Playgrounds are pretty sad these days. Have you been to a playground recently? Not only is the play equipment getting less challenging, therefore “safer” for children, but we also have fewer and fewer parents able to keep up with their children. As mothers, we can use functional fitness to regain strength and mobility, while reducing our risk of injury while chasing kids around!
There was a time when every person, male or female, was pretty strong. Both moms and dads of past times could easily do things that are considered laborious by today’s standards, like walking 5 miles for instance.
Today, we are going to explore why it’s harder today to keep up with our kiddos. As a society, we lack the functional movement patterns we used to have in the good ol’ days (thanks to the enormous amounts of sitting we do-guilty!). Functional fitness is the key to giving us back the freedom of movement and making the fear of adventuring with our children a thing of the past.
What is Functional Fitness and Why Mothers Need it Right Now
Functional fitness is using exercises that mimic everyday actions, in order to prevent common preventable injuries.
Practicing functional fitness is for mom activities like:
- Picking toys up off the ground
- Carrying groceries inside
- Climbing trees with your kids (making you the coolest mom ever, right?)
- Jumping on trampolines (and not peeing yourself!)
- Crawling on the floor with your kids
As you can see these are just a few of the activities you can find yourself in as a mom. Being a mom (or any person really) requires these kinds of daily movements and many times mothers will opt out of activities because 1) they have hurt themselves in the past or 2) they lack the confidence that they won’t injure (or pee) themselves or 3) they feel too out of shape to play with their kids.
This doesn’t have to be our fate as mothers. We can gain the confidence to keep up with our kids by doing workouts that replicate their movement patterns such as: squatting, pushing, pulling, bending, climbing, walking, and running.
Can’t I just go to the gym and use the machines? Functional fitness sounds too complicated.
Functional fitness is training your body in natural movement patterns versus the unnatural movement patterns created by machine equipment found at the gym.
For instance, in everyday life, you won’t find yourself in a seated position trying to curl something like the seated dumbbell curl machine. Rather, you’ll find yourself holding the baby, carrying the groceries, diaper bag, coffee mug, while trying to find your keys to open the door while it’s pouring down rain. This example is why moms need to be strong!
Story time: Let me tell you why this is a message I want to share so eagerly
Before I had kids, I was one of those weirdos who LOVED being active and working out. I would work out for hours because for one, I had the time sans kiddos, and two the endorphin high kept me coming back. I’d do a leg workout, park my car at the far side of the parking lot so I could have more time to jaunter or skip (what’s life without some skipping?), go to the park in the evenings to go for a run or do flips on the play equipment as a teenager. I did anything and everything I could to be active the majority of the day. I loved movement!
Then, when I got pregnant with my first, I really didn’t expect my fitness level to change much. I knew pregnancy would have its challenges but I wasn’t anticipating what DID happen. I was working out and loving pregnancy until about 15 or so weeks. Then I kept getting this twinge in my hip. I would be stretching thinking that would help but then I literally couldn’t get myself off the floor. My hips were “stuck”. It was excruciatingly painful to try to get up. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening.
This pain would follow me into my postpartum journey, lingering though I was able to function more. And again into my subsequent pregnancies which all three took place in four short years. Each time the hip pain would surface sooner. It would become more debilitating, barely being able to walk by my third pregnancy.
I went from carefree doing handstands and cartwheels like a little girl whenever I had the chance to being couch-bound.
I put myself on self-proclaimed bedrest!
This was emotionally devasting for someone who loves movement. As an added bonus to this hardship, during my third pregnancy, I had two little boys who wanted mommy to play with them so desperately. I couldn’t get on the floor with them or take them to the park without help from someone else. This is what broke my heart the most.
It’s taken a long time to figure out what the problem was, 9 months after baby #3 to be exact
It wasn’t until I started seeing a physical therapist that I figured out what was happening. Hip instability! Due to a nasty combination of poor glute med activation, SI joint dysfunction, and a nursing mother’s kryptonite, the hormone relaxin. That was it! After the first week of doing the exercises, he prescribed, I haven’t had a twinge of pain since. I highly recommend any mom who feels something is “off” in her postpartum body to see a good PT.
Before this, I would just be minding my business not doing anything that could or should cause pain…then BAM. It would feel like someone stabbed me in the hip.
So I would sit.
Still not able to pay with my children as I had always envisioned I would.
Now, I have been able to play frisbee with my husband, kickball with my sons, and show my kids mommy is cool by doing cartwheels because…well, why not? I want to show my kids that mommy is strong and able to do hard things like reaching a goal to run a PR 10k or race up a tree together.
If any of my stories have resonated with you, first go see a PT who specializes in women’s health and then keep reading to find out how you can become empowered to be the fun, playful mom you want to be with functional fitness on your side.
Let’s say goodby to mothering from the sidelines: Top 7 functional fitness exercises
Each of these exercises works more than one muscle at a time. Remember those gym machines we talked about earlier? Most of those isolate one major muscle at a time (ie the seated bicep curl, or using the leg press machine), which can lead to instability if you never work the little guys who support the joints. It’s important to do exercises that recruit multiple muscles, as well as work on stabilization which I address in detail here.
Grab some space in your house, push the coffee table out of the way and try these out!
Have you ever realized how many times you squat in a day? Getting off the floor from playing with baby, bolting out of the chair you just sat down in to keep the toddler from drawing on the walls, getting those leftovers from the bottom shelf of the fridge will all be second nature if you practice squatting regularly.
Squats also lengthen the pelvic floor which can often be tight postpartum. A pelvic floor that’s too tight can cause an anterior pelvic tilt. This just means your butt is tucked under as opposed to what we want to have, a healthy neutral curve.
To do a squat:
- Start with feet a little wider than shoulder width
- Lean forward slightly to hinge at your hips
- Slowly lower down, pretending like you are trying to sit in a chair that’s a little too far behind you (your glutes should be reaching back)
- When you get to the bottom, come up a little quicker and squeeze your cheeks (not passed neutral standing/no arching of the back)
Deadlifts are another movement pattern you can find yourself in daily. It’s never-ending, especially as a mom. There are always crumbs to pick up, laundry on the floor, or a baby reaching out for you to give them a cuddle. These are real-life examples of deadlifting and you’ll be a lot less likely to throw your back out if you practice these regularly.
Please note, if you have diastasis recti, separation of the abs (most women postpartum do!), start with lighter weights until healed and really make sure you’re engaging your core while doing this movement.
To do a deadlift:
- Start with light weights (5-10lbs) in each hand
- Similar to the squat, hinge at the hips
- The dumbbells will slide down your legs as you reach your glutes back slowly
- When you get to the bottom, you’ll come back up quicker
- Engage your glutes by squeezing them together, again not going past neutral
You know how dads throw kids wayyyy up in the air, and the kids are like “AGAIN. AGAIN. AGAIN.” That could be you mama if you work on your overhead presses regularly.
To do overhead press:
- Take a heavier pair of dumbbells (10-15lbs) in each hand
- Put your arms into a goal post position
- Press the dumbbells to toward the ceiling
Although many hands make light work, sometimes there’s no one around to help you bring $300 worth of groceries in from the car. This could be a much easier task if you practice farmer’s walks on a regular basis.
To do farmers walk:
- Take your heaviest dumbbells (20-25lbs) in each hand
- Walk 20-30 paces to the otherside of the room
- Walk back
It’s that simple. The more weight you put on, the harder this exercise will get.
This one just makes little kids laugh and giggle when you chase them around like a bear. It is a full-body exercise too. Again, refer to deadlift section notes if you have diastasis recti!
To bear crawl:
- Get on your hands and knees
- Engage your core
- Lift your shins of the ground so your on your toes
- Crawl to the other side of the room and back
Note* You should be moving opposite hand and foot for each movement, as a bear would
Many women, in general, lack up body strength, not just moms. Pushups are one of the fundamentals of fitness. They are the basis for more advanced exercises like burpees, pullups, and climbing trees with your kids. Can you tell I like climbing trees?
The pushup can be regressed to the wall in order to build up strength to progressions and to keep your abs safe if you are healing diastasis recti.
To do a pushup:
- Start in a plank position
- Engage your core
- Lower your chest towards the floor, keeping your elbows tucked in
- Push yourself back to plank
Regressions (making it easier) of the pushup are on your knees, on a chair or bench, on the wall.
Don’t underestimate the step-up. This might seem like the easiest exercise on the list but it’s one of the most foundational and can be progressed.
To do step-ups:
- Find a stable step, stool, fireplace hearth, etc
- Pushing though the heel, step up with right leg first, engage your glutes at the top
- Lower back to the ground
- Repeat with left leg
Progressions (making it harder) of the step-up are making your step taller, doing it from the side (lateral step-up), or adding weight. Also, progressing to lunges.
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