How to Exercise With Your Kids (Work out as a Family!)

This picture shows a LEGO on a bike with a stroller attached.

So you’ve got kids running around the house… 

And you need to work out, but can’t seem to distract the little monsters any longer?

No problem!

We’ve been teaching people how to exercise at home since 2009. These days, since everyone’s trapped together, we’ve been sharing fun ways to get the kids involved too. 

If you need some ideas on how to work out as a whole family, this guide is for you.

(Sign up in the box below and I’ll send you even more home workout goodies). 

Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide:

Let’s jump right in!

How to Workout With Your Kids (Video Tutorial)

LEGO Maggie doing the iconic James Bond intro.

Quite a few of our Nerd Fitness Coaches are parents, so they know firsthand how challenging it can be to train while you have a three-year-old running around in the background.

When I asked them for advice for this guide, the most common response I received went something like: 

“During quarantine, life is going to be chaos. This is not normal, and neither will your workout be. That’s okay. Do the best you can.”

In other words, it might be challenging to hit personal records (PRs) in your deadlift while also watching over a four-year-old (if you somehow managed to score home gym equipment).

This doesn’t mean “Don’t bother working out.” 

It just means you should forgive yourself ahead of time if all doesn’t go according to plan.

A funny scene of a disaster with Leslie Nielsen.

If you want proof of how working out with kids can be “a hot mess,” watch Coach Matt exercising with his young children. 

The video is all sorts of adorbs. 

THE BEGINNER BODYWEIGHT WORKOUT (KIDS EDITION):

When working out with kids, remember:

#1) Meet kids where they are. For young kids, invite them to be a partner. Maybe they can count your reps, tell you when to start, etc. 

On the other hand, older kids might be able to participate more fully, and maybe even train alongside you. 

No matter what, it’s a good idea to invite kids to join when and IF they want, without requiring it. 

#2 ) While every kid is different, here are some very general guidelines from Coach Matt’s experience:

  • 2-6 Years Old. These kids are often way more interested in just playing, wrestling, etc. So doing a specific workout may be challenging. However, these kids may still want to be a part of things, so look for ways to get them involved. 
  • 7-12 Years Old. At this age, they can start handling a little more structure. They will probably really enjoy “skills” training (more on this below), as well as many play aspects.
  • 13+ (Depending on the Kid). They may be ready to step in and join you more fully in a workout if they want to.

#3) Consider a focus on skills/practice. It can be really frustrating to have a timed exercise or workout interrupted. 

A gif of Stewie from Family Guy shouting for attention.

Instead, consider thinking of it like “practice time” of building a skill. You can practice for a couple of minutes, take a break, come back to it, etc.

Kids might respond better to “skills” training instead of “exercises” too. Together, you can practice:

  • Crawling
  • Jumping
  • Swinging
  • Getting up and down off the floor
  • Dancing
  • Throwing/Catching

This might go over better than “let’s do squats” or “push-ups.”

#4) There are lots of different ways to get workouts in throughout the day:

  • Short workouts: a lot of times Coach Matt finds himself squeezing a workout in 10 mins or less.
  • Accumulation: take little micro-breaks throughout the day to do a couple of reps of some bodyweight exercises. Kind of like “exercise snacks.” 
  • Longer workouts: maybe creating that time and space for your training is still important. If possible, defend this time and let the kids move in and out of the frame as they are interested.
  • “I go, you go”: you may snag a workout set in, then play a game with your kids, then go back to the workout set. Breaking it up like this can make them still feel engaged and give you a little more time to train.

#5) Whatever happens is okay! Remember, do the best you can, and it’s perfectly fine if your workout gets cut short because your kid starts drawing on the walls.

The 8 Best Exercises to Do With Young Kids

A kid holding himself up with one arm on a jungle gym.

If your kids are light enough, you can actually use them as makeshift weights during your workout.

Just be careful, and if anything feels unsafe, don’t do it.

But if things DO feel good, here are some exercises you can do along with kiddos (or using them as weight).

#1) Bodyweight Squats (with Child) 

Matt has his kiddo resting on his shoulders, almost like a safety squat bar would.

This is much like a normal bodyweight squat, but with your kids sitting on your shoulders.

Coach Matt recommends having your kid’s legs come forward, and for you to grab them, almost like you would with a safety squat bar.

Before attempting this, make sure you can do squats with comparable weight! 

#2) Lunges

Much like the bodyweight squats above, but instead do a lunge:

Same idea as our bodyweight squat, your kid will rest on your shoulders as you do your lunge.

Since you’re engaging one leg at a time, this can be really challenging with a kid on your shoulders.

#3) Touch the Sky

This gif shows both Matt and his kid going from a squat to standing tall, arms up.

As Coach Matt explains, getting young kids to do squats and push-ups might be tough.

But kids do like to jump! 

For “Touch the Sky,” sit in a squat or frog position. Then stand-up tall, arms reaching towards the sky.

Bonus points if you jump up!

This will train many of the same muscles as you would with squats.

#4) Jumps

Coach Matt performing jumps with his kids, a great exercise to try.

Another good squat substitution to try with kids is long jumps!

You probably want to try this on some type of soft surface (or in your backyard), like the tumbling mat Coach Matt uses. As long as it’s safe, jumping can be really fun with kids.

Make a game out of it, by pointing to a line (or marking one with a soft object) and seeing who can jump over it. You’ll not only train your lower body with jumps, but you’ll also build some explosive power.

#5) Push-ups

You have a few options here. 

The first, is to have your kid crawl on your back, and use them as a weight:

This is a gif of Matt doing push-ups, with his kid attached to his back.

Feel free to do knee push-ups here too if it’s a little too challenging.

The next option is to include your kid in the workout by giving them high-fives between reps:

At the top of your push-up, stick your arm out and give the kid a high-five!

Lastly, you can have your kids crawl under you between repetitions, trying to worm their way from one end to the other:

Once at the top of your push-up, have your kid crawl under you, like so.

#6) Bear Crawl

A fun exercise to do with your kids is to crawl around like a bear with them latched on!

Coach Matt crawling around with his kid on his back.

Crawling is a great functional fitness exercise that will help you stay mobile on the floor. A kid on your back will up the intensity of the workout. 

Bonus points if you make growling and roaring noises.

#7) Goat Bag Hinge

This exercise has your kid clenching onto the front of your chest, while you push your hips back.

This exercise will have you strengthening your hinge muscles, kind of like you would in a kettlebell swing or deadlift

Stand tall, clenching your kid, check to chest. Have them hold onto you too.

Push your hips back, again, like you would in a kettlebell swing. When your torso is parrellish to the ground, come back up, driving through your heels. 

#8) Balancing

One leg balances can become a lot more challenging when your kid is trying to push you over:

A gif of Matt's kid trying to push him over as he balances on one leg.

Another idea is to stand on one leg, then have your kid push you, and use that force to jump onto your other leg. Attempt to only use one leg at a time to balance:

Use the force of your kid to jump from one leg to the other, as shown here.

10 Workout Games to Play as a Family

This picture some Stormtroopers and mini-stormtroopers play fighting.

Being able to lift your kid a few times for some exercises is great. But Coach Matt highlights that anything over 10 repetitions, probably isn’t happening.

The kids will get bored, whine, or revolt.

That’s why you might be better off playing some games with them. 

Here are 10 fun and active games to play as a whole family:

#1) Ninja Training

This is easy: just ask your child: “Want to train like a ninja with me?”

If they’re into it, start practicing some of your jumps and crawls!

You can also hoist them up and help them hang from something (ninjas always have to climb up buildings), which would work if you have a pull-up bar:

Coach Staci showing you the bar hang

Don’t have a pull-up bar? We makeshift clever replacements in our guide to building a home gym.

Some house parkour might also be in the cards here. 

#2) Chase (Cops and Robbers)

Here, you’re gonna build some type of fort. When playing this game, Coach Matt stands up his gymnastic mat tall and together, then places his kids in the middle.

Their job? Escape!

Run and track them down and send them back to jail (or your makeshift fort)

Feel free to teach them the phrase, “You’ll never catch me alive, coppers!”

#3) Freeze Ball

This might require a purchase, but foam dodgeballs are a great way to play with kids.

Have the different colored dodgeballs result in a different outcome:

  • Red: if you’re hit with the “fireball,” hop five times in a row.
  • Blue: if you’re hit with the “iceball,” you need to freeze for five seconds. 
  • Green: if you’re hit with the “earthball,” it’s time to place your chest to the ground, like you would in a burpee.

#4) Animal Walks

Have someone call out an animal. Then everyone has to walk around like that!

Walking to Mordor is much tougher if you need to crawl like a snake for part of the journey.

#5) Hot Lava

With this game, you’re more or less building an obstacle course in your house, trying to jump from furniture to furniture…because the floor is now lava.

Here are some ideas on creating home obstacle courses:

Another fun way to start this game: start counting down from 5 out loud.

After “1” shout “hot lava” and if anyone is still on the normal floor, it’s time for them to start playing like Gollum when he finally got the ring:

A scene of Gollum falling into lava from Return of the King.

This is a fun standing game to ensure spontaneous activity.

#6) Jump/Duck

This game is pretty easy: take an imaginary sword and swing high or low at the kids, or have them come at you with their imaginary weapon.

Just swing high or low at your kid, and have then duck or jump respectively.

You need to either jump if they’re coming low, or duck if they’re coming high.

This is really simple, but lots of fun, and can be done with a group of people.

#7) King of the Log (Balance Challenges)

Much like the balance exercises we showed you earlier, but as a game!

Find some territory (a mat, some comfy carpet, grass) and try to push the other off it. Let your kiddos team up on you for a more even match.

#8) Wolf & Rabbit

Create a mark or identify a “safe place” within a short sprint away. 

Have two people face each other, but keep enough distance that the “Rabbit” feels comfortable reaching safety.

The Rabbit stays frozen, until the Wolf makes a move. Then the Rabbit attempts to sprint to safety before the Wolf can tag it.

#9) Ninja Red Light, Green Light

If you’ve ever played “Red Light, Green Light” this is similar, although it involves some sneaking around, because ninjas.

A gif of a ninja doing ninja stuff.

“The Mark” walks around aimlessly, taking turns liberally, while the Ninja tries to sneak up behind and tag them. 

If the Mark faces the Ninja, the Ninja must freeze. 

Otherwise, the Ninja is free to tag the Mark.

#9) Commando

This game is kind of like Ninja Red Light, Green Light.

You have a Counter (normally the adult).

You have Runners (kids).

The Counter picks a number from five to ten, then counts down.

Before doing so, they announce “Fast” or “Slow.”

  • Fast, you would count “5, dot, 4, dot, 3, dot, 2, dot, 1.”
  • Slow, you would count “5, dot, dot, 4, dot, dot, 3, dot, dot, 2, dot, dot, 1.”

So twice as many “dots” are said allowed.

While the Counter counts, they move about (carefully) with their eyes closed. They make sure to turn around a lot to keep the Runners on their toes.

When the Counter reaches “1,” they freeze and open their eyes.

Any Runners caught in the Counter’s eyes has to do a silly “croak” finality.

This dog does a good "play dead" in this gif

Quarantining With Kids: A Discussion With Two Nerd Fitness Coaches (And Parents)

Being quarantined at home is one thing. Being quarantined at home with your kids is quite another. 

In the video above, streamed live to Nerd Fitness Prime members, “The Matts” talk to you about how they’re handling this new lifestyle.

Some highlights of the “Quarantine with Kids” discussion:

  • Doing the best you can (a common theme in our “Apocalypse” content)
  • The importance of having a schedule with kids
  • Open communication between spouses
  • Creating a “school space” within your home
  • How to find “balance” during quarantine
  • The importance of “quiet time”

And much more!

If you’re juggling working remotely and homeschooling for the first time, give the video a watch.

How to Workout as a Family (Next Steps)

This picture shows a family on the beach looking into the sunset.

The most important thing about working out with your kids: have fun!

If kids see you having fun, they might want to join you.

If you make your exercise together enjoyable by including some game elements, they might want to keep doing it.

That would be great!

If you need more ideas, here are 40 ways to exercise without realizing it

However, if your kids are not into it, that’s okay. Just try to sneak in whatever workout you can, when you can.

These are unusual times, so our training will likely also be unusual.

Do the best you can. It’s something we bring up throughout our guide on How to Stay in Shape (While Staying Inside)

The most important thing you can do now: try an exercise or game with your kids!

You’ll never know how your kids deal with your workouts, until you try it out.

So pick one of the exercises or games we highlighted and give it a whirl.

If it devolves to chaos, you can always try again with a different workout or strategy.

Again, just do the best you can.

This girl is ready to strength train. Are you?

If you want some more help, Nerd Fitness is here for you.

We have three options on how to continue with us. Pick the option that best aligns with your goals:

Option #1) Liked the videos we showed in today’s guide? Want to watch them live and get your questions answered? Join Nerd Fitness Prime!

Nerd Fitness Prime is our premium membership program that contains at-home exercise routines, live-streamed workouts with NF Coaches, a supportive online community, group challenges, and much more! 

Oh, and you can create a character and level up by completing real world challenges!

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Option #2) If you want a professional coach in your pocket, who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on the equipment you have available, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program

For example, let’s say you find yourself stuck indoors during a pandemic, and you want somebody to custom-build you a workout program based on the equipment and furniture you have. That’s where an online coach is a game-changer! 

Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the box below: 

Option #3) Become part of the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out from home” guides.

Alright, I want to hear from you and your experience with working out with your children! 

Are you a parent who is now learning how to exercise with your kids?

Any tips or tricks for training with screaming kids in the background?

Any fun games we missed?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve

P.S. If you have older kids, they might be more into doing a workout right alongside you. If so, have them pick a routine from The 7 Best At-Home Workouts and try it together!

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Photo Source: Cargo bike family, The clones are working hard, Family looking into sunset, Untitled, Simpson…Maggie Simpson.

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