Parent truth: No matter how many pounds you can deadlift, prying your zombie-like kids off their screens, answering the zillion “I’m bored please” and reffing wound-up wee ones is way harder. Life with little humans is no joke.
Even the pros, like Rich Borgatti, struggle. As a dad of two young boys, he’s always on the hunt for ways to drain the energy out of his kids (rather than letting them drain the power from every device in the house), while teaching them about body mechanics and exercise. The owner of Mountain Strength CrossFit and a personal trainer in Winchester, Mass., he’s crafted a series of exercises for younguns that are fun enough to distract them from mayhem-making, while building the strength, balance, and confidence they need to conquer challenges as they grow. Go, Dad! And go you, because if you trot out a few of these toners, you’ll have created a few (let’s be real, fleeting) moments of laughs and harmony that only getting moving together can bring.
5 No-Joke Spartan Kids’ Exercises
1. Copy-After-Me Calisthenics
Pushups, sit-ups and squats. These gym-class basics are table stakes for young ones learning what their arms, legs and core muscles can do, according to Borgatti.
The key is not to ask too much of your kids. Don’t set a rep-threshold they need to reach, but instead trade off doing the exercises with them and try to make it a fun competition. Do one pushup, and see if your little guy can follow. Then one situp, then one squat. Who will fizzle out first?
“In the beginning it’s five minutes here, 10 minutes there,” Borgatti says. “Maybe you get a couple pushups, sit-ups or squats, but incorporating the kids into what you’re doing is the fastest way to get them to adopt these movements. Make it fun!”
2. Core-Toning Bear Crawls
Few exercises can teach kids coordination and agility better than bear crawls, which activate muscles in the lower body, upper body and core. Borgatti will often play soccer with his kids in the yard, but ask them to bear crawl to the ball once it’s kicked away from the group, giving them a challenge that’s more fun–and beneficial–than running.
“Bear crawls teach kids coordination, because you’re coordinating opposite limbs as well as your upper and lower body. They also develop core and shoulder support,” Borgatti says. Studies have shown that the longer a baby crawls before walking, the stronger and more coordinated they are when they do walk. “Bear crawls are great for both those aspects even after your kids are walking,” Borgatti says.
Related: How to Raise Spartan Kids
3. Coordination Enhancing Hurdles
When your kids are playing outside, scan the yard and that Sanford and Son-like heap in the garage. Grab some of the detritus and use it as hurdles. Jumping over old paint cans, small crates and broken jump ropes can all hone a kids’ coordination. (See? You knew there was a reason you never recycled them.)
“If I’m cleaning up the yard, I’ll put a rake down on the ground and jump over it,” Borgatti says. “It’s always about including the kids rather than telling them what to do.” Even 5 minutes of leaps are better than nothing!
4. Confidence-Boosting Tree Climbs
Borgatti recently built his kids their own climbing wall at their house, but hey, he’s a trainer, so don’t feel inferior. Luckily nature offers plenty of wonderful climbing options for those of us who are less familiar with power tools, and few can top doing what kids love to do anyway: Climbing trees. Look for one with branches that can support your kids’ weight, and let them have at it.
“Coordination, confidence and critical thinking are all huge benefits of climbing trees,” Borgatti said. In addition to working their upper body (obviously), they’re honing their central nervous system, strengthening the neuromuscular pathways–and exercising their agility as they choose which branch to reach for next.
5. Balance-Building Beams
Walk, um, anywhere with a little kid, and you’ll notice they have an often excruciating habit of balancing on curbs, stone walls and basically any elevated surface. Terrible for making it to school on time and without taking a header, but brilliant for building their balance.
Encourage your little gymnast by creating a safe space in your yard where they can work on their balance without you hustling them to hurry it up already. Borgatti will take objects his brood can balance on–think of those old wooden boards you have in the garage–and place them throughout his lawn for his kids to conquer toe to toe. Like the other toners, you want to take the lead.
“Kids naturally want to do things that their mom or dad wants to do,” Borgatti says. “So if you provide the right model and make it fun, they’ll follow.”