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Making Time for Fitness - The Struggle is Real

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

I recently sat down with Katie, a friend that I've admired for her flexible approach to fitness, and to life. She is a 17 year veteran of the military spouse life, with 14 and 11 year old kids. She has worked or volunteered in a multitude of roles for most of those years, and is about to embark on her next chapter - a master's degree! We became exercise buddies in England when she invited me on a hike in the South Downs. A big thank you to her for sharing her story and tips for Plan B!

When I asked you about how you've maintained a consistent exercise practice over the years, what was your first thought?

Picture this scene: a baby crying in the pack-n-play, a toddler with a leaking sippy cup eating goldfish in my bed, watching the Disney Channel. Me? I’m doing my best to be OK with it all for just 30 minutes. It felt like pure madness at times, especially given our cultural ideals of the perfect mom. But now that I have some distance from those times, I realize those 30 minutes kept me sane, and gave me the physical and mental strength I needed to be the best mom I could be. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect mom, no matter what you see on social media!

Have you always had the mindset to take care of yourself?

I have. It’s rare, I think, to have that mindset at a young age, but my personal experiences have had a big impact. When I was about 10 years old, my dad was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Ever since then, there was an emphasis on staying healthy and active in our family. I started running in junior high for the cross-country team. I wasn’t the fastest, but I loved running and how it made me feel.

The specifics of taking care of myself have evolved over the years. I’ve gone from just running and other cardio to incorporating weight training, yoga and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I’ve found that adding weight training into my weekly routine has helped with strength in all areas of my life and I love the way it makes me feel! I’m not a skinny person but I look and feel fit, strong, and healthy.

Making it work with children - You have to have the mindset to make the time and be flexible with the type of exercise.

How did exercise change when you had children and how did you find ways to make it work?

Exercise and kids…the struggle is real! The truth is, it’s always hard and you have to commit yourself mentally to make it work. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of "I'm too tired, I don't have time" thinking. The amount of time may vary day to day, month to month, year to year. It’s the belief that your physical and mental health is important that matters most.

When my kids were babies I used the pack-n-play and my treadmill. As you can see from above, I lived with a bed full of crumbs because I could count on my toddler to watch cartoons for 30 minutes while I exercised. I’ve worked in the childcare room of a gym one night a week because I could get a free membership and free child care in return. I have also swapped childcare with a girlfriend. She would drop off her guy and exercise and shower, then come pick up both of my kids and take them to her house. Having the support of another mom solved the challenge of childcare while exercising, without the guilt.

Once my kids started school, I began working and this posed new challenges for finding the time to exercise. I bought P90X and T25 (video programs). I personally would rather be at a gym, but these were great options when I couldn’t get there and my husband would do it too! I also had my treadmill, so I would sometimes run in the mornings or after the kids were in bed. If your kids are in sports, take advantage of the time they are practicing and run or do an outdoor workout on the playground. Coaches used to make fun of me as I ran around the track at football and baseball practices, but I didn’t care. I’ve also had my son ride his bike or scooter while I ran, which challenged me to run fast enough to keep up!

Our most recent move has been the most challenging, time-wise. My husband and I are both working, and he’s away for a week each month. When he is home, he’s able to pick up the kids from school, which allows me to go straight to the gym after work. When he’s away, I don’t beat myself up about my exercise. Instead, I give myself some time to rest and just get to the gym when I can. I’ve got memberships for my kids at the YMCA and my son will go with me from time to time.

My big secret to maintaining exerecise through all the stages of motherhood and the unpredictability of moving? I choose to make it work. I plan when it will happen. Regularly. It may look different with the change of seasons, child stages, locale. You have to have the mindset to make the time and be flexible with the type of exercise.

How did you approach the need for support from your partner?

Having the support of my husband has been key! Beyond supporting me going to the gym, he supports a healthy lifestyle for our family, and takes on responsibility at home. He’ll cook dinner and take care of whatever needs to be done. I’ve gone through three or four treadmills in 17 years of marriage and not once has he complained about getting another one. He’s even been supportive of marathon training, which took loads of time! So many times he has cared for the kids so that I can get to the gym, race, run, all of it. The most important thing is that he has never made me feel guilty about any of it. It’s a partnership.

Exercise buddies - the women who do say yes will be there to support you, no matter what, even (especially) on your worst days.

Any tips on finding exercise buddies when you move?

My biggest tip - don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can join in, whether it be a run, lifting, whatever. Ask your local gym what classes they are offering and start talking to people there. I’ve been that crazy girl, going up to a group of women running in the neighborhood, and asking if I can join them next time. My heart may have been racing and my husband’s jaw may have been on the ground, but I've gained exercise partners and lifelong friendships! On the flip side, if anyone offers me a chance to join them for exercise, I never turn them down.

I will admit that it is hard. You never know what is going to happen. Will they like you, will they be faster or stronger than you, will you like them? It doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that you put yourself out there, because I’ve found that the women who do say yes will be there to support you, no matter what, even (especially) on your worst days.

My closest friends from the last 17 years have been my exercise buddies. Sharing blood, sweat and tears is what it’s all about, and these women will push you to be a better version of yourself, in all aspects of your life. Oh, and they’ll tell you when you’re being unreasonable. That’s important too!

Deployments can be particularly challenging. How have you dealt with that?

My biggest challenge during a deployment, initially, was finding time. Once the dust settled, I could establish a routine and I was golden! I figured out what time I could exercise and kept to that schedule. If the kids had evening sports practice, I would take it outside while they were at practice. During the winter I would be on the treadmill or do a P90X or T25 workout. I had to be adaptable. I didn’t get tied to one type of exercise. If I only had a short amount of time I made it count. I have hired sitters one weekend morning a week, to do long runs or a class at the gym. During the summer I would get a sitter three mornings a week. Again, once you can think straight (and you will), you set up an exchange with a friend, babysitters, gyms with childcare, etc. If your kids are in school, be sure you consider your exercise before volunteering every bit of your time away. Take your butt outside or to the gym and enjoy, de-stress, restore, because YOU are the only one who can do this for yourself!

How to be consistent - be realistic, something is better than nothing

Any more tips on practical solutions for consistently exercising?

The biggest tip is to be realistic. Right now I can only lift twice a week. I would love to add one more day but it’s not realistic for my current life. I’m a type A personality, and if I commit to too much I feel awful. Commit to what you think you can do and adjust as life changes. Something is better than nothing. If you’re crazy busy, go for a walk or short run when you can. Take the stairs not the elevator, etc. Make friends with people who are in a similar situation, and share childcare or include your children, whenever possible. It’s more about making up your mind than anything else.

Still not convinced you have time to take care of you? Send me an email at with the subject line, "The Struggle is Real", and I will send you a Planning and Time Use Worksheet to help you find time.
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