Make Exercise a Family Affair – Workouts for Parents and Kids


Last summer while out for my walk, I saw a family of four jogging along the lakefront here in Chicago. The family was made up of two adults and two small children. The children looked to be approximately six and ten years of age. When I first saw that sight, I thought “How great!” and gave them the thumbs up as they passed me. But as I continued my walk, I noticed that they often passed me and then fell behind. After about two miles into my walk, I noticed that the mother and daughter were at least a block or two ahead of the father and son. I was somewhere in the middle. I thought it was odd that they took the children out for such a long jog. They had to keep stopping to give the children a chance to rest, but the younger child, the little boy, was having the most trouble.

I don’t train children, largely because of the added liability of doing so. In many states, children 14 years old and younger cannot sign liability waivers and their parents and guardians cannot waive away their rights for them, so personal trainers and gyms have strict liability for any injuries that they may incur. Since I already train those with special needs (hypertension, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and senior citizens) I decided that I could not afford to take on the added expense that comes with training children. I own a corporation, so I pay the corporate insurance rate.

Children do comprise a special population. As an instructional designer, as well as a personal trainer, I know that we often have to remind people of what they already know. That is why we build review into our designs. I’m not an exception. As I noticed how often that family had to stop along the lakefront that day, I remembered what I knew about training children. They are not just small versions of adults. They are really physiologically and anatomically different. Children’s natural play resembles interval training. They run fast and stop and run fast and stop. There is a reason for that.

In an earlier article, I discussed the role that ATP-C plays in exercise, that ATP-C is a combination of phosphates (ATP) and creatine, an acid that is an ingredient in the production of ATP. Our bodies naturally makes small amounts of it, because we constantly make contractions and need a ready source of fuel. ATP-C is depleted rapidly. Exercise does not become aerobic until we are at least two minutes into it. That’s how long it takes to activate our lungs. So we all begin aerobic exercise while in an oxygen deficit. That is why aerobic activity, such as running, tends to be so difficult at first for a lot of people. When I run, I struggle with breathing for about the first mile, and then I get a second wind and speed up. It takes me about 12 minutes to run the first mile and about 8 1/2 minutes per mile to run the last two.

kids-fitness-runningOver time, aerobic training causes the size of our hearts to increase and our lungs to more efficiently process oxygen, which means that they become able to process more oxygen and our resting heart rates drop as our bodies are able to feed increasing amounts of nutrients to our organs and muscles with each heart beat.

What’s really important to know about aerobic training for children is this: They have small lungs and hearts, the smallest. Men generally have bigger hearts and lungs than women and children do. That is why they typically have lower heart rates. They process more oxygen and pass more nutrients through the left ventricle of the heart to the organs and limbs, including the muscles, with each heart beat. Women process more oxygen and nutrients than children do. So women tend to have higher heart rates than men, but lower heart rates than children. That means that children have the highest heart rates. All of this also tends to hold true when we exercise. The heart rates of children will often climb into the 200 range as they exercise. Imagine that. Most of adults wouldn’t live through that. Children cannot for very long. That’s why their natural play resembles interval training. By allowing their heart rates to cycle, it gives their hearts a break. That’s also why the children that I saw jogging with their parents along the lakefront that day struggled so mightily. Not until about age 10, do children’s resting heart rates resemble those of adults. It was not that they were just out of shape.

I applaud parents who try to make exercise a family affair, but to do so, parents need to be educated and trained in how to do so. As I continue to learn, I realize that fitness is so much more complicated than it looks. How complicated it is really is a valid reason to not jump right into doing intense exercise, like jogging, running, bodybuilding or lifting with heavy weights. There is a learning curve.

I was talking to a client recently about why exercise lowers blood sugar levels and cholesterol: Our bodies burn carbohydrates for fuel, but eventually we burn lipids (fats), too. And that our falling blood sugar levels during exercise is partly responsible for why we are hungry after we exercise. We just have to watch what we eat. She just thought that exercise lowered our blood sugar and cholesterol levels only by relaxing us – a very likely conclusion.

I’ve found that understanding fitness, especially exercise and nutrition, helps my clients stay motivated by helping them to become more invested in their health, probably because having information is empowering. If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t give that family the thumbs up as they pass me along the lakefront. I think I’d stick my nose in, introduce myself as a personal trainer and tell them what I know about children at play, about their heart rates and gently suggest that every minute, they stop jogging to give their children’s heart rates a chance to fall, that small children rarely have the stamina, nor attention span, for distance training.

kids-fitness-exerciseFamily fitness can be fun and productive for everyone in the family, including the adults. Interval training, like Tabata and other types of circuits, is often used in adult fitness and is gaining in popularity. With the time pressures many adults face nowadays, emphasis is shifting toward helping them get the most exercise bang they can out of the time that they have. Interval training provides that bang because it raises the heart rate high and then causes it drop precipitously, which forces the body to constantly make adjustments. Anytime the body is pushed, calories are burned.

Below is my “No Treadmill, No Problem” indoor workout. It is an appropriate workout for children and adults. All exercises can be found on the Internet.

Needed equipment:

  • Resistance Bands
  • Elastic Bands
  • Jump Rope
  • Hula Hoop
  • Stability Ball
  • Kickball
  • Fitness Ball
  • Mats
  • Exercise Gloves
  • Kitchen Timer

(choose 2 from the first 2 categories and 1 from the last three)

Quads, Hamstrings & Glutes Stretch:

  1. Squats (Reg. or Sumo) or Dirty Dogs or Seated Squats (3×16 sec)
  2. Mule Kick or Walking/Stationary Quad Stretch (1×12 each; 5×5)
  3. Ankle Stretch (3×16)
  4. Inner Thigh Stretch (20 sec)
  5. Hamstring Bridge w/ or w/o Leg Raise (20 sec)
  6. Hamstring Curl (Stability Ball) (1×16)
  7. Roll Up or Knees to Chest

Calves & Tibia Stretch:

  1. Calf Raises (Barbell) or Toe Walk w/ or w/o weights (12 reps or 20ft)
  2. Tibia Raise (on heels w/toes hanging off) (12 reps) or Shin Stretch (sit on butt; ankles beneath) (16 sec)
  3. Seated Calf Raises (12 reps each)
  4. Ankle Circles (12 reps)

Back Stretch:

  1. Torso Twist w/ or w/o Dumbbells or Barbell (12 reps each)
  2. Hanging Lower Back/Hamstring Stretch (w/Twist) (12 each) or Toe Touch or Romanian Deadlifts or Ostrich (20 sec each)
  3. Cat Stretch or Child Pose or Cobra (Press ups) (3×12 sec)

Oblique Stretch:

  1. Frontal Plane Oblique Side Bend or Spinal Twist (3×8 sec)
  2. Arm Stretch

Biceps and Triceps:

  1. Biceps & Triceps or Posterior (cross body) Arm Stretch (6 sec per arm)
  2. Arm Circles or Shoulder Rolls (12 each side)

Quick Circuits
Do each exercise for 60 to 90 seconds; rest in between exercises for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat the whole set three times. Tabata training is done in 20 second sets that are done eight times for a total of four minutes. There are 10 second breaks between each set.

Set 1:

  1. Jumping jacks
  2. Lunges with fitness ball
  3. High knees
  4. Push-ups
  5. Triceps dips (off a bench or curb)
  6. Sit-ups

Set 2:

  1. Jumping jacks
  2. Squats
  3. Crunches
  4. Wide push-ups
  5. Skull crushers
  6. March

Set 3:

  1. Mountain climbers
  2. Push-ups
  3. Side leg lifts
  4. Triceps extensions
  5. Planks
  6. Crunches (stability ball)

Set 4:

  1. Run (in place)
  2. Squats
  3. Curtsy
  4. Roll-ups
  5. Single arm clean and press
  6. Diamond push-ups

Muscular endurance exercises are also cardio exercises. Both children and adults can lift a relatively light weight 16 times for 2 to 3 sets. Choose a weight that makes the last lift difficult to perform. Family exercise, like other types of exercise, needs to be done consistently to be effective. Why? Because exercise does cause improved fitness and failing to exercise consistently causes us to lose the gains we make. Starting and stopping our exercise routines causes us to travel in circles. We want to see linear progression.

Finally, don’t forget about “children’s” games. They can be fun for the entire family. Kickball, softball, knee tag, hula hoop, jump rope, including “Double-dutch.” Family fitness provides us with a cover for letting the child in us out to play.

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About Author

Brenda Gaines Hunter

Brenda Gaines Hunter specializes in functional training for deconditioned populations, recreational athletes, senior citizens, people struggling with obesity, diabetes, asthma and arthritis. See my profile page for more information!

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