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What Happened When I Tried to Work Out with My Wife and Kids for a Week

Having kids see parents being intentionally active is surely a good thing, but pushing anyone without a break is misguided in both exercise and life.

fatherly logo The Experimental Family

My two boys were excited when I told them my plans for a daily family workout routine. They were so excited, in fact, that the two immediately started demonstrating how great they were at push-ups. The 4-year-old’s version looked more like he was doing a stationary “worm” dance move — pushing his torso up as his hips remained in contact with the carpet.

“That’s not how you do a push-up,” his 7-year-old brother corrected. He positioned himself on hands and feet, as if doing a bear walk, and thrust his pelvis downward sharply several times. He looked over at us triumphantly. “It’s called ‘Awkward Dog,’” he said confidently.

If these shenanigans were any indication, the next week of workouts promised to be a hot, hilarious mess. Not so much.

The workout we were using came courtesy of an exercise program called Double Time from P90X creator Tony Horton. The program was appealing because it was marketed for families and the exercises relied on the use of a partner and an exercise ball. The Double Time video even featured big adults working out with small kids while Horton joked and motivated. Perfect.

The night before our first workout, my 7-year-old warned us all he would be up early to get us out of bed. The next morning, at 7 a.m. however, his enthusiasm was muted. In fact, everyone’s enthusiasm was muted, except for mine. I bounded down the stairs to the family room, shoved the coffee table to the side, and turned on the DVD. My sleepy family followed. My wife offered a sarcastic fake laugh of excitement as the upbeat workout music erupted from the television.

On the third day, everything began to break down. 

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The trouble began not with my boys, but with my wife. She’s not particularly coordinated, which caused considerable confusion and frustration as we tried to move from exercise to exercise in the cramped downstairs space. The confusion was heightened by the boys, gleefully running between us passing their ball back and forth as they tried to mimic the people on the screen.

Eventually, it all became too much for the 4-year-old, who began to shout: “I want to do my own exercises!” Before slumping down on the floor, crying, and scowling.

Despite the chaos, the rest of us persevered through the 17-minute workout. By the end, we were sweaty, breathless, annoyed with each other, but moderately proud. The rest of the morning went off without a hitch.

The next day, we opted to not wake the 4-year-old and instead modified the Double Time exercises so they could be completed by three. The 17 minutes were far easier. My wife even managed a genuine laugh in the face of strain as she felt more comfortable with the movements. In fact, for the rest of the day, she seemed energized. As did the 7-year-old. Perhaps this whole workout thing would ultimately work out for the family after all.

But on the third day, everything began to break down. Upon waking the 7-year-old, he grumbled and asked if we could skip it. I told him we could not. He grumbled and placed himself on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and unwilling to participate. The 4-year-old who had insisted we wake him up after leaving him out the day before joined his brother on the couch in his own blanket and stayed there for the duration.

It was unreasonable to think that my low-key family, none of whom had been in a gym in years, would be prepared for a week of intensive workouts. More than that, I’d forgotten the importance of rest days. 

I wasn’t particularly upset they were sitting out. It made the workout easier for my wife and I. But our bodies were sore and unaccustomed to the daily activity. We huffed and grunted through the 17 minutes of painful exertion. I shouted encouragement to my spouse. The boys shouted encouragement to both of us. We made it through, but barely.

That evening, my wife’s back seized up. She had to take a muscle relaxer and go to bed early, leaving me responsible for night time duties. The next morning, no one would be roused. The experiment had ended prematurely in sore muscles, a jacked up back, two sleepy children, and failure.

I take much of the blame. It was unreasonable to think that my low-key family, none of whom had been in a gym in years, would be prepared for a week of intensive workouts. More than that, I’d forgotten the importance of rest days. Instead, I drove my family into the ground with my zeal. Moderation would have been better. It’s always better. And I’m not great at it. Not just in exercise but in life. Weirdly the week of workouts showed how misguided my lack of moderation can be.

Either I’m all in or all out. If we’re not eating healthy every day, then I throw up my hands, say what’s the use, and plunge into weeks of pizza orders. If we can’t keep the house clean every day, I wallow in frustration and allow the place to become cluttered. I never allow my family a middle ground. It is “do or do not.” And like a week of morning exercise, the good intentions can’t keep my wife and kids from burning out.

Some of that burnout comes from not allowing them to get acclimated. Nobody is perfect from the outset. Like my wife, we have to find our footing and rhythm. And even after we’ve found it, we need to take a moment to reflect.

We need rest days. Not just in workouts, but in everything. We need time to acknowledge our intentions remain good even during an intentional stasis. Because the rest time, as much as the effort, is what allows us to get stronger. At the end of the week, I’m determined to work out with my family again. But this time, with rest days in between. And I’m determined to bring that same moderation into the rest of my life, too.

Hopefully, it will make us stronger in more ways than one.