5 ways to manage athlete-mom guilt


“I’m going now. I’ll be back sometime after 7:00”

“Okay, no rush”

And with those words from my husband something in me relaxed a little more as I headed out on an evening mountain bike ride with a friend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, without the justification that I was training for a race, I’d let my riding time slide. While part of the reason was that life was just busier, another part of me felt guilty spending a few hours on my bike every so often when it took more time away from family or work.

Whether it be a run, a bike ride, a bootcamp, yoga, a soccer game,  or anything else that gets you out the door and moving it is important to do what makes you happy, energizes you, de-stresses you, and brings you back home a better person than when you left.

When I was first fitting in workouts as a new mom, my transitions from and to exercising were probably faster than they ever were in my triathlon races. I would worry about how my precious young daughter was doing while I was gone, and rush back home as soon as I could, guilty that she was starving or crying without me there. I relaxed a little more when my son came along, took time to enjoy a post-workout shower, and have learned to value the importance and ability of others to take good care of my kids. Now that my kids are a little older and more independent (6 and 8 years old), I’ve realized even more how important it is to continue to include guilt-free exercise in my routine consistently at any age and stage. Here are my two cents worth of tips for what helps to stay successful at it so far….

  1. Balance quality with quantity: As someone who loves endurance sport, training takes time. As most of us don’t have hours upon hours every day to devote to exercise, pick at least one day (or a few if you have time) per week that you can devote more time to exercise or add in some additional guilt-free socializing around exercise. Take the extra time for a post-workout stretch or coffee with friends. Other days you might only be able to squeeze in 20-30 minutes of exercise and that’s okay too, especially when you have the longer days to look forward to. I find balancing my needs to exercise with family/work needs on a week to week basis works best. Even if you love getting your workout in, feeling you have to get in a maximum amount in every day of the week to make it worth it can have to potential to leave you more frustrated than satisfied.
  2. Workout with friends or a group at least 50% of the time. I was just at a motivation conference this past weekend, and one researcher presented on how postpartum women were most successful at maintaining exercise when it involved exercising with others at least 50% of the time, as opposed to exercising on their own all the time. On top of the social support of meeting a friend or a group, it gives you permission to exercise control over your training. If you’ve agreed to meet a friend or go to the training group/class you signed up for you’ll be less likely to delay getting out the door by starting a new load of laundry, writing a few more emails or dealing with a kid squabble instead of getting out the door.
  3. Be timely. Adding on to the point above, notice what times of day you feel best working out as well as how you feel afterwards. I know when I get the chance I love to do a workout first thing in the morning as it energizes me, puts me in a better and more productive mood, and perhaps most importantly increases my patience threshold with my kids, the rest of the day. On the flip side, balancing enough sleep with getting up at the crack of dawn can be tough. Some days a lunch time or early evening workout works best. Like the above points some variety in the daily routine, who is involved and timing can keep things motivating, exciting, and fun. This way, I also get to spend different times of the day with my family and not miss all mornings or all evenings for example.
  4. Let go of being the perfect parent. Everyone has their own perspective on this point but there is a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent these days. What is meant by that is individual and can change daily depending on whose advice you take, but I find when I give myself permission to leave the house a mess some days, or let my kids entertain themselves for a while (even – gasp – watch TV), while I do a workout nearby, the world doesn’t end and everyone stays happy.
  5. Make the choice to exercise guilt-free. This may sound overly simple but my favourite online yoga video instructor says, “BE WHERE YOU’RE AT”. What makes working out so good for us is the ability to disconnect, and recharge with a simple minded focus for that period of your day. Take control of your “me-time” and own it. Just like while you can’t be two places physically at once, focus on only being in one place mentally at a time, enjoy focusing only on your time to move, recharge mentally, stay healthy and get strong!


Implementing Core Intentions

Well, if there is one thing you learn after childbirth, when you get exercising again, it is how much you use all those small core muscles to stabilize everything! After both kids were born, when I first started running again it felt like I was running with a jelly belly! It took at least six months each time until I felt everything was holding together solidly again when running, especially during speed work! And if you’re not strong from the core, it can lead to a bodily chain reaction of nagging pains or injuries in other areas. I came back quicker than ever after having my son and suffered some achilles problems for a bit as a consequence of a weakened core.

Every season, I have intentions of doing more core work as it is the foundation to having proper technique, strength, power and stamina in any sport. I realized this importance while mountain biking in the early months after having Nico as well, my back was often sore as it was doing all the work to stabilize me on the bike!

While I had a good start to regular core work as I began my winter training recently, as I write this I have fallen off the core wagon again! Unless I count all the box lifting I’ve done while moving houses the past week – and that’s my time excuse too, ha! My goal is to do regular core work 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 15 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much and as important as I recognize it to be, when the business of life and training sets in, and when I’m healthy and taking being injury-free for granted, core work is unfortunately the first thing to get dropped from my schedule. Oh, did I say schedule? Part of getting it done would be to put it in my schedule to start with! I’ve always liked the ring of “implementation intentions” an academic term related to the research of effective goal setting that means going beyond having the goal (or intention) to do something and planning the steps for how you will implement it – to consider where you will do it, how you will do it, when you will do it, with whom you will do it etc.

For now, I will focus on the how. Here are some of my favourite ways to work on core strength with enough variety to keep it interesting from week to week…

1. Swiss Ball Exercises. Coach (brother) Geoff put me on this program when I first started mountain biking. I do 10-20 repetitions of sit ups, right and left side sit ups (is this the right term?), back extensions, hamstring curls, and ball roll ups (from plank position with hands on the floor bring your knees up into your chest with the ball under the top of your feet) continuously rotating through each exercise for 10-15 minutes. Or build up to 45 minutes for a real trunk stamina challenge!

2. P90X. I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise DVD’s but my dad got into P90X and introduced it to me in the summer. The guy (Tony) is motivating and not annoying to listen to. Every exercise has a countdown timer too. My two favourites are Ab Ripper X, a solid and tough 15 minute core routine or if you have more time, the core synergistics workout is a good one that involves more dynamic and functional work with light weights and bands.

3. The Timer Mix. I set my watch to beep every minute and just rotate through any core exercises I can think for 10-15 minutes or more. Using a combination of ab work, planks, push-ups, side leg lifts, arm and leg work with resistance bands, the time goes by amazingly fast.

4. Yoga. In the past I’ve attended instructed classes, but since kids any “luxury time” to do yoga is usually with a DVD at home. On of my favourites is Baron Baptiste’s beginner Yoga workout. Unlike many yoga workouts that take well over an hour, this one takes 40 minutes and includes all the essential poses with a good core workout to finish it off. I love yoga for all the other things you can work on at the same time as well such as relaxation, breathing, mindfulness, and flexibility

5. Pilates. Not one of my faves because I’ve yet to try it but I must add it to the list as I’ve heard this is a great workout for core strength!

Is breastfeeding performance enhancing?

You’re still breastfeeding?! I get this question a lot. Zoe breastfed until just before two years old, and Nico is still going strong and feeds on-demand at 15 months. Whenever he pleases, the “dairy queen” is always open, ha! I don’t proclaim to be a “lactivist” and I certainly can appreciate the difficulties my friends and many women have with breastfeeding be it milk production, ongoing latching difficulties, scheduling with returning to work, or any other obstacles that make continued breastfeeding more stressful than pleasurable for mommy or baby or both!

I have one athletic friend, who said, “My body didn’t feel completely normal again until I stopped breastfeeding.” I can’t say I’ve experienced the same. And other than the 9 months plus I was pregnant with Nico, I’ve spent 3 out of the past 4 years breastfeeding while training and competing. In fact, I’ve even found it even has the ability to enhance performance and here are my top reasons why….

1. Motivation to set personal bests. In the first six months you may set some personal training and racing bests because you’ll be worried your infant will starve if you don’t get back to them in time!

2. Extra rest and recovery time. You can sneak in some extra and valuable downtime while breastfeeding, with a great excuse to put your feet up for 10 minutes or more, ahhhh…..You can say “Sorry ‘husband’, I can’t help with dinner (or whatever else) right now, ‘baby’ is nursing”….”Sorry, ‘other child(ren)’, can’t play etc right now, ‘baby’ is nursing.” Its also an easy way to calm your child and help them get to sleep easier! Plus the hormones oxytocin and prolactin are released which make mommy feel more relaxed!

3. You can eat for two! I know many jokingly say this while pregnant, but I’ve found “eating for two” is truly more appropriate while breastfeeding and exercising, especially during the second year of breastfeeding! Breastfeeding moms can burn an extra 300-500 calories a day. I’ve never been as lean as I have while breastfeeding. And I do not really have to watch what I eat! As long as I’m breastfeeding while training regularly maintaining race weight hasn’t been a problem, particularly in year two, perhaps due to the increased fat content of the milk as explained by the following quote found on http://www.kellymom.com….

“Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant.”
— Mandel 2005

4. You may continue to increase your pain tolerance. As most mom’s experience, once baby turns into a teething toddler, these little nursing munchkins like to practice their acrobatic moves, “twiddling” the side they are not feeding from, and occasionally chomping down with their teeth! Yeowww!

5. It enhances baby’s performance! You can be motivated by the fact that a few months or years of your life spent breastfeeding can go a long way for baby. Research has shown breastfeeding children benefit nutritionally, are sick less often, have fewer allergies, and are well-adjusted socially. Extensive research has also linked duration of breastfeeding to cognitive achievement!

6. It enhances mother’s health factors. Mom’s who breastfeed past infancy reduce the risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers. Breastfeeding also protects against osteoporosis, reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and can help moms lose weight easier (as already mentioned).

7. Appearance enhancement! Finally, for those of us who are born not so well-endowed, as long as we breastfeed it is just plain enhancing! 😉

I also enjoyed a similar post by Brandi earlier this year, as her son’s “boobie time” came to a close. Click here to read.

What do getting back in shape after baby and LTAD stages have in common?

The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) stages were created by Canadian Sport for Life as a guide, to quote the website, for “an individual’s experience in sport and physical activity from infancy through all phases of adulthood”.

Getting your body back in shape after having a baby can feel like you are starting at square one again, and literally like taking baby steps all over again as far as fitness is concerned! As with exercising during pregnancy (the subject of future posts) I’ve been asked quite often about getting back in shape after childbirth. When I think back to my fitness progression in the year after giving birth I can relate it well to the seven LTAD stages, which are below with a Postpartum spin and a rough timeline for each. Of course, the timeline is very approximate and very individual depending on the birth experience, the baby and number of older children you have, your pregnancy training, and how determined you are to get to or back to a certain fitness level!

1 – 2: Active Start and FUNdamentals (0-3 months postpartum): This is the go with the flow stage. You are adjusting to life with a newborn and really going by feel. Any physical activity is short and for fun such as social walks with baby, yoga, some core work when you feel ready, a light spin on the bike, with no structured training, just something as often as you can that makes you feel good and gives you a little time to yourself!

3. Learning to Train Again (3-6 months postpartum) : If all goes well, at this stage a slightly more structured approach can be taken. You may start making weekly training goals, make a training schedule, or sign up for a regular class. With the ligaments that were loosened during childbirth getting tight again impact exercise such as running can start to feel more comfortable, especially if doing any intervals or speed work.

4. Training to Train (6-9 months postpartum): After both of my children it wasn’t until about the 6 month mark that I felt more normal again, and feeling strong and “normal” in my core again, especially while running. So at this stage I felt good to go as far as following a regular training program again. If competing at all, races can be a good gauge of progress but may be viewed more as “training races” in this time frame depending on your goals. Many moms can get frustrated if they haven’t lost the baby weight by this point but I would emphasize here the importance of focusing on how much better and stronger you feel after exercising consistently again. Weight loss may plateau at times but as long as you are feeling fitter and fitter and make the time to workout consistently while eating healthy the weight will take care of itself eventually!

5. Training to Compete (9-12 months postpartum): Now it is go time! Depending on your progress, you may be able to drop the “I just had a baby” excuse for performance. By this stage after both of my children I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight or lower (thanks to breastfeeding!) and previous benchmarks as far as interval times in training and tests on the bike. If you’ve worked hard you can feel as fit as ever and ready to tackle any training or race challenges you’d like to set for yourself around the 12 month postpartum mark!

6. Training to Win (12 months postpartum +): While obviously not every mom’s goal is to go out and win races after having children, I look at interpreting the Training to Win phase as the time during which you can set more challenging goals for fitness or competition, whatever that may be personally for you! Raise your personal bar a little! For me, that began with training and competing at the same level I was prior to children, and then working on improving that level over time – before my advancing age starts to slow me down that is, ha!

7. Active for Life: Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, have managed to stay fit during pregnancy and after a child or two, you’ve made it through one of the biggest obstacles in life to staying fit and will have no problem making physical activity a priority for in the coming years!

Returning to racing easier after baby number two?!

Wow, does a year ever fly by! While out riding my bike and dodging thunderstorms yesterday I was thinking about the fact that just a year ago, Nico was one month old and I was just starting to train again. And when I compare getting my body back into shape after childbirth, to my great surprise I found it much easier the second time around and looking back these are the reasons why:

1. I won the baby sleep lottery! My firstborn, Zoe, often woke up and liked to play for an hour of more a few times per night until at least 3-4 months old and regularly woke up in the hour of 6:00am well past the age of one. On the otherhand, by about 10 days old, Nico was sleeping through the night other than waking up to nurse and go right back to sleep which he still does. He also has rarely woken up for the day before 7:30am so I have been able to wake up most days feeling reasonably rested and ready to go!

2. I was committed to get back in shape fast! While pregnant with Zoe I was unsure of whether I would feel like racing again after she was born. I signed with my current team, the LUNA Pro team, a month or so after she was born, and that motivated me to get going. While pregnant with Nico I had already signed a contract with LUNA to race the second half of the season starting in August after he was born in May! But you don’t have to be on professional team to set some comeback goals to get yourself going. I’ve talked to several moms who’ve told me they set goals while pregnant to for example, to run at 10k at 4 months PP, run a marathon at 6 months PP, or complete an Ironman at 12 months PP etc.

3. I’ve been there, done that! Having your first baby is a major live changing event! It is exciting and overwhelming at the same time with so much to learn about yourself and taking care of a baby. Like anything new we try in life, once we’ve been through something once, we’re much better prepared the second time- for example, in sport I often think of an athlete returning to his or her second Olympics way better prepared about what to expect because they’ve been through the crazy excitement of it all once already. With Nico I’ve been more relaxed, and have been able to get in much more “guilt-free training” knowing he is well taken care of – it has also helped that Nico also took a bottle since 4 weeks old and Zoe never did. Having already traveled to countless races with Zoe, the extra organization of having two versus one to travel with has been less of a jump. Who knows, maybe it would be even easier again after three kids. Since I don’t plan on finding out, maybe some other moms would know?? HA!