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Training with tweens

Get your child exercising by doing it together

Get your child exercising by doing it together

The old writer’s adage “show don’t tell” is particularly apt when it comes to encouraging your tween to exercise. At this stage, kids are watching and listening to their parents. And with that in mind, here are a few key points to think about when exercising with your child.

First, it is important to choose an activity that your child will enjoy. While a parent might be satisfied with a workout on the treadmill at the gym, a tween might find that boring. “Walking, hiking, biking, and skiing are all activities that work for both parent and child. The goal at this particular age is for a child to enjoy the activity,” says Joanne Woodworth, a teacher from Cornwall. 

The Hudson Valley lends itself to these types of activities with places like Storm King Mountain, Black Rock Forrest, Minnewaska State ark and Mohonk, all full of walking and hiking trails.

READ MORE: Tips to stay fit as a family

Make it a fun for all

Parent enjoyment is key, too. You want to show that exercise is an enjoyable part of life. “If you’re having fun at it and that’s coming through, that’s a really good starting point,” says Tom Polk of Kingston, an avid cyclist who often rides with his 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

Choosing an activity that is too hard for your child may turn them off. A marathon runner parent dragging a child out for a 5K will not encourage your child to exercise at their own pace. “I’ve rarely seen success stories when the parent is in shape and he’s taking the child to the gym and telling the child what to do to get in shape,” says Tim Rabb, owner of Heartstrong Personal Training. “That’s a disaster. Find a common goal to share and undertake it together.”

Polk combines a goal with a treat. “This is a key thing—always have an objective and a reward.” On bike rides with his kids, the reward comes at the mid-point of the ride, in the form of an ice cream cone, bakery treat, or snack at a scenic point. This helps his kids to remember and enjoy the trips.

Be careful of competition. “If you get into competitive games and are too competitive, you’ve defeated the purpose,” Woodworth says. Avoid over-coaching, too.  

Reasonable progression is another key aspect of exercising with your tween. “Start with something they can do, then slowly make it a little more challenging,” said Stephen Ackermann, a certified personal trainer and YMCA Wellness staff member. Always encourage them, he adds.

Polk eased his kids into cycling gradually. “We progressed through what they were physically able to do, and we kept the distances short, terrain level, and traffic contact to a minimum.” 

Create a habit

Rather than a strict exercise regimen, focus on getting physical activity. “Tweens don’t have to train at this age, they need to develop basic motor skills and basic levels of physical fitness and enjoy the activity,” Woodworth says. “Your goal should be developing the habit of being physically active every day and spending quality time together.”

Keeping it interesting for your child will keep them motivated. Raab says to try several different activities. “Pick a few and cycle through by week or month, whatever works best.” If you’re exercising at home, try mixing together different kinds of equipment and new exercises.

If you don’t hit on the right exercise at first, don’t give up. Cheryl Finnegan from New Paltz tried running with her daughter, Maddie, 12, but found that she wanted to do more than her daughter was capable of the time. Instead, they found that bike riding was something that they both loved. “It’s the best sport that I can get a workout with her,” Finnegan says. And now that Maddie has started running cross country in school, the two have talked about revisiting running together.

The ultimate bond

Exercising with your tween is about more than being physically fit. “The opportunity for communication is a huge benefit in exercising with your tween, including finding out what is going on in their lives,” says Cornwall teacher Joanne Woodworth. Besides enjoying the physical activity together, there is time for conversation. “On a chair lift, there is just you and them and you get to learn a lot about them if you’re willing to listen,” says Woodworth, who enjoyed skiing with her daughters. 

Beyond exercise, you are teaching stress reduction and helping your child be more focused. “Being a positive role model and showing kids how to deal with stress effectively is a hug part of exercising with your child,” Woodworth says. “Current research not only supports exercise to help manage body weight but also to enhance the ability to be the best learner you are capable of being.”

Joanne McFadden is a freelance writer from Charlton, NY. She always enjoys a good workout.

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