Family Fitness Tips – Creating a Family Plan
You’re working out a client, having a good day, and then it happens. She asks you to work with her whole family, kids and all, to help them make a plan for better nutrition and family fitness.
Don’t panic—you can do this. She’s asking for your help because she trusts you and you have expertise that can benefit her family. Embrace the opportunity and have fun with it.
Creating a family fitness and nutrition plan can be a rewarding way to help people. You get the chance to inspire kids and to bring the whole family together to make healthy choices, and even more importantly to make nutrition and fitness a lifelong priority.
Why a Family Fitness and Nutrition Plan is Important
Maybe you’re already eager to provide this kind of service, but how do you convince your adult clients that some family sessions would be beneficial? Your personal training clients probably already have a good grasp of the importance of diet and exercise, but you need to show them what it might mean to get their whole families involved:
The Best Things You Can Do for Good Health
No one wants bad health, but the news and information about good health can be confusing and overwhelming. What your clients need to know is that making good nutrition and regular physical activity a priority is the best single thing they can do to promote good health. If you strip everything else away, good health is really simple: eat well and get active. And, starting these habits early will help children make them lifelong.
It’s Easier to Keep up Good Habits Together
A study found that people who are overweight and trying to lose the extra pounds benefit from being around fit people. Among those who worked out alone, 76 percent finished the weight loss program and just 24 percent maintained weight loss. But, 95 percent of those who worked out with friends finished the program and 66 percent maintained weight loss.1 There are many, many similar studies2 that show people workout more often and longer when working out with someone else or in a group. Why not make that group a family?
A Family Fitness and Nutrition Plan Brings People Together
Maybe the best reason to develop a plan is that it means you get to spend more time together as a family. Time is our most precious resource, and many families end up getting too busy spending time on other things: work, school, extracurricular activities, sports, gaming, and so on. By making an effort to do this together, families focus their time on each other.
Defining Good Nutrition and Fitness
Your role as the trainer for a family looking to develop better nutrition and fitness habits is primarily educational. As the expert, you need to provide the information that will help them make better choices and understand those choices.
Good Nutrition is a Balanced Diet, for Everyone
Good nutrition means balancing energy, calories in and calories out, to maintain weight, and eating a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods while limiting junk food, processed foods, and foods high in fat, sugar, salt, and refined carbohydrates.
This goes for every member of the family. Parents are likely to be inspired to implement good nutrition to ensure their children develop good habits, but they need to model those habits.
Adult Fitness Needs
Educate your clients about what the minimum recommendations are for fitness. Some will be surprised to find their kids, or they even, do not meet these. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention3 (CDC), adults should get:
- Between 150 minutes and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity,
- Or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week,
- And strength training hitting all major muscle groups on two days per week.
Physical Activity Recommendations for Kids
The CDC includes separate recommendations for children of school age, approximately ages six to seventeen. They need to get at least:
- A mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity for 60 minutes per day, every day.
- Muscle strengthening activities three days per week, as part of the 60 minutes of overall activity.
- Bone strengthening activities three days per week, again as part of the 60 minutes of overall activity.
The CDC recommends that toddlers should be active throughout the day and that physical activity for them should be considered play.
Read more about getting kids active, and why fitness is so important for them, in this ISSA post.
Start a Family Fitness and Nutrition Plan with an Evaluation
As a trainer helping a family develop a fitness and nutrition plan, you need to get everyone on board. Start with a family meeting and evaluate the current status of each individual’s physical activity, fitness level, and eating habits. It’s important to know where they are starting, what they are currently doing wrong, their strengths, and where they need improvements, so you can help craft the best plan.
For a family you may not want to be as detailed in your initial evaluations as you would be for an individual adult. But some degree of assessment is important to see where everyone stands. For kids you can make it a game by going through some basic fitness tests like run/walk or cycling for cardio and some light weights and flexibility assessments. Do at least a few basic measurements, like weight, BMI, and waist girth. And ask questions about activity levels, types of activities, and sedentary time.
Knowing what this family is eating now will help you help them develop an improved plan. Start with a three-day diary. Each member of the family should complete the detailed journal, including everything they eat, the times of day they eat, and any notes about how they felt before, during and after eating. This last one is not totally necessary, but it’s not a bad idea to discuss things like emotional and binge eating to help children develop healthier attitudes toward eating and food.
Setting Health and Fitness Goals
Now it’s time to really get down to business. With an evaluation of the family’s current fitness level and physical activities and what they normally eat each day, you are ready to help them set goals. Goal setting is an art, as you know being a trainer. But your clients may not be skilled at setting goals, especially the children. Start with a discussion of what makes a useful goal:
- Goals should be well-defined and specific. Think, “lose five pounds,” rather than just “lose weight.”
- Make goals positive. Especially with children, avoid goals that are negative. Start with positives, like “eat five servings of vegetables per day.”
- Goals need timelines. A fitness goal, such as being able to run a mile, needs a deadline, like one month.
- Goals should be challenging but also realistic. You want your clients to be able to succeed, so set them up to do so with smaller goals.
- Put goals in writing. Help your family create visible reminders of goals.
Planning for Good Nutrition
You’ll have to help each family develop a nutrition plan based on their specific needs. Some may be ready for big changes, while others only need small tweaks and still others need big changes but will do best if starting out small. In general, a family should take the lead in setting their nutrition goals and planning for how to meet them. You will be their educator and guide.
Planning meals is a great way to start an overall nutrition plan. Have your family come up with their own meal plan that includes ideas for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the whole week, and then go over it with them to make any changes for better nutrition. Emphasize that not every day has to be perfect, but that over time they will learn to make better choices more often.
Meal planning leads to the grocery store. With ideas for the meals they’ll make during the week, your family can write a shopping list. Help your clients develop it into a better grocery list too. Evaluate the list and point out areas where they could improve. For instance, have them cross off fruit snacks for the kids and replace them with clementine oranges or lunchbox apples.
Get Kids Involved
A great way for kids to learn about nutrition and to develop good eating habits is to have them get involved. Let them make choices between healthy options for lunches and snacks; let them set their own goals, with guidance; and get kids in the kitchen. Cooking and prepping together is family time and promotes the new nutrition plan.
Avoid Calorie Counting
While counting calories can be a useful way to lose weight, it can make healthy eating negative for children. Eating becomes a chore, but it also places a focus on weight and body image. Children should be encouraged to focus on making healthy food choices, not on calories.
Check out this ISSA post to learn more about how to make healthy eating more affordable for families.
Creating a Fitness Plan
For a family with children, a fitness plan doesn’t need to be too detailed. Unlike working with an individual adult client, you probably are not focusing on specific body composition or weight goals. The main idea is to get them more active, so simple goals, like 30 minutes of active time per day, are easy to plan for.
What Does a Family Fitness Plan Look Like?
One idea is to plan specific activities for most days of the week, leaving one or two days open for a last-minute choice. Or, you can assign each day of the week to one family member who gets to choose what they do together.
Some clients may have more specific goals, which you can integrate into a simpler plan. For instance, a family may set a monthly goal that each member will be able to do ten push-ups in a row. Add an appropriate number of increasing push-ups to a general plan to be active each day.
Easy Ideas to Exercise as a Family
While you may want to do some structured training sessions with your client’s family, they should know that family fitness doesn’t have to always be a workout or a sport. They can get active together doing all kinds of things. When fitness is fun people are more likely to stick with it. Here are some ideas:
- Have a total house-cleaning day. Cleaning checks chores off the list while also getting heart rates up and calories burned.
- Go for a family walk or bike ride. These don’t have to be intense or long; every bit counts.
- Use step counters together and set daily goals. Individuals will be more accountable when each member of the family is part of the challenge.
- Take a yoga class together. This can be fun and a great stretching and strength workout.
- Jump up and do quick exercises during commercial breaks when watching TV together. Try push-up challenges or squat holds.
- Enjoy outdoor adventures together. Try rock climbing, hiking, geocaching, swimming, or anything else that is new for the whole family.
- Have a family dance party. It’s fun and active, enough said.
- Look for and use fitness apps together. Kids love tech, so why not use apps to make fitness more fun?
Keeping Family Fitness and Nutrition Long-Term
Making fitness and nutrition a priority is important, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Children and adults alike respond better when making changes is fun and positive. Avoid stressing negative things like losing weight or not being able to drink soda. Instead, highlight the positive—eating tasty, healthy foods and having fun being active—and these will become lifelong habits.
Accountability is also important for long-term success. Set up regular meetings with your client family to evaluate progress and goals, to set new goals, and to deal with any challenges. Rewards help people of any age keep going, so encourage your family to come up with positive rewards for goals met, like a family movie night.
Working with a family may seem daunting at first, but you may just find it’s the most rewarding type of training you do. As a trainer you have the opportunity to help families get healthier and to guide children to create lifelong, healthy habits. What could be better?
If you’re hoping to offer your services to families, check out the ISSA’s course on Youth Fitness Certification.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!
- Wing, R.R., Jeffery, R.W. (1999) Benefits of Recruiting Participants with Friends and Increasing Social Support for Weight Loss and Maintenance. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 67 (1) 132-138
- Irwin, B.C., Scorniaenchi, J., Kerr, N.L., Eisenmann, J.C., Feltz, D.L. (2012). Aerobic Exercise is Promoted When Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 44 (2) 151-159
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity Basics. November 12, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcancer%2Fdcpc%2Fprevention%2Fpolicies_practices%2Fphysical_activity%2Fguidelines.htm