Raising Fit Kids
I’ve been in the fitness industry for 20 years as a boxing coach, group fitness instructor, golf fitness coach, personal trainer, nutrition coach, and mental training coach. I love what I get to do with my life!
It fills me with so much joy to help people feel good, perform better and stay healthy. I often leave a client’s house with a giant smile on my face and it isn’t a rare occurrence to see me doing a happy dance or high-kicks when one of them reaches a goal or simply breaks a fitness barrier.
For all the places I’ve had an opportunity to make an difference, oddly enough, it wasn’t until I started training clients in-home that I really got excited. I never anticipated the impact I’d have on their children. The kids, as young as 3 years old, would see what their parents were doing and wanted to “play” too. It was fantastic.
The Kiddo Stories
Max started negotiating with his mom one day to get a few minutes of exercises and boxing with me. If he picked up his toys, he could come join us at the end. The adult sized boxing gloves went past his three year old elbows but he didn’t care, he was focused.
One day I knocked on a clients door and just as she opened it, her three-year-old Violet ran away crying. Not even in the house yet I said, “what just happened?” her Mom replied, “She’s upset because she doesn’t have her exercise clothes on yet.” My heart melted.
Ruby ran into the garage one day where I was training her mom and dad. She jumped on the BOSU ball and said, “Exercise Girla, watch me do this!” As she proceeded to bounce up and down swinging her arms in a spectacular fashion, I asked her parents, “did she just call me Exercise Girla?!” We laughed and again, my heart melted.
The best thing was, that I never suggested to these children that they should join us, we were just having fun during our workouts and they thought it was play time. Even when my clients were doing something challenging, their children witnessed their efforts and because of how my clients felt at the end, the kids just equated it to a good thing. Perfect!
I think we’d all agree that children need to get outside and play. They need to burn energy, run, jump, climb and do what comes naturally to their little bodies. But when it comes to exercise, you may be wondering what’s the right thing to teach them and at what age.
My approach to teaching little ones is to teach them what comes naturally at the time. Also things they are curious about, with fun names or references that make sense to them. Yoga, for example, is excellent for kids because they love the names like “downward dog” and “tree pose.” Bear crawls, crab crawls and burpees are also fun names they enjoy.
Yes, I said burpees. You’re in disbelief, I know, because nobody likes burpees. But kids do! I’m pretty sure it’s because of the fun name and while their little bodies are still so close to the ground, the movement is still fun. When they’re 6 feet tall, I’ll have to remind them they used to love it.
Ages 3 and 4
I start with basic movements like squats and yoga poses and then move into more coordination challenging moves like push-ups and jumping jacks…or what I call Pencil-Rocket Ship.
Squats are first because sitting in a chair is something they already know how to do. That’s a visual they can understand even at 3. I make it fun by saying that the chair is hot so we squat down and come back up before we touch the (imaginary) chair. We do 10 of those. I also introduce them to yoga by doing a “chair pose” and holding it at the bottom.
The next one is Jumping Jacks, but at 3 and 4 they don’t quite have the coordination down on their own yet. One day I was standing in front of 10 preschoolers, about to teach them jumping jacks when I came up with, “everybody stand like a pencil!” We all jumped to a straight position with our arms by our sides. “Now like a Rocket Ship!” Our legs spread out and our arms shot up together at the top, like bunches of rocket ships ready for blast off.
Then, “Pencil! Rocket ship! Pencil-Rocket Ship! Faster!” And then we were all doing jumping jacks. It’s the fun visual that helps them with body awareness.
The last one I teach them is Push-Ups. That may sound crazy, but for this exercise it comes down to what they see their parents doing. If you’re stretching, your curious kiddos are going to want to stretch. If you’re doing a tree pose in yoga, I guarantee they’re going to want to twist themselves into tree shape with you. So I didn’t plan on introducing children this young to my favorite upper body move, they actually asked to because they saw mommy and daddy doing it. Brilliant.
Push-ups are fun to watch too. At age 3 they don’t seem to have an awareness of their elbows yet, or at least how to use them in this movement. So no matter what I say they seem to keep their arms straight and their tiny hips go up and down.
Somewhere around age 4 they gain brain access to the elbow bend and then push-ups happen.
Next article we’ll talk about kids 5 and up. But for now, have fun…and try Pencil-Rocket Ship!