Three years ago, my family’s Sunday morning routine looked more like a regular school day: utter mayhem. Mom yelling, kids grumbling and a peace-loving husband trying not to let it get to him as we hustled to get our family of five to church by 9 a.m.
When churches and most of the rest of the world shut down for the pandemic, we started another kind of routine: working out together. As a fitness professional for more than 25 years, I’m excited that our family ritual has continued even after businesses reopened their doors. Now, every Sunday morning, my 13-year-old son wakes me up and reminds me it’s time to go to the gym. Like his dad, he’s an early riser. Like my teenage daughters, I sleep late. Still, at the sound of my son’s voice, I pull myself out of bed and jump into gear, eager to sweat with my family.
While financial experts stress to families the importance of building generational wealth, I would argue that passing on a legacy of general health — with shared fitness at the core — is equally important. Of course, healthy habits begin in the kitchen, but there’s something special about sharing a physical workout with loved ones — egging each other on, seeing each other push through challenges (keeping all ability levels in mind) and then high-fiving each other over a job well done.
When the world was shut down, many families I know started exercising together. Over time, as we inched back to some semblance of “normal,” though, some of those good intentions got pushed to the back burner. I spoke with some locals who have continued to make family workouts a priority.
Getting creative online and in person
Deitra Baker, a Los Angeles mother of 3, recalls a powerful example of how isolation created space for family’s multi-generational exercise routine.
“My husband has always been into weight-training, and I like high-intensity classes,” Baker says. “During the pandemic, we lived with my parents in Texas. We were all trying to find ways to stay active. My 9-year-old daughter would go on
Zoom with her Los Angeles grandmother and pick a song so they could dance together. Before long, our daughter was leading dance parties with all of her grandparents from miles apart.”
Even when the kids are not directly part of your workouts, watching their parents’ commitment to fitness still establishes a healthy foundation that can serve as inspiration.
Natalie Gouché, a social media expert, is no stranger to technology, but instead of Zoom workouts during quarantine, she and her husband transformed their garage into a gym so they could spend quality time together.
“We would wake up early… and go to the garage for a workout,” Gouché says. “We enjoyed being able to share that time together, plus he likes to watch me do squats and I love to see him in his element. My husband is naturally athletic and gets really excited about working out.” The couple is now expecting their fourth child — a child who will be born into the arms of healthy parents.
Connecting mind, body and heart
On the heels of the pandemic, The Bay Club created what it calls a “shared membership,” which caters to families, friends and co-workers. The core membership allows a member to add up to five additional members to an account because, the club states in its promotional materials, “we know that our best times are shared with the ones we love.”
Other health-and-fitness professionals found ways to keep families active and connected within their own homes.
Alicia Easter, a certified yoga instructor, shares her experience as a practitioner who worked throughout the pandemic. “Being stuck in the house all day made us realize the importance of family bonding,” she says. “For myself, yoga is the most effective way to learn about adaptability. I found that once I began consistently practicing yoga, I was able to slow down and learn about managing reactions to situations that were out of my control. The pandemic was something that we could not control, and learning, as a family, how to adapt to these uncontrollable circumstances was essential. During the pandemic, I would teach kids yoga on Saturdays in hopes that they would be able to release the tension and restlessness of being stuck inside.”
In the midst of online learning, social media and constant access to technology, childhood obesity became a concern for many parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are 14.4 million American children who are considered obese by medical standards.
So how do we get our children who may be resistant to workouts to be more active?
Easter believes it starts with helping them make a mind-body connection. “It can be difficult for young children to comprehend their emotions, let alone put their frustrations into words,” she says. “With yoga, they can process their emotions through movement and breath work. And it’s even better when the whole family is involved. Yoga becomes a bonding activity and provides time for a family to just be present with one another for a few moments. Together, families can learn to trust and listen to their bodies.”
Now that our lives are back on high speed again, which might mean less concentrated workout time together, we can incorporate small fitness steps to help our families stay motivated. Baker shares some of her tricks. “We park far away from the entrance of the store,” she says. “We take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator, we use a [hand-held] basket instead of a [full-sized] cart while shopping. Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. People just overthink it.”
Gouché shares a helpful hint for mothers with active small children. “When we go to the park, they run around and I run around, too,” she says. “We play tag together. They are my excuse to stay active.”
Like many families, my family and I have abandoned some old routines and replaced them with ones that bring us a deeper sense of joy and connection.
Sundays are different these days. There is no mayhem, no yelling, no crying — and there is no physical church. We took out a family gym membership. While my son plays basketball and my husband lifts weights, I walk on the treadmill and listen to a streaming church service.
Our Sundays may never look the same as they did pre-pandemic. And if I’m being honest, I don’t want them to. Spending time with my family in an active and healthy environment has become the priority. At church, we used to say, “A family who prays together stays together.” We still pray together, but we have added a new mantra: “A family who trains together stays together.”
Claudine Cooper is a writer and mom of 3. She has been a health-and-fitness professional for more than 25 years.