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He Ain't Heavy

Exercising with kids.
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Harnessing the Imagination

"Imagination is the key," says Al Green, ACT, a former University of Kentucky athletic trainer who now runs Human Performance Solutions (which provides athletic training services to schools and special events) in Winter Haven, Fla. "There are a ton of things you can do with children, depending on their age and where you live."

A sense of playfulness, he says, is crucial. "Try tag games," he says. "Or do agility exercises around the child." Instead of running around a cone, he explained, make your child stand still and run around him or her. Or if your kids are a little older, play fetch with them. "The kids throw the ball, and you have to retrieve it as quickly as possible."

At our local park, I invented a game of tag, in which I had to repeatedly tag each of my big girls, one after the other. They soon learned to spread the field and make me work. Sheila King, MS, who coordinates a program in fitness instruction for the University of California Los Angeles Extension, had another idea. "Kids need to see you being active," she says. "So run around the perimeter of the park. Every fifteen minutes, run to the sandbox to say hi to the kids."

And if there's a sudden crisis, a tumble off the low slide or a sand-throwing incident? "Then it becomes interval training," King says with a laugh.

A Gym Is Where You Find It

What's more, you can always use the playground equipment for your own workout. Marianne Goulding, MS, who served as resident expert for the popular videotapes Mom-O-Rama Workout With Baby and Mom-O-Rama Workout With Toddler (Brainstormes Unlimited, Inc.), suggested doing chin-ups on the monkey bars, step-ups onto a slide, and triceps dips using a bench.

I was skeptical, but I found that the playground's colorful structures worked surprisingly well as a makeshift gym. Every playground is different, of course, so you have to be creative. Mine had swinging grips, like gymnasts' rings, that I used for pull-ups and a series of toadstool-like stepping-stones that I used for triceps dips.

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