How to Exercise With Small Children

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This post could also be entitled, "How to Exercise With Small Children, Without Them Killing You or Each Other."

BIG disclaimer: I am by no means 100% at fitting in a workout with my young children.  To be very honest, I quickly learned it's almost impossible with three little kids.  I do my best now to exercise before my kids get up for the day, because I finally got to the point where I realized exercise was more stressful for them--and for me--when I was trying to incorporate it into all of our mornings. Even before my third baby was born, my two oldest were fighting like cats and dogs in the running stroller.  And my home workouts were looking like this, at best:

So if you have little kids, please don't look at this post and feel bad if you aren't in a regular exercise rhythm.  It's definitely far from perfect in our household.  There is a time and a season for everything, exercise included.

However, exercise is high priority in my life because of what it does for me mentally.  (Also, it allows me to eat ice cream without an unnecessary amount of guilt, like I am doing as I write this post.) No matter how much I hate lacing up my running shoes or getting on my workout clothes, I NEVER regret a workout, however big or small.  So when I've had a rough night's sleep and have to fit in a workout with my kids around, I still do my best to do so, even if it's a 20 minute workout.

My disclaimer aside, I have managed to keep exercise a regular part of my mom-routine for 4 1/2 years, most of that including my kids while running.  I do feel that I have some good tricks up my sleeve that I hope can help anyone who is in my (running) shoes.


I am obsessed with my BOB running strollers.  I have both a single and a double.  If my garage caught on fire, I'd do my best to save them both.  Yes, they are rather bulky and it can feel like pushing a boat.  But it's a very easy-to-push, bouncy boat!

I also have a bike trailer.  I'm not too crazy about it (it didn't cost an arm and a leg, so that's probably why).  It gets the job done, but I would not save it in a fire. I think I'm not over the moon about biking with my kids because they tend to fight terribly while in it; I believe it's probably something to do with not having a fabric barrier between them like the stroller does. However, when they were well-behaved I have LOVED biking with my kids. It felt like cheating-exercise.

Here's my tips for those two activities:

1) Make It Special.  Try to make build up the excitement surrounding the workout: "We're going to go see the ducks at the pond!" "Let's go count all the dogs we see on the running trail!"  "There are beautiful leaves/flowers to see today!"

Leading up to getting out of the house (which takes FOREVER most of the time), I also get the kids going and excited by telling them to choose a special snack from our cupboard and a toy they want to bring.  They don't usually get to eat their snack until we are halfway through our run/ride, and it's usually something they don't regularly get to eat mid-morning (such as a fruit snack).

2) BOOKS!  I always have books within arms length for my kids to grab while I'm running.  They might not be able to read yet, but they enjoy looking through books they are familiar with.  I have the kids choose which ones they want, and I leave them in the stroller/trailer until they seem over them, then we switch them out, also with their input.

3) Break It Up. I am lucky to be able to run/bike along local trails with some kid-friendly destinations along the way.  These include: ducks usually stationed along a certain part of the trail, parks, playgrounds, special views, flowers to smell, etc.  When they are going nuts, I remind them that if they are well-behaved, we get to stop and see something.  ("If you can use a soft voice for five minutes, we can stop to see the ducks!") Sometimes, we even stop at a playground for a half-hour or more.  My oldest (4 years young) has ridden her bike alongside me, which made her quite pleased despite it taking us double the usual time to do a three-mile jog. Even though I don't enjoy dragging out my workout, I'd much rather they get some enjoyment out of it themselves so that they will want to go again in the near future.

I have some exercise videos that have cycled through my arsenal.  Jillian Michaels used to be a go-to, but I've also used free workouts on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  (I hear youtube is great too.)  Videos tend to cycle in and out of those services though, so I recommend simply searching for: "Workout," "Cardio Workout," "Yoga," etc. until you find something you'd like to try.

After our last baby was born six months ago, I subscribed to a year at  There are a TON of workouts on there, ranging in effort and time-alloted.  (I'm obviously not getting paid for this.) I really like those workouts because they are somehow both doable and challenging.  They also help me with one of my major exercise weaknesses: strength training.  (I'm more of a cardio queen.)  And really, Jillian Michaels is kind of the last thing I want to be doing right now!  (Burpees, I hate you.)

For the kids:

1) Set Up An Activity: My kids have painted, played with play-doh, put together puzzles, read books, etc. while I've worked out at home.  The key here is to start with something they don't normally get to do that also is time consuming for THEM (but not for you). (At our house, that's painting!) Then, you also set up other things for them to play with when they are done with the first.  For example, when they finish painting, I might have the play-doh put all ready within my arm's reach, or coloring books/crayons set up in their room, or a huge puzzle laid out to do.  Now is a good time to remind them of toys they used to love but seemed to recently forget about.  When in doubt--and if able--send them outside.  Worry about the mud later.

2) Snacks: When all else fails, throw a snack at them, but one that is more time-consuming for them to eat.  String cheese can take forever for them to peel; also, cuties!  Or dipping carrots in ranch or almonds in peanut butter with them crunching away.  I tend to NOT do the easy grab-n-go snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, crackers, etc.) in this case for two reasons:
1) they always want more; 2) they are more grouchy/whiney after eating the easy sugary snacks than beforehand.  This is also something you can set up right before.

3) Incorporate Your Kids: There are some great Instagram moms who show you exercise moves you can do USING your children.  Think, weighted squats while holding a child, or high fives every time you come up during a sit-up.  Usually though, I prefer someone already telling me what to do for and throughout a whole workout vs. me putting a series of exercise moves together.  (Ain't nobody got time for that!)  I tend to simply have my kids do what I'm doing next to me, and act all excited that they're doing it!

Finally, know when to CALL IT A DAY.  What matters is that you tried.  Some kids will NEVER make it through a run in a stroller.  Some kids will NEVER let you work out from home without wanting your attention every single second.  Know when to turn back, to turn it off, and to simply pat yourself on the back for even giving it a shot.

For example, the other day, I completed a 40 minute Barre3 workout . . . with an eight hour intermission.  I'm pretty sure my heart rate never got up to any sort of burn, but I did my best until my baby needed me (17 minutes into the workout) and I picked it back up when I could much, much later.

I've quit a mile into a run when my kids were showing today was not the day; I've had one child walk home alongside the bike trailer instead of being tucked inside, because the other child is being so nasty; I've done 9 minutes of a video and turned it off because my kids clearly needed mom.

Time and a season, folks!

Any tips you can share?  I'd love to hear.


  1. Hahaha! I was just telling my husband that's it's impossible to workout with kids around. All I wanted to do is run a mile in peace, instead the kids are throwing things all over the garage and throwing things onto the treadmill as I run. I did finish my mile, but I wasn't in the best of moods afterwards. The best time for me during nap time, but sometimes by the time that's rolled around all I want to do is take a nap myself :)

    1. A mile with kids around is like 10. Be proud! And I'm the WORST at exercising during naps. That's my sit-on-the-couch time.

  2. Russell is so cute in these videos! I'm super impressed you try with kids. Sometimes I have to finish a workout with the kids if I woke up late or something but it's rare. Your brother is quite possibly the most supportive/best husband EVER for always letting me get my morning therapy session, I mean, morning workout in. :) Great ideas! I have tried lots of those in the past but I'm obviously not very good at doing them b/c my patience tolerance while working out is very, very low.

    1. I think you really are AMAZING for getting up when you do every day. Seriously, you inspire me. I am not the best behaved myself when my kids are around during my workouts (yes, "therapy sessions!"), but I am also really struggling with waking up before they are up... It's a conundrum!


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