Last March I read an article in Verily Magazine that stayed with me. Entitled, It’s Time to Forget the Idea That We Can ‘Get Back’ Our Pre-Baby Bodies”, the piece more than stayed with me, it bugged me.  Anna Quinlan makes the case that because “babies change everything” new moms should succumb to the fact that their bodies (and life) will never be the same as they were before pregnancy and we should embrace these changes with awe and gratitude.  While I agree with some of her points, I also feel like she’s offering an excuse, using poetic-sounding language to paint a picture that because a woman gave birth, her body can never be as fit or sexy ever again.

The goal to “get your body back” doesn’t have to be a dangerous thought. As Quinlan mentioned in the piece, if you are trying to match some unrealistic expectation exaggerated by celebrities in tabloid magazines (Here’s some advice – Stop wasting your time reading tabloid magazines!) you’re putting yourself in perilous waters.  Rather with patience, purpose, and perseverance, women should strive to look (and more importantly, feel) better than they did before.

In the nine months leading up to my son’s birth, I truly gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of how complex and remarkable the human body is.  If my body was capable of growing a life and delivering a precious baby into the world, what couldn’t it do?  But “awe” and “gratitude”?  I don’t know about you, but I was definitely not in awe of my stretch marks and a saggy belly, nor grateful for the roller-coaster of post-partum emotions I experienced.  What I was in awe of was the strength I knew I possessed. To lose 50lbs. To be a healthy, fit, confident Mom for my new son.  And yes, even strive to look and feel sexy again for my husband.

I think it’s time we set the bar higher for moms. Let’s get past the frazzled, over-worked, I-don’t-even-have-time-to-shower stereotype and show the world how capable we are.  All moms –whether they are home full-time or have full-time careers – will face a multitude of struggles and new battles.  The best thing we can do is engage in activities that increase our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and surround ourselves with people who appreciate our efforts, understand the hardships, but also challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves.

As I wrote about here a few years ago, my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being was found on a running trail.  At five weeks post birth, I began running and spent many blustery winter evenings alone with my new-Mom thoughts, gradually building back my endurance and strength, but it wasn’t easy:

“…while my mind was geared up for exercise, my body lagged behind. I will never forget how I felt on that first night out. Bundled up in a cozy fleece and proud that I could fit into a pair of non-maternity leggings, I turned up the tunes on my IPod, took a deep breath of the biting air, and began my jog. In my head, I envisioned an hour long run – maybe grinding out 4-5 miles to my punk-rock workout mix – feeling sweaty and exhilarated at the end. In reality, though, I only made it about half a mile until I had to slow down to a walk because I was so winded. As I fought back the tears and nursed an aching abdominal cramp, I became discouraged for a moment; I thought I would never get back to my pre-pregnancy energetic and athletic self. Luckily it was a fleeting thought. Instead, I had a mini pep-talk with myself and vowed that no matter how long it took, with determination, drive, and patience, I would get my body back to where it was a year ago – Baby steps, Jenn. You’ll get there, but it might take baby steps.”

And that’s exactly what it took – literal baby steps. I could have given up right then and there; gone home that night, chalking it up to “Well, I’m a Mom now, I guess that’s it.”  Instead, I pressed on. As winter turned into spring, I continued to run outside but used the opportunity to get both my son and I out into the fresh air.  Together (and with a little help from the best stroller on the planet) we ran and bonded through 5-6 miles every morning.  By the following fall (about nine months later) I had lost all 50lbs, but more importantly, I was fitter and stronger than I was before pregnancy.

Truthfully, I didn’t think I could ever get a better workout than running.  Whether running on a treadmill or jogging outdoors, I thought it was the most effective and efficient form of exercise.  That was until I discovered fitness classes at my local gym.

Since moving to the Lake Norman area two years ago, our family has belonged to the Lowes YMCA in Mooresville.  More than just a gym, our local Y is a community gathering space and place of motivation, inspiration, and education.  As a busy work-at-home Mom, the hour or so I get to spend at the Y every day helps me stay healthy and feel confident. After joining the gym, I naturally kept up with my routine running workouts.  Over the course of the past year, though, I discovered one of the best features of having a Y membership – access to the multitude of fitness classes, professional instructors, and other amazing women.

This may come as a surprise to the women I work out with now, but I was initially intimidated to walk into one of the fitness studios and work out with others in a group setting. Having a more introverted personality, I thought I was perfectly content running alone and even felt like I gave myself enough motivation to get through solo workouts. Up until that point, I had been proud of my efforts, but knew it was time for a change. Even with eating a high-protein, whole foods-based diet, nonstop running was causing me to lose too much weight.  Last Thanksgiving, when many family members looked at me worriedly and said: “Wow, you’re so thin!” (Instead of, “Wow, you look good,” or “It looks like you’ve been working hard,”), I had my “aha” moment; my goal is to look strong and sexy, not waifish and emaciated!

For weeks, I’d say I was going to try a new class – put my hand on the studio door, peek in through the window – but chicken out at the last moment and hop on a treadmill instead. What if I couldn’t keep up?  Didn’t do the moves right, or just looked plain silly? Finally, one day last December, I mustered up the courage to walk into the studio for a 30-minute Insanity class… and I haven’t looked back since!

The Greater Charlotte YMCAs offer a wide array of aerobic and strength-building classes, all taught by certified instructors, and all included in the monthly membership fee. A sampling of the classes includes Insanity, P90X, cardio strength, cardio dance, cycling, Barre, Pilates, and yoga.

Stephanie Johnson, a certified YMCA fitness instructor for the past ten years, explains the benefits of group exercise. “Women are 80% more likely to stick with exercise goals when supported by others in a group class environment.  What’s more, these classes provide variety, not allowing the body to adapt to routine exercise patterns.  Group classes are dynamic and constantly changing. Therefore the results rarely become stagnant.”  It’s true since replacing the majority of my running routine with fitness classes; my body has reaped the benefits!  I gained back the 5-10lbs lost from excessive running and toned muscle groups I didn’t even know I had!

Additionally, group classes have been incredibly beneficial for my mental and spiritual well-being. Instead of lounging on the couch sulking at pictures in tabloid magazines, I get to be inspired every day by an amazing group of real women. Ranging in ages from 25-75, these women are constant motivators – they continually teach me that no matter our age, size, or fitness level, we can all strive to be strong, confident, and beautiful, in our own unique way.  What’s more, the social interactions and positive competition fostered among each other during workouts have given me a greater sense of self and confidence to step out of my comfort zone in other areas of my life as well. (It even encouraged me to create a Facebook group, where we can all communicate and motivate each other outside of the gym too!)

As we near the end of summer and get back into more scheduled routines, there is no better time to hit the refresh button on your fitness and self-care.  Yes, school, work, errands, and extra-curricular activities can make life seem crazy, but carving out time for yourself is vital for your overhaul health.  Taking an hour or so for “me time” every day is not selfish; by nurturing your self-wellness, you will in benefit those around you.  You will feel more energized for your kids, feel more confident in your appearance for your spouse, and be more productive at work.   This autumn, stay motivated and recharge your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being by joining the Y and making fitness classes a daily part of your routine – your body and mind will thank you!