Parents can have a tough time figuring out how to talk to their kids about health and fitness, especially when it comes to things like strength training and lifting weights. The subject is a bit of a Catch-22. You don’t want to be overbearing, pushing a workout routine on a kid who isn’t interested, but you also want to be able to give the right answers to help your child make safe decisions and find age-appropriate activities if they are eager to hit the gym.
Arnold Schwarzenegger tackled the topic in his most recent newsletter, answering a reader’s question about how to encourage their 12-year-old son to develop a love for training. While youth coaches and pediatricians are great resources to answer specific questions for your own kid, having some advice from the Austrian Oak himself definitely can’t hurt.
“You have to make it fun,” Arnold writes. This is great advice, and exactly what strength and conditioning expert Rick Howard, M.ED., CSCS, *D, who focuses on youth fitness and physical education, advised in a 2018 MH article. Schwarzenegger went on to suggest introducing bodyweight exercises first for their simplicity since the kid in question was just 12. That’s okay—but younger kids can lift weights, too, just as long as they’re properly coached and observed. The idea that lifting too early can stunt growth is a myth.
But how to make workouts fun is the bigger challenge. Thankfully, Arnold has more advice: use the carrot, not the rod. “When I grew up, a lot of times we didn’t do things because we wanted to, we did things because we were told to, like when my dad made us do push-ups before we could play,” he writes. “That method of parenting worked for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone.”
Instead, Schwarzenegger encourages parents to create games with built-in incentives—and a healthy amount of participation from the parent. So instead of just sitting in front of the TV with your kid, get active. “To make it more fun, get a deck of cards, and deal yourselves both a card, and decide whatever number on each of your cards is the number of push-ups you will both do during that commercial break,” he writes. “That’s also a key – to make it fun, you need to be doing this with your kids, so they see that you enjoy it and you aren’t just making them do something you wouldn’t do yourself. I think a big reason my kids love exercise is that they grew up hanging out with me in the gym. You have to be part of it. You have to enjoy it, or why would your kids?”
He raises a great point. Want some more ideas for kid-and-parent friendly workouts? Check out this head-to-head challenge from Bobby Maximus:
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