I couldn't help feeling a little ridiculous.
On a recent Saturday morning, I and about 20 other women gathered in Mount Tabor Park for Stroller Strides, a workout class designed for new moms and moms-to-be. The exercises are meant to be done with kids in tow—whether that means in the womb or in a stroller.
Here's my issue, though: I am not a mom.
I wanted to attend the class, and didn't want to distract the rest of the group, or make anyone them feel uncomfortable with my presence. So I did the next best thing to renting a child for the day: I borrowed a stroller and a sock monkey as a stand-in for a real tiny human, with the hope of mimicking the experience as closely as possible.
I mostly blended in—until the caterpillar races.
Toward the end of the workout, we took to the basketball courts. We were broken into teams and made to form a line, clutching each other's shoulders. The goal is to run in a single file, and the first team to make it to the end of the court wins. The moms positioned their strollers and children along the wall, with ample view of our impending match. I followed suit, readjusting my stuffed surrogate child in its seat.
The whole endeavor was…a little cringy. But to the moms in attendance, the silliness was obviously worth it.
Stroller Strides falls under the umbrella of FIT4MOM, a San Diego-based fitness program aimed at pre- and postnatal mothers, with 2,600 chapters across the country. Ruth Braunhuber founded this particular chapter after coming across the group while walking through a park in her former hometown of Austin, Texas.
"I saw a big group of moms under a pavilion. There were strollers all around, and little toddlers and kids, and they were doing a craft," Braunhuber says. "I had a 2½-year-old and a brand-ew baby, and I didn't have any mom friends. I was lonely. So I walked up and asked if this was an event, and they said, 'No, we're FIT4MOM. Come join us!'"
For some attendees, it's just an excuse to get out of the house. To others, it's where they've met their best friends—one mom told me how eager she was to make friends after her cross-country move, while another mentioned how the community has helped her in both her fitness goals and child care needs.
To be honest, though, what I expected to find was a group of mothers and children sitting in the grass while intermittently doing something that bordered on physical activity. Instead, what I got was a moderately intense hour of exercise—with a few sing-alongs sprinkled throughout.
We began by warming up with side lunges and high knees, as we went around the circle introducing ourselves and our respective children. Most of the women in my group were in their 30s. Some had been attending class for years, others were just entering their second week.
We all had a chance to answer the question of the day: today's biggest challenge and today's biggest achievement. There were stories of diaper blowouts and sleepless nights, while the achievements ranged from a successful feeding to making it to our class that morning.
But the chitchat didn't last long. Soon, our instructor, Jenny, was calling out the next exercise. For the proceeding hour we walked, jogged and ran. We pulled, pushed and flexed with bands, squatted, lunged and kicked on repeat—all with stroller in tow, and an audience of toddlers within arm's reach.
Moms who wanted to feel the burn could set their own pace, while others could temper or modify the workout to their needs. While some exclaimed that their thighs were burning, others took on an extra set of stairs with ease. A pregnant woman deep into her third trimester kept up with the class as well as any of us, while altering some exercises for bump-related reasons. It met all the marks of a typical, solid workout class.
But what differentiated it was, well, the strollers—or perhaps more accurately, what was inside them. For the actual mothers, being able to incorporate children into the exercise alleviated feelings of "mama guilt," not to mention child care worries. They made clear that the community goes beyond the workout, too: At the end, one mom recited a slew of announcements for the upcoming week, offering a night at a brewery, an ax-throwing event and a crafting afternoon.
Though the kids remained calm and even enthusiastic throughout the class, their squealing marked the end of the hour. Our instructor alerted us that the children were right—it was time to go home. But not before the ladies rattled off their closing mantra in unison: "I am strong. I am beautiful. I am a mom."