Stops to retrieve fallen rattles don’t slow these mothers’ strides. Stroller Strides, a business specializing in prenatal and postnatal fitness, has its first Arkansas affiliate in Little Rock.

Stroller Strides aims to help mothers achieve and maintain fitness before and after childbirth, according to Lisa Druxman, the national founder.

The basis is a unique exercise program that allows the mother to work out with her child, a convenience that most would enjoy, Druxman says.

After working as a group and personal trainer and a club manager, Druxman, of San Diego, realized the need for a specialized program for mothers after she gave birth to her son in 2001.

Her program provides physical and emotional support through exercise, health awareness and socialization. Mothers and their babies gather in public parks for a total body workout that makes use of the environment, resistance tubing and the stroller.

According to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, which just named Druxman its Program Director of the Year, Stroller Strides has spread to 400 locations in 38 states. Anyone interested in starting a franchise can find detailed instructions on the Stroller Strides Web site at www. strollerstrides. com.

Susan Robinson, a native Arkansan and mother of two, stumbled upon the Web site while searching for postnatal fitness programs following the birth of her daughter. After completing the application process, she began the three month process of opening a local franchise.

“It was very expensive,” she says. “I had to get a business license and fulfill all the other legal obligations, but not needing an actual building made the process a lot quicker.”

Robinson attended the University of Central Arkansas, earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in health education. She is also certified as a health education specialist through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing and the Arkansas Board of Health Education. She works as a computer trainer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “I love my job, but it doesn’t fulfill the health educator in me,” she says. “Stroller Strides was a perfect fit.”

Robinson posted fliers throughout Little Rock’s Hillcrest and the Heights neighborhoods to spread the word. She found local support from The Toggery, a children’s clothing boutique that allowed her to do demonstrations in front of the store, and Pickles and Ice Cream, a maternity store. She teaches the classes along with Sarah Pflugradt. A personal trainer certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Pflugradt had been taking Stroller Strides classes in Corpus Christi, Texas, before her family moved to Arkansas. She contacted Robinson while searching for fitness employment. With her daughter Lilly in tow, Pflugradt leads the day classes. A typical class will begin with yoga or aerobics. This is followed by intervals of power-walking through a park and frequent stops for strength training that targets each section of the body. The workout concludes with abdominal work and stretching. Mothers only need to bring water, a yoga mat or towel, a stroller and, of course, the baby. Tubing is provided at each class. “We measure [intensity ] in levels of exertion rather than using the heart rate,” Pflugradt says. “When we have pregnant women, their heart rate is always higher.” The system uses a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most strenuous. The class is usually conducted at a level of 5 or 6.

Pregnant women may fully participate until their 20 th week of pregnancy, and then there are modifications to keep the exercise safe for them. The Stroller Strides Web site features a helpful list of most of the exercises practiced and demonstrations of each.

There are also modifications for mothers who may have given birth by Cesarean section, or who have problems with their abdominal muscles separating.

Under Stroller Strides guidelines, mothers are allowed to begin post-pregnancy exercise after their six-week checkup. Babies aren’t allowed in jogging strollers until they are at least 6 months old. Mothers can participate in the classes as long as the child is still in a stroller.

The Stroller Strides classes are not exclusive to mothers. Fathers, older siblings, baby-sitters or any other caretaker can take classes. When women join, their husbands may attend classes free of charge. Children may walk or ride alongside during the power-walking segments and watch during strength training.

“Stroller Strides is all about helping moms make strides in life; it’s not only about getting back in shape. There’s emotional support. Mothers realize they aren’t alone when they talk about things like postpartum [depression ] with other mothers,” Robinson says. “The potential for friendships is limitless. Moms participating in this program are making friends, promoting fitness and family values, and being great role models for their children.”

Nationally, Stroller Strides franchises offer related programs, including Fit to Deliver classes for pregnant women; the Luna Moms Club, with weekly play group meetings, monthly mom’s night out and quarterly community service projects; and L. E. A. N. Mommy (Learn Eating Awareness and Nutrition ), an eight-week weight management program based on a book written by Lisa Druxman. Robinson says she plans to offer these later.

Stroller Strides classes currently meet at Allsopp Park near the intersection of Cantrell and Cedar Hill roads in Little Rock. Robinson hopes to expand to North Little Rock and Sherwood by the end of the year.

Pflugradt teaches classes at 9 a. m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Robinson teaches classes at 6 p. m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first class is free. Afterward, a single class pass is $ 12, and a 10-class block pass is $ 100. The “10 block” must be used within six months of purchase. Membership is $ 50 a month with unlimited classes, and registration is $ 75. Members receive a member bag that includes a tube, a T-shirt and other treats for mother and child.