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Fitness guru and mom of two Desi Bartlett has made it her mission in life to empower others through their own health and wellness journeys. She launched mothersintolivingfit.com (or cheekily, MILF) to focus on mom fitness in particular. Our conversation with Bartlett touched on her inspiration, the post-baby body and mom life balance. Read on to learn the fitness tips she has for busy moms looking to get active.
Q: What inspired you to turn fitness into your life's work?
Desi Bartlett: Like many little girls, I was a ballerina, and studied at Ruth Page in Chicago. By the time I got to college, it was clear that I was not built to be a ballerina, and I also had some knee strain. When I went to the doctor on campus, he told me that I just needed to strengthen my quads, to which I replied, "What's a quad?"
As fate would have it, I met Jackie Paisley that same night at an on campus meeting. She was a former ballerina who became a bodybuilder and offered to train me at the local gym to strengthen my quads. I never left the gym after that! I went on to get my degree in kinesiology and master's in corporate fitness. I also have certifications in yoga, pilates, spinning, personal training and group fitness. I love to move, and to share the joy of movement.
Q: I think most of us know that an active lifestyle can reap physical benefits, such as increased strength and flexibility. Do you think it offers something beyond the physical, which might be beneficial to moms?
Desi Bartlett: As the mom of two, I know that I call on my physical strength everyday. My 7-year-old is an athlete and loves to train with me. We go for a jog together at least once a week, and you can often find us doing push ups together, too. My 22-month-old is in the 100th percentile for height and weight, and his favorite word is "ride," as in, give me a ride up to the third floor of our house. Mama strength is functional. I apply my strength and flexibility in different ways with my two boys.
What is so cool, and what I did not expect, is how much my physical strength informs my mental and emotional strength. If I can stay calm climbing three flights of stairs carrying a 37-pound toddler, I can apply that inner strength to other areas of my life. Taking a deep breath and taking things one step at a time has helped me tremendously as a mom. I offer this to the mamas in my class too, so that they can find their own sense of empowerment.
Q: There's much media attention on the post-baby body. It makes sense that some moms would feel anxious or stressed by this expectation, on top of the stress of being a new mom. What are your thoughts on this?
Desi Bartlett: I live in Los Angeles, the land of celebs. Many celebs have their pre-baby body back really fast. Sometimes it's because they're naturally lean; more often than not it's because they have help at home and a team of experts on-call. I believe that every mom deserves this. Information can and should be shared with everyone on how to get strong from the inside out. Notice I didn't say "skinny." When we have more muscle mass, our bones are stronger, our body has a lower fat percentage and the risk for many diseases is decreased. I focus more on what we gain (strength, flexibility and health benefits) than on skinny jeans. Small steps go a long way, and I'm passionate about sharing the information with moms everywhere.
Q: What advice would you give to a busy mom who cares about her health but has yet to take the plunge into fitness? How does she begin?
Desi Bartlett: I would recommend she start walking. Use the carrier, the stroller, or if your child is already walking, then have them walk with you. The CDC indicates that you do not have to have continuous windows of exercise to reap benefits. A 10-minute window two or three times a day goes a long way. In other words, you can take a 10-minute walk in the morning, then for 10 minutes in the evening, try exercise that uses your bodyweight as resistance (walking up stairs, squats, push-ups, or a quick DVD). Small windows add up quickly to big results.
Q: Tell us what you love about yoga in particular. What do expectant moms need to know about prenatal yoga?
Desi Bartlett: I grew up with yoga in the household. I did not study asana seriously until I was an adult, but I am a lifelong meditator. I know that the gift of my meditation practice allowed me to find a sense of peace and connection to my baby during pregnancy. Now that I'm a dedicated yoga practitioner, I know the benefits of the poses and am passionate about teaching moms how to safely keep their core and pelvic floor strong during pregnancy; this is to help Mama carry the weight of Baby with a sense of strength and have an easier recovery.
Q: How do you balance your work/home life, or is there even such a thing?
Desi Bartlett: Some days are better than others. Some days I feel like everyone got what they needed, other days I wish that I could replicate myself so that both of my boys could have more one-on-one time. I've learned that there is no such thing as perfect, but I do my best to make sure that everyone is happy and healthy; and I know that they benefit from time with family, friends and teachers. We all play together in the morning and after school. I am appreciative that my job is flexible and that I only work a few hours a day. I am able to plan my day so that my toddler is with the sitter during lunch and nap time. That is about a four-hour window, and it is amazing how much you can get done in four hours! This is my time to answer emails, teach a class, take private clients and—of course—to exercise.
Q: When you're having a tough day on which you don't feel like a workout, what inspires you to go out there and do it?
Desi Bartlett: I have a 10-minute rule. I decide that I will exercise for ten minutes. If I don't feel like exercising after that, I don't. Ninety percent of the time if I exercise for then minutes, the endorphins are flowing and I want to keep going. It is a great way to gently persuade your brain that ten minutes is totally manageable. Another way I like to get going on the days when it would not be my first choice: I go to the beach. A beach walk gives more resistance because of the sand, gives a sense of deep connection to nature and brings me back to my center, so that I can be the kind of mom that I aspire to be.