Family workouts that strengthen bodies and bonds

Families can designate time for quick, fun workouts they do together

Dana Santas | 7/30/2015, 8 a.m.
Busy is the operative word for many modern families.
Think you don't have time to exercise? Try involving the whole family. If you have a driveway, sidewalk, small playground or park, you have enough space. Click through the gallery for a sample workout with Dana Santas, her husband, Donovan, and 6-year-old son, Luke. (Photo: Dana Santas)

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.

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.