By Arielle Dollinger
On certain mornings, strollers and smiling toddlers overtake a patch of grass at Heckscher Park – empirical evidence of a metaphorical safety net for community moms: a franchise called Fit4Mom.
Instead of weights, participants in the fitness class – a class termed “Stroller Strides” – hold their babies. For one hour, mothers use their strollers and the environment for not only their babies but also their own wellbeing.
The franchise, born 13 years ago in San Diego and now a nationwide entity, offers mothers what founder Lisa Druxman called a “total body boot camp workout” alongside their babies.
“I thought that the appeal was going to be because all moms want to get back in shape after having a baby,” Druxman said of the workout classes, now offered in over 1,500 locations across the country.
But, Druxman said, the draw turned out to be the camaraderie.
“All moms are looking to connect with other moms when they become a mom,” said Druxman, who has two children of her own. “We all need support.”
And so, the business has become “a village,” Druxman said – a way for mothers to feel like they are not alone in the endeavor.
“It’s never been just about fitness; it’s about so much more than that,” she said. “[Moms] realize physical things that they never thought that they could do, but they also realize friendships.”
From a business perspective, she said, the franchise is about supporting motherhood.
“We’ve literally built this entire business around motherhood,” Druxman said. “There are so few careers out there that are supportive of motherhood.”
Many of those who have become involved in the franchise as instructors or owners, she said, are women whose careers did not mesh with “who they wanted to be as a mom.”
“Being a mom is a really tough job, and I think there’s a lot of pressure on moms,” she said. “We believe that moms need to take care of themselves in order to be the best mom and wife and friend.”
Participant Nikki O’Leary has been bringing her son to the class for two years, originally because she felt lost as a new mother, she said.
“He [my son] met all his friends through the class,” she said, as her son and three other toddlers ran to and from a nearby tree. “It’s cute because they were all infants together… They all did their milestones together.”
She and instructor Tiffany Donovan take family vacations together. They met through the class, of which Donovan is now an instructor.
When she joined as a participant two years ago, the program felt “a lot like college,” Donovan said, noting that she wondered whether or not she would make friends.
“It’s a great way for moms to get out, to meet each other,” Donovan said. “We come, we vent about ‘the things at home.’”
Donovan said she lost over 70 pounds of pregnancy weight through the classes.
“You get to be active and healthy, and be with your baby at the same time,” she said. “You get to experience it with your child.”
Fellow mother Britney Pagano has owned the Long Island branch of the franchise since 2008 and teaches classes in Babylon and at Sunken Meadow State Park.
“After having my child, my daughter, it was hard to take care of myself,” Pagano said. “[The class] gave me the opportunity to bring her along and still do something for myself without feeling guilty.”
The hour-long classes involve power walking and cardio, resistance training using resistance tubes, the stroller and the environment, as well as songs and activities for the children, Pagano said.
“I’ve always had a passion for fitness, and for motherhood, so it’s the perfect combination,” the former California sales manager and Massapequa native said. “And it allows me to work from my home, to be with my children, and also to still have a part of myself.”
The franchise is about more than just classes, Pagano said: Fit4Mom also offers weekly play groups and Moms Night Out events. For pregnant women, the franchise offers prenatal “Fit4Baby” classes at such locations as Babies “R” Us in Commack.
In the winter months, from December through April, classes are held indoors at locations like the Huntington Jewish Center and Melville’s Temple Beth Torah.
Mothers can attend their first class for free, out of what Druxman said is the franchise’s desire for mothers to connect with each other.
“The best part of it for me is seeing these moms gain confidence and friendships and inspiration, and really being healthy role models for their kids,” Druxman said. “It doesn’t matter if I go visit a class in New Jersey, or Florida, or California, or anywhere – no matter where I go, the moms are so nice; they’re all women that I’d want to connect with. They value being healthy role models for their kids, they want to be with their kid.”
Monthly membership, which includes unlimited Stroller Strides classes, costs $79 and requires a three-month commitment. Mothers can also buy 10-class passes for $150, which allow them access to 10 Stroller Strides or Stroller Barre classes. A two-month unlimited pass costs $205.
The swarm of strollers marks the group’s spot in the park. The strollers’ corresponding infants are sprawled out on the grass, the toddlers toddling about as their mothers follow them with their eyes.