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Emily Scott: Five ways to include your children in your exercise

Author: Emily Scott (BsKin’12, BBA'21)

Posted on Feb 22, 2022

Category: Kinesiology , Insights , Management

Photo: Tori Claire Photography


Emily Scott (BsKin’12, BBA'21) is a two-time UNB graduate, a kinesiologist, holistic nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer through the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology. She's also a mom of two, a runner, weight-lifter, and health advocate.

In 2014, as a woman who had been athletic my entire life, I approached my postpartum fitness intentions with a wildly optimistic plan. I was a personal trainer and had a home gym equipped with the works. Paired with my seven years of dedicated weightlifting, I had everything I needed to fit exercise into my maternity leave without leaving my home. "I'll exercise while baby naps or after they’re down for the night", was my genius plan.

By now, every mother reading this is likely empathetically giggling at these great aspirations of mine. After many failed attempts, I got tired of baby waking the moment I'd finish my warmup and thus, I entirely gave up trying to lift weights until I returned to work 12 months postpartum and he went to daycare.

In 2017, with my 4 month old baby pushing 20lbs, I had an epiphany... if I couldn't train while they slept, why not include them?

Jump forward to 2022 and I'm about to wrap up the most fun five years of exercise with my two children. Here are my five top ways to include your children in your physical activity!

1. Lift them!
At 4 months old, my son acted as my "weight" while I led a "mommy and me" weight training group. He would sit on my pelvis for hip thrusts; I'd press him overhead for shoulder exercises; I'd hug him into my chest for lunge variations. For movements like push-ups and burpees, baby would lay between my hands laughing while I did the movements over him. As the boys got older and were able to hang onto me, their weight became an asset for doing back squats and forward hinges as well.

Tip: As a parent, you're going to be lifting baby multiple times a day; using them consistently as your “weight” allows you to get stronger as they get heavier.

1See specific lifts with baby/toddlers below

2. Let them choose!

Toddlers can be tricky. Affording them the opportunity to choose how they move will make the exercise sessions more successful and fun for everyone. Give them options: Crab walk or bear crawls? Piggyback squats or hip thrusts? Burpees or star jumps? Freeze dance? The floor is lava? The more fun they’re having, the more successful exercising with your little one will be.

Tip: Exercising with a young child will look different than what you’re used to. Remember, this too shall pass. Any movement is better than no movement.

3. Keep it fun!
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was left finishing my BBA with my energetic boys at home; I had to get creative. They thought I was crazy when I brought their bikes inside, reinstalled their training wheels, proceeded to elevate the training wheels off the floor, and said, “put your helmets on kids, its time to race!”. I found some mountain biking videos on YouTube and the children got to experience different parts of the world while getting hours of physical activity daily.

Throwing things in the house was another hit. Bean bags and wiffle balls make excellent in-house throwing equipment. Tossing at a pyramid of stacked boxes or throwing into baskets on the floor are fun ways to keep your children working on aim and coordination while you focus on your own movement. 

Tip: Exercise becomes easier when you get creative!

4. Get them their own gear!
Fact, the minute you start doing something for yourself, your little ones will want to be by your side. (No matter how asleep or engaged in an activity they were before you put your sneakers on).

Buy them 1-2lbs dumbbells or add a trampoline to your gym setup. Assign them one of your CoreFX loop bands or get them their own yoga mat. Anything that lets them know they are welcome in your exercise space to move with you.

Tip: Don’t spend a lot of money on their gear. They’ll likely lose interest after a few minutes and prefer to play with a toy or do piggy-back squats. However, it will show them they are welcome and normalize physical activity at a young age.

5. Train with them!
My oldest boy was 4 when he ran his first 1km fun run; we made Lightning McQueen references whenever he found an opening to pass another racer. When he got tired, I got him to chant, “yes I can” until he believed he could keep going. By age 7, he would ride his bike while I ran pushing his 4-year-old brother in the stroller; when trying longer distances, he still relied on my encouragement and was always so proud when he achieved it.

Training together allows you the opportunity to show your children consistent effort pays off. It also presents an early opportunity to teach them proper form for the movements they’re interested in. This will allow them to become more independent with their exercise (and you with yours).

Tip: Training with your children is like watching them learn to walk all over again; it’s exciting! You must remember to let them lead the pace though. Forcing an exercise on them or making them work harder than they’re ready for could reduce their desire to take part. Their interest may come and go, but my best advice is to always say “yes” when your child asks you to run with them, stretch with them, or join you while you exercise.

1Movement ideas child <1 (with head control)
Front Raises (lift baby), Military Press (press baby up), Bent over rows, Plie squats (holding baby into your chest), Lunges (baby on back), Thrusters (press baby up), Burpees and Push-ups (baby between your hands), V-Sits (holding baby), Hip Lifts (baby seated on you), Wall sits (baby on your lap).
Child 1+
Crab walks (child sitting on you), Planks/Push-ups (child on your back), Leg extensions (you on your back, child hanging onto your shins), Back/Front Squats (alternate baby on your back or front), any exercises from above until they become too heavy to maintain proper form through the movement.

Check out #ScottFamilyFitness on Instagram for family fitness ideas