It’s a given—as a new mom, you won’t have much time to exercise. But you don’t need a lot, according to exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser, who developed a plan that takes advantage of quick spurts of exercise in his book The Spark (Fireside, 2002). “You can target all of your major muscles in one 10-minute workout and make significant changes in your body in three weeks,” Gaesser says. The idea is to squeeze in 10 to 12 “sparks” each week (each spark is 10 minutes). This will help you incorporate all three components of fitness—cardiovascular endurance, strength (see moves at right) and flexibility.
The following routine was adapted from the Sparks Plan and was designed by Gaesser especially for new moms. Try to fit in two spark sessions a day. You can start with 10–12 sparks a week after you get the OK from your doctor at your six-week checkup. As you get stronger and more familiar with your new-mom schedule, progress to 15 sparks a week.
Do 5–7 times a week. The key to short bursts of cardio is to vary the intensity. Using a scale of 1–5 (for example, 1 is a slow stroll, 5 is power walking), warm up for about 2 minutes at level 2 and then work out for about 10 minutes at level 3 or 4. Do whatever you like that gets you moving: walk, use a stationary bike or dance with your baby.
Do our workout (at right) 2–3 times a week. These 4 exercises—the lunge, dumbbell row, ab crunch and bent-knee push-up—will work all of your major muscles. Take 1 minute to do some shoulder rolls and easy marching to warm up.
Do 2–3 times a week. Stretching is important for easing the muscle discomfort caused by constantly lifting and carrying your baby. Aim to stretch all of your major muscle groups. Start with gentle neck rolls, then stretch your arms, your torso and your legs. Hold each stretch to a point of mild tension for 20–30 seconds.
1. LUNGE: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Contract abdominals and step forward with one foot, bending knees just enough that your front knee is aligned with your front ankle and your back knee points toward the floor, heel lifted. Push back off your front foot to return to starting position. Do 10–12 repetitions, working up to 15. Switch legs and repeat. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and calves.
2. ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROW: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a 5-pound dumbbell in your left hand. Bend knees and lean forward until torso is parallel to the floor, left arm hanging down in line with left shoulder. Place right hand on right thigh. Bend left elbow; then straighten arm. Do 10–12 reps, working up to 15. Switch arms and repeat. Strengthens middle back, rear shoulders and biceps.
3. AB CRUNCH: Lie faceup, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place fingertips behind head, unclasped, elbows open. Contract abs to bring spine into contact with the floor; then lift head, neck and shoulder blades off floor, bringing ribs toward hips. Lower and repeat. Do 10–12 reps, working up to 15. Strengthens abdominals.
4. BENT-KNEE PUSH-UP: Kneel on the floor, knees under hips. With arms straight, walk hands forward until wrists are under shoulders and torso forms a straight line from head to hips. Tighten abs. Bend elbows; lower chest toward floor until elbows are 90 degrees to shoulders. Push up to starting position and repeat. Do 10–12 reps, working up to 15. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps.