When you made your New Year's resolution to get fit as a family, you probably never dreamed you'd make it to the six-month mark. Even when the weather is perfect for exercise, you may find your motivation waning. What you need is an exciting new fitness goal to shake things up and keep your family interested in a yearlong fitness plan. Try training for a special event -- together. Here you'll find some suggestions to get started.
No matter what activity you choose, you'll need to train for it. We've included a two-week fitness schedule to follow. The best part is, it'll work to prepare you for almost any fitness goal you want to achieve.
Run/Walk Benefit Race
During summer there are hundreds of races -- some in virtually every community -- ranging from local 5K meets to national events such as Race for the Cure.
"These races are great for families," says fitness expert Jeff Bell, owner of Spectrum Wellness fitness center in Manhattan, New York. "They're not competitive -- most races will let you walk or run the course. In some cases, young kids who can't keep up on foot can ride their bikes instead. You go as a team, you cross the finish line together. It's about being out there for a good cause and enjoying each other's company."
Exercise for a Century
Taking a walking, running, or cycling trip of 100 miles, also known as a century, is a very attainable goal, as well as an impressive one.
"What kid wouldn't like to brag, 'Hey, I bicycled or walked 100 miles this summer'?" says Bell. You don't even need the whole summer. If you bicycled an average of 5 miles daily, you'd hit the 100-mile mark in less than three weeks. Walking two to three miles per day would earn you century status in roughly six weeks.
Before you start, treat each person to a bicycle odometer or a walking pedometer. A basic model of either unit can keep track of daily miles and total distance, and costs less than $20 at most sporting goods stores. "Track the distance, record them somewhere, and watch the miles mount up," says Bell.
Take an Active Vacation
Instead of hitting the road this summer, you can hit the trail on a backpacking adventure. Remember that you'll be wearing heavy boots and carrying all the gear you'll need: tents, cookstove, bedroll, clothes, food, water, and more.
"There are hundreds of cases every year of family members who get severe blisters or sprains because they didn't train properly," says Bell. The easiest way to avoid this scenario is to break out the equipment at home. Diehard backpackers will spend a month before a hike walking around the yard and neighborhood in full gear, just to see how it fits.
If you're worried about what the neighbors might think, there's an easier way to train privately: Use the stairs. Have everyone put on their boots and packs (empty at first, adding weight as fitness improves) and do 10 laps on the stairs in your house (1 trip upstairs and 1 trip downstairs = 1 lap). Work toward a daily goal of 3 sets of 10 laps of straight stair climbing; 3 sets of 10 laps of taking the stairs two at a time; and 3 sets of 10 laps of climbing the stairs sideways.
No matter what kind of activity interests you, set up a training regimen and give yourselves plenty of time to get in shape, says Bell.
"Six weeks would be ideal, but a month will work too. You need that time to get limber and flexible, and to get your cardiovascular system to the point that it can handle the demands of the activity," says Bell.
Two-Week Trainer: Week 1
The following training schedule works because it shows how to gradually change the amount of time spent running and walking over a two-week period. After that initial two weeks, you can continue to modify the walking/running times so that at four weeks, you can spend most of your time running. You'll need some things to get started:
- A journal: Get a small notebook where you can record the exercises each family member does every day and the amount of time spent doing it (remember, even walking up and down stairs or mowing the lawn counts).
- New shoes: "Don't try to run a race in the same old tennis shoes you've been wearing all year. Your feet will be hurting," says Bell. Get everyone the best shoes you can afford. For a century, running or walking shoes are good; a pair of cross-trainers will work for cycling. If you're going backpacking for the first time, each family member will need new hiking boots -- athletic shoes are no good on a trail. They'll also need at least a month to break those shoes in, so wear the boots for a few hours every day for a month before your trip. Your feet will thank you.
Week 1 Goal: Exercise every other day, work up to 20-30 minutes per day, with 5-10 minutes of warm-up and cooldown activities such as stretching and walking.
Warm-up: 5-10 minutes of stretching, light calisthenics Exercise: At least 10 minutes, walking only (young kids can ride bikes) Cooldown: 5-10 minutes, alternating stretching and walking
Warm-up: 5-10 minutes, do stretching, light calisthenics Exercise: Alternate walking and running for 20 minutes. Example: Walk for 10 minutes, run for 1 minute, walk for 3 minutes, run for 1 minute, walk for 3 minutes, run for 2 minutes. (Note: Young kids can ride bikes during the running phase, then push them during the walking phase.) Cooldown: 5-10 minutes
Warm-up: 5-10 minutes stretching Exercise: Alternate walking and running for 20 minutes, increasing the intervals spent running. Example: Walk for 5 minutes, run for 2 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, run for 2 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, run for 3 minutes, walk for 2 minutes. Cooldown: 5-10 minutes
Two-Week Trainer: Week 2
Week 2 Goal: Exercise as a group every other day. On off days, do solo activities -- bicycling, sports, gardening -- for 30 minutes.
Warm-up: 5-10 minutes Exercise: Alternate walking and running for 20-30 minutes, increasing the intervals spent running. Cooldown: 5-10 minutes
Free exercise (30 minutes)
Warm-up: 5 minutes Exercise: Alternate walking and running for 30 minutes. Example: Walk for 10 minutes, run for 1 minute, walk for 5 minutes, run for 2 minutes, walk for 5 minutes, run for 2 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, run for 2 minutes. Cooldown: 5 minutes
Free exercise (30 minutes)
Warm-up: 5 minutes Exercise: Alternate walking and running for 30 minutes, increasing the intervals spent running. Cooldown: 5 minutes
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, June 2004.