-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
So you've been cleared for exercise after the birth of your baby and you're anxious to get outside and get moving! But who's going to watch your little one? If running or walking is your thing, you can take baby along in a jogging stroller. You get the exercise you crave, and baby gets a scenic tour of the neighborhood, with some fresh air to boot.
Jogging strollers have become more popular in recent years, motivating manufacturers to create even more models. This gives the consumer a great variety to choose from, but actually choosing which stroller to purchase can be a daunting task. Here are some features to consider when choosing a jogging stroller:
In the world of wheels, size matters. A true jogging stroller has three large wheels: one in front and two in the back. The larger wheels mean a smoother ride because there is less rolling resistance. Wheels come in 12", 16", and 20"+ sizes. To decide which size is best for you, think about how you will use the stroller.
. 12" Wheels are best for walking on smooth surfaces, like sidewalks, bike paths, and indoors.
. 16" Wheels are great for frequent outdoor walking or jogging on fairly smooth surfaces, with light off-road use (like cutting across a grassy field).
. 20"+ Wheels are made for frequent long-distance running and off-road use.
Alloy or Steel
Look for alloy wheels and hubs, rather than steel. Steel is cheaper but is heavier and has a tendency to rust. If you have to get steel and live in a "salty" place (winter road salt, ocean salt), rinse the wheels and hubs after strolling to prevent rust.
Front Wheel: To Swivel or Not To Swivel?
Most jogging strollers have a fixed front wheel, one that doesn't turn. This is ideal for jogging, because this feature provides the stability and straight tracking that you need. But if you're using the stroller at the mall for example, a fixed wheel may become a nuisance when you have to tilt the stroller back onto its rear wheels to make a turn.
Manufacturers have created a "hybrid" jogging stroller with a swiveling front wheel, which boasts superior maneuverability for those indoor situations. However, a hybrid isn't the best choice for everyone. The swiveling front wheel is usually 12" or smaller, and although the wheel can be locked in position, the small size decreases the stroller's handling abilities-especially outdoors on rough terrain. So if you plan on doing a lot of running (or off-roading), you might consider buying a true fixed-wheel jogging stroller and a traditional stroller for trips to the mall. But if you just jog occasionally, a hybrid makes sense. Think about how you will use the stroller when making this decision.
For your baby's safety, a five-point harness comes standard with most models. They are especially important when traveling at fast speeds-when you're running like the wind!
An unhappy passenger can bring your run to a halt, so make sure baby is comfortable underneath a large, adjustable canopy to shade her from the elements.
Look for a padded seat that reclines. Reclining seats are great for running during naptime, and for young babies who have less head control. A neck roll is sometimes included, or can be purchased separately.
Depending on what type of terrain you anticipate encountering on your runs, you might consider a stroller with shocks. If you intend to take the baby speed walking through the mall, then don't waste your money on this feature.
Arm Leash / Wrist Tether
This feature comes standard on a good jogging stroller. Basically it's like a dog leash attached to the back rear of the stroller, with the loop end worn around your wrist. It is necessary because these strollers are built for speed, and if you lose your footing you may have a runaway baby carriage.
Make sure it doesn't take two people to fold up the stroller. Have the salesperson demonstrate, and then try to do it by yourself a few times. Wrestling with the stroller in a hot parking lot probably isn't the kind of exercise you're looking for.
Does the folded up stroller fit in your trunk? Some strollers are a little cumbersome, and some are downright huge, so if you've got a small car, look for one that can travel with you.
Jogging strollers with a welded aluminum frame, although more expensive, are lighter and much more sturdy than their competitors, which are made with metal tubes connected with plastic joints.
If you're extra tall, this might be worth considering. If you buy your stroller from a store, take it for a test drive before purchasing to make sure it's the right height for you. If you go with large wheels, the stroller will sit higher too. To determine your optimal handle height, stand up straight with your shoulders back, arms to your sides. Bend your elbows so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. The distance between your hands and the floor is your optimal handle height.
If you plan on jogging with child in tow for a while, consider the total cargo-plus-passenger weight limit. The higher-priced strollers usually have stronger welded aluminum frames and can support more weight. Remember that kids don't travel light, especially when you factor in the diaper bag, snacks, drinks and toys.
Although not really a feature, jogging stroller prices can range from $75 to over $400, so cost may factor into your decision as much as many of the features above. Quality strollers are easier to use, last longer, and retain their resale value. You really do get what you pay for.