Most parents would agree that there are fewer things more important than their kids’ health. That’s why they make it a priority to feed them healthy meals, nutritious after-school snacks, and encourage them to play outside. And while letting them explore the outdoors is a great form of physical activity, there are also fun exercises for kids that boast a variety of health benefits, from aiding digestion to improving balance to building muscles.
Before you drag your kids along with you to the gym, keep in mind that "exercise must be fun," Heidi Powell, fitness trainer and mom of four, tells Landcruisers. "Instead of making them do a boring workout (which can cause body issues), 'gamify' your workouts for them," she suggests. "Make the moves into a ninja course or circuit, or even turn the moves into a game with a deck of cards. Simply assign a particular exercise to each suit in the deck. Have your kiddos draw a card and then perform the number of repetitions of that movement as shown on the card!" With this approach, they'll be having so much fun that they won't realize they're actually exercising. (Sneaky, right?).
To help you get started, we asked fitness experts to share their best exercises for kids, many of which include yoga poses parents already know and love. Here are their favorite moves.
"My kids love this exercise, and it’s great for their shoulder and posterior chain," says Powell. Lean over and put your hands on the ground so your weight is in all four of your "paws." Then, bend your knees and crawl like a bear. Do this by simply moving your left hand and right foot forward at the same time and then switch sides.
"Skipping is one of the most fundamental and underrated exercises for both kids and adults," says Steve Ettinger, kids fitness expert and author of the children's book Wallie Exercises. "While on the surface it may not be the most intense form of physical activity, the coordination and movements required to skip well make up the backbone of running and jumping."
Any kid will love discovering their inner superhero. Lie on your belly with your arms stretched out in front, says Powell. Arch your back, and then lift your chest, arms, and legs off of the ground as though you’re flying (with a cape on!). Hold briefly and return to starting position.
Squat down, fingertips on the ground between your legs for support, says Powell. Leap up high in the air and tell your kids to try touching the clouds!
"Footwork is an essential part of any sport or physical activity," says Ettinger. "Using cones (or speed ladders) to help kids develop footwork contributes to their body awareness and control." Set out five cones each spaced a foot apart, in a line. Start at one end and work towards the other, progressing through different footwork patterns. Short periods of focused exercise — as opposed to long, slow jogs — help kids hone in on skills without their attention drifting.
"Everyone can picture a crab walking so just encourage your kids to become one," says Powell. Sit on your bum with knees bent and feet planted on the ground. Lean back a little and put your hands on the ground behind you, fingertips facing forward. Then push up to lift your hips off the ground. Now start walking! Shift your hands and feet in whatever direction you want to move.
It’s like a jumping jack, only instead of hopping feet out to the side, jump straight up while spreading apart legs and arms in midair like a starfish, says Powell.
"This standing pose helps kids practice concentration, build their core muscles, and improve their proprioception (awareness of the body in space)," says Erin Bracco, co-founder of Buddha Belly Kids Yoga. Stand tall on one leg and twist open your other leg so that you’ve created a kickstand with your foot. Balance here or gently bring your ankle up and place the sole of your foot on your calf or inner thigh. With your toes pointing down, equally press your foot against your thigh as your thigh pushes against your foot. Reach your arms up to the sky as if you are growing branches.
"This pose helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system and allows our bodies to 'rest and digest,'" says Braccco. Sit on your heels with your toes touching behind you and your knees apart. Lie your chest on your thighs, stretch your arms out in front of you, and press your palms to your mat. Rest your forehead on the ground.
"This pose builds core and spine strength, and it's especially good for children because it is invigorating and helps build stamina," says Bracco. Sit facing each other, and then bring your feet together to touch. Hold hands and make sure your legs are in between your arms. Bend your knees slightly. One foot at a time, slowly push feet together to lift one leg off the ground. Lift the other foot.
"This is a squatting pose that strengthens the ankles, improves flexibility in the hips, and lengthens the spine. Plus, it aides in digestion," says Bracco. Stand with your legs hip-width distance apart. Turn your feet slightly outwards until comfortable. Squat down bending your knees with your hands in between your feet. Clap your hands together while pressing your knees apart.
"This pose, which strengthens and lengthens the back of your body, can help kids improve balance and coordination," says Bracco. Stand tall and shift your weight to stand on one leg. Slowly lean your upper body forward with your arms straight in front.Lift one leg high enough to become parallel to the floor, as if you are flying an airplane. Gaze at the floor in front of you. Flex your foot to point your toes toward the ground.