How to turn your child into your personal trainer this summer

Mary Jennings: Reframing physical activity can turn the most reluctant mover into an enthusiastic leader or coach

A few weeks into the primary school summer holidays and I hope the juggling act is going well. It can be frustrating trying to tick all the boxes of keeping young children entertained, fed and enthusiastic while also managing to do your day job and keep your sanity in check. If you are getting annoyed or disappointed that you have no time for yourself, or if you are struggling to prioritise your own fitness (and head space), you are not alone.

Why you need to move

We can spend so much time focusing on our children and making sure that they are getting the best of everything that we forget to remember that it is our own mood that dictates the atmosphere in our households. So to keep family life moving smoothly, rather than focus on all that you are missing out on, instead accept that you need to be a little more creative about how you can boost your mood, energy and fitness during the holidays. It’s time to think beyond our traditional workouts.

A new approach to training

But don’t spend the rest of the summer waiting until back-to-school time before you can reclaim your me time. While I appreciate everyone has different situations to manage at home, can I encourage you to approach your summer fitness from a different angle? If you can’t make time for your training, or get time away from your family, for whatever reason, the next best thing is to turn these little forces of nature into your mini training partners.

Making movement fun

The word exercise can often be associated with punishment, another thing on the list of things we ‘should’ do. But we have a chance to make some fun out of movement, create some adventures and teach our family (and remind ourselves) that movement can be fun. With kids in tow, we might not be able to do a consistent run or travel at a pace that we might normally cycle but that is not to say that we can’t get a good workout.


The reluctant mover

Even if you have kids that are not sporty and would much prefer to do anything else but ‘exercise’, a little reframing of what is involved can turn the most reluctant mover into an enthusiastic leader or coach. What child doesn’t want to be the boss of their parent and dictate the rules? Something as simple as a stopwatch and a whistle can get them out the door, especially if they know they are calling the shots. Even if they are not competitive themselves, they should have fun seeing you sprint and strive to meet their targets.

Fresh air therapy

An Irish summer doesn’t always bring us days of glorious sunshine but regardless of the weather let’s remember that fresh air gives us all freedom, perspective and energy. Everyone will return home in better form. We feel more alive, positive and grounded. If you try to force kids out for a walk, run or cycle, you might find it a hard battle. Remember, most of us adults have these same struggle. Avoid using words such as exercise and fitness and instead reframe your activities as adventures or games. If you are enthusiastic, there is more chance your kids can also share your positivity.

Focus on the destination

But if you focus on the destination or, dare I say it, the reward at the end, you might get a little more traction. Getting to the top of the hill, following a path they have never been or being in charge of a map can take the focus off the ‘movement’ and keep the momentum up. An occasional strategic finish at an ice-cream van always helps too! Depending on their size, bringing bikes and scooters can really help with pacing and managing everyone’s energy. Whether you end up carrying a bike home or running alongside it, either way it’s a workout!

Be open to adventure

We have to be flexible and imaginative ourselves if we want our children to follow. I know I won’t run too many consistent runs these coming weeks, but I will wear my sports bra and comfortable gear when I go outside so I’m more keen to jump, run, chase or climb should the opportunity arise. What would happen if your kid saw you attempt to climb a tree, kick a ball or jump the waves? I would be surprised if they didn’t join you. It’s up to you to take the lead and join in rather than watch from the sidelines. Rather than looking for the park benches at every playground you are dragged into, use these opportunities as a chance to move in whatever way you can while the kids run around.

Not just days out

While big adventures can be great fun, it’s often the ‘ordinary’ days and maybe even rainy days where we struggle to keep the motivation up. A garden (or livingroom) obstacle course where you have a time challenge could be a fun incentive to build a daily routine. Or could you volunteer to walk a neighbour’s dog when they are out at work? That will get you all out. What works currently in my home is my mini personal trainer setting me funny race challenges up and down the hall. Have you tried hopping across a room recently? It might not be my choice of workout but we have a laugh and it does pick me up out of a slump.

No energy days

The more energy you have, the better you will feel and the more you will enjoy these days. You deserve the summer to be fun too, summer is not just for your kids. But sometimes it can be hard to muster the enthusiasm to move even though you know you will feel better after. As I write this I am being asked to do a ‘crawling like a crab’ race (again) up and down the hall. Honestly, I don’t want to do it. I’ve done more than 10 of them already today and it’s not my natural sport! But I’ve decided to adapt to this ‘cross-training’ this summer and let the pressure of a training plan go. I know there won’t be many more years where I’ll be asked to join in. So here I go. Cheer me on.

- Sign up for one of The Irish Times’s Get Running programmes (it is free!) First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.

  • Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
  • Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
  • 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark. Best of luck!

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with