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Safe Exercises For Kids: My Top 3 To-Do At Home!

June 7, 2020

Have you ever wondered where and when to start when it comes to exercise for kids? You know they need it to grow healthy and strong but deep down–do you wonder if structured exercise is even safe for kids? Or maybe, if you have what it takes to teach it safely at-home? The answer is: yes, yes, and YES! Read on for my top 3 safe exercises for kids to do at home (that are highly effective too!)

By Michelle Miller, mom and certified personal trainer

So many choices…..

We live in a world of choices. Picking what is most important is not always easy. At every step, we are met with options. At the grocery store, there are 10 different brands of milk, on the bread aisle, there are 30+ different types of bread. When purchasing a television there are dozens of different TVs- from LCD to Smart TVs to minis. When making a home purchase on Amazon, there are literally 100s of pages with dozens of choices on each page. 

As a result, life can often feel unnecessarily complicated and overwhelming. However, I know even very complex things can be simplified, and when that’s happened to me, it’s like a breath of fresh air. I’ve learned on more than one occasion that a good teacher and a well thought out plan is all it takes to make even the scariest of subjects, really not so intimidating after all.

Here's a video of Michelle performing safe exercises with kids on My First Workout video #5 featuring an exercise to strengthen the shoulders and legs.  While the picture is taken when only Michelle is doing the exercise correctly, tune into the video to see all the kids doing upright rows just right.
A candid photo from My First Workout Video #5.

Filter the fluff…….

First, let me address the questions I get asked most often by parents. Is exercise safe for my kids? Not only is it safe, but it’s also required. As soon as children start to walk, they are bending down and lifting things and they are doing it daily. Additionally, the muscles can’t tell the difference between lifting a 5-pound dumbbell or a 5-pound back-pack. Therefore, the focus should not be on what they are lifting but on how they are lifting? Are they using proper form and technique? Does the lift encourage proper loading or unbalanced loading such a backpack resting on one shoulder? As soon as children can listen and follow directions, they should start learning how to strengthen their bodies for life.

Help Your Kid Out……

Another one I get is, what exercises are most effective for kids today? Nearly 1 in 5 kids today is overweight or obese. A large majority of children play organized sports but the research tells us, somewhere around 70% will drop out by the age of 13. Therefore, my recommendation is to ensure kids build a reliable and effective habit of fitness before they leave home or even better, before they hit double-digits. A habit that equips them to ward off obesity, enhance performance and prevent injuries in athletics, and provide a reliable outlet for a lifetime. Is there such a form of exercise that can guarantee all these things? There sure is, and it’s called strength training.

This picture of myself and my son Cole performing a chest press together is one of my favorites.  This is a classic exercise for kids to learn and it will help them whether they are involved in youth sports or with better posture when sitting in the classroom.  This is not in my top safe exercises for kids but one that is important to be taught early on.
My son and I performing a classic exercise, the Chest Press, together.

Strength training is not the same as bodybuilding. This form of strength training is not recommended for young children. The type of muscle strength building I teach is one that does not require a great deal of coordination and is not a high impact form of exercise. Therefore, kids with extra weight will excel right off the bat. The research tells us severely overweight kids will benefit significantly since this form of exercise. It uses body fat for energy vs. aerobic exercise which uses body fat and muscle for energy.

Kids with small bone structures, low body confidence, sensory, ADHD, mental health, or other behavior disorders to exceptional athletes will all benefit greatly from this win-win form of exercise. It does not discriminate in any way, shape, or form. Moreover, it can be done anytime, anywhere, in a group or all alone. It requires very little equipment and can be done for life.

Ready to get started? Ok, here they are…..

My Top 3 Safe Exercises for Kids to start with:

1. Squat & Press

The Squat and Press is one of the best safe exercises for kids and a bonus is that it’s also highly efficient and functional all at the same time. Getting up and down out of a chair and raising your arms overhead is a movement kids do all day long. Kids will naturally do this movement well and gain confidence early on. There is such a familiarity with these two basic and highly effective movements. Putting the two moves together and repeating them with proper form and technique prepares their growing body for more complex exercises as they mature.

The squat and press incorporates big muscle groups in the legs. Lifting the arms overhead increases their heart rate by 10 beats almost immediately. This full-body exercise works the cardiovascular system, develops coordination and balance, and incorporates many muscle groups all in one naturally well-rehearsed movement.

5 year old Cole demonstrates the squat and press move and is the first of my top three safe exercises for kids.
This is the final phase of the squat and overhead press.

Most importantly, start by teaching them proper form and technique. Be sure they keep body weight in their heels and imagine reaching for a chair that is placed a little bit too far away with the rear. Stomach muscles remain close to the body at all times and especially on the up phase.

Moreover, when the legs straighten out and the arms reach overhead, be sure to gently lockout at the elbow joints. Once proper form and technique are achieved, move on to 1 set of 10-15 repetitions. Gradually increase sets, reps, and weight as your child gains strength and confidence.

2. Push-Ups

P.E. teachers test for this and it’s always nice to lead the class! What most young children lack is upper body strength and while it develops more as they get older, it’s essential to have it. Push-ups are a great place to start and one of the most universal safe exercises for kids. They target the chest and triceps specifically.

Variations can be done on a wall to decrease intensity or on a decline to increase the intensity and target the shoulders more. Meanwhile, the wide-grip push-up will isolate the chest and the narrow or triangle grip (form a triangle with thumbs and forefingers) will emphasize the triceps.  These variations are important for amateur athletes who desire enhanced performance and decreased chances of injury in their sport(s).

Cole demonstrates a modified version of the push up on his knees with assistance from Mom.  This is the second of my top three safe exercises for kids.
5-year-old, Cole, demonstrates a modified push-up.

If your child can’t perform push-ups yet, have them start with putting their knees on the ground and go from there!

It’s also nice that push-ups do not require any equipment. Speaking of that, neither does the next safe exerciss for kids. 

3. Plank

Planks target the core. This means the abs and obliques. Many exercise professionals say the foundation of strength begins in the core. For those who squat, having good core strength helps immensely. 

Therefore, start by having your child place their forearms and elbows on the ground under them. Also, have them on the balls of their feet. Knees remain off the ground if a child is strong enough and always maintain a flat back. To modify the plank, keep knees on the ground.

Modified plank with assistance from Mom.  This is the third of my top three safe exercises for kids.
5-year-old, Cole, demonstrates a modified plank with assistance from Mom.

Some kids can do this for minutes at a time. The key is getting a slight burn, pushing through without overdoing it.  Never let the back dip below the imaginary straight line running from the tip of the head to the knees or feet.

10 year old girl demonstrates a perfect plank.  This is the third of my top three safe exercises for kids.
10-year-old, Lily, demonstrates a perfect plank.

There you have it. Kids develop overall strength, stamina, coordination, balance, and enhanced confidence is a bonus!

Encourage your son or daughter to get started on these safe exercises TODAY. The great news is, it only takes 28 days to build a new habit! Ideally, muscle and bone-strengthening exercises should be done three days a week. And the CDC also recommends 60 minutes or more per day of physical activity. It is important to leave at least a day in between strength workouts to allow adequate rest for the muscles.

For a full-body kid’s strength workout program, check out the MyFirstWorkout® program! It includes all the equipment and video instruction needed to progress and a fun environment too!