Getting Fit with Baby on Board

Stroller workouts help new moms get fit as they bond with their babies (and each other).

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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."