For parents of young kids, it can be hard to prioritize exercise. Children need things — a snack, a ride, a person to explain fractions — and usually just as you’re lacing up your running shoes or laying out the yoga mat.
Instead of skipping your workout, consider looping your little ones in. Not only will exercising together combine family time and fitness, but it’s also a way to model healthy habits. Research suggests that children with active parents are more likely to be active themselves and to grow up to be active adults.
Adding kids to the mix means you might need to “let go of the idea that you’re going to get a perfect workout,” said Kelly Bryant, a coach with the fitness app Future, who often exercises with her 5-year-old and toddler. Still, there are plenty of ways to make your workout a decent one.
Give kids a role in your regular workout.
People often think they need to find a child-specific activity, Ms. Bryant said, like a dance party or a Disney yoga video. “But really, any body-weight workout is going to be pretty kid-friendly,” she said.
Her own children enjoy exercises that involve jumping, like squat jumps, lateral jumps, jump rope, ladder drills and jumping jacks. “Kids love a burpee,” Ms. Bryant said.
Do the moves together or turn it into a partner workout, suggested Jess Sims, a Peloton instructor who leads family-friendly classes. You might hold a plank while your child does five jumping jacks and five squats, for example. Then you switch, alternating moves for five minutes.
If kids lose interest in participating, re-enlist them as trainers. Ask them to count your reps or run a timer on your phone, Ms. Bryant said. “Or have them hand you a block every time you finish a set,” she suggested. “Anything where you give them responsibility and authority, they’re very into it.”
Turn exercise into a game.
Ms. Sims, a former elementary schoolteacher, often uses “listening games” in her adult classes, where participants increase their speed when they hear certain words in a song. With kids, do jumping jacks to a song your child likes, and choose a move you’ll do when you hear a particular phrase. For example, “every time you hear Beyoncé say ‘break my soul,’ you do a push-up,” Ms. Sims said. Or march in place together through the verses, then do mountain climbers during the chorus.
Propose a game of “exercise charades,” which Marc Santa Maria, a vice president at Crunch Fitness, often plays with his husband and 9-year-old twins. Everyone writes a few strength moves or yoga poses on scrap paper, then takes turns picking from a bowl.
“You start doing the move, and everyone copies you,” he explained. After 30 seconds, people can yell out the name of the exercise.
Be creative with how you get a run in.
If it’s not too cold out, set up a race circuit in a park or an open area. You might challenge your child to ride a bike around a certain route while you do crunches, Ms. Bryant suggested, and then you run that route when your child returns. Do a few laps of the circuit, and try to beat your best time.
“My kids will do anything if it’s a race,” she said.
To get some sprints in, head to a public tennis or basketball court with a bag of small, light items, Mr. Santa Maria said. Run back and forth with your child, moving the items from one end of the court to the other — give yourself twice as many items — and time yourselves to see who can finish first. (If you have a long hallway, you can do this inside.)
Kids on bikes or scooters can also make great pacers while you run alongside them, Ms. Bryant said. Or for something a little easier, alternate running and walking intervals together. “That’s how kids run anyway,” she said. “They sprint for 30 seconds, then they stop to pick some flowers, walk a bit, then sprint again.”
Make use of the playground.
A playground can be a great place to get in a full-body workout, Mr. Santa Maria said. Warm up by doing lateral shuffles around the perimeter in each direction, then use the playground equipment to create several stations for cardio, core and exercises for the upper and lower body.
For example, on a swing, “I’d jump off and land in a wide stance, then do 10 squats,” Mr. Santa Maria said. Or you could lie across it and hold a Superman extension with cactus arms, working your back, glutes and shoulders.
Do pull-ups on the monkey bars, tricep dips on a bench and step-ups on the stairs to the slide, he suggested. The key is that while your child is playing, Mr. Santa Maria said, “you want to take advantage of the things that are already there.”
Embrace screen time.
Many streaming fitness platforms, like Peloton and Crunch+, have family classes online, but if you don’t subscribe, YouTube can be a gold mine of free workout videos.
Ms. Bryant said that “squirmy kids” like her daughter may prefer AcroYoga, which combines yoga and acrobatics, to regular yoga, particularly if they can do it on a trampoline. They also do step aerobics videos together, with her child using the bottom step of a staircase or “the type of stool every parent has in front of the bathroom sink.”
Create a dance routine using moves you can learn by watching the free videos on Hip Hop Public Health, Mr. Santa Maria suggested (he stars in some of them). He’ll also sometimes stream an exercise video on mute and put on his kids’ favorite soundtrack so they can sing along while he works out.
Whether you stack a few of these ideas or have time for only one, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t feel as gratifying as a workout without kids. “Any movement is great movement,” Ms. Sims said.