Balancing Motherhood with Career and Fitness

Life is seldom easy, especially when you decide to have a baby. Things definitely get more complicated, and if you’re like me, every thought you have, every decision you make, somehow includes that baby. It really is a big responsibility, but when I look at my beautiful boy every morning, I know in my heart the extra effort has really been worth it.

I was told a lot of things when I decided to get pregnant at 42 years of age. A lot of my friends said I was too old to have a child, others were convinced I’d have to give up my career, my vegan diet, and my daily exercise program. It’s amazing to me how they all claimed to be experts on childbearing yet most of them never had a kid of their own. What is it about people that they like to forecast the doom and gloom in everything?

The key phrase here is it doesn’t matter what other people think! It matters what you think. Sure you have to make adjustments when you become pregnant, but you can still live an active, happy and meaningful life. You don’t have to become a non-social couch potato, shoveling pizza down your throat in front of the TV set.

And, yes, post pregnancy can be a juggling act, too, but contrary to what most people would tell you, it is possible to balance motherhood with career and fitness. I know — I do it every day. I manufacture a very successful line of vegan food, I work constantly as a Hollywood actress and stuntwoman, I write, train at the gym Monday through Friday, and still find an hour or two to kickbox twice a week. And through it all, I’ve never veered whatsoever from my dietary beliefs, and I’m still able to spend quality time with my kid. He goes to the gym with me, to the dojo, we read together, go on weekend outings, watch movies, you name it. I know it sounds like a lot to accomplish at one time, but if you focus and make your day work for you, and you don’t dilly-dally around, it’s really surprising how much you can actually get done.

My son, Luke Gregory, just turned four. He’s a handful, no doubt. Not to mention that he contacted a virus when he was only two, and because of it, he became a juvenile diabetic. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to have to test him ten times a day, and if he’s really having a bad day, to inject him with insulin every three to four hours. It’s a tough go sometimes, especially when he sneaks food and his blood sugar skyrockets. It’s like having a kid on PCP! But you know what? I still find the time to make it all work, reminding myself that there are always at least twenty minutes in a day that I can put aside to keep my body in shape.

Don’t forget that your muscles have memory and by just following a fitness program that puts even a little resistance on those muscles, they will at least stay in fair shape, waiting for that odd day when your kid takes a longer nap than usual and you can spend a little more time working out. Consistency, consistency, consistency! Even if you just get out of bed five days a week and stretch and breathe, do ten push-ups, twenty-five sit-ups and fifty knee bends, it’s better than nothing.

What you don’t want to do is to stop training totally! Baby or no baby, you have to stay active. I know right after having Luke, I was able to keep my body surprisingly together by working out less than a half-hour a day. And remember, it’s only temporary. Kids eventually grow up, they go to school, and more time will come your way. The big mistake, if you’re a diehard like me, is thinking that the morning after you drop your kid, you can hit the gym and train the way you did before you got pregnant. Well, you can’t! So don’t get frustrated. You have to ease back into it, little by little.

I know after having Luke, my ninety-minute training frenzies went down to what some might call a wimpy fifteen to twenty minutes. But I always, at least, made sure that I worked one body part every day. And if my routine missed a day here and there, I always made up for it on the weekend or did a little extra the following day. I had to take the pressure off myself by being flexible yet consistent.

As Luke got older, I also made sure that I chose a gym that had a quality daycare facility. What a Godsend! Luke learned social skills early on by interrelating with other kids, he always had a place to burn off glucose, and in my case, his daycare teacher, Grace Spina, turned out to be the find of the century. So much so, my husband and I ended up hiring her to home school Luke three days a week. So look around. Most gyms today have daycare centers, but if for some reason yours doesn’t, you might want to try and talk them into making the small investment it takes to set one up. If not, you can always change gyms, or better yet, you may be one of the lucky ones who has a loving family member that can watch your child.

Early on, a friend of mine turned me on to a cheap jogging stroller. These are the greatest! Lightweight, easy to handle, they’re just what the doctor ordered when you want to throw your kid in something safe and get your overly tired butt out of the house. Even if it’s just to stretch your legs, breathe in some fresh air, and walk at a brisk pace. Luke used to love it when I pushed him fast, the wind blowing against his little pink cheeks. I was able to get my cardiovascular in, and he had the time of his life. As he matured, of course, he was able to jog right along with me, and most recently, he’s learning how to ride a bike with training wheels. They sure grow up fast! Now when I run, I can barely keep up with him.

Luke also loves to do sit-ups with me now. And what a joy it is to see a four year-old do a full-on stretching routine, leg lifts, and push-ups. My son is awesome! Boy, if you can get your kid into nutrition and exercise early on, you really are on your way to having an all-around healthy kid. There’s nothing like it. My husband and I get to stay in shape and share valuable time with our son at the same time.

And by just “doing it,” you’re also teaching your child the art of discipline. Sure, I sometimes miss getting up at 6:00 am, watching the sunrise, not having to think about making breakfast for three, cleaning up my son’s messy room, getting him washed and dressed, checking his glucose levels, etc. But you learn how to compromise. You give up something to get something else. Nothing in life comes free, and as I look back, it really hasn’t been that big of a deal. I now get some business out of the way in the morning, then hit the gym by noon. I work out with weights for about an hour, then grab Luke from daycare and we head for the aerobics room where he runs around like crazy, burning off steam. It’s great. He has a blast doing his own thing while I get to practice my martial arts kicks, boxing and stretching — whatever I can do for the 30 minutes I get the room. It’s just customizing your fitness program to fit your day. The important thing is I’m doing something for my body before I head back to my office for more work.

To me, it’s kind of like the “family that exercises together, stays together!” I know the time I spend with Luke always gives me the opportunity to teach him about the foods that are good for him and why it’s so important that he eats carbohydrates before he runs at the park or goes to the gym. The benefits of including your child in your fitness program far outweigh any of the disadvantages. And the bigger they get, the heavier they get. When your kid falls asleep in your arms in the grocery store or at the bank, boy, can you get a good bicep workout! Think about it. Shifting twenty to fifty pounds from one arm to the other while you write a check or make a bank deposit is one hell of an arm builder! And if you’re really innovative, while you’re waiting in a line, you can always do toe raises with your kid in your arms. Talk about a calf pump!

I know all this may sound a little ridiculous, but it’s really not. You get out of life what you put into it. There’s a universal law that says the more effort you put out, the greater the result. If you’re stuck behind a desk all day and your desk chair has arms, take a small break and do three sets of tricep push-ups in your seat. Or while you’re sitting at a stop light, focus on contracting your stomach muscles and releasing them several times until the light changes. Get creative. When you bend down to pick up your kid, squat down, then lift with your glutes. This will not only protect you from a serious back injury, but you’ll be able to tighten your butt at the same time!

And, as I said, children do grow up, and eventually, you’ll get back the time and energy you need to return to your original workout schedule. Until then, I want all you new mommies out there to do yourself a favor and don’t let yourself go! If you do, you’ll end up regretting it, and I’ve seen it happen. The longer you sit around, the harder it’ll be to get back into shape. Your muscles will atrophy and your incentive will slowly dwindle, making it next to impossible to get back in the swing of things. The thought of starting up all over again will become insurmountable — depression will set in, and the rest will be history.

I’m now back to my six day training schedule at World Gym in Woodland Hills, California, where sometimes I run into icons like Cory Everson, Cameo Kneur and Debbie McKnight. All three of them are incredible ladies and when we get together on the gym floor, it’s like an estrogen club — a great place for three warriors to share war stories while sweating it out. Debbie McKnight, for instance, is really amazing! She’s managed to stay in competitive shape while having and raising four kids.

Debbie’s been involved in fitness for nearly twenty years now, in one aspect or another — teaching dance and aerobics, personal training, club management, and operating her own training and nutrition company. For ten years, she participated in competitive bodybuilding, winning the NPC USA Championships in 1989, and competing internationally with the IFBB until retiring in 1994.

As a single mother of four (ages twenty, seventeen, five, and one), it’s really been a struggle for her balancing motherhood with career and fitness, but she made it happen. When her two older children were younger, in the peak of her bodybuilding days, Debbie had a schedule of riding her bike early in the morning before getting the kids off to school. Then, after a full day of work, she’d pick up the kids on the way to the gym, where they sat at the juice bar doing their homework while she trained.

After moving to Los Angeles, however, this regime no longer worked for her because the gym she joined didn’t offer any kind of daycare. She then had to sneak in her workout at lunch or not at all. She spent a lot of time on her bike at home while helping the kids with their assignments, sometimes only being able to train at five o’clock in the morning when they were still asleep.

Of course, it’s easier now, since Debbie’s no longer competing and just wants to stay fit. She integrates activity with outings with her kids. A friend of hers gave her a backpack to carry her youngest in, so now she can go on long canyon hikes when the weather is nice. She even uses it to walk up and down bleachers and around the track at a local school while her five year-old plays close-by. Another idea Debbie came up with was to find other moms to swap off babysitting with. “The kids can have a playdate while you grab a quick workout… then you can return the favor.”

The bottom line is that motherhood does get a little complicated sometimes, but such is life. You do what you have to do. But if you were to ask any so-called “fitness mom,” they’d be quick to tell you that exercise is probably the best stress reliever on the planet. To quote Debbie, “My fitness program is the only thing that gives me sanity when the pressure is high dealing with life as a single working Mom.”

So, you see, it can be done, whether you’re a pro-athlete or just trying to stay in shape. Learn to be creative. Make the most with what you have available. Juggle things around and learn to be patient. Remember, no matter how hard it gets, it’s only temporary. I know when I’ve reached my limit, it helps a lot when I remind myself that “this, too, shall pass.” And you know what, it does! But at least, while the time is passing, my body’s not falling apart and I’m keeping myself healthy. I may be losing my mind, but that, too, comes back when your kid throws his or her little arms around you and he or she tells you how much they love you.

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