Chances are that when you were a kid, you didn’t have to work hard to stay fit. Sure, your body was busy growing and your metabolism was cooking on high. But you were probably also exercising everyday. Only you didn’t know it.
Kids’ sports like soccer and basketball do a good job of getting kids to move. But when you think back to your youth, you were probably also playing backyard games with friends; games like tag, hide-and-seek, and red light, green light.
These games aren’t just fun, they’re also a great workout. In fact, I think they’re among the best forms of exercise. They are a fantastic cardio workout, they feature quick, dynamic movements, and (perhaps most importantly), they’re fun, so they don’t feel like a chore.
You might look at those games now, with their explosive bursts of speed and quick changes in direction, and think there’s no way you can do that anymore. You probably think that’s because you got old(er). WRONG! It’s because you stopped doing it. As you became an older teen, you likely scoffed at these games as being for kids. You began to appreciate sitting. You got a job where you might sit for most of the day, and then would come home and just feel like sitting on the couch watching TV. Even if you’re exercising, chances are you’re doing so with very linear movements. You might be running, but you’re likely just running steadily forward.
It’s been said that humans are the best movers on the planet. Those explosive bursts of speed, that quick stopping and then starting in a different direction, that is all part of your natural talents as a human being. Maybe you need to dust off those talents. Maybe it’s going to take some time to move slowly and get those talents working again. But those talents are there.
Below are a few of my favorite backyard kids’ games that I think are both fun and effective when it comes to fitness. If you’re training on your own, think about the movements involved and then try to simulate them in your training. Better yet, get some friends together (no matter your ages) and try playing these games. It might be a hard sell at first, but once they’re playing, just about everyone will be having a good time. Even better yet? Get your kids (or nieces and nephews, neighbors, whoever) together to play with you. Grown-ups versus kids is always a blast (especially if you talk trash). Plus, kids are pros at these games. They’ll show you how it’s done… and then run you into the ground with their boundless energy. Good luck.
(Disclaimer: These games often require dynamic movements that your body might not be used to. Make sure to stretch out well before doing them. Also, start slow, perhaps VERY slow. And, if you do talk trash to kids, make sure your mouth doesn’t write checks your skills can’t cash. I’ve learned that the hard way.)
- Toilet Tag. Any kind of tag is both fun and a great exercise because of all the running and dynamic changes in direction involved. So freeze tag, blob tag and more could all be included in this. My favorite is toilet tag for two reasons. One, when you get tagged, you need to hold a squat (like you’re sitting on the toilet) and put your arm out as the flusher. Other people unfreeze you by running by and “flushing” your arm. While holding the squat, it engages your legs and you can get a good burn in you get caught enough. The second reason I like it is, well, it’s called “TOILET tag.” What kid (or man-child) doesn’t appreciate potty humor?
- Red Light, Green Light. There are probably a few versions of Red Light, Green Light. My favorite has participants sprinting when I say “green light,” running backwards (instead of stopping) when I say “red light,” and I like to throw in a yellow light that has them either drop down and get back up, or do a full burpee.
- Memory. This might seem confusing, as the Memory game you remember probably wasn’t physical at all. However, I recently came up with a format of Memory for clients and classes that can be pretty physically, as well as mentally, challenging. On one side of the gym (or yard, or house), I pile up a bunch of heavy objects — barbell plates, kettlebells, wreck bags, buckets of rocks. (With teams, I’ve even had people carry each other.) Participants then have to carry a heavy object across the gym to where the memory cards are laid-out. On each card is an exercise (i.e. 8 pullups, 12 lunges, 10 push ups, 20 sit ups, etc.). Don’t get a match? Do the exercises on both cards. Then carry the heavy object back to the start, get another heavy object and repeat. Do have a match? Collect it (like in the regular game) and then pick new cards.
- Up Down. You need several people and many small plastic cones for this game. Divide everyone into two teams. The cones are set up in a scattered pattern around the gym, room or yard. One team runs around trying to knock over all the cones. The other team runs around trying to put the cones back up. It’s chaotic, fun, and a killer workout.
- Capture the Flag. This classic game is a favorite among kids, and surprisingly fun for adults brave enough to give it a try. Not only does it feature explosive, dynamic movements, it also requires strategy and awareness of what your competitors are doing.
- Sharks and Minnows (aka Fishy Fishy Cross My Ocean). This game is somewhat of a take on tag. Pick a few people to be “sharks.” They’ll start by hanging around near the middle. Everyone else (the “minnows”) should go to one end of the gym or yard where you’re playing. The objective for the minnows is to get from one “safe” area at one end of the gym or yard to the other safe area at the other end without being tagged by a shark. Get tagged, and the minnow becomes seaweed — they stay seated where they were tagged, but can now reach out and tag other minnows as they run by.