How to Stay Fit When You're a Stay-at-Home Parent

One thing I've learned after years of training clients is that trying to squeeze in exercise while staying at home to raise the kids is not easy. Even the best-laid plans can be flushed down the drain for any number of reasons.

But, it is possible to get some exercise in, even on your busiest day. To prove it, I went straight to the source—the clients I've trained who stay home to work and/or take care of the kiddos, probably the busiest people I know.

The fact that these people found an hour for training each week is already impressive, but they also had some very creative ways of staying active. Here are their best ideas:

Exercise With the Kids

Mother and daughter doing yoga at home
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Now, I know this one isn't easy. I've trained lots of clients with babies, toddlers, and teens and it isn't always easy to get them involved. However, I've also had kids participating in the workouts and they often have a lot of fun exercising with Mom or Dad. Some ideas:

  • Include them in the workout. Create rolled-up sock "dumbbells" so they can copy your exercises. If they're old enough and coordinated, have them hold very light weights or water bottles and have them exercise with you.
  • Take them for walks or bike rides. This is an obvious one, I know, but it's one of the simplest things and one way everyone can have a good time while staying active.
  • Play games. These days, there are lots of games out there that involve physical activity, something everyone can do together.
  • Make chores into a workout. One client, *Denise, has her kids help her in the yard and they have contests to see who can rake the most leaves or sweep the sidewalk the fastest.

Wear Your Workout Clothes All Day

Woman cleaning floor on one leg
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One common issue many of my stay-at-home clients have is finding big chunks of time for workouts. Even trying to hop on the treadmill or do a quick 30-minute video while the kids nap can be tough.

One of my clients, *Janine, who has two young kids, gets around this by putting on her workout clothes as soon as she gets up. Doing this:

  • Gets you in the mood. Just wearing your workout clothes may motivate you to work harder even if you're just doing chores around the house. Plus, you can get sweaty and you don't have to worry about it.
  • Makes workouts easier. You're always ready for a quick workout or walk whenever time allows. Janine uses every little bit of time for short bouts of exercise, 10 minutes of cardio here or a quick core workout all adds up
  • Reminds you of your goal to exercise. Wearing your workout clothes is a reminder to get some kind of exercise in, no matter how short.

Make Everything Count

Woman lunging while pouring coffee
Getty Images/Cultura RM/Chad Springer

If you find you don't have time for continuous exercise or that you've missed a workout, that doesn't mean you can't get in some activity. Try these ideas:

  • Run the stairs. One client, *Eddie said he adds extra laps on the stairs when doing chores or chasing the kids around.
  • Add more walking. Another client, A client races through the grocery store to burn extra calories. In the winter, she walks with the kids at the mall.
  • Incorporate strength training all day long. One stay at home dad does pushups with one of his kids on his back. Another client does lunges, squats and other exercises while she's cooking dinner or when bending over to pick up toys or clothes. It all counts!

It all counts. What ideas can you come up with in your own life?

Have Workout Ideas and Options Ready

Woman stretching at home
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Part of staying in shape when you have a hectic schedule is being ready to take advantage of a few minutes here and there. The trouble is, what's the best way to use that time and get the most out of it? Short bouts of exercise can be effective if you work hard enough. One of my clients does these timesaver workouts throughout the week:

I have other clients who keep it simple and do body weight exercises (pushups, squats, lunges, etc.) for a minute each followed by a quick run on the treadmill or a staircase. The point is to do something and work hard at it. If you have a plan, you'll be more likely to follow through.

Work With a Personal Trainer

Personal trainer guiding woman seated cable row gym
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If it's within your budget, consider working with a trainer once a week or even every couple of weeks in your home.

It isn't for everyone, but in-home personal training is convenient and is becoming more common and affordable.

My stay at home moms and dads find it's a great way to get workout ideas and stay on track. With an in-home trainer you get:

  • Convenience. The trainer can work around your schedule and you don't have to drive anywhere for an appointment.
  • Customized workouts. You'll get workouts that fit your schedule, goals and equipment and workouts you can do on your own as well.
  • Motivation. It's easier to work hard with a trainer pushing you a little.

If money is an issue, consider doing partner training with a friend to save money.

Involve Your Friends and Family

Grandma blowing bubbles with boy
Getty Images/Oliver Ross

If you have a spouse or family around, you may be able to negotiate some exercise time during the week. Some ideas:

  • Negotiate with your spouse. I have married clients who alternate weeks -- the dad works with me while his wife watches the kids and they switch off for the next week.
  • Take advantage of family. Many of my clients have grandma come over once or twice a week to spend time with the kids so they can get to the gym for a workout.
  • Get to know your neighbors. I have one client who has a deal with her neighbor. They watch each other's kids once a week while the other goes for a run. They also walk together once a week to keep each other motivated.

Not everyone has this kind of support but, if you do, take advantage of it.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."