Getting back into exercise after having a kid can be a big adjustment and is extra tough right now with gyms and fitness centers closed. But exercise comes in many different forms and it doesn’t always have to involve a time-consuming trip to the gym.
There are plenty of excellent apps that can help you squeeze in some fitness during your busy day. Whether you're a new parent with tots or a parent of teens, there are plenty of ways to start a new fitness program.
With so many fitness apps, videos and other online resources available, it can be hard to know where to start. We talked to some personal trainers about postpartum exercise, finding the right app and how to make the most of your time, space and resources.
How soon can you start?
In the past, new moms were advised to wait at least six weeks after giving birth before exercising. In 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that mothers can gradually begin introducing exercise a few days after giving birth, provided that there are no surgical complications. The start-small strategy also works if your kids are older and you want to begin an exercise program after a long break.
What to try: If you haven’t exercised in a while and want to start slow, the Sworkit app and Fitness Blender website both offer short and longer workouts for people of varying levels of fitness so you can gradually work your way up. Fitness Blender offers free videos and subscription plans starting at $8.99 per month. Currently, Sworkit offers a 7-day-free trial and subscriptions starting at $9.99 per month.
How long should your workout be?
“Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be an hour. It can be 30 seconds,” says Kathleen Donahoe, Seattle-based cofounder of Oh Baby! Donahoe started the company seven years before she had children and says, “I thought I knew everything.” Once her baby arrived, she confronted her new time constraints and eventually developed apps to supplement her company’s live classes. Oh Baby! Mom and Baby Weekly Workout and Pregnancy Weekly Workout provide exercises for each pregnancy and post-natal stage.
What to try: If you only have a short amount of time, the aptly named 7-Minute Workout is a free and efficient app that gets the job done.
Focus on your goals
When choosing an app, Pilates instructor and Lamaze Childbirth Educator Kat Williams of Pronatal Personal Training recommends “making it specific to your needs.” If you can, find out what research went into developing the app. One gauge of this is the training that the developers and instructors have. Focus on what will help you and “not just standards of the fitness industry.”
What to try: Donahoe suggests C25K, which stands for Couch to 5K. This app provides an eight-week guided plan of run-walk workouts to increase distance to five kilometers. “You can do it with a stroller,” says Donahoe, also noting that the app is free. (A $4.99 ad-free version offers additional tracking of personal statistics.)
Make sure you’re using proper form
Kat Williams provides in-home personal training in the Seattle area to prenatal and postpartum moms. She remembers a client who has been practicing a particular exercise a bunch of times because she saw it on an app. The problem was the client was doing the exercise move incorrectly.
Williams says apps “can give you only so many cues” about the proper form. She suggests having someone who is qualified in fitness instruction watch and guide you before you start a new app or program on your own. She also recommends Expecting and Empowered, which offers paid downloadable exercise guides for pregnant, postpartum and “Mamas Further Out,” as well as free videos on specific exercises, because the programs provide “very precise” cues. With any app, ask yourself, “Can I execute the exercise without cranking my neck every five seconds to see the screen?”
Try a few options
With so many free and low-cost options available, parents can try several apps to find the best fit for their needs. As your kids grow and your family’s needs change, make sure your plan continues to work for your current lifestyle.
If you like variety, try free videos on YouTube channels such as PopSugar Fitness and Yoga With Adriene. Yoga With Adriene also offers a $9.99 per month subscription that includes additional videos and a closed online community. If a community is important to you, use an app like Strava or Runkeeper. Both these apps are free and allow users to share workouts with friends on the app or via social media.
“There’s an unlimited supply of exercises [parents] can do at any time,” says Williams. “Just keep moving.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2019, and updated in January 2021.