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Family Fitness Activities

For younger kids – and even you! – regular exercise doesn’t have to consist of weight training or organized sports. Body weight exercises are great for gaining strength and agility. Exercises that require little or no equipment can be performed almost anywhere, don’t cost extra money and can be some of the most beneficial to a growing child’s overall health. And if the exercises are something the parent can be involved in as well, then exercising can become a great bonding experience.
Here are just a few ideas for simple exercises that can be done at home, at the park or at the gym:
Jumping jacks: Parents and kids can do these at the same time. As you jump, spread your feet more than shoulder-width apart and clap your hands over your head; on the next jump, bring your feet together and your hands to your sides. Do as many as you can until you can’t do any more. Keep encouraging your child to continue with positive reinforcement, and praise her when she has done all she can.
Modified version: If you aren’t able to jump and spread your feet apart, just do the handclap motion above your head. Parents, you can do this simpler version alongside your child while your child performs the entire exercise.
Sprints: Have your child sprint from one end of the block to the other – better yet, do it at a park and draw a start and finish line with sidewalk chalk. Time your child on the first sprint, then have him repeat the sprint as many times as he can. Practice throughout the week and see if your child can better his time.
Modified version: Your child can run slower laps around the block or a nearby track if sprinting isn’t his thing. Parents, you should at least walk or trot the course while your kids run it!
Jump squats: Start off with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend down with your back straight, eyes looking forward and hands touching the ground. Then jump straight into the air and throw your hands above your head. Do as many as you can.
Modified version: Try doing just the squat and the arm motion without the jump.
Planking: This is something kids are doing at school all the time now. Lay stomach-first on either a mat or carpet (hard surfaces may be a little too much for this exercise). Lift your entire body off the ground with only your elbows, forearms, hands and toes touching the ground. This works your child’s entire core and gives her body stability and strength to do everyday movements.
Modified version: If you can’t hold a plank, lift your body off the ground for one second at a time until you gain the strength to do more.
Pull-ups: Find a bar (check your local playground) or a pull-up machine. Only one out of every ten adult Americans can do a pull-up – we need to change that with our children. Have your child grab the bar with his hands shoulder-width apart and pull himself so that his eyes are above the level of the bar. Practice that as often as possible.
Modified version: If your child can’t pull himself up, help him by lifting him with your hands under his feet. Let him come down on his own.
Push-ups: Lay stomach-first on the ground. Put the palms of your hands on the ground even with your shoulders. Feet should be about a foot apart for balance. Push your body off the ground until your arms are nearly straight. Make sure to keep your back straight.
Modified version: If you or your child can’t do a push-up, do the same movement with your hands leaning on a bench or another slightly elevated, stable surface and your feet still on the floor. Or keep your knees on the ground instead of just your feet.
As you do these exercises, incorporate a reward system. For example, if your son likes to run, time him on one sprint or lap around the block. Keep practicing throughout the week. If your child betters his time by the end of that week, he has earned a reward. But don’t use food as a prize – use something like movie tickets, music, a DVD, a toy or something tangible that he can hold on to for a long time to remind him of his accomplishment. Using food, especially unhealthy food, creates a correlation between good behavior and unhealthy eating habits in the future.
A similar system can be used for any of the above exercises – just record the number of jumping jacks or the length of time your child can hold a plank, and try to better that number. If you have more than one child, don’t make the kids compete against each other; instead, encourage them to compete against their own personal best.
Brian Beck is a certified personal fitness trainer who has lost more than 300 pounds. He specializes in overall fitness for the entire family and trains at Top Notch Training in Carrollton and Larry North Fitness in North Dallas. For more information about Brian, visit trainmebrian.com.
Published December 2013