How To Exercise With Your Kids (And Actually Break A Sweat!)
Updated: Jan 15
As busy parents, we struggle to find “alone time” for a workout. We already juggle work, home, and kids. Throwing fitness on the to-do list feels overwhelming.
The easiest solution? Exercise with your kids.
Before kids, I was running marathons. When I became a working mom of two, finding time to run felt impossible.
I craved exercise, and eventually, I found more options for exercising together with my kids.
Working out with your kids can burn calories, tone muscles, and boost endorphins. You just need to find the right workouts, and good news, you are in the right place! I’ve spent 7 years collecting this list of family-friendly workouts that can actually help you hit your fitness goals.
As your kids grow, your will need different workouts to keep your family engaged. We will look at the best activities for kids of every age and strategies to build exercise habits that stick with you for years, including:
Soon you be doing fun, effective workouts while enjoying quality time with your kids. Ready? Let’s go!
Disclaimer: You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Getting Started Exercising with Kids and Staying Motivated
There’s always an excuse not to work out: The kids didn’t sleep well, the weather sucks, the house needs to be cleaned. Let’s focus on ways to overcome those challenges and prioritize your health.
Wear your workout clothes all day. You will be ready to get moving any time the opportunity arises.
Build a Vision Board
Build a vision board with photos, graphics, and words that capture your goals.
My vision board was a photo of myself before kids in a bikini. I made it the background on my iPhone, so I saw it 100 times per day. Constantly seeing my pre-kid body all day motivated me to drop the baby weight. I passed on desserts more often and squeezed in extra workouts.
For your vision board to work, pick images and text that stir up emotions for you. Think of your goal, the benefits of your goal, and how that will make you feel. Then, choose images that capture those emotions and create your board.
Regular exercise adds years to your life. How much exercise is needed? Multiple studies show that you should aim for 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or just over 1 hour of vigorous exercise per week. That said, only 15 minutes per day makes a difference.
Think of the extra years you can have with your beautiful kiddos, and get moving!
Baby and Parent Workouts
Mommy and Me Baby Workout Video
Developed by a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer, this video gives you a fast, effective workout. The instructor addresses the real-world challenges of exercising with a baby. The instructor safely involves the baby though the entire workout and adjusts based on the baby’s needs.
GroovaRoo is a company that offers babywearing dance classes. You can easily do the workouts from your living room using their YouTube playlist. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you might have be able to attend an in-person babywearing class as well.
HIIT workouts are designed to fit busy lifestyles. Some HIIT workouts last only 5 minutes. Squeeze in a HIIT workout while your baby is sleeping. Or, entertain your baby by doing it with them. Here is a list of postpartum HIIT workouts to get you started.
Toddler and Parent Workouts
Try a trampoline workout. It’s a big stress reliever and tones your back, core, and legs. Pick up an adult fitness trampoline for yourself and a toddler trampoline for your little one. Your toddler will love jumping along with you.
Cue up a playlist of marching songs and get moving! For max impact, lift your knees up high and carry weights. Here’s a list of our favorite toddler marches:
The Ants Go Marching
Working On the Railroad
Elephant March from Jungle Book
We are the Dinosaurs
Freight Train from Mother Goose Club
The Wheels on the Bus
Down By the Bay
Make a Sidewalk Chalk Obstacle Course
No fancy obstacle course gear? No problem! You can make a quick obstacle course using only sidewalk chalk. Check out this article about making a chalk obstacle course for age-appropriate ideas like hopscotch, frog hop, dance party circles, and more.
Go for an Adventure Walk
Going for a walk might not excite your toddler. So, instead of going for a walk, go for an adventure. Spin up a story that will entertain them through the walk. You can create original stories or, even easier, borrow from their favorite books and movies.
You are Moana and Maui crossing the ocean. You will need to run away from coconut pirates, sneak through Tamatoa’s lair to get Maui’s hook, and sail past Te Ka to restore the heart of Te Fiti.
You are the Paw Patrol and there’s trouble in Adventure Bay. First, you have to rush to the lookout tower to find out what’s wrong. Then, you have to save Capt Turbot who is stuck in a cave on an island in the bay. While you are there, you find a treasure map! You follow the treasure map and find the treasure chest!
You are the Wild Kratts lost in your neighborhood. You will need to use your creature power suits to become different animals to find your way home.
Make Play Intense
Try finding ways to make regular play more intense. Here’s what I mean.
We have a sledding hill in our backyard. When my kids were too small to walk up the slippery, snow-covered hill alone, I would plunk them on the sled and drag them up the hill. They thought it was hilarious, and after several trips up the hill, I thought it was one of the hardest workouts of my life. Now my kids are old enough to walk up the hill alone, but I still give them “sleigh rides” to build my strength.
Here are more ways you can make play more intense:
Incorporate piggyback rides into the game.
Add jumping into your activities.
Play pretend games that involve climbing you can do mountain climbers.
Pretend to be animals and do bear crawls (or you can call it lion crawl or whatever animal they want to be).
Kid and Parent Workouts
Help your kids discover their inner yogi. Cosmic Kids Yoga teaches your kids real yoga moves that are weaved into fun stories ranging from Minecraft to Mario.
Go Noodle became popular as a “brain break” program used in schools. You can use it at home for a fun indoor workout on a rainy day. There are dance songs, movement games, stretching routines, and more.
If you have an exercise bike at home, consider getting one for your kiddo as well. Involve them in your workouts or set up side-by-side and throw on a movie.
You might want to give up immediately but stick with it. You will get better at it, and it’s a great core workout! You can use a weighted hula hoop for adults for an extra challenge.
Available for Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Playstation, Just Dance will get the whole family sweating. It’s packed with popular songs for both kids and adults. You can compete with each other, or work together to try to earn the highest score.
Burn tons of calories, lower your stress level, and have fun! Sounds impossible, right? Nope! Zumba Kids is a popular, proven way to reach fitness goals. Check out this YouTube playlist for easy access to a handful of great dances.
Make a Family Exercise Habit
Now that you have a bunch of great workouts, it’s time to build a habit.
A habit is powerful because it’s automatic. A habit makes you feel an impulse to follow a certain routine without needing to think about it.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits are formed by following these steps:
Step One: Pick a simple cue. A cue is a trigger that tells your brain it’s time to do something. A cue can be visual, a time of day, a person, etc. For family exercise, you may want to have your cue be a time of day, like after school or after breakfast.
Step Two: Follow your routine. Your routine is the actual exercise that you will be doing, like the workouts in this article.
Step Three: Choose a clear reward. The reward helps your brain remember why you want to follow the routine. The reward could be a special snack, screen time, hugs and praise, etc.
Step Four: Cultivate the craving. The reward alone isn’t enough. Your brain needs to expect and crave the reward. This starts by repeatedly given your brain the experience reacting to the cue, completing the routine, and getting the reward (the endorphins or sense of accomplishment). Once your brain starts to expect the reward in response to the trigger, you will have built your habit.
Sounds easy, right?
The biggest challenge is consistency over a long period of time. On average, it takes 66 days to build an automatic habit.
A workout calendar can help you track your progress, plus it works as a visual reminder and motivator.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a great trick for using a calendar to stay productive. He keeps a big calendar on the wall that shows the whole year. He places a red “X” on each day that he successfully spends time writing jokes. The goal is to end up with long chains of X’s. Here’s how he described it in a lifehacker article:
"After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."
Involve your kids in the calendar. They will enjoy the reward of drawing an “X” after the family workout, and they will hold you accountable for keeping up with the calendar.
You may discover that your kids can be your biggest cheerleaders. My daughter always pushes me for one more song on Just Dance, and my son always begs me for one more sleigh ride up the hill in our backyard. Your kids will probably do the same, and it’s those moments that make family workouts more powerful and gratifying than exercising by yourself.