“I put my hand up on that brick. When I dip, you dip, we dip,” chanted fitness instructor Carey Sousa at the group of women in her bootcamp-style class she leads Friday mornings at Falls Park.
Seven moms, most with their young children in tow, alternated between running suicides the length of the Wyche Pavilion and doing pushups or tricep dips against the brick wall, after having already run laps around the park, done 40-plus squat reps and twice as many ab crunches on the Liberty Bridge. Sousa sang the alphabet song as the count off for one set of squats in order to entertain some restless little ones.
“It’s all in your heads, ladies. There’s no pain,” Sousa shouted.
Some children climbed out of their strollers and ran along with their moms. One toddler walked around feeding her Goldfish crackers to anyone who would open her mouth.
Sousa instructed the moms to get in pushup position on the wall – hands on the brick ledge and feet at least two feet from the wall – and hold that position with elbows bent at a 45-degree angle.
“If you’re shaking, get lower,” shouted Jessica Thomas, co-instructor.
Strong Mamas, as the group is called, was founded by Thomas in 2014 after her family moved to Greenville from Phoenix. The main focus is the mommy and me fitness classes that meet in public spaces Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Children are always welcome and encouraged, as a main goal is to teach them that what many adults complain about can actually be a lot of fun, Thomas says.
A certified group fitness instructor and a mom of two boys ages 4 and 6, Thomas had led classes in the Phoenix area with Stroller Strides, a fitness model designed for moms with young kids to be able to exercise with their young children riding along in strollers, eliminating the extra cost for child care.
When she relocated, Thomas knew she wanted to get involved in something similar in the Upstate but didn’t find many options, so she decided to start her own.
Beginning in November Strong Mamas will meet Monday through Friday at a different Greenville County park each day. Classes meet rain or shine. If it’s really nasty outside, Thomas has permission to use a few indoor locations, such as Park Avenue Gym or the Bon Secours Wellness Center.
Currently, Thomas has about 30 paying members, with that number increasing by two or three each month, she says. They come for the workout and end up staying for the camaraderie.
“When you’re a mom, you need more than just a one-hour workout,” Thomas says.
Thomas first became interested in fitness after the birth of her first son. She suffered from post partum depression, and joining a fitness group allowed her to meet her physical and social needs as a new mom. She loved it enough to get her certification to teach in 2012.
Thomas says many of the members are Greenville newcomers and are looking for like-minded moms who enjoy fitness, healthy living and need a social outlet.
Sandra Michaud, mom to a 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy, manages the Strong Mamas social media accounts and coordinates their social events. She joined the group a year ago when her family relocated from Rockford, Ill.
Michaud says the biggest draws for her were the ability to bring her kids along and being outdoors rather than in a gym.
Michaud says often during their workouts, the kids get cranky or restless, so the instructor will sing songs, blow bubbles in their faces or move locations to keep everyone interested. Sometimes, they use their children as added weight by throwing them in the air or holding them while doing squats.
Currently, Thomas has three certified instructors who teach alongside her, which allows her to focus on growing the business. She plans by the beginning of next year to offer evening classes for working moms, especially teachers, whom she says are regulars during their summer breaks but can’t attend during the school year.
One of the three instructors, Angela Costner, moved to Greenville in January from California. She says before she even moved, she found and joined Strong Mamas so she’d have an immediate social and fitness outlet upon arrival.
Costner says having the social element makes it so much easier to think of working out as a fun activity.
“If I’m the outlet for creating any sort of friendship, then I’m successful,” Thomas says.
Visit strong-mamas.com for more information.