If you’re like me and you're stuck at home with small children, getting exercise into your schedule can be quite a challenge. I’m not going to be one of those hardcore trainer-types that tell you to get up at 5am to get a work-out in, because let's be honest, no one wants to do that. Instead, I’ll show you a workout that will include your kids!
And not one in the “hey kids, let’s run around in the yard and pretend we’re exercising” kind of way, either. This is a serious resistance training routine that will build muscle and burn fat, and your kids won’t even realize they actually helped you accomplish something useful! As opposed to the usual “help” that adds 15 minutes to every task.
The goal here is to use the extra resistance your kids’ weight provides to add difficulty to your routine. We’ll work your legs, upper body and core in a maximum of 10 or 12 minutes, and I guarantee you’ll feel the burn!
So maybe try not to drop your kids. Especially on their heads. I mean, unless you want to. It’s been a long quarantine.
As far as your safety goes, the weight of your children will vary a lot, so make sure that you’re not trying to lift too much, especially in exercises like shoulder presses (also known as the overhead lift). I’m giving a few alternative variations for some of the exercises, as well as a rough weight recommendation.
Making sure you are warm and stretched is important in any workout routine, but especially if you are about to lift unstable objects like children (feel free to create your own joke about unstable children here). Super-set a lower-body exercise like a squat with an upper body exercise like a push-up for maximum effect. Here’s a quick warm-up routine that should get everything moving:
Run in place: 30 seconds with knees up, 30 seconds with legs up behind you.
Arm circles: standing straight, circle your arms forward 10 times, then backward 10 times. Get BIG circles each time!
Hip circles: with a medium wide stance circle your upper body around, while the hips are stationary. Perform 10 circles in both directions.
15 body-weight squats, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups,
Now get ready to lift some kids!
Exercise 1: Squats
You can use your kid as an extra squat weight in multiple ways: they can piggyback, front carry, sit on your shoulders or pretend to be a piece of wood and you can cradle them in your arms. The higher they are, the more resistance they will provide. So a shoulder sit is harder than a piggyback. For maximum resistance, there is also the dreaded double carry! Aim to do about 10-15 reps of squats.
Exercise 2: Push-ups
Lots of ways to make push-ups harder with your kids: they can koala-bear on your back (better hold on tight!), they can sit on your upper or mid-back (but not lower), they can even try surfing on you, if they hold on to something. If you aren’t strong enough to do push-ups with extra weight (completely normal!), do your push-ups off a table or sofa to make them easier. Your child is going to be higher off the ground so be careful! Go for about 10-15 reps.
Exercise 3: Lunges
The key with lunges is not stepping too far forward. When you land, the weight should be on your heels. Push back up first, then take the next step forward. Try to keep your back straight. A shoulder carry here makes for a very tough exercise, and it will blast your core in addition to your legs!
Exercise 4: Single Arm Rows
Performing rowing exercises is difficult with no gym equipment, so having a child to lift is fantastic! There’s quite a bit of movement here, so they may not quite co-operate on this one. Then again who knows what children will like, so might as well try it. Just make sure you are holding on tight to each other!
Exercise 5: Loaded planks
Just like the push-ups, you can do static planks with a kid on your back. Since this is much harder than an unloaded plank, don’t over-do it. You can do 3 sets of 10 seconds, for example, or 2 sets of 20 seconds. Make sure your kid is positioned above your lower back. A horsey-ride position with feet around your neck is ideal, because it distributes the weight into the arms directly. They can also try surfing, or doing their own plank on your back. This last one is made for Instagram!
Exercise 6: Shoulder Press
There’s a few ways to overhead press your kids. I recommend starting with two hands with an under-hold. If you don’t have kids under 50 pounds (20 kilos), this exercise may not be for you. The weight here is much more than the equivalent in dumbbells because of the uneven distribution. Maybe have them sit this one out, and you can do some pike push-ups instead.
Exercise 7: Wheel barrow walks
This one is a killer core exercise, mostly because no one is quite sure what they are doing. Have your older child grab both your legs, or two younger ones can grab one leg each (or any combination you can think of). Now, balancing on your hands, try to walk forward using your arms, as far as you can. This is honestly one of the hardest core exercises I know.
Exercise 8: Bear Crawls
Another killer exercise, one that is hard without extra loading. To make it easier, have a race against your kids. For a real challenge, have one sit on your shoulders and try bear crawling with them. The key here is to lift the knees only an inch or so off the ground, then sync the opposite arm and the opposite leg to move together at the same time. The moving knee should be coming straight forward towards the arm on the same side.
There you have it: an entire workout where your children are the resistance! The best part is you get a hard workout in, and they are entertained. You can always create your own variations or look up additional ways to exercise using your kids. Add in 15 minutes of kid-friendly yoga, and you have yourself an amazing workout routine. Have fun!
Tom Toth is a strength coach, movement specialist and fitness educator from Toronto, Canada. Since graduating from the University of Waterloo in 2003, he has dedicated his career to making people move better, feel better and live better. His website is tomtothfitness.com. Follow him on Instagram at @tomtoth.iron for innovative exercises and fitness tips!