Exercising with Kids: A Quick How to Guide Pt 2

In Part 1, I lined up some basics on exercising with kids and gave you my thoughts on the role of exercise in a family. While it's important to have a general understanding of your philosophy and a basic idea of how it "should" go, the reality is that you want a workout and you'd like your kid to actually participate. That's what Part 2 is all about!

Warm Up

The warm up is a great place to get things going in the right direction. I like to do some action songs for little guys, like mine. This gets the sillies out and helps with focus. With older kids, dynamic flexibility exercises are a better way to go. Long Lunges, Tin Man walks, High Knee Running, Butt Kickers, and Side Shuffles are all good drills to get the ball rolling. No matter the age, the warm up should follow a general pattern or even be the same each time creating an expectation of what's to come.

Endurance Work

Endurance is one of the more challenging aspects of fitness to develop. It's also the easiest one to mess up! You can make a kid hate the stroller and fight you about taking a ride really easily. You can also run a kid into the ground and help develop the "I hate running" mentality over the course of one bad run. The same goes for hiking, biking, or any other activity you hope to develop. I'm going to try to help you here. Giving your child/teen an expectation of what is to come is a huge first step. I see so many well meaning parents decide that their ever-active 6 yr old can do a 5K....this always ends in frustration, tears, and (too often) a hatred of running. Endurance work is repetitive, the same movement repeated over and over. This requires decidedly more mental toughness than physical toughness. It also requires a slow progression.

Three Keys to Success with Endurance Training

  • Start small! Even 3-5 min of running or biking is a good start. For young people, expect that you will have to provide distraction. When Colt bikes next to me when I run, we always have a destination (like the park). Talk about what you are feeling, what landmarks to look for, and what you see around you.
  • Stop while you are ahead! It's ALWAYS better to stop before it goes bad. We often leave "the hiking place" with Colt asking if we can do it again. "Aw man, Bud! I want to do it more too. That was a ton of fun! What day do you want to come back?"
  • Take breaks as needed. When building endurance, you have to actually build it first. Shocking, right? If they want to rest, let them. Foster a love now for another day by respecting their pace. A time will come when you can discuss going further or faster or whatever, but let that be a decision your child makes when it is important to them.

Colt recently did a 2 mile run with me to a park (he was on his bike). He is four months shy of 3 yrs old. We averaged about a 15 min pace, I think, and there was a lot of varying paces! Ha Ha! I consider it a different training stimulus..... sloooooow..... FAST FAST ...... Med Pace..FAAAAAAST.....sloooooooow.... But he had a blast and felt such a sense of accomplishment when we got there. Imagine how differently he might have felt had I pushed him to maintain a pace and put my agenda first.

Strength Work

Many people express apprehension about introducing strength work with their children. While pushing maximum weight certainly isn't a good idea, building a strong foundation is absolutely essential to lay the groundwork for a healthy body. We are most proficient at the movements we develop early in life, like riding a bike for example. Strength for children and teens should focus on learning to control the body through a full range of motion. Working in a gym is great once or twice a week but the real strength work should happen in real life. This can look like carrying buckets of water or rocks, doing a balance beam in the yard (while carrying something even), climbing trees.... you know, kid stuff. In the gym, focus on single leg strength and movements like squats, lunges, chopping, and hinging. It's fine for them to lift as heavy as they can with good form..... WITH GOOD FORM!

We have a lot of success with two different workout games!

Be sure they know the movements and can perform them proficiently before you start.

  • DICE: Make a card with an exercise and corresponding repetitions. You will need 6 of them. Examples: 10 Squats, 10 Push Ups, 20 Walking Lunges, 8 Single Leg Squats per side, 5 Turkish Get Ups per side, 4-6 Pull Ups. Roll the dice and do the exercise. Aim to do 10 rolls. You can add a sprint to the cone and back in between each roll if you like for a little boost.
  • CARDS: Make a guide sheet telling the exercise or exercise combo for each suit. For example: HEARTS might be Push Ups and 2x Jumping Jacks. I like to pair a strength exercise with a more cardiovascular exercise on this one. Set out the deck of cards and flip the top one. If you get a 10 of HEARTS, you would do 10 push ups and 20 jumping jacks. The number on the card indicates the number of repetitions. This works best if each person does their own card rather than doing each card all together... there are 52 cards afterall ;-) We also like to mix in the JOKER and whoever flips that one has to do 10 of everything before they can flip the next card. If you want to make it a competition, pile your completed cards in individual stacks and see who has the most at the end.

Exercising with kids is easier than you think.

When your expectations are in line with reality, it's just another fun adventure for your child. Hard Work ethic is something that is fostered and Mental Toughness is something that is practiced. A child is an open book of wonder with a fresh canvas for all sorts of experiences. You have the opportunity to make the Exercise Experience a really positive thing. I hope you will!