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Mom and author says look outdoors for a splendid do-it-yourself gym

Where you see a city park or playground, Haley Bechet sees a do-it-yourself outdoor gym. • The 30-year-old exercise instructor took a while after the birth of her second son to feel normal again. With her hormones going haywire, she felt tired all the time, suffered from severe sleep deprivation, started having terrible migrainelike headaches and, with a new baby in the house, became increasingly withdrawn socially. • She was used to teaching several group exercise classes each week and spending time with others. As soon as her doctor cleared her to return to work, she noticed how much better she felt after teaching. On days she didn't teach, the fatigue and grogginess returned. So on those days off, she started taking the baby out in his stroller for short walks in her Palm Harbor neighborhood. • "Just 10-, 15-minute walks, several times a day," she said. At the end, in the driveway, she'd do a few exercises, grabbing onto whatever was stable and nearby. She was convinced that doing the exercise outside was key and made her feel much better.

"Pretty soon some friends joined in," said Bechet, "and before I knew it, it became a thing — a class."

She started writing down the routines and considered writing a book, for herself at first. But, later, she thought it might help someone else. Last year she published The Moody Mommy's Workouts! (available on Amazon.com), with short, fun routines for the entire family that promise to give you energy, lift your spirits and help get you on the road to fitness.

Bechet, who also works as a group exercise instructor and a hairstylist, is certain she can help just about everyone find time for exercise, especially if they want to make it a family affair. She spoke with the Times recently about her approach to physical fitness and how you can turn a city park or playground into your personal gym.

How can you involve kids and work out at the same time?

Lots of people don't have time to go to the gym if they are working full time. And they don't want to go to the gym and put their kids in day care — they've already been away from them all day. Instead, do something with the kids. Ride your bikes around the block five times. Walk the neighborhood pushing the stroller, doing lunges down the street. Jog in the swimming pool holding your baby. Hold the baby as a weight while doing squats. Get creative about using what's around you.

What if the kids don't want to cooperate?

Don't worry about it. Take them to the park or playground and watch them play while you work out, using what's around you as your equipment. The idea is to get out and move. Step up on benches, stretch out and lift your body off the bench for planks, do situps while sitting in a swing. My 7-year-old exercises with me all the time. My 4-year-old just wants to run around and be silly. But in one more year, he'll be really into it.

But why make it a point to involve as many family members as possible?

Because your kids will see you, you and your spouse, doing things for yourselves that are healthy — getting physical activity in a fun, healthy way. Don't get frustrated if the kids don't do it with you. At least they see you doing it and you're setting a good example for them. In the book you'll find exercises that can be done with the kids and without.

Why do you put a lot of emphasis on exercising outdoors?

Being outdoors gives you an opportunity to see people and get connected with others who might want to exercise, too. Those connections are important. Plus, it's just so good for your psyche to look at the trees, feel the sunshine, hear the birds singing. When I felt so bad after my second son was born, as soon as I went outside to work out, everything subsided and I felt better. Go for a few minutes several times a day. Short bursts of activity.

How did you come up with all the routines in your book?

I was working in Hawaii at a fitness club. I taught classes for moms with young children as well as some stroller fitness classes. It was all outdoors. I got excited looking for new ways to utilize the space and involve the kids and our surroundings. Then I started meeting people for classes in city parks, charging $10 a class or whatever they wanted to give. I did that in Hawaii, Charleston and here.

What about the weather?

Yes, that can be a drawback. But in the summer, I meet moms outside early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. We'll also meet at swimming pools and do running laps, or you can do laps using a kickboard and kids will do the same things right beside you.

How do you work out as a family?

My husband joins in all the time. We love to go kayaking with the kids. They sit between our legs. We also take them out on paddleboards or just paddle around in the kayak, although my older son is getting pretty big and is about ready for his own kayak.

Contact Irene Maher at imaher@tampabay.com.

Outdoor safety

• Wear sunscreen.

• Wear a hat.

• Seek shade.

• Exercise early or later in the day.

• Bring plenty of water.

• If you're sweating a lot, drink sports beverages.

• Take breaks or stop if you're feeling overheated or unwell.

How many sets, reps?

Bechet suggests adults do three sets of 12 repetitions of most exercises. Hold the plank position (body straight while in the "up" part of a pushup) for one minute each time, she says, making sure you breathe and squeeze your entire body tight. Children should only do what they can easily accomplish and what their attention span will allow. Don't expect or push them to keep up with the adults.

Mom and author says look outdoors for a splendid do-it-yourself gym 03/31/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2016 5:10pm]
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