Parents know that kids are almost always on the move. Running, jumping, wrestling, playing – they seem like little bundles of perpetual energy, and exercise is critical to developing a healthy body.
Kids also spend a good deal of time mimicking adults; pretending is a big part of developing a healthy mind. Put these two together, and it shouldn’t be a surprise when your little ones express an interest in going for a run with you or knocking out a set of push-ups. You’ve been setting a good example for them by exercising, and now they say they want to join in. Great!
I don’t have any kids, but I have a nephew and I’m super excited about exercising with him. He’s just shy of a year now, so I have a little bit of time before he’ll be interested in working out, but I’m always thinking ahead.
In this article, we’ll cover some workouts that you can do with your kids that will give you the opportunity to work out and spend time with kids, whether they’re yours or someone else’s!
Kids love to run, and including them in part of your daily miles is quick and easy. You’ll have to orient your run slightly differently when you include your kids, but you can both benefit from it.
First, do short, fast intervals. If you remember being a kid, you would go full-speed all the time, but of course you could only sustain that for a short period of time. Kids have problems pacing themselves. Let them run at full-speed with walking intervals in between.
Chances are that you’ll get a good workout in that fast interval and that your kid(s) will be ready to go again after only a short rest. You can even make a game out of it by doing races on each interval; kids love competition.
Keep the overall run fairly short. Despite news stories you hear about very young kids running very long races, distance running is really not medically recommended for young kids. Plus, their attention span can be as short as one of those sprint intervals. Depending on the age of the child, a 10k (6.2 miles) could seem like a marathon to your kid! So keep running in short bursts and for short periods of time so that it’s something that they enjoy.
We do recommend a 5k or kid triathlon if your kids also love to bike and swim. These are short enough for children but provide a manageable challenge.
Finally, stay off busy roads so that you and your kids stay safe. A bike path or track is the safest place. You want to focus on running as opposed to making sure that your kids don’t get hit by oncoming cars.
My parents weren’t runners, but we did go for a lot of walks and hikes growing up. It was a great way to get outdoors, and my sister and I always looked forward to our adventures even from a young age.
Look for trails with rocks to climb on or other interesting features to keep your kids engaged. We often drove about an hour to the hilly part of Ohio, the state I grew up in, and hiked there. It was different terrain from where we lived, so my sister and I always enjoyed it.
You also might want to find a path with a destination the kids will enjoy, like a playground. Sometimes we would go walking with my grandparents in northwest Ohio, and the end destination was always a playground.
This kept us going when we wanted to stop because we knew we’d get the chance to play at the end of the walk.
Finally, you can never go wrong by making it a competition. You can use fitness trackers to see who gets more steps in. This even works with adults. Two summers I challenged my family to have a walking competition to see who could get more steps in. We had a great time and celebrated with ice cream at the end.
Related: Top Activity Trackers for Kids
3. Circuit Training/Cross-Training
For the days that it’s rainy or snowy outside or you just want to vary it up, you should consider circuit training options.
Set up stations and work through exercises like planks, push-ups, lunges, jump rope, squats, and crunches.
With circuit training, you’ll work through each exercise quickly and repeat 4-10 times to make a circuit through all the exercises. My volleyball coach always called it “circus training.” You may even want to have your kids (depending on their age) formulate a different circuit of exercises for you guys to work through.
Make sure to tell your kids to keep their butts down when doing planks and push-ups. Kids tend to like to put their bottoms in the air because it’s easier. Also, encourage them to touch the floor with their knees when they are doing lunges.
Again, games are always a great idea with kids, so make a game out of circuit training by seeing who can do the most reps in a set period of time. You’ll get a run for your money, speaking from experience. I challenged a friend’s eight-year-old son to a circuit training competition, and he put his whole heart into it.
You can do the same thing outside and alternate brisk walking with the exercises that you’d do indoors. Kids always like a lot of variety, so adding fast walking in between will keep them working out longer.
Ideally, you’d complete circuit training on a fitness trail with built-in exercise stations. If you live near a military base and have access to one, you might also be able to run your kids through the obstacle course, which they would definitely like.
Pretty much every kid loves climbing on things. Make it a formal activity and you can all it rock climbing. If you have a climbing gym nearby, you should definitely consider taking them there, as they will get a great workout and have a blast doing it.
Unfortunately, climbing gyms can be rather expensive, so it might be a once or twice a year treat that you take your kids to go rock climbing. A much cheaper option is working through circuit training with your kids. An even cheaper option is going outdoors and climbing on…rocks. If you choose the outdoors route, be sure that you are familiar with all critical safety techniques, and have the necessary gear. Needless to say, once your kids’ feet leave the ground, safety becomes paramount.
Obviously, you’re going to know the kids you’re working out with the best, so it’s important to adapt your workout routine to them and their personalities. If you’re working out with a shy girl, you might want to select easier options to get her warmed up to exercising, but you might want to push a rambunctious boy harder.
Make sure that you keep the workouts short with frequent breaks and have water and/or Gatorade available whenever your kid needs or wants to stop. Kids have trouble not going full-throttle, and it’s hard for them to pace themselves. Help them do that.
Kids love to compete, so you can make exercise fun by turning workouts into games. Come up with races and challenges and even rewards. Ice cream and candy motivate kids faster than anything else.
Finally, make sure that your kids stay hydrated and eat well just like adults need to. Make sure that they are getting proper nutrition, and you can even use working out as a way to talk about good ways to fuel your body (maybe do this at a time other than the post-workout ice cream).
In the end, have fun! Kids will often approach working out with you as a form of play, and it should always stay fun. This is a great time to show them that exercise is enjoyable and part of a healthy, happy life. Just remember that they are kids, and what kids really love is playing. Shift your focus and expectations for this time from a good workout to time with your kids. You’re helping them build healthy bodies and minds. Although the focus isn’t on me when I work out with a child, I always have a great time, because they are so excited to do it.
Kids love when you get down to their level and play their games with them, and exercising is a great way to bond as well as stay healthy. I can’t wait to do this in a couple years with my nephew!