Now that school’s been back in full swing for a couple of weeks, I’m lobbing a gentle but firm reminder out there for teachers and parents. Please, let’s work together to make sure that our kids get a healthy amount of activity, including strength training, core conditioning, and general knowledge about fitness, when they’re at school.
I know it’s difficult for teachers to get everything done in their school day. I also know that there are limited resources to support teachers who want to make a positive difference in the health and wellness of their students. At the same time, I believe there are ways this can be overcome.
Fitness doesn’t have to take lot of time out of the school day. Even 10-15-minutes of cross-training exercise each day can begin to lay down the programming that kids need to develop a positive attitude about fitness and body image. Since they’ll likely be more productive in the hours after a workout, I would argue that this is actually time gained versus time lost in a day. Parents, please show support for your child’s teacher if they want to dedicate a few minutes of class time for fitness.
It’s easy to provide a good functional training session for kids with a bare minimum of equipment, or none at all. I’ve done this in classrooms in the past, and with athletic teams, so I know it can be done. The biggest hurdle is making the change, and I’d like to help. I’ve started collaborating with Mr. Jim McDuffie, a career teacher and fitness enthusiast, who has great insight into how fitness will fit into the classroom. If you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line ‘Classroom Crosstraining’, I’ll send you our recommendations when they’re completed.
I know many schools have programs where the kids get regular cardiovascular exercise, most often walking or jogging around their sports field. It would be great if an agility or athletic movement component was tied into this. Whether done in the classroom, or as part of the field run, activities like side-shuffling, zig-zags, cross-overs, etc will help kids begin to move more efficiently and develop better body control. This kind of activity is also a lot more fun that straight walking or jogging, and hopefully will help to prevent injuries later in life. If you’re thinking about trying this in the classroom, and you don’t have an agility ladder, find an open area and use masking tape to outline the shape of a 10-15’ ladder on the floor. Make each rung about 16” square, and lead students through 5 or 6 runs through the ladder, starting with one foot per rung, then two feet per rung forward, then two feet per rung sideways, facing each direction, then perhaps zig-zagging through the rungs from side to side.
Strength training – Before you start picturing young kids pinned under a bar full of heavy iron, let me explain. In my definition, strength training is any activity that makes you stronger. This can be done on your own with weights, tubing, medicine balls, bodyweight, etc, or with a partner providing resistance. Whatever gets the job done. With kids, bodyweight exercises are often best, because they’re functional and safe. They’re also very convenient. Body position, or posture, is one of the most important considerations when having anyone perform strength exercises. Another is establishing good core stability. This is true for lower body exercises like lunges and squats, as well as for upper body exercises like pushups and chin-ups. Always remember to offer exercise variations for kids of different strengths, and emphasize technique over numbers. Ideally, choose exercises that allow for 15 or more repetitions when training younger kids, and leave a day between strength training workouts on the same muscles.
Kids tend to run, climb, jump and move a lot more than older people. As a result they also use their core muscles more. This helps, but it doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from regularly performing a few good core-training activities. Some moves that are convenient, safe and effective include planks and bridges on the floor, dead bugs and dynamic horse-stance exercises (on all fours), as well as twists or wood-chopping using exercise tubes. When planning a program for students or young athletes, be sure to include 3 or 4 core movements that work the body in different planes of motion. Always begin to introduce the concept of core stabilization using the deep, inner unit muscles of the core, and have them engage this system before initiating the exercises. Start this process by encouraging them to hold their lower tummy flat during the exercises. You/they may not be fully versed in the intricacies of this system, but in this case a little bit of coaching and awareness can be very beneficial.
–Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community.www.williamshealthgroup.com
MixxKids Series Part I – Tag – You’re It!
Stop and think for a moment. Have you played with your kids lately? I’m not talking about video games or sing-a-longs in the car. When was the last time that you took the kids outside and played a family game of tag, hopscotch, or hide-and-seek? After spending the day at school, away from the family, your kids need time to reconnect, and so do you! These games are a great way to spend quality family time together, and since children learn best by example, teach them to enjoy fitness while having fun. Spending time with your kids in a healthy, active way is an important life lesson.
On a physical level, a good game of tag will provide an incredible array of benefits. Balance, co-ordination and reaction time are all challenged, while helping your kids to gain athletic speed and agility. A simple game of hopscotch can build strong legs and better balance. The explosive power developed by hopping on one and two legs will benefit during almost any sporting activity. Hide and seek may be less physically challenging, but it still requires strategy, agility and body control. Most importantly these games are fun for your kids to play, and studies show that kids who enjoy fitness have more confidence, and perform better in school.
If possible, try to sustain these games, and an elevated heart rate, for 20 minutes or longer. This will allow the cardiovascular and muscular systems to work hard enough to burn calories, build strength, and increase lung capacity. By challenging these systems on a regular basis, the blood flows more efficiently, nerve conduction is optimized, and respiration improves. So go ahead, break a sweat, burn energy, and have some fun! The benefits of family fitness will last a lifetime, and so will the memories.
Tag and hide-and-seek are great for improving agility, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness:
- Freeze tag is a fun variation of traditional tag – while having the frozen player stand still encourage them to improve balance by standing on one foot.
- While playing hide-and-seek, increase cardio by asking the counter to do jumping jacks.
- Make tag more challenging by encouraging lateral movement and agility. Have players navigate through cones and ladders to catch and tag their opponent.
- Stop the music. Put on some fun music and turn a traditional game of tag into a cardio party! The right beats will keep the energy and activity levels up.
Hopscotch improves aim, balance, leg power and counting!
- Hopscotch can be played indoors or out. Use chalk to create the board outdoors, or masking tape on a carpet or indoor floor.
- Speed up the game by putting on some fast paced music or singing a favorite song.
- Sometimes a dome-shaped “rest area” is added on one end of the hopscotch pattern. This a great place to incorporate some jumping jacks or other calisthenics.
- Challenge balance: when stopping to pick-up the marker, ask kids to remain on one foot while counting to ten.
- Encourage coordination by asking kids to clap their hands while hopping through the board.
- Develop foot quickness by having kids use the board like an agility ladder, while doing light-footed, quick paced speed drills.
Adult Fitness Sidebar – Keep up with the Kids
Vigorous games like hopscotch and tag can be physically demanding if you body isn’t ready for it. Running and jumping can put you at risk for sprains to the knees and ankles, or a painful rupture to your Achilles tendon. Since agility, balance, and the ability to perform lateral movements can decrease with age, it’s a great idea to prepare your body for a healthy level of family activity.
Before you start chasing your kids around the yard, make sure that your body is prepared for physical activity. A gradual, 5-10-minute warm-up is essential for your mind and body. If you are playing tag with your kids, try playing at half-speed for the first few minutes. During this phase, your body temperature will rise, lubricating your joints and increasing the blood flow to your muscles. This allows them to contract and relax better during activity. Your brain will prepare to release ‘feel good’ endorphins that will keep your mood elevated long after family fitness time has ended.
Body posture is another important consideration for parents and children of all fitness levels. Remembering to exercise and train with healthy posture and body alignment will reduce your risk of injury during activity. If your body is out of alignment, additional stress is placed on the joints, increasing the potential for strains, sprains or overuse syndromes.
If your daily fitness routine includes running or walking, you can benefit by inserting intervals of these lateral movements into your routine:
- Side shuffles
- Cross-Over Steps
Or try these conditioning exercises at your gym or in the park:
- Lateral side-steps over a bosu ball or aerobics step for endurance
- Cone drills or ladder drills to improve your agility and quickness
Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community. www.williamshealthgroup.com