On a nearly cloudless Central Texas spring day, a group of mothers and mothers-to-be meet up at the basketball court in Lions Club Park in Killeen.
They are not alone.
Along for the outing are toddlers and infants in strollers who will join their moms in a morning exercise routine called Stroller Stride led by mom, army veteran and Killeen resident Erin Laker.
The women are all members of Fit4Mom and these thrice-weekly morning outings welcome fitness buffs of all levels. It is designed to help mothers stay in shape during pregnancy or get back into shape after delivery.
Don’t let the name fool you.
Stroller Stride is much more than a walk in the park.
“It is a power walking group that welcomes runners,” said Laker, who owns the franchise. “We don’t want anyone to think that they have to run if they want to come.”
Laker said two routes are used: a shorter route for walkers and a longer route for joggers.
Participants gather at a specified location in the park. After signing in, and before hitting the trails, Laker and her assistant Lauren Brown lead the group on a series of stationary warm-ups that include low-impact jogging in place; high knees movement, jumping jacks and stretches.
“It’s not always the same warm-up, we use various movements to get the heart rate up a little, get the joints loosened,” said Laker.
Brown, a certified personal trainer, has been a member of Fit4Mom since 2009. She is expecting her fifth child in July.
“Having young kids, it’s difficult for moms to find time to work out with a baby,” she said. Now she is able to work out three mornings a week with her twins in tow.
“Just being in a community of moms, it’s good to be with like-minded people,” Brown said.
With the warm-up complete, the group splits up and meets at various stations throughout the one-mile course for strength training. Generally resistance bands are used, but on this day, a parachute was used for a group strengthening exercise.
“Everyone holds the parachute on the outside and brings it up over their heads,” Laker explained. “When they bring it down, they go into a low squat. As they go up, the parachute catches air and puffs up.” The resistance happens when participants are bringing the parachute back down.
Another parachute exercise involves everyone holding the parachute and jogging clockwise. Laker also designates numbers to sprinters. When she calls their number, they let go of the parachute and run ahead of the person in front of them and then grabs on once again as the material floats on the air currents.
“We do a lot of resistance band work as well,” she said. “We try to do about five stations, and it depends on what we are doing at each station, how long we stop before moving on to the next station.”
New mothers must be six weeks post partum and have a written clearance from their doctors before starting their exercise regime with Fit4Mom. Laker said mothers-to-be with no restrictions can exercise up to their delivery time. She said exercising while pregnant makes for a healthier pregnancy all around. However, for those who are unable to do the exact exercise routines, there are modifications that are lower impact.
Another way Laker helps moms stay fit is through her Body Back class that is an eight-week results oriented class with a focus on long-term results and based on the circuit of a boot camp. It is a one-hour, high intensity, interval training routine. No babies or children are allowed at these classes.
Laker reminds moms that labor is “not a sprint, it is a marathon.” She said labor is taxing on the body and “the healthier you are and the better you take care of yourself, this leads to less intervention.” She recommends all pregnant moms to start working out.
“Taking care of your body and having a healthy, strong body during delivery can help.”
She said she worked out daily during both of her pregnancies, which helps prepare for birth.
“Birth is kind of like a marathon, going through labor, delivery — exercise keeps the core, back and musculature strong before you get pregnant. If you don’t work out and get pregnant, start working out. It keeps your core and back strong, helps combat weight, and supports your posture.”
Keeping strong during and after pregnancy also helps with a mom’s post-delivery chores like cradling and feeding your baby or putting your baby in a car seat. “These movements close you down,” she said. “One of the things we focus on is opening up a lot.”
Working on posture is one of the important things moms can do, Laker explained.
“A lot of moms are hunched over, there is a lot of twisting, picking up the baby, placing the baby in the car seat or crib, squatting. . . focus on functional movements you do everyday, what you do in your life specifically as a mother.”
Laker doesn’t espouse any particular diet, but said good nutrition requires a mental reset of how we think about food.
“We need to eat clean, whole foods and think about what you are putting into your body instead of just filling it,” she said, with an emphasis on eliminating processed foods.
A new direction
After seven years in the army, Laker retired and didn’t know what she wanted to do post military. She knew she wanted to be able to spend time with her children, 4-year-old Lana and 9-month-old, Kalia. She was deployed for long periods of time and missed her child’s first steps. In fact, there were many milestones she and her veteran husband, Richard missed.
She knew, after the birth of her second child, that she wanted to do something that gave her more mommy time. An avid fitness advocate, she learned about Fit4Mom through a friend at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“I always worked out. It was a passion of mine. I always wanted to do something with fitness, be an instructor.”
Laker looked around the Killeen area to see if there was a program that catered to moms, but didn’t find anything.
She didn’t plan on opening her own business, but when she learned more about the Fit4Mom program that goes beyond exercise and forms a community, she said she felt this was something Killeen needed.
“Being such a transient town, military moms come in all the time and don’t know anybody,” she said. “Fit4Mom combines the things I love, which are being a mom and fitness, and to make a career out of it was kind of what led me to where I am now.”
Before joining the Army, Laker ran track in high school, green-trained horses at a Michigan horse ranch where she worked, and was a barrel racer. She was always taking care of horses, hauling bales of hay and everything else required to work on a horse ranch.
“I went into the army already physically fit,” she said, still not thinking she’d ever own her own fitness business.
Fit4Mom offers more than Stroller Stride mornings for its members. Laker said they are a village and offer play groups that are free and open to the public, and mothers’ night out.
“It’s something to help get moms out of the house, get the kids out of the house.”