MCCOOK – A caravan of black yoga pants, ponytails and strollers trots around an indoor soccer field.
The group of six moms walks or jogs laps around the field, pushing strollers carrying their newborns, as young as 2-months-old. Then they form a circle – strollers inside, moms outside – and start to run around the circle as they sing, "Ring Around the Rosie," stopping on "we all fall down" to stretch.
Minutes earlier, the moms sang the A-B-C's as their babies watched them pull resistance bands looped through a fence.
Who said working out with a baby was impossible?
"As a mom, you feel guilty not seeing your kids all day," said Sara Franko, mother of two and owner of the La Grange-area FIT4MOM, a fitness program for moms with hundreds of franchises around the country.
Franko, of La Grange Park, was pregnant with her now 3-year-old daughter when she took her first class in Chicago. Once Violet was born, Franko didn't want to leave her at daycare when she worked out, so she signed up for Stroller Strides, an hour-long workout for moms that incorporates power walking, strength training, toning and singing to keep the little ones entertained.
"I really loved being around the other moms, which I never really expected," Franko said. "[I thought], 'I don't want to bond with other moms. I just want to go work out.'"
Franko recently opened the first FIT4MOM franchise in the western suburbs and has plans to expand beyond La Grange, ideally with locations in every other suburb stretching from Riverside to Naperville and down to Burr Ridge and Palos Heights.
Franko said moms typically gain about 25 to 30 pounds when they're pregnant. They lose most of it after giving birth, but it can take a while to lose the last 10 or so pounds, she said.
"What mom doesn't want her body back?" Franko said.
But the program is about more than sculpting a new figure. Nursing and taking care of a baby makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many moms to find the time and energy to exercise, an essential component to anyone's health.
"Those nights when you're up late because [the baby] doesn't want to sleep, it's definitely difficult to get out of the house [the next day]," said Shana Scott, a first-time mom who brought her six-month old daughter, Aubrey. "But having this [class] and other moms to come to [helps], and it's very high-energy, so it's nice to be excited about getting out of the house."
And for the baby?
"She sleeps through most of it," Scott said. "It's nice for me to be able to focus on me for a little bit."
Another new mom, Becca Barto, teaches the class, wheeling her nearly 5-month-old son Jack around the field and leading sets of stretches and other activities.
"It's an interval program, so we bounce back and forth between cardio exercises and strength training exercise," Barto said. "And with the strength training, what my focus is is to really make it specific to moms and our everyday movements and working on our cores, which is one of the most important pieces of our body to stay strong."
Barto said pregnancy and giving birth can throw off moms' balance. During the classes, they can use their strollers to keep steady, in addition to keeping tabs on their babies.
"It's nice to be able to interact with your little one, to be able to peak through the stroller and have [him or her] right next to you," she said.
Franko's daughter, Violet, scampers around the field while her mom chats. At home, Violet assigns roles to her dolls, and the one who plays her mother tells the other dolls that mommy is going to the gym.
"I really want [my kids] to know fitness as a part of life," said Franko, who also has a 1-year-old daughter. "They see you working out, which I think is really important."
Stroller Strides is offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the McCook Athletic and Exposition Center. A 10-class pass is $150, and an unlimited monthly pass is $65. For more information about FIT4MOM and its other classes, go to www.chicagowest.fit4mom.com.