Last December I finally decided to add a strength-building routine to my fitness schedule. I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years and also walk four times a week, but I’ve never been able to maintain the discipline of weight training—until I met Patty McLucas.
Patty is co-founder of Breathing Room wellness center in San Mateo and a personal trainer who works with people in their home. She came to my home and we went for a brisk walk. While we were walking, she asked me about my fitness goals. By the time we got home she had developed a personalized program for me. She demonstrated eight strength-building exercises and then watched me practice them. I committed to doing them twice a week and began to enjoy this new discipline. My upper body felt stronger and I could see improvement in my arm strength.
In March we met again and Patty added some new exercises. When I told Patty that I like to get down on the floor and play with my two granddaughters, she suggested some fun strength-building exercises to do with them. Most kids pursue strength-building activities on their own—swinging on the monkey bars, bicycling, jumping, and swinging. However, there are additional activities that grandparents can do with them to help strengthen the core of their bodies.
You remember these! If you demo one or two, your grandchild will pick them up quickly. If it feels like a stretch for you to get the proper rhythm after all these years, take it a step at a time: begin with arms straight and pointing toward the ceiling overhead, legs together. Then hop into an ‘X,’ then hop back into starting position. That’s all there is to it. Your grandchild may be doing 5 to your 1, and that’s fine! Remind both of you to keep your bellies pulled in tight.
Have your grandchild lie on the floor on her tummy, then raise her torso by placing straight arms on the floor, palms down. Now, by bending your knees, squat down and grasp the child’s ankles in your hands, raising the rest of the child’s body until it’s parallel with the floor. Your grandchild has now become ‘a wheelbarrow!’ Have them walk forward by ‘stepping’ with their hands as you follow along, still holding the ankles. (Be sure to bend your knees as you follow to protect your back.) Your grandchild may not be able to do this for very long in the beginning (and you both may be laughing hard enough to add to the difficulty!) but if you continue to practice, the length of time the child is in the air will increase. Encourage him or her to pull the belly in.
Place two chairs with the backs against a wall for stability. Each of you face a chair, bend forward, grasp the seat of the chair with both hands. Step the feet back until the body is at a slant with the weight supported on the hands and toes. Now, keeping the hands on the chair and by hopping and stepping feet forward and back alternately, you are ‘climbing a mountain.’ This is another exercise where the grandchild may be climbing Mt. Everest with gusto while the grandparent is strolling uphill, but it’s all good exercise, both for the cardiovascular system and the core muscles (keep those bellies pulled in!). Count to 20 steps to start and build from there.
Rolling Like a Ball
These are silly, but have a surprisingly beneficial effect on the abdominal muscles. Sit with your grandchild on the floor with your knees bent and hugged close to the chest with the arms wrapped around them. Allow yourself to roll backward onto your back (not your neck or head! do not use your head as a bumper!) and then roll back up. Sometimes you don’t make it all the way and have to roll back up again (this is where the giggling starts). Each time you roll forward you will feel the abdominal muscles engage.
Whatever you do, Patty advises, always begin slowly and pay attention to how your body is feeling to prevent injury. While some of these activities will feel hard when you begin, keep going. You will be gifting yourselves and your grandchildren with the development of a strong core, increased cardiovascular capability, and best of all, shared time together having fun.