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How can a modern mom maximize her workouts?

Rebecca Eckler alternates treadmill runs with weight-lifting in a 60-minute circuit twice a week, but says she lacks energy.

Writer Rebecca Eckler lives a hectic life that is susceptible to sudden changes - and her nutrition plan is dictated by life with her six-year-old daughter. . After 10 years with a trainer, the thirtysomething co-author of the new children's book The Mischievous Mom at the Art Gallery laments that her fitness results are still fiction.

My goal

"To make it to the gym."

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My workout

"Twice a week at Track Fitness [in Toronto]I do Circuit 60: 10-minute rounds on a treadmill and 10-minute rounds of strength training for one hour. I have a personal trainer and we use body-weight moves, free weights, medicine balls and the large exercise balls."

She also does hatha yoga once a week.

My lifestyle

"Everything goes around my daughter's schedule, which is different every day after school because of play dates, or life. With motherhood your best-laid plans get changed instantly."

"I'm a carpool. I live in my car. Every weekend there's a birthday party with cake. And you can't say no, because it's rude and I'm starving."

Despite a trainer's advice to eat five meals a day, "I'm hungry all the time. I rarely eat full meals. It's just my daughter and I, so I mostly eat what she's eating: cereal in the morning, grilled cheese and kids' snacks. I grab oatmeal from Starbucks. I'm so bad about lunch, I'm running around, that's when I get a strawberry/banana Vivanno smoothie."

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My motivation

"My daughter runs to me and almost topples me over. I don't want to be the frail mother. I want to keep up with her. She seems to get more energy; I get less."

My anthem

"I'm a big Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, top 40s fan - for the motivation. For warm-up and cool-downs, I listen to Neil Young."

My challenge

"I never get better. I feel great, then 20 minutes later I'm so tired. When thinking about my day I have to ask myself, 'Can I afford not to be able to lift my arms or walk quickly today?'

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"I could do something with my daughter, but kids are slow walkers, I'm not sure I'd get the benefit. And six-year-olds aren't allowed in gyms, so I'm faced with how to make the most of the one-hour music class while I'm waiting for her. What can I do in that hour?"

The critique

Craig Ballantyne, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, says a few effortless shortcuts could go a long way toward making space in Ms. Eckler's schedule for workouts. But first she should address her biggest challenge: eating right.

Nix the smoothies

"Rebecca needs to start eating fibre-rich real food, working her way up to more than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, preferably chewed, not consumed in a smoothie," Mr. Ballantyne says.

He notes that chronic hunger can be a flag for an improperly functioning thyroid, and she might want to consider asking her doctor for tests. What he knows for sure is that the smoothies and processed foods on which Ms. Eckler lives have unnecessary calories and sugars, "which are digested and absorbed quickly, often leaving the person hungry soon after they eat them." They cause blood sugar to spike and then rapidly crash, leaving her tired.

A simple solution, he says, is to spend 10 minutes preparing a complete meal every morning.

And she should involve her daughter in food preparation and grocery shopping: "This is her chance to be a powerful role model for her munchkin … and among other moms, who also don't want to be eating birthday cake every week."

Work out at home

If Ms. Eckler is to experience any fitness improvements, it's clear her workout has to change, Mr. Ballantyne says.

To make exercise more convenient, he says, Ms. Eckler could easily create a home gym with a set of adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells, and a stability ball. From there she could follow her new program, or try exercise DVDs or, a fitness website for busy moms.

Keep workouts short, zippy

As for that free hour during her daughter's music class, Mr. Ballantyne proposes short but intense workouts.

"A body-weight circuit three times per week for 15 to 20 minutes will get Rebecca started," he says. "By combining planned nutrition based on whole, natural foods with short but intense exercise, she'll get more work done in less time. In four weeks, she'll be lean, confident and sexy with dramatic increases in strength and energy."

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