Fitness pro Kathy Smith looks toned, together, serene. But Smith, fitness book author and exercise-video star, is also the mother of two young daughters. She's juggled a nursing infant, a demanding toddler, and a ringing telephone -- and felt like she couldn't add one more thing to her "to do" list. "It's easy to put exercise on the back burner," says Smith.
Still, she says, when it comes to fitness, moms shouldn't let themselves off the hook. "To say 'I don't have time' is doing yourself a disservice -- and you'll have lost your momentum, your routine, and your physical strength by the time your priorities shift in a few years and you can devote more attention to getting in shape," she says. For Smith, the key to fitness is consistency, not long workouts: "Even 10 minutes can be important."
Exercise experts agree: Just 30 minutes of moderate activity three times a week promotes good health. You can split your workouts into 10-minute segments and still reap the benefits: a healthier heart, stronger bones, less stress, and -- yes! -- less fat and more muscle.
Lauren Purcell has written about health and fitness for many national magazines.
Body benefits: Works the major muscle groups, which in turn burns the most calories.
What you need: A chair or low, flat surface that's about knee-high; light (1 to 3 pounds) and medium (5 to 7 pounds) weights.
Bare-minimum (10 minutes): Perform each exercise for 1 minute, moving slowly but steadily.
Even better: Repeat the routine 1 or 2 times.
Squat (tones thighs and buttocks)
Stand, feet about hip-width apart. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Bend your knees and lower your torso, reaching back with your tailbone out as if you were about to sit, until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as close as you can get). If you need help balancing, raise your arms and clasp your hands as you lower yourself. Pause briefly, then contract your buttocks and slowly stand up. Repeat.
One-Arm Row; right arm (tones back, shoulders, arms)
1. Stand, left foot 2 feet in front of right, knees slightly bent. Lean forward, left hand on a chair or low, flat surface (with back parallel to floor). Hold a medium weight in right hand, arm down.
2. Lift weight up to waist. Point your elbow directly back, not to the side. Keep your back level; don't "roll" your shoulder up to the ceiling to help lift the weight. Use your back muscles to do the work. Pause, then slowly lower. Repeat.
One-Arm Row; left arm
Switch weight to your left hand and place your right foot in front. Repeat move on left side.
Backward Lunge (tones thighs and buttocks)
Stand, feet about 18 inches apart, hands on hips, abdominals tight. Step back on your right foot and bend both knees so that your left (front) knee is directly over your ankle and your right (back) knee is bent; your heel will lift off the floor. Push off your back foot to return to starting position. Repeat, with the left leg stepping back. Continue, alternating legs.
Push-Ups (tones chest, shoulders, and back of arms)
Get on your hands and knees, with wrists beneath your shoulders, feet raised.
Keeping your neck in line with your spine, bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest nears the floor (as you tire, you can lower just halfway). Pause, then press back up to starting position.
Step-and-Pull (tones inner thighs)
1. Stand, feet wide apart, toes slightly turned out, hands on hips, and knees bent so thighs are parallel to the floor, or as close as you can get.
2. Keeping your right foot flat on the floor, drag it toward your left foot, straightening your knees until you're standing upright as your feet come together. Keep knees "soft" (not locked). Now work the other leg: Step out to the side on your left foot, and slowly drag it in toward your right one. Continue, alternating feet. Try to let your inner thigh control the movement.
Biceps Curl (tones arms)
Stand, feet about hip-width apart, knees "soft"; or sit on the edge of a chair. Hold a medium weight in each hand, palms at sides and facing in. Slowly bend both elbows to lift weights, rotating your wrists so your palms face your shoulders at the top of the movement. Keep your elbows close to your body. Slowly lower; repeat.
Triceps Kickback (tones back of arm)
1. Stand, right leg in front of left, knees slightly bent. Lean forward, placing left hand on a chair, so your back is almost parallel to the floor. Hold a light weight in your right hand; keep elbow bent and raised.
2. Slowly straighten your arm without moving your elbow. Focus on contraction in the back of upper arm. Pause, slowly lower, and repeat.
Lateral Raise (tones shoulders)
Stand, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, abs tight. Hold a light weight in each hand, arms by your sides, palms facing in. Slowly lift your arms out to the side until your elbows are at shoulder level. Pause, then slowly lower. Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout move.
Crunch (tones abs)
Lie on your back, with knees bent, feet flat. Place your hands behind your head for support, but don't interlock fingers or pull on your head. Keep your elbows out to the side. Tighten abs, and lift your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the ground as a unit; don't tuck your chin in and curl up. This is a very small movement -- just a few inches off the floor. Pause, then slowly lower to floor. Repeat.
Body benefits: Cardiovascular fitness, plus toning for your buttocks, thighs, and calves.
What you need: Good walking shoes.
Bare-minimum (10 minutes): Complete the 3-minute warm-up and 7 one-minute intervals.
Even better: You may find that once you get moving, 10 minutes goes by quickly. In that case, go for 20 or 30. One idea: Walk 10 or 15 minutes in one direction away from home -- you'll have to walk the same distance back.
For 3 minutes, walk at a comfortable pace to warm up. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, this should be about a 3.
For 1 minute, step it up until you're no longer just strolling. Level of difficulty should be a 6 or a 7.
For 1 more minute, return to level 3 for a moment to recover. Alternate between difficulty levels for 5 more 1-minute intervals.
Body benefits: The quick aerobic intervals burn calories, while the toning moves add muscle tone.
What you need: Some fast-paced music to get you moving, a sturdy chair, a jump rope (optional).
Bare-minimum (10 minutes): Do each move for 2 minutes.
Even better: Repeat entire circuit, or, for more of a challenge, do 4 minutes of each exercise.
Knee Lifts (cardio)
A good warm-up: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lift right knee waist-high, then lower. Repeat on left. Continue at a steady, smooth pace (approximately 1 lift per second). Keep torso upright; don't lean back.
Squat with Side Leg Lift (toning)
Stand, feet hip-width apart; bend your knees until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor, your tailbone back as if you're about to sit. As you slowly rise, lift one leg out to the side, then lower it. On the next squat, lift the other leg. Continue at a steady pace, alternating legs.
With a jump rope, or without, jump at a fairly quick pace (slightly faster than 1 jump per second).
Rear Leg Lifts (toning)
Stand about 2 feet behind a chair and lean forward, elbows on the chair back. Lift your right leg as high as you can (no higher than parallel to the floor), foot flexed. Pause; slowly lower. Shift weight to right foot and lift left leg. Continue, alternating legs.
Side Lunges (cardio)
Stand, feet together. Punch your right arm forward and diagonally across your body (if straight ahead is 12:00, punch toward 10:00), while reaching back diagonally with your right leg (toward 4:00). Touch your back toe to the floor. Repeat with your left arm and leg. Maintain a fast, steady pace, keeping hips and shoulders facing forward as much as possible.