commute to my office is an hour and a half each way, and once I’m there, I’m always at my desk or in a meeting. Sitting all day is exhausting, but I found it was impossible to fit in exercise before or afterward, especially because my husband is out of town for two weeks each month.”

How I Worked it Out: “At least three days each week, I exercise at work. In the midafternoon, when my phone alarm starts to play “I Like to Move It,” off comes my blazer and on go my tennis shoes. My office is on the sixth floor, so I go up and down the stairs, walk around my floor, or do squats and push-ups with my office door closed for ten minutes. I love that I don’t have to get up even earlier than I already do and that I have time to spend with my little ones once I get home. If I count the evening walks we take around our neighborhood, I’m fitting in four to six hours of exercise each week.”

Why I Make Time: “These days, if I don’t get up and move away from my desk, I feel sluggish during the day. Exercising at work also helps me sleep better.”

My Top Tips:

  • Be prepared. “I keep deodorant, a change of clothes, hair products, and a towel at work so I can get my workout in, yet still present myself professionally.”
  • Make new opportunities. “On long days when I can’t fit in my usual workout routine, I do squats or calf raises while on conference calls, or I sit up straight and squeeze in my core during meetings.”
  • Forgive yourself. “I know I wasn’t born with a workout gene! I give myself permission to miss a day every once in a while, but I push myself for the greater reward: feeling and looking good, and being stronger for my loved ones.”

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“My kids are my workout buddies.”

Chrissa Benson, mom of Brockston, 4, and Maddix, 2

My Story: “My husband is a Marine serving in Afghanistan. When he was home, I could go to an early-morning barre class or out for a run, but after he was deployed, my workouts lost all structure. We don’t have family nearby, so I’m really raising our two kids solo.”

How I Worked it Out: “I can’t do 30 to 60 minutes like I used to. Instead, I move my body when I’m with my kids. I do squats at the park, planks when we play trains, and triceps dips while we chalk up the driveway. I’ll even squeeze in a lower-body barre sequence at the bathroom counter while the boys take a bath. They also love when I turn up Bruno Mars and we have a dance party in our living room. It’s a great cardio blast!”

Why I Make Time: “The deployments are hard, and exercise helps my anxiety tremendously. Even if there’s a lot on my plate, I’ll commit to five minutes of movement, and it almost always leads to more. When I’m strong on the outside, I feel like Wonder Woman on the inside. That mentality has gotten me through days when I wanted to curl up and cry.”

My Top Tips:

  • Don’t psyche yourself out. “Before you think about the reasons not to be active today, just do it.”
  • No equipment? No problem. “Stationary exercises like push-ups, planks, or crunches are easy to throw in throughout the day.”
  • Bring the baby along. “Buy a jogging stroller. You can also do walking lunges and squats while wearing your baby.”

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“I found my squad—and they motivate me.”

Charne Greene, mom of Grace, 11 months

My Story: “Before I had Grace, I didn’t have to work out to maintain my figure, so I wasn’t interested in making exercise a habit. That changed after I became a mom, when two months postdelivery, I found myself 20 pounds overweight—and nursing didn’t seem to be helping. But getting into the routine of exercising was about more than fitting into my clothes. I realized that my athletic husband shouldn’t be Grace’s only role model for living an active lifestyle. I wanted to instill good habits in my daughter too.”

How I Worked it Out: “A friend told me about Stroller Strong Moms—a workout group that incorporates kids and strollers. Three or four mornings a week, Grace and I meet moms at a park for an hour-long class. We do body-weight exercises like burpees, squats, and lunges; use hand weights; and go on runs. Afterward, the moms chat while the older kids play. These days, whenever I have a problem, I come to these women.”

Why I Make Time: “It’s not easy to be confident when none of my old clothes fit. I really enjoy working out now, and emotionally, I feel stronger too. After Grace is old enough to go to school, I’ll have what all the moms call Empty Stroller Syndrome—I’ll still bring my stroller to class to carry my weights, even if I have no child in it!”

My Top Tips:

  • Partner up. “Finding moms with similar goals helps you hold each other accountable.”
  • Look your best. “A cute new outfit makes you more excited to work out. The occasional bribe works too. If I’m really having an off day, I like to motivate myself with Starbucks.”
  • Follow fit moms. “Seeing other people’s transformations on social media is motivating. On days when I miss a workout, I also turn to people I follow for workout inspo.”

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“I get up early. Like, really early.”

Jennifer Mazzoni, mom of Rose, 3 years, and Grace, 18 months

My Story: “During my pregnancy with my second daughter, Grace, I had a lot of pelvic pain and had to stop practicing yoga, which I’d been doing for years. I really missed it and planned to start back up as soon as possible, but the pain took a long time to subside. When I was finally ready, getting to an early-morning class at a yoga studio was impossible since my girls woke up at 6:40 a.m.”

How I Worked it Out: “Every morning, I get up at 5 a.m. and practice yoga in my bedroom. (I go to bed at 9 p.m. to make sure I get enough rest.) I set up a calming meditation space with my yoga mat, yoga props, and flameless candles. I practice to different YouTube videos so I don’t get bored, and then I meditate for 20 to 30 minutes.”

Why I Make Time: “I do have mornings when I think, ‘Ugh, I’m too tired!’ But most days, I push myself. I enjoy my time with my girls more when I’ve had ‘me time’ early in the morning.”

My Top Tips:

  • Find your space at home. “It should be private and quiet, even if it’s a corner in your bedroom. A decorated space is also a great visual reminder.”
  • Start small. “Meditate for just one minute each morning or evening for a few days, then slowly increase your time. It’s less overwhelming.”
  • Get guidance. “Until you feel comfortable practicing yoga and meditating on your own, it’s helpful to follow a guided practice. The Insight Timer app has free meditations, and I love trying out new yoga videos on YouTube.”

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“I wrote fitness into the rules of my life.”

Alena Gerst, mom of Gracie, 5, and Clark, 3

My Story: “I didn’t have to prioritize exercise until I had kids—before then, it was just how I lived my life. I biked to work, jogged and played tennis with my husband, swam regularly, and took at least one yoga class a week. But after kids, parenting sapped my energy to do most things beyond working and dealing with all my obligations at home.”

How I Worked it Out: “For starters, I put a foldable treadmill in my bedroom and made a rule: If there’s a TV show I want to see, I have to watch it on the treadmill. I have absolutely extended workouts because I didn’t want to stop watching The Crown. When I discovered a Pilates studio in my office building, I began scheduling a weekly class between clients. I also often use my lunch break to get in a quick swim at a nearby pool.”

Why I Make Time: “My parents are in their 70s, and they still hike, swim, practice yoga, and cycle. I want my kids to see me making that same effort to take care of my body and have fun while doing it. Plus, if I skip more than two days of working out, I’m irritable. Caregiving is rewarding, but it’s also demanding.”

My Top Tips:

  • Be with the kids first. “I try to get on the treadmill after we’ve spent a lot of time together. That way they’re less likely to come looking for my attention.”
  • Go with the flow. “Even if I’m very tired from the rigors of parenting and life, I just get in the pool and keep moving, no matter how slow I need to go.”
  • Keep your sense of humor. “Once I paid for a Pilates class but forgot a change of clothes, so I did it in my work clothes. No big deal!”

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