Family workouts that strengthen bodies and bonds

(CNN)Busy is the operative word for many modern families. Between school, work and extracurricular demands, every day has family members scattered, doing their own things. Too often, home becomes the place for decompressing in front of a screen — many times, in separate rooms and for hours on end.

Declining opportunities for family interaction and increasing sedentary time at home represent a significant threat to our children’s health and wellness. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points to a connection between the quality of family bonding and future mental health. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that obesity rates having tripled for children and quadrupled for adolescents during the last 30 years.

Designating time for quick, fun family workouts is an efficient way to foster bonds and boost activity levels simultaneously. My husband and I have been working out with our children every Sunday for years.

A healthy weight for kids

A healthy weight for kids 01:36

Cue the excuses: But we don’t have a gym membership. We don’t have space at home. We can’t afford a trainer and don’t know what or how to design a family workout.

You don’t need a trainer or a gym. If you have a driveway or sidewalk, or access to a small playground or park, you have enough space. And creating a simple, effective workout doesn’t require a personal training certification.

“There are basic human movements that serve as the foundation of everything we do in our daily lives — regardless of age or training level. If you focus on these fundamentals, you’ll improve the quality of your life,” said fitness expert Dan John, author of “Can You Go? Assessments and Program Design for the Active Athlete and Everyone Else.

Our family workouts are based on four of John’s fundamental movements: pushing, pulling, hinging and squatting.

Using a plug-and-play format to address the four movement categories, we simply add a quick warm-up and cool-down to create endless workout sequences appropriate for everyone in our family.

Try the sample workout sequence below. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can easily create your own family workout using the same blueprint.

Getting started

Remember always to consult your physician before starting any new exercise program. Use caution and stop if you feel any pain, weakness or lightheadedness.

Everyone does the warm-up and cool-down together at the beginning and end of the workout. The fundamental movement exercises serve as a sequence of stations that each family member cycles through multiple times, depending on how long and intensely you want to work out. We usually go through ours three times. Exercises can be for five to 20 reps, depending on current fitness levels and goals. Higher weights with lower reps build muscle size and strength, while lower weights with higher reps build muscular endurance.

Preadolescents shouldn’t worry about increasing weight or reps; instead focus on movement with good form. When form breaks down, stop — regardless of rep count.

Although this is a workout, it’s meant to be fun family time. No one should act like a drill sergeant. Worry less about sticking exactly to the exercise plan and focus more on safely moving your bodies while enjoying spending time together.

Workout preparation

Ensure everyone has water and shoes are tied.

Set up your supplies in “stations” for your workout sequence. In this sample workout, we use foam rollers for warm-up; sidewalk chalk for an agility ladder (drawing a simple 10- to 12-foot chalk ladder with each “rung” about a 10 to 12 inches apart); appropriate weights or kettle bells for squatting and deadlifting; mats for push-ups, warm-up and cool-down; and a TRX suspension system for rows from the tree.


Myofascial release

This is intended to relieve tension and increase blood flow in muscles.

You can roll virtually every part of your body, but in the interest of time during family workouts, we stick to the major muscles of the legs and back. Roll up and down for about 30 seconds each. This can also be used as a cool-down.

Mobility warm-up

This warm-up promotes mobility in the hips, shoulders, back and legs.

Walking low lunges with arm reaches are great for getting your whole body moving. Step forward in a lunge position and put both hands down on either side of your front foot. Reach one arm up at a time and then return to standing. Repeat on the other side, alternating for a set of eight to 12 lunges.

Agility drills

These drills raise the heart rate and enhance proprioception and balance.

Chalk ladder agility exercises are fun and invigorating. You can do any number of hopping, sidestepping or skipping exercises. Our family likes to play “Follow the Leader,” with each member getting the opportunity to lead an exercise of his or her choice up and back on the ladder. If you don’t have sidewalk chalk, you can do any of the suggested exercises without drawing a ladder.

Pushing movement


Plank hold or downward dog pose are suggested modifications for younger children.

Begin in a plank position with feet hip distance apart and your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Keep your core engaged to avoid the lower back arching and your belly sagging toward the ground. Bend your elbows, lowering your body in one solid piece down until your elbows and shoulders are parallel. Your head should stay in line with your spine. Push your body back up to your starting plank position.

Pulling movement

TRX rows

It’s important to follow the directions that come with your TRX training system to hang it safely from a tree, playground equipment or other appropriate fixture. Always supervise younger children while using suspension training.

While standing, hold TRX handles with a neutral grip. Lean your body straight back so that your arms extend at chest height. Make a rowing motion by bending your elbows and pulling your chest toward the handles. Keep your body aligned and core strong throughout the motion. Don’t bend from the waist.

You don’t need a TRX for pulling movements; we just happen to use one. If you don’t have one, you can do any number of pulling movements, such as bent-over dumbbell rows or pull-ups.

Hinging movement

Single-leg dead lifts

Yoga airplane or warrior three balance are suggested modifications for younger children.

From standing, hold a moderate-weight kettle bell or dumbbell at your side in your left hand. Begin a single-leg hip hinge by reaching back with your left leg and hinging forward over your right leg to let the weight come down to the ground in front of you. Slowly hip hinge and stand back up with both feet on the ground and the weight held at your side. Repeat this movement for the desired repetitions and then move to the other side.

Squatting movement

Goblet squat

Squatting without weight or with a water bottle are suggested modifications for younger children.

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance. Hold a kettle bell or dumbbells close to your chest. Select a weight that is heavy enough to be challenging but light enough to enable you to maintain form throughout all of your reps. Squat down between your legs as deeply as possible without pain; ideally, your elbows should touch your legs. Keep your chest and head up with your back straight. Return to the starting position. Repeat for desired number of reps.


Twisting stretch cool-down

This cool-down stretches chest, leg, hip and back muscles used during your workout.

From a seated straddle, fold your right leg in toward your groins. Rotate to line your chest up with your straight left leg. Exhale as you stretch over that leg, reaching your right hand under the outside of your left calf. Inhale as you twist to the left, reaching your left arm straight back behind you. Hold for five long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Family high-five

What better way to close out your workout than with a celebratory family high-five?


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