UNC Health Care
Cartoon of mom with many arms juggling multiple things

Help for Women Facing Workout Hurdles

Trying to squeeze a workout into a busy schedule can feel impossible. It’s just one more thing on an already hectic to-do list. It’s easy to come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for why you just can’t fit in fitness.

For women, there are often extra hurdles, whether it’s a new baby, lack of time or self-confidence, or limitations because of an injury.

But no matter where you are in life or how you feel, you can exercise and get healthier.

Personal trainer Neva Avery and fitness instructor Lauren Rosella offer practical ways to overcome common obstacles to physical fitness. Find your challenge—or challenges—below, and try these solutions to get more exercise.

I’m a Busy Mom

“Women in general prioritize their families over themselves most of the time, so making time to exercise and take time for themselves is very difficult,” Rosella says.

Setting aside time to exercise can be a challenge. Try using a little creativity to get the most out of your time:

Busy Mom Workouts

  1. Take a walk.

If you’re a mom with a newborn or young child, put the baby in a stroller and go for a walk. Bad weather? “Find a facility where you can walk with a stroller inside,” says Avery. “We have that opportunity at UNC Wellness.”

  1. Use the internet.

Sometimes it’s easier to work out at home because you don’t have to incorporate travel time.

“There are a ton of resources and free workouts on the internet,” Rosella says. “Make a commitment to get up a little earlier and do a 30-minute YouTube video. If you can’t do it in the morning, do it in the evening. I think a lot of times we have a tendency to lie to ourselves about how much time we really have, but we certainly have time to watch our favorite TV shows on Netflix.”

You can also download an exercise app. Avery recommends the Nike+ Training Club app.

“You can use a filter to narrow down what you need to do that day,” she says. “It’s got a mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced workouts, and you can filter by length of time, no equipment or some equipment.”

  1. Bring the kids along.

Many gyms and exercise facilities have child care. Take advantage of it. UNC Wellness Centers and REX Wellness Centers offer child care options to members.

“This gives you an opportunity as a mom to have 30 to 60 minutes to take care of yourself and catch a break and give your child an opportunity to play, too,” Avery says.

  1. Use a personal trainer.

A personal trainer helps you stay accountable.

“I have a few ladies say that if they have an appointment, they know it is their opportunity to get in a workout,” Avery says. “Whereas if they were left on their own, they would find an excuse not to work out.”

New moms, in particular, can benefit from using a personal trainer.

“When you’re ready to get back to working out after having a baby, you need to ease your way back in,” Avery says. “Work with a personal trainer temporarily to build core strength and ability before going out on your own again.”

  1. Stay active when your kids are active.

If you’re taking your kids to a sports practice, exercise while you’re there.

“Most of us go out there, and we sit and watch during practice,” Avery says. “But we could walk laps around the field and stay active in that hour instead of coming from a job where we sit and going to practice and sitting. We can still watch as we walk around the field.”

And it doesn’t even have to be the whole hour. Twenty to 30 minutes of walking during a practice helps you get in some fitness.

  1. Have a backup express routine.

Avery suggests that busy parents plan for moments when they can only find a bit of time but need to get their blood pumping.

“If you know you only have 10 minutes, do a set or two of body-weight squats or push-ups. Add in some planks to strengthen the core,” she says. “Have a routine that covers all your base moves—so something to strengthen the legs, the upper body and your core. This can be your fallback when you’re really busy.”

I Have Too Much to Do at Work

If you can’t get in a workout before or after work, Rosella recommends using your lunch break to get in some exercise.

“Maybe bring a very quick lunch and then walk for the remainder of your lunch break,” she says. “Most people have access to some place where they can walk on their lunch break.”

If you’re on a deadline and you can’t leave, Avery says still try to get up and move around.

“I know it’s a challenge, but if you’re sitting several hours at a time at a desk, moving is important,” Avery says. “Maybe program it on the computer as a reminder every couple of hours to get up and walk around for five to 10 minutes, if that’s possible. It doesn’t have to be structured exercise. Use stand-up desks if your place of work has them.”

Look for places you can add movement throughout your day. Rosella recommends taking the stairs instead of an elevator and parking your car farther from your office.

Gyms Intimidate Me

“I find that usually when people are self-conscious, it’s really just because of a lack of knowledge of what to do,” Avery says. “Once they learn what to do and how, it helps take away that barrier.”

New members at REX and UNC Wellness Centers get two free appointments with a wellness instructor to help with this very problem.

The first appointment is an assessment that gives new members a baseline of what their fitness is at that time. The second appointment is an equipment orientation that sets up new members for a full-body workout.

“Our wellness instructors make sure you have the right settings on all the equipment, that you are using the equipment appropriately and are not going to injure yourself, and that you are using the appropriate amount of weight to accomplish your goals,” Rosella says. “We have those appointments specifically to get people started on the right foot.”

Working with a personal trainer can also help build confidence.

“Work with a trainer for just three to four sessions to develop a workout program for you,” Avery says. “Learn how to do exercises properly and how to use the equipment correctly. So instead of looking at 30 machines, you know which five you’re going to go to. I have a lot of people I work with that way, and then they are ready to be on their own.”

It’s also helpful to join a gym with a friend.

“That way you have somebody there with you, and you don’t feel quite as intimidated going into the group exercise classroom,” Rosella says. “I think sometimes as a newbie coming into a group class, there’s the intimidation factor of being the new kid on the block. So having a friend go with you helps.”

I’m Injured

Sometimes people start a regular exercise routine but then get injured, not necessarily from working out. When you’ve got an injury, it’s easy to quit your fitness program, but you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. You just need to make adjustments.

“I encourage people to work around their injuries if possible so they can continue that habit of being active,” Avery says. “If you fall out of the habit of showing up and doing some sort of activity, it’s hard to get back in the groove.”

So if you’ve injured your shoulder, think about what you can do for your lower body, such as riding a stationary bike or doing squats.

Talk to your doctor about what exercise is safe for your injury. Fitness pros like personal trainers can help you check your form to avoid aggravating problems.

“Very seldom do you have physicians who say absolutely no physical activity,” Rosella says. “There is something physical you can do, and it’s usually beneficial and not detrimental to whatever injury or ailment you might be going through.”

I’m Pregnant

Exercising during pregnancy offers many benefits. It helps prepare you for the rigors of labor and delivery, can help relieve pregnancy aches and pains, and lifts your mood.

Rosella says there are resources through birthing centers and hospitals to help pregnant women stay active. Always check with your health care provider before starting, continuing or changing an exercise routine when you’re pregnant.

“We offer a prenatal yoga program at UNC REX for women at all stages of their pregnancy as long as the doctor signs off that they are safe to do it,” she says. “That may be a little less intimidating because there are other women going through what you are going through.”

The program is open to the public, not just for REX Wellness Center members.

I Don’t Know How to Start

Rosella says when it comes to fitness, it’s important to take small steps first. Start with reasonable goals and expectations. For example, she says, begin by getting 20 minutes of exercise three days a week, then add 10 more minutes in four weeks.

“Once you’ve established a routine, it’s easier to add in an additional day here and there,” she says. “Starting small is the best way to set yourself up for success.”


Find a fitness center near you. Learn more about REX Wellness Centers and UNC Wellness Centers.