Drawn from comment box, email, and my own life. The first one is my beginner's plan:
Plan #1: "I'm a swimmer, an individual athlete."
Swim Monday evenings at the YMCA for 40 min while husband watches the kids.
Swim Thursday evenings at the YMCA for 40 minutes while kids are in lessons and husband watches the baby.
Later, the "baby" became comfortable in the YMCA child care and that became:
Swim Monday mornings at the YMCA for 40 minutes while the kids stay in the child care (and the oldest does his schoolwork.)
Swim Thursday evenings at the YMCA for 40 minutes while husband shuttles kids back and forth between lessons and child care, and squeezes his own lifting sessions in between.
Here's another plan:
Plan #2. "I'm a runner, working on the basic fundamentals."
Block off the time every weekday, and exercise at the local Y three or four days a week, from 11:45 to 1, while the kids are in the YMCA child care.
This is a good plan once your kids are comfortable staying in the child care. (It doesn't happen immediately upon signing up for a gym membership.) I have suggested that a beginner plan a firm two days a week; but it also can work to block off the same block of time every day and then each week decide which two or three days you're going to do it. The important thing is that you're keeping that consistent minimum.
Plan #3. "I'm a runner, staying fit off-season (during pregnancy)."
Walk every fair weekday three miles through the neighborhood with two toddlers in the jogging stroller.
Very nice! Walking through the neighborhood, even with the kids in the stroller, is a good "easy on, easy off" activity, as long as you keep the stroller and shoes handy. Because of this it's an ideal activity for attempting to do every day, even beginning at five minutes and working you way up to distances measured in miles.
By the way, when you begin an activity that requires your kids to behave a certain way (stay strapped into a stroller or play quietly in their room), working your way gradually from five minutes to longer periods might be more important for them than it is for you. If you decide your solution is, for example, to train your children to play in their rooms while you walk on your treadmill for 30 minutes, you might well have to begin by training the children to play in their rooms every day for 5 minutes (set a timer) and then gradually lengthen the time. Even if you can walk for more than 5 minutes, it may take some work on your part to be able to focus on walking for more than 5 minutes.
I haven't actually tried this. Maybe it won't work. Just throwing it out there.
Plan #4. "I'm a runner."
Run two days a week, plus one weekend day, through the neighborhood, while husband watches the kids.
Sounds fun... and sounds like a great opportunity to focus.
Plan #5. "I'm an individual athlete who does strength training."
Follow the program in The New Rules of Lifting for Women at home with home equipment:
Tuesday afternoons, Thursday afternoons, or both, while the baby naps and the older children watch a video.
One weekend day, taking turns watching the children with husband.
This athlete comments that the nap/video arrangement is reaching its limit. I learned while I was in grad school that it is incredibly frustrating to count on The Nap as a reliable source of free time. You just can't control when The Nap starts or stops, or whether it happens at all, and sooner or later they start to grow out of them. Yes, certainly, before The Nap disappears, find some other way of carving out the time.
Plan #6. "I am a runner."
Run 4 miles, 3 to 5 times a week, at 6:30 am while husband is still home with the children.
Recently added swimming, in the same time block, 1-2 times a week at the rec center of the local college.
Plan to swim in the "off season" of pregnancy.
What I really love about this plan, what this person has done that is really, really, really smart, is that she is starting NOW (even though she is still in the season of running) to practice her "off-season" conditioning sport of swimming. She knows she won't be able to run much during mid-to-late pregnancy, and so she's starting now to develop the alternative routine that will carry her through that time. Which brings me to this example:
(Partially Successful) Plan #7. "I am a cyclist."
Bike in the neighborhood, a few evenings a week, while husband is home with the children, after dinner. When winter comes, switch to walking through the neighborhood.
This is a friend of mine who successfully bicycled like this all last summer. Her plan fell through, though, when winter came. She stopped biking and somehow didn't start walking. She has told me that she thought perhaps the problem was that she never tried going for walks in the summer as an occasional alternative to cycling. Maybe if she had done that, it would have been a smoother transition from biking most of the time to walking most of the time.
Plan #8. "I am a runner, in rehabilitation."
Exercise at the Y three times a week: using the elliptical trainer while husband or friend watches the children. If that's not possible, walk on the track with the baby while the older children stay in the child care.
What's so great about this plan is that it has a "backup plan" built right into it. More on backup plans later.
Now here's a plan from the combox that didn't work:
Failed plan: Meet a friend at the Y, three times a week, to do "nautilus machines, maybe treadmill, and occasionally an aerobics class." While the kids were in childcare. Plus toddler gymnastics afterward. Stopped because it took "all morning three times a week." I never got to the place where I loved the activity or had an identity in it...where my body missed the workout when I missed one."
I hope Tabitha can write a little more about why she thinks this plan failed for her. A couple of things stand out:
First, could it have been more about socializing with her friend than about getting exercise? There's nothing at all wrong with that, and lots of people do very well when they exercise with other people; but if the activity "felt" more about getting together with a buddy than about taking care of yourself, it might have gotten in the way of developing an identity as an athlete. It seems that it would help in developing the identity of the friendship as "we're the kind of friends who meet at the gym." But not necessarily in developing your own personal identity. The other thing is that if you are with a friend, you may not be able to focus on the activity -- to generate psychological "flow." The activity can be an annoying thing that makes you huff and puff too much to carry on a conversation.
Second, were they trying to do too much? If it really took all morning, it was probably unrealistic to expect you could keep that up as a lifestyle change.
Third, were they trying for too much variety? If you do nautilus sometimes, and aerobics sometimes, and treadmill other times, maybe you don't have a chance to improve and to set goals at any one of them.
Next up: Backup plans and transition plans.