How to exercise with a preschooler in tow? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: Richard Simmons Dance Your Pants Off! [VHS]Fantastic question from Jessica, and I can't wait to hear the responses:

What to do when you need to get into an exercise routine, but have a preschooler with you?

He is 4, and when he was younger I could put him in a stroller and walk or run, no problem, but now he is older I can't seem to think of anything to do so I can get some exercise. I do play with him outside, we play tag and soccer and such, but for every one step I take he has to take 2 or 3 and I don't feel like I get a good workout.

We also go swimming, but I can't really do laps in the pool with him there. I'm usually trying to instruct him on how to swim.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

My first thought is: child care. Not because you shouldn't exercise alongside your kid (it's wonderful in many ways), but because you clearly have a workout goal and time alone to achieve it would be an ideal way to take care of yourself.

As in:

  • Join a gym with child care.
  • Perhaps your partner/friend/neighborhood kid could hang out with your child while you work out. 
  • Exercise before everyone wakes up in the morning, assuming you've got another grownup in the house (asleep or awake).

If child care isn't in the cards, how about:

  • You do a workout video while he plays, naps, or watches TV.
  • You get a more heavy-duty jogging stroller and see if he's still willing to go for a ride. Perhaps a friend has one you could borrow?
  • You do shorter but more intense workouts (I'm thinking with weights, bands, a jump rope) so you can get your heart pumping while he's with you.

These ideas are all from my head…the fact is that I let having little kids be my excuse for not exercising. I applaud you, Jessica, and everyone else who's making time for health and self-care.

Parenthackers who are exercising with little kids…how do you do it? When do you do it? What do you do?

I'm not asking for stories of perfection here…it's a constant state of adjustment. Anything you have to offer is wonderful.

Related: Dance party "workout" for parents and toddlers

AndParent Hacks exclusive: THE CRAZY PARENT WORKOUT!!!!

Need some advice? Ask the Parenthackers! Here's how.


  1. Frances says

    Bike with a bike seat? My kid (almost three) enjoys bike rides and I get lots of exercise riding everywhere.

  2. says

    We have had good success using the jogging stroller in combination with a Leapster or Game Boy for up to 2 hrs. But if your kid’s big enough (as our son will be when he’s our daughter’s age) I can understand this not being an option.

    I second childcare … and exercising when your kids are sleeping. Jillian Michael’s “SHRED” and “RIPPED” DVDs are a personal fave and our treadmill has many miles logged on it as the babies sleep. The bike is a great idea too. We got our schwinn kid carrier late season at Target for around $60.

  3. Jack says

    Our four year old got his own bike with training wheels this summer and my wife can go jogging while he rides along. It’s not quite the same pace she’d do on her own but he does a decent job of keeping up most of the time.

    We’ve got a bike seat too, and both he and his younger brother enjoy going for rides with me.

  4. says

    This summer I took walks pushing my two-year-old in the stroller while my five-year-old rode his bike. He got going pretty quick on his bike; sometimes it was quite a challenge to keep up with him! Now we walk to school together. Not a terribly intense workout, but it works into our schedule and it’s better than nothing!

  5. chris says

    There’s good science behind the concept of working out as soon as you get up before you eat, then making sure you’re eating a good breakfast with protein when you’re done.

    Yeah, it sucks, but I get up at 5:30 before the 6:00 wake up call from the 2 year old and pretty much wake up while I’m on the treadmill.

    I have struggled with my weight forever. Since implementing this plan, I’ve maintained my weight loss for at least a year now and eat nearly everything I want. It’s done wonders for my metabolism.

  6. Jen says

    I have belonged to a gym that has child care for the past 5 years and it’s great. I only work 3 days a week, so the other 4 I’ll be at the gym, and I have been bringing my son there since he was a baby (he doesn’t go as often now that he’s in school but he still comes sometimes on the weekends). The rates for child care are reasonable at my gym and he doesn’t seem to mind it because he has friends he’s met there. I also sometimes tag-team with my husband and go to the gym after he gets home from work. That’s another gym option – try to find time when your spouse/partner is home and you can get a little time to yourself.

    If the gym is not your thing, then I would recommend getting a bunch of home gym items – dumbbells, videos, maybe even a treadmill or something if you have the budget and space. You’d be amazed at how much of a workout you can get while your kid watches the backardigans for 20 minutes or naps for an hour.

  7. Jessica says

    Wow. Thanks for all the ideas so far! It is especially hard for me to workout because I work full time and I am finishing up my Master’s Degree. Yeah, as if I need any extra stress in my life. I, too, have used not only my kid, but my full time work schedule and my school to excuse myself from working out, but no more! I am also tired of the doctors telling me I need to exercise. I’m not too over weight, but I am insulin dependent diabetic and need to watch my weight in order to stay healthy.

  8. Laura C says

    I stick my 2 year old in the stroller after I drop my 4 year old at preschool. I only get to run twice a week right now. My 4 year old also learned how to ride a bike last year. I have tried to run while he rides but he gets way to distracted by sticks and ducks. Looking forward to when the kids are both in school at the same time.

    I also have hired the neighbor girl that would come every Monday for 2 hours so I could go to the gym. She up and went off to collage.

    My play group in the summer did run playdates. 2 -6 moms all got a run in while watching the other 4-13 children. We would send one or two moms out at a time.

  9. Tracy says

    I bought a Zumba dvd to do at home. My 2 year old likes the upbeat music and enjoys trying to dance along with me. When he gets bored he can play in the adjoining room while I keep working out.

  10. says

    My husband attaches a trailer to his bike and brings the girls along. On a recent trip to Block Island where we didn’t bring a car, it was our only mode of transport and he lost 6 lbs that week!

    He also does pushups with our 4.5 y.o. on his back. She loves it and his biceps and triceps are on fire.

    Me? Oh, yeah. I just watch.

  11. Merrie says

    Go to the park and chase them around. Go to the backyard and play kickball or tag or water-games. It’s easy to exercise with a child as they do it naturally. Any parent of a young child can tell you how much they move. The important thing is to just move and have fun! Quality time + exercise = mission accomplished!

  12. Meredith says

    My daughter is 3 and son is 1. They of course do not nap at the same time. When he finally started sleeping through the night, my solution was to join a nearby bootcamp that meets 6 days/week from 6-7am. That way I can be home by 7:05 and get everyone ready for the day. Some days everyone is still sleeping when I get home and I get coffee made before starting my day. Bliss. My goal is to make it 3-4 days/week depending on how the night went. 8 weeks in- so far so good. I love being able to do something for myself and have some time to myself. Good luck everyone on finding what works for you!

  13. Stacy says

    Along the lines of a bike seat but maybe better for a 4 yr old (mine is 4, about to turn 5)…is a trail along bike. The child can pedal if they want to and rest when they’re tired. They do have to be able to hold on.

  14. says

    I have to agree with the child care recommendation. Some gyms offer child care in house. If not, you should look at a site like You pay $35 for a subscription but once you find someone and figure out your schedule, you can downgrade and leave. It was so worth it for me. I have some medical issues that require I, at least, walk daily and having a sitter was a LIFE SAVER.

  15. says

    Other savvy Parenthackers have commented in about necessities such as child care and waking up before everyone else, etc… all good comments! I’d also like to add these three suggestions that are crucial for me fitting in exercise:

    1. Go for a 20 minute rule. A lot of times people get stalled on the concept of fitness before they even start because it feels time consuming. I suggest resetting your expectations and going for a 20 minute rule — even a 20 minute run will feel fantastic, and is definitely do-able first thing in the morning, or after the work day is over (assuming you have a partner home at that time to swap in with).

    2. Multitasking fitness. I’m a big fan of this. For example, does your child go to preschool? If possible, take the bus or walk with him (in a stroller or whatever), then leave the stroller at school and RUN HOME. :-)

    3. Commit to weekend fitness. Assuming you have a partner at home, commit to weekend fitness. Make taking an hour each day (or hell, even one day!) to yourself for fitness/self care.

    Good luck! -Christine

  16. Sabrina says

    We have had great luck with an iPod and headphones for the little guy in the stroller (currently 4 yrs old). He listens to Magic Treehouse books on tape or Little Einsteins adventures. It makes him willing to sit in the stroller for most of an hour while I jog.

  17. says

    I have done the video thing and invited them to join along or entertain themselves. I was inspired by a distant cousin who told me that it’s just so important to her that she’s let her boys know that while she is doing her workout dvd there is absolutely nothing they can do to stop her. I blogged that here:

    My husband decided almost two Xmas’s ago to just change his schedule and commit to running. He’s been running 4 times a week for almost two years now and lost about 15 lbs. He looks great and I’m so proud of him for prioritizing it. (It’s hard to get out of bed in the dark!)

  18. says

    Someone shared this good tip at my site: If you have a treadmill, designate some special toys for treadmill-time only. This person had a table near her ‘mill and her kid could only play with the toys while sitting at the table when she was on the treadmill. That way he was safe and in view but not in the way. This might also work with exercise videos.

    I also used a bike trailer and then a tag-along bike for my younger child. So whenever I biked, I always had an extra 40+ pounds along for the ride – plus trailer is good for stashing groceries, library books, etc. etc.

  19. Aimee says

    I have been doing Stroller Strides classes with my daughter (4 1/2) since she was 4 months old. The variety of class times really work for me. Having other kids around keeps her entertained for the hour.

  20. says

    Best thing I ever did was create the home rule that kids could only watch TV while mom was exercising. I have 4/2/0 yos and this year since I made that rule, my 4yo has made sure I am EXTREMELY consistent at exercising. No matter how tired and lazy I feel, he is right there, setting up my mat, handing me my bands, helping find my shoes — he is ALL about exercise time! Two episodes of Blue’s Clues on netflix is exactly 50 minutes, the perfect length for a Mom workout.

  21. says

    Exercise with toddlers can be done!! I have three sons, ages 4, 2 and 7 months old, and we go to Stroller Strides a few times a week (I have the 4 and 2 year old boys in a double stroller, and I wear my 7 month old in an Ergo carrier). There are groups all over the U.S., and they are designed for mommas AND their babies! In one hour (give or take a few minutes) we power walk/jog, use weights and exercise bands, and squat, plank and push our way through a full body work out. The kids are great about hanging out in the strollers until the end…they run around while we do ab work and stretching. The website is, and I highly suggest checking it out!! The exercise is fantastic, the mommas and kids are amazing, and my kids are my biggest fans, saying “Momma, you are doing great, go faster!!”.

  22. says

    I have to second the bike seat idea. For me the motivation is that I have to get to where I’m going anyway and biking only takes a little longer, so I’m being productive while getting a work out. We use a Yepp seat which goes up to something like 53 lbs and works better than a trailer for me since I ride in a city where the streets are often narrow with a lot of traffic.
    Another idea is to set up a workout childcare swap with another mom. There are multiple ways this can be worked out according to what fits best with your situation. One way I have done it is to have one mom host, i.e. your friend brings her kiddo to your house, then she leaves to work out for an hour. When she returns you swap, and she watches the kiddos at your house while you do an hour workout. It’s a win/win/win situation. Both moms get a workout and the kids get a play date.

  23. Rachelle says

    I make up funny names for the exercises. Squats are know as ups and downs in my house and he giggles as he says the words while doing the action. Push up’s are also peek a boo’s. I have my son lie down with his head near mine and every time I am going towards him I close my eyes and as I push up I say peek a boo. My son also loves dancing so sometimes we just dance to some music or if I have a dvd with good music he will dance while I workout. I should mention he’s three. I also do all these things with my 18 month old and well the 8 month old usually just plays or gets some peek a boo’s while I exercise.

  24. GenE Shockley says

    Think outside the box and involve the kids too, so that they get used to the idea of exercise that is fun, even if it isn’t play.

    For someone new to exercise, they are going to have to build up their stamina, or they will get so sore they won’t exercise again.

    1. wall push-ups/aways. Face a wall, and stand far enough away that you lean into the wall and push your self away. This may not offer a lot of BODY resistance, but it will help strengthen your arm muscles before you graduate to full body push-ups on the floor. (when you lay parallel to the floor, there is a lot more gravitational pull, then there is pushing away from the wall. Graduate to using a table, then the arms or seat of a chair, before going full on the floor.

    2. lay a broom handle across two chairs. Lay on your back and do pull-ups. Start with just lifting your upper body, leaving your hips on the floor. Work several days on just getting your arms used to lifting your upper body, before graduating to lifting the hips also (at this point, you continue to rest the heels of your feet on the floor.

    3. Use your rolling pin. kneel on the floor and push the rolling pin away from you, and then pull it back.

    4. sit on the floor, with the rolling pin between your legs which are spread to a Y shape. Lean over and roll the pin away from you and then roll back toward you.

  25. says

    When my kids were younger, my main exercise was chasing them and playing. During the dry months, we’d hike with one of them on my back, or bike with them in tow and take a lot of family walks. Now that they’re older I run early in the morning before they wake.

  26. Jasi says

    Home DVD’s and Mommy & Me classes. A nearby dance school has an awesome dance fitness for moms and kids (babies, toddlers and preschoolers!) Most aerobic instructors keep that high energy, kid-friendly tenor anyway. Ask your local dance studios/ fitness gyms. They might even start a class on your initiative!

  27. Jo says

    I try to get into a yoga class once a week while dad watches the 4yo and 20 month old. Between classes, I practice yoga at the playground while the kids run and climb. I don’t usually get a full workout that way, but every little bit helps. One thing I love about yoga is that you can do it anywhere – there isn’t any specialized equipment that you have to have, and your own body provides all the weight and resistance. Mats are mainly to keep a studio clean, and I doubt anyone cares if you drip a little sweat on the ground of the park.

  28. says

    I do 20min circuits that my 2.5 year old does with me. She has her own workout mat and loves being a part of it. When I do cardio, I strap her in the stroller when she’ll put up with it, and when she wants to walk herself we go out for LONG walks instead of the fast ones we do with the stroller. Sometimes it still doesn’t work, but letting her be a part of it has helped a lot.

  29. says

    Don’t negate the benefits of being active and moving. We usually (by conditioning) only think of exercise as 3sets of whatever, followed by 2 sets of the next thing. Chasing your kid, picking him up,rough and tumble play, doing deep squats to wipe his nose etc. It all counts. Now if you’re trying to exercise for sport or to reach some athletic goal having “junior” in tow makes that a lot more challenging.

    Shameless Plug:

  30. says

    I use the Nintendo Wii Fit to workout at home. With the babies, there’s just no time to go out and have to handle both of them at the same time. Though, the hubby will help on occasion but he works alot of hours. So, for me staying active…exercise videos at home rock!

  31. says

    What I do is to let my 5 year old kid follow me while jogging. I am thankful that he is energetic enough to keep up with me for the most part of the run. When he gets tired I tell him to sit in the park bench and wait for me while I finish my last laps.

  32. says

    I practice yoga at the playground while the kids run and climb. I don’t usually get a full workout that way, but every little bit helps.

  33. says

    My first thought is: child care. Not because you shouldn’t exercise alongside your kid (it’s wonderful in many ways), but because you clearly have a workout goal and time alone to achieve it would be an ideal way to take care of yourself.