Family Fitness On The Sly

Family Fitness On The Sly

This week’s Sun­day USA Week­end news­pa­per insert con­tained a brief arti­cle enti­tled “How to sneak fit­ness into your children’s lives” (online ver­sion here), high­light­ing a book by Larysa Didio called Sneaky Fit­ness: Fun, Fool­proof Ways to Slip Fit­ness into Your Child’s Every­day Life.

For some rea­son, the arti­cle trou­bled me as I was read­ing it, and I couldn’t quite put my fin­ger on it. After all, any­thing espous­ing fit­ness for kids has to be good, right?

And then I fig­ured out what was bug­ging me so much.

Family Fitness Is Not Something You Should Sneak In

Fam­ily fit­ness is not the same as hid­ing the dog’s med­i­cine in his dog­food. It’s not some­thing that’s sup­posed to be good for you, yet so unpalat­able that you need to sneak it in.

Some­how, deceiv­ing our chil­dren holds a strange attrac­tion on par­ents. From Santa, to the Easter Bunny, to the Tooth Fairy — trick­ing our kids has become part of our parental culture.

One day my kids used a kit to make lit­tle col­or­ful mar­tians out of gel. When they weren’t look­ing, the mar­tians dis­ap­peared because “their space­ship took off!” For the next half hour, I would make the mar­tians keep reap­pear­ing some­where else in the house when the kids were look­ing the other direc­tion so that they could be redis­cov­ered to squeals of delight moments later.

The kids had fun with it. We had fun with it. But I don’t think our kids will grow up into adults who believe that lit­tle mar­tians really did fly around our house that day.

I also don’t think that par­ents expect their kids to grow up believ­ing in Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or Lep­rechauns, or all the other cute lit­tle pranks we play on our inno­cent chil­dren. So if we expect our kids to fig­ure out our sub­terfuge as they mature and grow out of it, then why would they not also “grow out of” our fit­ness subterfuge?

If the only way you can get your kids to stay fit is by sneak­ing exer­cise into their lives, what hap­pens when they grow up and move out? Par­ents should be prepar­ing their kids to live their lives on their own by help­ing them learn how to make good choices, not by push­ing our choices on them through stealth.

Fam­ily fit­ness should be some­thing fun! It should be some­thing you want to do with your kids, and also some­thing that your kids want to do with you. It’s not just about doing it because it’s good for you. It’s about enjoy­ing activ­i­ties together, and enjoy­ing a health­ier lifestyle together.

So How Do You Make Family Fitness Enjoyable?

On this count, the arti­cle pretty much has it right — cre­ate fun chal­lenges; give them the tools (although I don’t par­tic­u­larly see how replac­ing dining-​​table chairs with fit­ness balls could pos­si­bly end well); and be fit together.

I think the more open you are with your kids about fit­ness, the more they see you liv­ing a healthy lifestyle, and the more you include them in your activ­i­ties, the more you will all enjoy fit­ness together.

Peo­ple are catch­ing on. Peo­ple want to have fun with their fam­i­lies and they want to have healthy fam­i­lies. Fam­i­lies want to do fun and active things together, and more and more resources are becom­ing avail­able to help fam­i­lies do just that. (In fact, there’s a great web­site in my blogroll focused entirely on how to make fit­ness fun with your family.)

Take a walk with your kids, play tag, go ori­en­teer­ing together, go on a bike ride, go swim­ming, set up an ad-​​hoc obsta­cle course in the back­yard. Do any­thing, just do it together. Your kids will keep beg­ging you for more, and you won’t have to sneak it in.

In all fair­ness, I haven’t actu­ally read the book in ques­tion (and, frankly, am not adding it to my book list after this arti­cle), but I ask any­one who has to please com­ment below with your views. And if you have some cre­ative ideas for includ­ing kids in fun and healthy activ­i­ties, please share them in the comments!

Running Shoes Can Not Save You From Bad Form

You’ve heard the con­ven­tional wis­dom. Do you over­pronate? Get a motion con­trol shoe. Do you under­pronate? Get a cush­ioned shoe. Do you have knee prob­lems? Get fit­ted for orthotics. In fact, it seems there’s a shoe or an insert for every pos­si­ble gait problem.

But is it really the shoes? Recent stud­ies using con­trol groups have actu­ally “…found almost no cor­re­la­tion at all between wear­ing the proper run­ning shoes and avoid­ing injury.” In fact, run­ners who used the “cor­rect” type of shoe in the stud­ies actu­ally had a higher inci­dence of injuries than run­ner who didn’t.

So how do you make sense of this data? Here’s our take on it. When you use your run­ning shoes to com­pen­sate for bad form, you actu­ally train your feet and legs to run worse. If you buy cush­ioned shoes because you’re a heel striker, the shoes make it OK to heel strike and over time your heel strikes harder and harder.

If you buy motion con­trol shoes because you pronate, the shoes do all the work for you so the mus­cles that would nor­mally keep your feet from pronat­ing get even weaker and your over prona­tion gets even worse.

So what can you do?

Do Not Fix Your Shoes, Fix Your Form

Yes, you can prob­a­bly fix your form by run­ning bare­foot — but we don’t think you need to. We think you can improve your form and reduce injuries and prob­lems by sim­ply fol­low­ing these two pieces of advice:

  • Go nat­ural — By this we mean get off the pave­ment. Run on grass. Run up hills. Run on trails. Run any­where that the sur­face isn’t flat. Uneven ter­rain will force you to run with a more respon­sive gait. In time, this will develop all those mus­cles that have atro­phied from years and years of motion con­trol and flat pave­ment. It will be hard at first, and you should start slow. But in time you’ll notice the dif­fer­ence. Besides, isn’t pave­ment get­ting bor­ing for you? We would sure like a change of scenery!
  • Shorten your stride — We think that you are heel strik­ing, and suf­fer­ing from shin splints, knee prob­lems, and other mal­adies because your stride is too long. When your feet land in front of you, you are overex­tend­ing your joints and mus­cles. Also, when your feet land in front of you, the only way they can land is on the heel. The heel is not made for gen­tly absorb­ing shock — it trans­fers the shock right up your legs and through your body.If you shorten your stride so that your feet land under­neath you, you’ll find that you will dra­mat­i­cally reduce the impact on your heels. You’ll move more quickly onto the balls of your feet, and you’ll have a bet­ter push off to start the next stride. To help your­self achieve this form, lean for­ward slightly as you run. Of course, shorter strides mean less dis­tance cov­ered, so you’ll need to increase your turnover. Over time it will start to feel more nat­ural, and the reduced impact will trans­late into less train­ing time lost to injury.

So can we be friends again? Take care of your feet when you’re not run­ning, and they’ll take care you when you are. Pay atten­tion to improv­ing your form by short­en­ing your stride, and you’ll reduce the impact of each step on your body. And finally, take it slow. Add dis­tance grad­u­ally when you train and lis­ten to your body.

Let’s go for a run!