As a trainer, I’m fascinated by movement patterns and how they develop from the day we are born. As an uncle, I’ve been enthralled with how my nieces learned to move from tiny newborns to running, jumping, and climbing kids. This got me thinking, “What are the best and worst exercises for children?” In other words, what are the best things all children should do as they grow into young adults? After enough thought I’ve come to the following list (in no particular order):
CRAWLING: You’re probably wondering why kids should still be crawling after they’ve learned to walk. I asked myself the same question until I read several studies and reports highlighting the crucial nature of crawling, including Adolph, Berger, and Leo (2011), Haring (2009), and the California Department of Education (2014) — all of which are linked at the end of this article.
In summary, toddlers who took a longer time to learn how to walk have better body awareness, balance, bilateral strength, and brain development. These importants made them better at sports than peers who had learned to walk earlier in their infancy. Really – check out the articles for yourself! No surprise, more crawling enhances these aspects in addition to becoming a calorie burner and muscle builder. Go ahead, crawl around the house for 60 seconds and let me know if it’s still silly. Bear crawl, crab walk, spiderman crawl, inch worm… be creative!
PUSHUPS: Let’s be honest, these are the staple of nearly every workout regimen. They develop solid upper body pushing strength (deltoids, triceps, pectorals) and core stability (obliques, abdominals). Multiple hand placements and body angles can alter the difficulty of this exercise to make it beneficial to your upper body strength for years to come.SQUATS: Second to crawling, the squat is one of the very next movements we learn as infants. Why is squatting so important? Ever see people in third-world countries sit on the ground? More than likely you saw them sitting in a squat position, and fairly comfortably I might add. They’ve been using the squat to pick things up and rest their entire lives. In developed countries we don’t squat after kindergarten. We sit in chairs. The results? Nearly 80% of the American adult US population has a back problem. And third-world countries? Less than 15%. To quote Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”
PULL-UPS: Remember being a kid and climbing on the neighborhood tree or hanging around the monkey bars on the playground? You were creating incredible upper body PULLING strength. Try hanging from a monkey bar now. Can’t do it? More than likely you can’t do a pull-up either. Aside from making you incredibly strong, pull-ups help balance out your body by stretching your pulling AND pushing muscles so they don’t create PAIN as you get older. I love pushups but if your child neglects pull-ups you’re only going to wind up with a very imbalanced child who will get hurt down the road.
HANDSTANDS: Kids LOVE being upside down. Go ahead, pick your kid up (carefully) and turn them upside down. They’re probably smiling and laughing their faces off. Why not make it more beneficial? Have them place their hands on the ground and kick their feet up on the wall. You can also hold their legs. Kids who study gymnastics learn to balance upside down so well that walking on their hands is about as easy as walking on their legs. Improved balance, upper body strength, and body awareness will pay them dividends as they grow and play sports.SPLITS: A great deal of the lower back pain most Westerner’s suffer is due to tight hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh muscles), and hip flexors. Splits will greatly reduce back issues your child may face as they grow up by keeping these muscles mobile from a young age. In addition, flexible hamstrings, hip adductors, and hip flexor muscles will make other exercises and movements easier on their bodies. Goes without saying, when you’re flexible you can do more with your body.
FULL BRIDGES: Sounds weird but hear me out. If you can perform a nice, full bridge without pain, you are incredible mobile and strong. Hip flexors, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, latissimus dorsi (back), pectoralis major and minor, deltoids, and wrist flexors are very mobile AND strong. All this in one simple movement! Well, maybe not simple if you can’t do it. Make sure you kids do them weekly.
RUNNING: Do I really need to explain this one? Heart health, lung capacity, leg strength, fat burning… oh and let’s not forget FUN! Running was fun as kids and we stopped because someone of authority got mad when we ran. We associated running with being bad and that has made us lazy. Let your kid run! They’ll be happier and studies have shown running, or any physical activity for that matter, improves analytical thinking and cognitive responses. In other words, they’ll be healthier AND smarter.
– Joshua Jarmin
- Developmental Continuity? Crawling, Cruising, and Walking
- Perceptual and motor development domain
- Why is crawling developmentally important?
- What’s so important about crawling?