A lot of people point to their kids as one of their top reasons for training—personally, my kids are my #1 motivation. If you have kids, you can probably relate.
Of course you want to be physically capable of keeping your kids warm, fed, and safe. But you also want to have fun with them! You want to teach them how to play the sports you love, take them on vacations and outdoor adventures, and just run around and dance and be silly, all with the confidence that you can handle whatever comes up.
But time for training is tight. And with so many video games, TV shows, and social networks screaming for your kids’ attention, it can be hard to make sure they get enough movement to develop healthy, capable bodies.
That’s why so many people try to get their kids to train right alongside them. When it works it can kill a bunch of birds with one stone by combining your training time with quality time, play time, and keeping your kids healthy.
But if you’ve ever tried training with kids, you probably know it’s not so simple.
Kids usually have a completely different set of goals and motivations for training, so expecting them to approach it the same way you do is a recipe for a meltdown. In this article I’ll give you my top five strategies for training with kids, so you can both have more fun and make your bodies capable of all the adventures that lay ahead.
(And if working out with your kids is not at all in the cards for you, here’s another article about navigating the challenges of staying fit as a parent).
5 Strategies for Helping Your Family Stay Active
Having an active lifestyle isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally to everyone, and for many adults in particular, it’s a constant struggle. If you have kids, you want to help them hold on to that natural curiosity and playfulness so it’s not a struggle for them later on.
It all comes down to physical autonomy–the confidence that your body can do what you want and need it to do at any time. This is just as important to instill in kids as it is to build as adults.
The good news is you can kill two birds with one stone, by building physical autonomy alongside your children.
With the 5 strategies below, you’ll learn how to work with your kids at any age on making playful movement a natural part of life–both yours and theirs. Through this process, you and your family will be able to bond over learning how to make your bodies work better for the things you want to do.
1. Lead By Example
If you want to encourage your kids to be more active, the biggest thing you can do is be a role model. Unless they see you doing something often, it won’t mean much for you to all of a sudden say, “let’s do something together.”
I know how tough it can be to squeeze a workout in, and you may specifically choose to do so before your kids wake up or after they go to sleep, so that you’re not interrupted.
The problem with that is they never actually see you exercising.
Movement and exercise will only be normative behavior for your kids if they see it all the time. So, even though it’s not the most convenient, I recommend moving your workout to a time when your kids can see you in action–at least sometimes.
Especially when kids are young, they want to copy what you’re doing and spend time with you however they can (hell, little kids are so eager to spend time with you that they’ll do so even if it’s just to watch you poop!). Take advantage of that eagerness to follow in your footsteps while it’s present.
Of course, with your crazy schedule you might be wondering how to even fit a workout in while your kids are awake and able to see you training.
I don’t know your personal situation, and I won’t claim to know for certain what you can and cannot do with your schedule, but it’s worth thinking about how you currently spend your time and what you might be able to change.
Maybe when you get home from work, instead of watching TV with your kids, you do a little movement training or bodyweight exercise in the living room while they watch their show. It doesn’t have to be much, but even if you do 10 minutes, they’ll notice you in the background and it will become a normal occurrence for them.
My kids see me playing around, stretching, and moving all the time, and over time they started to practice with me.
Even if you keep your full workout at a time when you won’t be interrupted, it’s important to let your kids see that staying active is important to you. It will become important to them as a result.
2. Don’t Force Things
One of the worst things you can do when trying to encourage your kids to stay active is to force them to do things they don’t want to do. And you know what? That’s a pretty bad approach for encouraging yourself to stay active too.
Just like you won’t stick with something for very long if you hate it, your kids won’t want anything to do with being active unless it’s something they actually like doing.
It’s really important to hew to their attention spans and don’t turn it into a “lesson” if they don’t want it to be. Maybe your son just wants to wrestle with you. That’s great! Read his signals before you try to make him sit through a lesson on proper armbar technique.
Rather than planning a specific lesson where you’ll cover particular “exercises,” you can teach them through experience.
So, if you’re playing a game with them where you’re jumping, you can show them something and say, “Oh, this movement will make your legs stronger so you can jump better” or ask them, “what shape does it look like I’m making with my legs when I jump like this?”
Help them experience movement, rather than feel like they have to clock in for designated training time.
Jarlo talks about he’s always trained around his kids and they’ve always interacted with him in whatever way they wanted to. When they were toddlers, they’d just be playing while Jarlo was practicing different movements, lifting weights, swinging sticks, etc. and his kids would just mill around or copy him when they got bored.
And when they got a bit older, he’d show them a few things but wouldn’t make them do anything other than encourage whatever they seemed interested in.
I’ve had the same experience with my kids. Whenever they’ve seen me doing something, they either try to copy me or ask me to show them something if they think it looks cool and they don’t know how to attempt it. Rather than forcing things, I just allow things to unfold naturally with my kids.
3. Follow Their Lead
Although it’s important to lead by example, it’s also a good idea to follow your kids’ lead when it comes to physical activity.
One aspect of this is making sure your approach is age-appropriate.
Toddlers naturally want to explore, so give them room to do that, and explore with them. That way, you’re actively playing with them and being really present in their world, while also getting some movement in for yourself (toddlers cover a LOT of ground when they’re exploring!).
When your kids get a bit older, they may be interested in more specific sports, which you can get involved in.
As they get even older, they may be more interested in learning through more formal “lessons,” so you can start setting aside times for stretching or movement or strength.
Some adolescents might appreciate more regimentation. Or not! Just follow their lead and don’t force things (see #2 above).
I’ve found it really interesting and fun to see how my kids’ interests, attention spans, and passions have developed and changed over time. Now that they’re 7 and 9, they’re getting to the point where they’re really passionate about different things and I’ve adjusted my own interests around that.
Sienna, my daughter, is really into swimming now, and one of my favorite activities is taking her to her swim lessons and meets (even though it means getting up at 4:30am on Sundays). It’s a great bonding opportunity for us.
And after watching me practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the past year or so, my daughter and my son Shion have both joined me in that activity, which has been an incredible experience.
As they get older, I’m sure their interests will change, and I’ll do what I can to help them do what they love.
Of course, there’s a fine line between following your kids’ lead and letting them run the show, but if you read their signals and facilitate their interests, you can learn a lot.
4. Make it Fun and Competitive
A great way to encourage your kids (and yourself) to stay active is by linking “training activities” to other fun physical activities.
It’s hard to beat a social, competitive environment like a sport for making kids want to get stronger, and if your kid is interested in a particular sport, that’s a good thing to encourage and get involved in as much as possible.
And it’s a good thing to look into for yourself too, if you need some extra encouragement to get your training in.
There can be other social factors that might make competitive environments uncomfortable or difficult for you or your child, so you can emphasize problem-solving over competition if that works better for you.
Even if your kid doesn’t want to join the soccer league, look for opportunities to make physical activities social or competitive, at least sometimes. One tactic that I’ve used with my kids (and I know Andy does this with his daughter too) is creating physical problem-solving games with them.
Create challenges, like getting up the stairs without using your feet or jumping without making noise. Use objects or props, like spinning in a desk chair for accuracy or crawling under a low branch or obstacle.
Look at obstacle courses for inspiration, but don’t assume you need to build anything complicated. There are obstacles all around you.
Competition (when done right) is a healthy and natural way to encourage your kids (and yourself). It’s important to recognize that competition is a broad term that can be applied in a lot of different ways. You just have to open your mind to the possibilities.
5. Be More Flexible
I probably don’t have to tell you this, but life changes when you have kids. You’ve probably found all sorts of ways to adjust your routine and schedule so you can make the rest of your life work around the changing needs of your family.
Your training is no different. Some people, though, think it’s all or nothing–they either can find the time to get a serious workout in 3-4 times per week or they stop altogether.
That’s a pretty rigid way of approaching life, and it’ll do you no favors.
Especially in the early years of your kids’ lives, be prepared to “lose” your designated workout time and don’t get frustrated about that. You’ll just need to adjust the things that you’re doing to stay fit during that time. Use the strategies above to play on their level and take advantage of the time you have with them.
If you’re feeling frustrated and like you’re not getting enough time to train, you may need to make adjustments to your schedule. I know it’s not easy, but those first few years of your kid’s life definitely require more mental and emotional flexibility than when they’re older.
Remember that workouts don’t only have to live in the gym. Do what you enjoy when and where you can, and you’ll be in pretty good shape.
Stay Fit With Your Kids
You have a life that is full of responsibilities and things you care about, but all those other aspects of your life don’t have to mean putting your training goals aside.
Sure, at different points in your life, you may have to adjust what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and how you’re doing it, but especially as a parent, staying fit means too much to let it fall by the wayside.
One of the great thing about having kids is they give you so many new opportunities to be creative and explore what’s possible.
The strategies above will help you use those opportunities better, and our Elements program, which facilitates fun movement exploration, will give you a good framework to try things out with your kids.
It’s a flexible course that’s a great way for you and your family to start moving together.
Start Playing and Exploring
Elements is a great way for you and your kids to start playing with movements together. By practicing fun skills every day, you can explore what your bodies can do.
Your Foundation for Physical Autonomy