As an adult looking to get in shape or maintain your fitness level, you tend to seek out a gym, a personal trainer, or group classes that will help you stay safe and accountable. I believe this is also essential for kids. Whether the goal is to lose weight, maintain or improve fitness levels, or develop a new skill, kids can also benefit from the same advantages of structured training and classes. As a trainer and the co-owner of Relentless Fitness, a gym that focuses on both adult training and classes as well as kid fitness and gymnastics, I am clearly biased. However, biased or not, I have seen countless kids transform over the last 15 years and that is the only proof I need.
Yes, your kids can play in the yard or in the park and develop gross and fine motor skills with the help of their parents. They can get strong and even make huge improvements over time. However, working with a trained coach in a structured class or one-on-one setting can be much more beneficial. At a young age kids come into the gym without their parents and learn to cope and follow instructions on their own. They develop language – when they are nervous or scared, they are encouraged to use their voice. Instead of avoiding fears and the things that make kids uncomfortable, they start at the beginning with progressions. They are shown the start of an element they know and are comfortable with before advancing it slowly over time.
I had a 3 year old client who was terrified to swing on the swings at the playground. At the gym we use the rings to swing – holding on with hands, bringing toes to the rings, and then eventually putting legs through so she was sitting, as if she was on a swing. It took several weeks to get through those progressions, but once she was willing to sit in the rings I held her and began to swing her back and forth. After 3 weeks of practice, her mother was so ecstatic to tell me that the 3 year old asked to be put on the playground swing. Using progressions over time she gained the confidence she needed to relax and have fun at the playground.
Kid’s physical progressions are essential and not jumping too far ahead is important for safety and long term improvement. If a child is forced to do something that scares them, it can set them back for a long time. Also, if something is taught incorrectly from the beginning, at some point you will no longer be able to advance. Improper basics are one of my biggest pet peeves, and without good fundamentals kids will not improve and are likely to get hurt. This is one of my main principles to coaching and holds for both my kid and adult clients. I am the progression queen.
At Relentless Fitness, we start taking children at 18 months old for our parent participation class. They learn:
- Jumping: We practice on the floor and on a trampoline. It is typical for them to use one leg because to use both is very complicated at first.
- Grip work: Hanging on bars, swinging, and bringing feet to the bar.
- Obstacle Course: Navigating a course of mats to climb over and get down, while teaching them to lead with their feet and figure out how to find their own way. As long as they are safe, I love for kids to find what works for them.
- Balance: We work on balancing on raised beams. This takes time because sometimes the fear of falling causes kids to hesitate. In those situations we work on jumping off of the beam over and over to learn how to fall and find their feet.
In addition to skills, kids learn to wait their turn, listen to their teacher, and not touch friends in class. I truly believe this is an important part of a program to teach lessons in the gym that extend to the real world. I am not saying these classes all run smoothly, but over time the transformation is pretty awesome to behold.
At 2.5 – 4 years old kids continue the same progressions from the 18 month old program and expand their skill sets.
- Trampoline: Instead of just bouncing, they learn more complicated jumps and combinations.
- Floor Work (my favorite): Every class kids practice walking and running progressions – tip-toe walks, walks on heels, straight jumps across the floor, jumping on one foot, bear crawling forward and backward, skipping, and everyone’s favorite – sprinting.
- Bars: They start to learn how to do chin up holds, leg lifts, skin the cats, and rolling onto and off of the bar.
- Balance Beam: Many of the floor walking progressions transition to the balance beam. We also raise the beam to teach them how to fall from higher heights.
- Obstacle Course: As they get older their coordination is challenged when tumbling and strength moves are added.
This may seem intense for this age group, but with proper instruction and consistency the kids really thrive. In fact, over time these motions give kids the confidence to get out of tricky situations if needed.
Another client 3 year old got locked in his bedroom during nap time. Stuck in his crib, his mother remembered seeing him climb up and over obstacles while learning to land on his feet. From outside the door, she verbally encouraged him to do the same thing to get out of the crib. “Do it like you did with Miss Marissa and climb down!” He was able to get out and unlock the door.
At 5 and 6 years old the previous progressions are still part of their workouts. However, as they show total precision and accuracy, they expand their skill sets. If someone in the class is unable to get one of the progressions, they continue to work as others move forward. It is important for kids to learn that some people are better at certain things – one kid may get ahead on one element but struggle on another. Again, this is a life lesson that is essential for kids. We are not equally talented in every area, but we all have a strong suit. Also, overcoming adversity is one of the best ways to help a child become more confident and self-aware. We are all likely to fail, but at some point we need to learn to cope and create a plan for getting back up.
Physical fitness is an amazing outlet to showcase this point. Watching kids overcome their fears and finally get that skill that they struggled with and worked really hard to achieve makes me proud to be a coach. You can see them get some swagger. No matter what age these kids are, they feel proud and for me that is the ultimate reward. Those moments will stick with them and help them when they encounter other difficult situations in life.
At Relentless Fitness, once you are 6 years old, you can choose to do gymnastics or fitness classes. We host total body class, running club, parkour, or tumbling class for all levels. Again, EVERYTHING starts with progressions. Even our most advanced kids still start with the same progressions as our 2.5 year olds. Over time their strength continues to grow, affecting them in all areas of life, both inside and out.
One of our 10 year old clients came to our gym for tumbling and strength lessons for years. She was on 2 competitive swim teams and eventually had to stop her training with us. After a year away from the gym she called to return because her swimming had plateaued. She herself recognized the importance of her cross-training and conditioning and wanted to get back so she could hit a new PR. At 10 years old, this girl had amazing self-awareness and dedication which I believe fitness and sports had cultivated over time.
I totally get that classes can be expensive and yes, your kids can play in the yard or the park with you and their friends. However, having your kids work with an experienced coach from a young age is a different experience. The focus and attention to proper movement with corrections and support can set them up for a healthy and active lifestyle in the future.
If lessons are not an option for you but you still want to get the benefits of a structured class, here are some of things I would do:
- Place a piece of tape on the floor on opposite sides of the room and practice walks, runs, jumps, and crawls.
- At the park or in your yard try hanging or make it fun with a contest – how many seconds can they hold? If they are awesome at that, start a chin up hold. Still too easy? Teach them a leg lift. Eventually create a combination for them.
- Practice walking on anything that looks like a balance beam. Once they can do it on their own see if they can march, walk sideways, backwards, or even jump on the beam.
- Find different leveled objects and help your kids jump off onto both feet, landing with soft knees and chest up. Work to land on feet without using hands, although depending on the age, this can be tricky.
- Pick a starting point for all of these activities and slowly progress upward to gauge their improvement. Always remind them how far they have come and encourage them to stay positive and work hard.
In the end we all want our kids to stand tall and proud, to feel good inside and out. I have found that through fitness, structure, and consistency this is absolutely possible. It is my mission to help kids recognize their potential at a young age so as they grow they will never become short sighted and always strive for greatness!