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Texas Iron Moms

Christina Esquivel, Kristin McCalip, Jessica Morgan and Kathleen Leo pose after an Iron Moms workout.

Kathleen Leo leads women and men to improve their fitness in a child-friendly setting

By Anna Saikin  Photography by Kathleen Leo

A dark grey minivan pulls into the lot at Lost Creek Park in Sugar Land. The doors slide open, and a tall woman with bleached blond hair shakes out a doublewide jogging stroller. Kathleen Leo, the CEO of Texas Iron Moms, packs almost a gym’s worth of equipment into the stroller: jump ropes, medicine balls and exercise bands, along with her young son and daughter, nicknamed 80 and LB.

Leo has been leading workouts at the park since moving back to her hometown of Sugar Land over two years ago. Although other workout groups and exercise bunnies frequent the busy park, Iron Moms caters to women and men looking for family-friendly workout fun where children are welcome. As Leo notes, “Our workouts are goal-centric. Whether you want to run your first 5K, improve your marathon time, pick up your baby without hurting your back or look good in your favorite pair of jeans, the workouts are designed to support your fitness goals.”

Iron Moms workouts change daily but retain a similar structure. After a brief warm-up, Leo alternates running drills with strength training exercises designed to maximize the cardiovascular health of her clients. Despite the vigorous nature of her routines, Leo takes great care to tailor the workouts to all fitness levels by providing modifications for every exercise. She encourages anyone who may be nervous about starting or restarting an exercise routine to “just come. Don’t make excuses. No one who starts on the first day is an expert.”

Leo’s empathy toward beginners draws on her own struggles to overcome physical setbacks. She competed in the high jump as a member of the Ball State University track team for three seasons before sustaining a stress fracture in her back in 2003, which forced her to leave the team. After participating in track since seventh grade, she felt burned out and was disappointed her track career had ended in an injury. Leo tried to return to fitness in 2007 with an exercise partner, but didn’t keep it up.

It wasn’t until Leo’s son was born in 2012 that she decided to restart her fitness regimen. Her son was born under stressful circumstances and has cerebral palsy. As a new mother living in Savannah, Georgia due to her husband being in the military, she did not have a local support group to help her with her baby. She joined a Family Readiness Group, and her instructor encouraged her to participate in Stroller Strong Moms. The boot camp-style workouts were more challenging than other local groups, and Leo quickly found support and friendship with other mothers. With the group’s encouragement, she ran her first 5K in May 2014 and her first half-marathon on Valentine’s Day 2015.

When her husband Andrew retired from the military in April 2015, Leo and her family moved back to Sugar Land to be near his family. Before she was finished unpacking, she had decided to follow her passion and begin her own fitness group. She became group certified with the American College of Sports Medicine, and Iron Moms held a month-long soft opening before beginning classes in May 2015.

The classes meet five days a week, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. at Lost Creek Park, and at 6:30 p.m. at Mesquite Park, also in Sugar Land. The first class is free, and after that participants can choose between an unlimited package ($55) or a twice-weekly option ($35). Leo holds a free yoga class the last Friday of every month, and dads and childfree folks are welcome to join as well.

While many of Leo’s clients have initiated lasting friendships through the group, the most enthusiastic members are the children, who often mimic the exercises with their own play weights or offer much-needed encouragement.

Seeing the kids grow up together is one of the things Leo most enjoys about Iron Moms. Many were very young when the group first started, and as they got older, they became excited to see their friends outside of class on the weekend as well. Leo believes the kids are more relaxed at Iron Moms because the workouts take place outside of a school environment. The kids play with chalk and other distractions provided by Leo when their moms are doing weighted workouts and hop in the jogging strollers when it’s time to change locations. Some of the younger ones nap through the workout.

The workouts are held outside; when it rains, Leo posts a livestream to the Iron Moms’ Facebook page.

Leo hopes her workouts will encourage moms to be healthy examples for their family. To kickstart 2018, she is hosting Iron Will, a three-month-long fitness challenge in which participants can compete for class-related and spa prizes. During Iron Will, participants will receive a basic fitness assessment, including weight and body fat percentage calculations, in addition to fitness monitoring that will test the participants’ improvement over the course of the challenge. Participants earn points for attendance, diet challenges and weekly yoga stretches, and will be tested on body strength exercises including pushups, step ups, half-mile run, shuttle run and a hang test. The Iron Will Challenge begins on January 8 and ends on April 6, and costs $165 for all three months.

Visit texasironmoms.com or email info@texasironmoms.com for more information about Iron Moms and the Iron Will Challenge.



Many exercises can be performed using standard playground equipment. Here are Kathleen Leo’s three favorites:

Swing row: Stand with the swing in front of you. Hold the swing to your chest and step your feet forward so that your body is held at an angle to the ground. Pull your chest up to the swing for 10 repetitions. Repeat three times for a full circuit.

Bench step up: Stand parallel to a bench with one foot on the seat and the other on the ground. Step up and drive the opposite knee up as if it is an invisible chair. Return to original position. Complete 10 repetitions three times through for a complete circuit.

Knees to tree: Place your hands at shoulder height on a tree. While keeping your core tight, step back and swing one knee around and up to belly button level while leaning into the tree. Repeat this motion 30 times per leg.



Kathleen Leo strengthens her core with help from her daughter.

Kathleen Leo strengthens her core with help from her daughter.


(L-R):  Christina Esquivel, Kathleen Leo and Jessica Morgan perform weighted squats.

(L-R): Christina Esquivel, Kathleen Leo and Jessica Morgan perform weighted squats.


(L-R):  Jessica Morgan, Kristin McCalip and Roxanne Nash sit in invisible chairs during an Iron Moms workout.

(L-R): Jessica Morgan, Kristin McCalip and Roxanne Nash sit in invisible chairs during an Iron Moms workout.

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