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David Freeze: Gotta Run

Making it fun for really young runners

Editor’s note: Salisbury native David Freeze is currently cycling from Anacortes, Washington, to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He wrote this column before setting out. Contact him at david.freeze@ctc.net

A few years back, I enjoyed being part of a program at several YMCA afterschool sites that encouraged kids to exercise. These were kids from 6 to about 12 years of age, most of them 6-10.

I recently ran across some notes about specific games and unusual workouts that these kids especially enjoyed. With kids at home for the summer and Vacation Bible School held during the summer, here are some good options to add a little fitness activity. Running is involved in some of them and all of these exercises make stronger kids.

Set up a fun obstacle course for the kids. Spread the obstacles out around a yard and have the kids run from one to the other as a timed event. It is amazing how the use of a stopwatch brings out competition.

Simple obstacles like a flipping a regular car tire or carrying a half-loaded bucket full of water or sand. For the tire, have them squat with the back straight and power the tire up and over correctly. Add some real fun by having the kid carry an egg. They’ll get a big kick out of it especially if they drop the egg or squeeze it too hard.

If you are on a playground, include the slide and the monkey bars. By recording the times, you’ll get even more effort because the kids will try to beat the best time of the day. Fast running between obstacles makes for better times and it won’t take long for the kids to figure it out how much fun this is.

Using more eggs, you could teach proper running form. Ask the kids how important they think that arms are to running. Most will say that they aren’t important at all. So start out by having the kids run with their arms behind the back holding one egg with both hands. It will be very awkward running, at best. Then do the same sprint with the hands on top of the head holding an egg. Expect a busted egg or two and some laughing when it happens.

Then, when the kids run normally with both arms swinging naturally by their sides, running will be much easier. The kids will hardly know that they ran.

One that I didn’t use then but would now is meant to build strength using only body weight. Adults love doing planks for balance and building strength. Kids will too if you can line up several kids at a time and start the clock. See who can hold the plank the longest. Or do simple pushups focusing on proper form. Most kids can only do a few but if one is all that can be completed, make the next day’s goal two.

Balance and core stability training can be really simple too. Take a 2×4, lay it firmly on the ground and tell the kids to team up, face each other and stand on one leg at each end. Then use a playground ball of any kind and get them to toss the ball back and forth. Change legs and keep going. Balance and core strength will improve quickly.

My favorite all-time kids’ exercise uses jumping jacks. I used to tell the kids that I had a national certification in competitive jumping jacks. Start out by leading them in basic jumping jacks, then start doing them one footed, eventually alternating feet. Next comes the spinning jumping jack as everyone turns clockwise. Don’t be surprised if this causes lots of good laughs because many of the kids won’t know which way is clockwise. After some moderate spins clockwise, tell the kids to do reverse jumping jacks and have them turn counterclockwise. More laughs. Then tell the kids to do it faster. A good series of jumping jacks is a great workout made even better because of all the laughing.

If you want success and buy-in with doing these exercises, join in with the kids. Every kid will try harder when the instructor does the exercise with them. I think that is where lots of coaches and parents might miss the boat. The kids look at an adult telling them to exercise without being an example. Do it with them and you might have the best time of all.

The most popular event of all was the long-planned day when I promised to race the kids. It was fantastic for everybody and I was worn out!

Speaking of the races, the next one up locally is the Two-Day 5K in downtown China Grove at 11:59 p.m. on July 29.

Read about it and other upcoming events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org

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