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The Top Five Exercises to do with Your Kids (from a trainer who does them)

Exercising with your children can be a fun, rewarding experience. It can help you grow strong as a family while you grow stronger physically. Research shows that one of the best ways for children to learn perseverance is to see their parents sweat, struggle, and persevere, and there are few better ways to accomplish that than having a dedicated family workout time.

Not all exercises are created equal, especially when working out with your young children. Safety should be of paramount importance. Fortunately, there are many safe exercises you can do with your children, even with minimal fitness experience. Here are my top choices:

1) Pushups

The pushup is a fitness classic. Very few exercises work the upper body and core as well as the pushup movement. The pushup is the first exercise on my list because it is also the easiest to incorporate into your family fitness programming.

Before a baby learns to crawl, it learns to do a pushup. The pushup is one of the most fundamental human movements. In my history as a father, I have seen five babies learn to crawl. Each one started by learning how to push their torso up off the floor by extending their arms. That’s called a pushup.

The pushup is versatile because adults can do several variations of It, starting with whichever version is easiest. This includes knee pushups, bench pushups, and traditional floor pushups and goes all the way up to pushups with a child riding along on the shoulders for extra resistance.

As a bodyweight exercise, children can begin doing pushups safely at whatever point they have the strength to do so. Pushups are a functionally strong, safe movement the whole family can do.

2) Squats

The bodyweight squat is a wonderful exercise that works the whole body. It is an exercise most of us do several times a day without even realizing we are doing it. Every time we stand up from a seated position, we do a squat.

The squat is also versatile because young kids can jump on a parent’s back for a horsy ride or do squats alongside their parent. The squat is a functional movement that translates well to sports as children grow older and overall health as adults continue to age. It is a must for all family exercise programs.

3) Box Jumps

Jumping is another functional exercise that children often do in their daily life. The ability to explosively contract the leg muscles is essential for all children, especially those interested in athletic activities.

Children of any age can see positive results from jumping. The jump is a natural movement that teaches coordination and timing. It works fast-twitch muscles and encourages vigorous effort. Children can begin with simple jumps on the ground and then graduate to jumping off a box or bench. Older children will benefit from leaping onto boxes or steps.

The main concern with parents who do box jumps with their children is that their children often outperform them after a very short time, so check your pride at the door when challenging your children.

4) Dips or bench dips

Dips are the squat of the upper body. They are one of the best exercises for the overall development of the upper body muscles.

The great thing about dips is that they can be modified very easily for almost every fitness level. Children who have trouble building upper body strength can use a chair or bench version that incorporates the lower body. As children grow older, they can do a modified version on the dip bars where the feet can be left on the ground or do them on a dip assist machine. Stronger individuals can use traditional dip bars for a complete upper body workout.

A quality set of dip bars are essential for any home gym setup. They are doubly important if you have growing children.

5) Pull-ups, chin-ups, rope climbing, or monkey bars

Okay, okay, I cheated a little with this multi-choice answer. Pull-ups, chin-ups, a climbing rope, and monkey bars are all separate exercises, but in my defense, they are all pulling exercises.

Movements where you pull against resistance are crucially important because most of your regular life consists of activities where you are pressing things away from you. The large pulling muscles of the back, biceps, and hamstrings are essential for posture, shoulder strength, and overall physical health. Unfortunately, these are some of the most neglected muscles in the body. But they don’t have to be. Adults and children benefit from scapular retraction and pulling movements like climbing, rowing, and tackling a set of monkey bars. If done correctly, these can be some of the most fun exercises to add to the family fitness repertoire.

There are many more functional, fun, and challenging exercises that can fit into a family fitness program. These five are a great place to start, but as long as you keep safety and fun as the main ingredients, family fitness can be as enjoyable and fulfilling as you want to make it.

John T. Prather

John Prather is an author, actor, and fitness model based in Los Angeles, California. You might have seen him in Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, GQ magazine, or on the TV playing a superhero or advocating for foster care and adoption. He is the author of The Nephilim Virus and numerous published articles on family and fitness. The accomplishment he’s most proud of is being the father of four young children. You can find out more at johntprather.com.

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