Gaspari Nutrition

Ron Harris

How to Get Your Own Kids to the Gym

How do I get my kids to work out? This is a question I get fairly often from fellow parents. The short answer is, unless they are genuinely interested in exercise, you will literally have to force them. And with any luck, they will eventually learn to enjoy it or at least enjoy the improvements in how they look and feel.

My son Christian turned 14 back at the end of September. Like a lot of kids these days, he has never been very physically active. That always boggled my mind, because most of my childhood memories involve walking, biking, hiking, climbing things and jumping off them, wrestling, and so on. I was a thin kid, but physically I was in tremendous condition. I vividly remember being on a church youth group canoeing trip to Lake George where I literally ran all the way up and down a mountain. In the summers, I rode my bike everywhere, from morning until dark. Christian has owned two bikes, yet he never even learned how to ride a bicycle.

When he was only four, I enrolled him in martial arts classes. This was something I had badly wanted to do myself as a child, but my parents refused to pay for it. Christian didn't want to go to classes, and there were many times I had to drag him, screaming and crying. I knew that one day he wouldn't hate it, and he might even start to like it. That took about four years. I wouldn't say he loves martial arts exactly, but he has earned his third Dan in Tae Kwan Do and is studying for his adult black belt test.

I knew this wasn't enough physical activity, so I put him in baseball one summer and soccer another time. Like me, he had no interest in team sports. What I was really waiting for all along was for Christian to be old enough to start going to the gym so I could train him. Right around the end of the school year in June of 2011 when he was a couple months shy of turning 12, my gym owner allowed me to start training him.

I know the assumption among many is that because Christian has grown up with two parents who are dedicated to hard training, he must have been waiting impatiently for the day when he too could pick up some iron. No, no, no. Not the case!

Just as with martial arts, he was opposed to it at the start and often tried to whine and plead his way out of working out. Not an option! The routine I started him off on is very similar to what he does now. I train him three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday (he does martial arts Mon, Wed, and Sat), full-body workouts, that usually look like this:

Knee raise 2 x 20

Crunches or crunch machine 2 x 12

Bench press* Warm-up, 3 x 6-10

or Incline press

Chin-up+ 16 reps total

or Row 2 x 10-12

Seated dumbbell press 2 x 10-12

Dumbbell curl 2 x 10-12

Triceps extension 2 x 10-12

or Dip machine

Squat** 3 x 10-12

*Chris wasn't strong enough to press the 45-pound bar until a little over a year ago. Until then, we used light dumbbells or a machine.

+Chris couldn't do a single chin-up until a year ago. Before that he used the lat pulldown. Occasionally I still let him do that. Every other workout, he alternates a chin or pulldown with some type of row: dumbbell, supported T-bar, or Hammer Strength machine.

**Chris was probably strong enough to squat the bar more than a year ago, but he lacked the balance and coordination. Until about a year ago he used a selector stack machine leg press.

Most of the reps he has done have been in the 10-12 range. Only recently have I allowed him to go heavy enough on his final set of bench presses to get only 6 reps. I don't personally believe it's safe to have a growing adolescent do very heavy lifting for low reps. I insist on good form and never let him use more weight if his form suffers in any way. As for how 'hard' I have him train, he goes to failure less than half of the time. Right now it's not about trying to get my son huge or powerful. I just want him fit and getting gradually stronger, safely.

I must state for the record that I am not certified in training juveniles and have zero experience in the realm of strength coaching. I merely put my son's routine together to give him a well-rounded overall base. In terms of how to train young athletes to excel at their chosen sports, I am fairly ignorant.

Both Christian's strength and size have increased dramatically in the last 2 1/2 years. That makes sense because he was really just starting puberty then, and he's now at least halfway done. He was probably only 4-6 or so in height then and perhaps weighed 70 pounds (as you can see in the photo I posted of me training him in the late summer of 2011). Today he is a little over 5-4 and 112 pounds. At his age, I was 4-11 and about 95 pounds. I also started puberty at least a year later than he did. I suspect him being half Cuban has something to do with that, as Latinos typically reach physical maturity faster.

But the really good news to report is that at some point about 6-8 months ago, Christian actually seemed to start enjoying going to the gym and working out. He began to notice the changes in his body, and liked what he saw. It's funny to see how the same areas that responded first for me, the chest and traps, were also the first places to show some development for him. A couple months ago he started seeing his arms begin to fill out, with a little biceps peak like his mom (mine are fuller without peaks). Christian also has a funny obsession with seeing new veins in his forearms.

My point is, you can't make your child want to exercise. But you can make them exercise whether they like it or not, and eventually it's likely that they will start to enjoy it and want to do it without your urging. Because there is virtually no physical education in public schools today and because a lot of kids are not athletic and/or active the way kids used to be before the advent of XBox Ones, iPhones, iPads, and so on, we as parents must take it upon ourselves to make sure they get enough exercise to be healthy and fit.

As for getting kids to eat healthy - sadly I can't speak from any experience in doing that! It's all I can do to get my son to eat one truly healthy meal every day.

Hope you are all enjoying your holidays, talk to you later!

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