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!