If you want proof that you can have it all, then look no further than Sara Haley, a mother and wife turned fitness and lifestyle expert who was listed as one of Shape's 50 Hottest Female Trainers in America. This host and regular TV personality has changed the landscape of prenatal and postnatal fitness, providing moms of all stages with the tools to reshape their bodies with targeted workouts created just for them.
Sara has appeared as a fitness expert on multiple television shows, including "Today," "Live! with Kelly," "London This Morning" and many more. Her popular brand of workout DVDs include "Sweat Unlimited," "Expecting More" and for brand-new moms, "Expecting More: The 4th Trimester Workout." In addition to raising a family, Sara is a multi-brand ambassador, a contributing fitness expert for multiple publications and she has nearly a dozen health and fitness certifications. Now living in Santa Monica, Calif., with her family, Sara has opened up her daily life to viewers on her YouTube show "WHAT You Love, WHO You Love" to explore the other parts of being a mom and wife, aside from fitness. We took a moment to talk with Sara and learn about her life and where she sees herself headed next.
Q: Your journey to a lifestyle of fitness and motivating others to pursue the same has been an inspiring one. As a mom, have you ever experienced challenges with weight gain or felt out of shape?
Sara Haley: I've had two babies so far, so you better believe it! Postnatal recovery is both physically and emotionally challenging for everyone, and despite the fact that I had trained many women after having babies; I was not prepared for it myself. You pop out your baby and think, "OK, here we go—let's get back in shape!" The problem is your body just went through major trauma, nine months of pregnancy followed by hours of labor and either pushing out a baby, or surgery such as C-section.
Just like most moms, I was shocked at how different my body felt and how much harder working out was — not just from a physical standpoint, like, "Why do these push-ups feel impossible?" But from the emotional standpoint of, "I don't even want to do this. I'd rather be spending time with my kids." That said, I was able to make working out a priority after I had my first son, Landon. After all, my main job was taking care of him, just him. (FYI: Depending on what sort of projects I have on my plate, I'm about a 50-75 percent stay-at-home-mom. I spend the rest of the time working mostly as a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist/consultant and on-camera host.)
My biggest struggle has actually been since having my second son. Yes, the initial weight seemed to come off quicker, but to be honest, the last five pounds really fluctuate, depending on how much time I have to work out and what kind of food choices I'm making. I have also been recovering from diastasis recti (separation of the abdominals) this time around, which makes it challenging to regain a flat belly. All of this is why I created "Expecting MORE: The 4th Trimester Workout" to help guide women through their postnatal exercise recovery. It gives them a calendar and exercises so they can lose the weight and gain their core strength back in the safest, most efficient and fun way possible.
Q: One interesting thing I learned from your YouTube channel, Sara Haley Fit, was about diastasis recti. I was shocked that as a mother myself, I'd never heard of this common abdominal issue. Why is it important to you that women understand this diagnosis and know how to heal it?
Sara Haley: So many women have diastasis recti, or DR for short, and they don't even know it. What they do know is that they feel like they still look pregnant, often referred to as a "mummy tummy," or complain of low back pain; both of which most likely point to DR. Statistics say two-thirds of pregnant women will have DR (super common in women with multiples), and I actually think it's probably higher than that. It's really important to heal it for the aesthetic and comfort reasons I listed above, but moreover, if you don't heal it and it gets worse, you can end up with a hernia! It's especially important to heal it in between pregnancies, as it can get worse with each one. Bottom line is: QUALITY OF LIFE. It's like any other injury, you want to heal it so you can live pain-free and feel as well as look your best.
Q: Many moms must see you and wonder, as a mother of two, how does she maintain the energy to care for her young children, a husband, herself and make room for fitness? Let us in on your secrets!
Sara Haley: The fact of the matter is that it's a battle every day. It definitely helps that staying fit is part of my job, and I want to continue to be a role model for other moms, as well as my own kids. The truth is I work out because I know it makes me stronger, healthier and happier, which ultimately makes me a better mom. And guess what? Working out will actually give you more energy! Crazy, right? On the days that I start with a workout, I feel more motivated about everything, whether that's hanging with the kids or working.
The key for me has been to get my workout in early in the day, so if you are a mom that goes to an office, that might mean getting up a little earlier to fit it in or going straight after work. If you have flexibility and work from home, get it in before 3 p.m. (or whatever your witching hour is), and if you stay at home with your kids, do it during nap time or have your kids join you (or at least be in the room with you). I say this because if you're anything like me, I'm useless (at least physically) after 5 p.m. I know that if I don't get my workout in before then, it's not happening.
Another suggestion is scheduling your workouts ahead of time. On Sundays, I try to look at my calendar and decide which three to five days I think I can squeeze in my workout. And if you can't, don't beat yourself up over it. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Just remember (as I often remind myself) that any little bit counts, even if it's five minutes.
I've also created a few fitness challenges that have helped me make sure I do some sort of exercise every day. I've had tons of moms join me in doing them. The idea behind the challenges is that even on the days you don't do a real workout, you do one of the challenges. You can check them out on my blog or on Instagram with #saynotocrunches, #betterbootychallenge or even the #burpeechallenge. It really does help, especially for the days where you feel like you don't have time for anything. All of the challenges take anywhere from two to fifteen minutes a day.
Q: What advice do you have for the moms out there who may be out of shape, tired of trying and have come to accept their version of "mom bod," even if it's not one they feel good about?
Sara Haley: Here's the thing, and it's a realization I came to just recently: Look at what your priority list was before you had kids. If your health or fitness level is different, part of it might be because your priorities are different. I know for me, my priority list pre-baby looked something like:
Now that I'm a mom that has totally changed. Now it's:
Friends and extended family (my mom friends keep me sane!)
Our house (including keeping it clean)
A toss-up between sleeping and a workout
I think we forget that part of the reason our fitness levels and bodies have changed is that they aren't a priority like they used to be, and in my opinion, that's not always such a bad thing. Being a mom is probably the most selfless job there is. My suggestion is that if it's something you really want to change, then find a way to move it up on your priority list, at least sometimes. Remember too, even if you can't make it a priority right now, there will be one day again when you can. For me, I've decided that until both of my kids are in elementary school, my workouts can't be in the top three, and that's just how it's going to be.
If you feel like the time is not now or it simply seems overwhelming, then embrace your "mom bod." Sure, it might be different but that doesn't necessarily mean it's worse. Think of everything that "mom bod" has done. It's definitely not easy, but in those moments when you're not feeling good about your body, look at your amazing kid(s), acknowledge all the amazing things your body has done, and remind yourself that you are doing the most challenging and rewarding job there is.
Q: Fess up, do you have cheat days? What's your favorite guilty pleasure?
Sara Haley: I have too many cheat days. My favorite guilty pleasure is chips and guacamole or straight up nachos. Let's just say Taco Tuesdays is a regular occurrence at my house.
Q: What's a day in the life of Sara like? What do you reach for when you open the fridge and what exercises do you favor the most? Where are your kids, how do you incorporate them into your routine, and how does hubby fit in?
Sara Haley: A day in the life is never what I plan on it being; I can tell you that much. I'm lucky in that my kids don't get up too early, but that means it proves to be a little chaotic getting out the door in the morning for preschool drop-off. In the morning, I usually cook up scrambled egg whites, protein pancakes or oatmeal, and serve it with turkey bacon and fruit. Sometimes we make smoothies too. We love breakfast at our house. I try to pack my 4-year-old son Landon's lunch the night before in case we are running late.
After we drop Landon off at preschool, my youngest son Liam (16 months) and I either head to the gym to workout (they have a kids club) or to a Mommy & Me class. I actually take a lot of group fitness classes, which always comes as a shock to people since I'm a group fitness instructor. I've always taken other peoples' classes because I love the camaraderie of group fitness, plus at Equinox health clubs, where I teach and work out at, the instructors are mega talented, so I always leave inspired.
I constantly try to mix my workouts up, but my favorite class right now incorporates strength training with flexibility, alongside some cardio drills, so you walk out feeling like you got it all done in one hour — strength, cardio and flexibility. If I'm not taking class, I'm doing my own workouts, many of which you can follow on my Instagram account.
During Liam's nap I clean up the house and get some work done. When he wakes up, it's lunchtime and then off to pick up Landon. In the afternoons, the three of us hang around the house, play sports or have friends over. Two days a week I have a sitter in the afternoons to get work done.
My hubby Sean and I are college sweethearts (we met at the University of Illinois), so we've been together forever. He has his own company, so he's pretty busy. We've been working hard at trying to have family dinners more often, but it's challenging. I keep lots of cut-up veggies and fruits in the fridge and am a big fan of the Crock-Pot, so if we are eating at different times, there's almost always something healthy available. Both of us rarely work on weekends though, so Saturdays and Sundays are definitely family time. Sean grew up playing competitive sports and I was a dancer, which means we are usually doing something active like swimming, playing sports, or traveling some place new.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 10, even 20 years? Think about the transition from a mom with young children to a mother of teens, and eventually an empty-nester. How will fitness fit into your life throughout these changes in lifestyle?
Sara Haley: I don't know about other moms, but sometimes it seems impossible to see a light at the end of the tunnel, right? I joke, but the reality is I already burst into tears sometimes when I think about not having my boys with me every day. I already see myself as the crazy soccer mom, cheering too loudly and having my sons' teams over for dinner afterwards.
I know that I will always "move." I was a dancer before I worked in fitness, so movement is part of me. When I hear music I just want to move my body. I think the biggest transition already for me, and that will continue to be, is the quality and quantity of exercise. In my 20s, I was a total cardio junkie who taught back-to-back classes in New York City, like rebounding (on a mini tramp), kettlebells and cycling without missing a beat. I traveled the world as a Reebok Master Trainer, swinging from a fly bar for a workout Reebok and Cirque du Soleil created together. Nowadays, that sounds overwhelming to me and I'd rather take a 45-minute interval training class alternating cardio drills with strength training, go for a light jog with my kids in the stroller or use my at-home Ultraslide Slide Board. I train smarter now, and I do it in the most time-efficient way possible. When I think about my perfect retirement, I picture traveling the world with my husband, and my workouts being walking or biking the streets of Greece or Italy and hiking in New Zealand.