Before I became a mother, I spent seven to nine hours a week cycling as a bike commuter and weekend warrior, and occasionally lifting weights. Then I had my kid and… insert record scratch… I could barely find enough time to sleep. When I finally started exercising again, instead of two- to three-hour bike rides, I was lucky to get two to three hours in the gym all week. Years later, I’m still only able to exercise two to three hours a week, but as with all things motherhood, I learned to exercise more efficiently. In fact, I never would have thought that I could be stronger, fitter, and faster as a mid-life mother of two than when I was a freewheeling 20-year old.
I can attribute this boost in fitness to a few things, but the biggest factor was functional training. Pregnancy wrecked my core—my back and legs felt tired and achy all the time. Functional training helped me to quickly strengthen my core and continue building from there. If you haven’t heard of functional training, Tami Lee, the Assistant Director for Fitness at the University of Maryland’s Department of Recreation & Wellness, describes it as a way to ease the physical demands of daily life by strength training in a functional manner. She says that when you functionally train, you are doing exercises that enhance your efficiency in performing basic, every day movements, like bending and lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, and standing on a single leg.
Some of the exercises that helped me the most were the classics: squats (for bending and lifting… my toddler off the ground), rows (for pulling… more like heaving, my child up and into her car seat), lunges (for single leg movements… that occur all day long when rushing back and forth to meet the demands of motherhood). Other exercises were brand new to me. And my body loved them all. My back ached less and less until it stopped all together. The rest of my body also got stronger and felt less achy.
Functional training isn’t just for new moms. The people in my gym classes are men and women of all ages, including several people in their 60s and 70s. While the physical demands of my life look a lot different than my more senior class mates, functionality matters even more for them. Tami says, “As we age, we lose muscle mass at a much faster rate, so preserving that muscle as long as possible is essential for efficient performance of daily activities.”
We both highly recommend starting with a trainer, which is what I did. As Tami notes, form is critical and a trainer will conduct the necessary assessments to determine the best and safest fitness routine for you. A trainer will also make sure to correct any improper movements that can lead to injury. If you can’t afford one, check your gym for group classes, like boot camp, high-intensity interval training, TRX, or kettlebells. Happy training!