I know firsthand what it feels like to juggle health, fitness, family, and finances. Balancing things is tough! But in my book, Busy Mum Syndrome: How to Let Go of Excuses, Lose Weight And Create the Life You Deserve, I suggest that building a healthy approach to all of those areas actually starts with fitness.
Why is this? There are many reasons, ranging from the boost in energy that exercise gives us to the way it encourages building healthy habits. But this much is clear: It's an area that busy moms struggle with!
No matter what stage you are at after the birth of your little one (or little ones), taking charge of your training and avoiding these pitfalls will help you build momentum. More importantly, it will restore the confidence you need to get back on track with your goals.
1. You Just Do What Everyone Else Does
When we don't know what to do, we often resort to doing what everyone around us is doing. For many women at the gym, this means flocking to slow-moving cardio machines (usually with TVs) and performing the same old half-hearted lightweight upper-body workouts. This approach isn't useless, but it also isn't optimal—and it definitely isn't time-efficient.
If you have a busy lifestyle—and perhaps a few kids to look after—then you want to make every minute in the gym count. For me, that's where high-intensity interval training (HIIT) really shines.
HIIT offers all of the fat-burning benefits of longer sessions without the added time commitment. Studies show that by combining brief periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of lower intensity, you can create intense workouts that will increase your athletic capacity, add muscle while burning fat, and even improve glucose metabolism.[1,2]
Using this technique has allowed me to get in and out of the gym while crushing an effective workout, maintaining my figure, juggling a business, and raising two kids. This is a legitimately revolutionary idea in fitness, so don't write it off just because it's tough!
2. You Don't Have Workout Goals
If you're getting back in the gym after a while away from it, exercise will cause a certain amount of discomfort. Unfortunately, when you're in the middle of the struggle, your big-picture goal—losing fat/looking amazing/being healthy—isn't always "real" enough to keep you going. This is when having small goals for each workout is essential.
Bodybuilders and elite athletes do this systematically, always aiming for specific performance markers: a certain number of sets, a faster sprint time, or doing the same workout in less time. Even just following a workout to the letter, rather than cutting corners or skipping reps, can be a worthy goal.
Whatever your approach, meeting or exceeding your expectations will keep your mind sharp, your healthy habits on point, and your physique headed in the right direction.
3. You Spend Too Much Time on "Prep" Exercises
Any trainer worth listening to will tell you that dynamic warm-ups and mobility drills are essential to prevent injury and target the right muscles. But they're not a replacement for a proper workout.
Yes, we all have imbalances, injuries, and restrictions that should be addressed, but that shouldn't stop you from diving in and getting what you want from exercising. Here's a solution: Allow yourself 10-15 minutes to warm up—using a timer if necessary—and work on some of your weak points before jumping into your workout. This will keep you from using your "corrective" and "functional" routines in order to avoid doing the hard work. Even cleverly disguised excuses are still excuses.
4. You Warm Up the Wrong Way
If what I was saying earlier about a dynamic warm-up caused you to a blank, it's high time you modernize your gym ritual!
The old school way to warm up was to use static stretches to "relax" overactive muscles and to get ligaments and tendons ready for action. We've all done this, right? Well, it turns out we had it wrong. Warming up with static stretches can actually be detrimental to performance, especially if you are performing resistance training. They have been shown to reduce strength, power output, and muscle activation, resulting in an impaired workout.[3,4]
If you want to warm up in a way that won't impact your performance, use dynamic stretches and muscle-activation drills. On leg day, try high-knee jogs, air squats, bodyweight lunges, and rear-leg raises to warm up your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. For upper-body days, start your workout with arm circles, broomstick stretches, dynamic back stretches, and push-ups.
Those traditional static stretches still have their place when it comes to combating post-workout tightness. The order in which you perform different types of exercises and stretches is a key component to success.
5. You Don't Listen to Your Body
In our modern, intellectual society, we have gotten used to living from the "neck up." By this I mean we think our way through every situation, often ignoring the sensations that our body constantly feeds us. When it comes to vigorous physical activity, it's important to think of these sensations as our body's way of communicating with us.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as "no pain, no gain." You need to be able to differentiate between the pain of exertion and the pain of injury, which takes practice. I have pushed myself too far many times, injuring myself in the process and setting myself back several weeks.
On the other hand, you can also limit yourself by letting your mind tell you to stop when your body can handle far, far more. Anybody who has reached a high level of success in a sport will tell you they were capable of more than they realized at first. There's no easy cut-and-dried answer here, but in my experience, simply committing yourself to consistent exercise is one of the best ways to develop the ability to learn from—and to teach—your body.
6. You Don't Trust the Process
It's a curious fact of life that we often end up sabotaging the goals we want most desperately to achieve.
In fitness, this manifests in many ways. It's that moment of weakness when you get distracted and change workouts every couple of weeks, even though you're far from mastering the last ones. It's when you skip sessions for no good reason, dive into brutal workouts when you know you're tired and probably not able to give your best, or going through the motions with easy workouts that don't challenge.
Ultimately, the mistakes that we make when exercising are just part of a larger learning process. But only if we recognize them as such! Learn from your mistakes, and when in doubt, stick with something that has worked well enough, rather than reaching for something new and shiny.
If you struggle with having too many choices—which is normal—don't be afraid to reach out to other people who have already achieved what you want, and learn from them. Someone else has already learned these lessons the hard way. Just a little bit of wisdom from them can make all the difference!
- Astorino, T. A., Allen, R. P., Roberson, D. W., & Jurancich, M. (2012). Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(1), 138-145.
- Boutcher, S. H. (2010). High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. Journal of obesity, 2011.
- Cramer, J. T., Housh, T. J., Weir, J. P., Johnson, G. O., Coburn, J. W., & Beck, T. W. (2005). The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanomyography. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 93(5-6), 530-539.
- Marek, S. M., Cramer, J. T., Fincher, A. L., & Massey, L. L. (2005). Acute effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle strength and power output. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(2), 94.