Easy Exercises for Kids

Start with a Warm-Up

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Exercise for kids should be fun. Instead of "working out," think of it as "exercise play." That's the term used by Ewunike Akpan, who's a personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise, and also the associate manager for the mid-Atlantic region for BOKS (Build Our Kids' Success). BOKS is a school-based fitness program for elementary and middle school kids, and it's all about fun and games! Kids arrive at school about 45 minutes early, and spend that time in fun, active play. It's a fantastic way to add fitness to their daily routine. And it helps them do better in school too—both academically and behaviorally.

So what follow are suggestions for easy exercises for kids—movements and games that they'll enjoy and benefit from, and that require no equipment, or large outdoor spaces, to do. They can be done in small bursts of 5-10 minutes, or you can string several together for a longer playtime. Start with a few minutes of warm-up exercises to get muscles and hearts moving.

Basic Exercises for Kids: Running

Boy running outside with two girls in background
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Running is just about the simplest form of exercise there is, and it's perfect for kids. They love it! Kids can run outdoors, but also inside: in a gym, down a hallway, or even around (and around, and around) a large table. Running can also be combined with other moves into games, like relay races. More on that later!

Change things up while running: Vary movement patterns by having kids switch from running to skipping, or try running in place with feet very close to the ground (this is called "fast feet"). Kids can also run with high knees (lifting alternating knees toward the chest with each step) or "butt kicks" (kicking alternating heels toward buttocks with each step). Changes of direction (side-to-side or reverse) work both muscles and brains, improving kids' coordination.

Easy Exercises for Kids: Jumping

Four kids jumping
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Get those feet up and off the ground for easy exercise that kids will want to do. Jumps build muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Fun jumps for kids to try include

  • Jumping jacks: stretch arms and legs out to the side like a starfish while jumping, return arms to sides and legs to center on landing
  • Tuck jumps: bend knees and lift heels high while jumping
  • Hurdle hops: jump side-to-side or front-to-back over pretend hurdle
  • One-foot hops: lift one knee and jump on standing leg; alternate (this is a great balance challenge too!)
  • Criss-cross feet: jump straight up, then cross one foot in front of the other; on next jump, switch feet and continue

Simple Exercises for Kids: Squats and Lunges

Kids doing squats in gym
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You do them, and kids can do them too: Bend those knees (but not too far) for squats and lunges! These simple exercises build leg strength to give kids a good foundation for all kinds of sports and fitness activities. Try forward, backward, and side lunges as well as classic squats. You can also incorporate jumps into a squat sequence by having kids hop after they stand up in between squats.

Basic Exercises for Kids: Sit-Ups and Push-Ups

Girl doing sit-ups in gym class
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Hit the floor for basic exercises that work the core: Sit-ups, push-ups and planks. Kids can do traditional abdominal crunches, bicycle crunches, legs-up sit-ups, and more. There are so many variations on the classic sit-up.

Kids can also learn to do basic push-ups and planks to strengthen their upper bodies and core muscles in the abs and back. As with other exercises like squats and lunges, incorporate these into games and other exercise activities (see next step) to keep kids engaged and having fun.

Easy Exercises for Kids: Exercise Games

Kids running in gym
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To make exercise more fun for kids, turn it into a game. Here are some ideas from BOKS instructor Ewunike Akpan.

  • Squat relay: Have kids line up on opposite sides of the room, facing each other. On "go," all kids run toward the center of the room and meet in the middle. They do three squats, giving each other a high-five with both hands in between each rep. Then they return to the starting point and repeat. The focus is on the high-fives and the social interaction. If you have a large group, you could have the lines shift sideways between reps so kids meet a different friend in the middle of the room each time.
  • Corners: Divide kids up so that they each have a home corner. Then have them run around the room in a circle, On your cue, they return to their home corner and do a few easy exercises (say, 5 jumping jacks or one 30-second plank). Akpan suggests letting kids decide what exercises to do in each corner to give them ownership over their game.
  • Go Back and Hit It: On "go," kids run forward in designated lines (see photo). Then call out "Back" so they have to run in reverse. Finally, cue "Hit it!" to incorporate another skill, such as a tuck jump or squat. Again, give kids input on choosing the "hit it" skill.
  • Traffic: In this BOKS variation of "Red Light, Green Light," there's more going on on the road. Kids stop and start at red and green lights, but they also do a side shuffle for a yellow light, do bunny hops at speed bumps, link elbows and run with a partner for a "carpool," and even gallop when the cue is "deer crossing." Make up some more moves with your kids!

Finish with Stretching

Group of young kids stretching
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After exercise play with kids, follow up with some simple stretches to keep muscles strong and healthy. A stretching sequence and cool-down can also help transition kids into a more relaxed state post-workout (hey, we can dream!) and help prevent injuries.

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