American Ninja Warrior Competitor Amy Linnen on Keeping Kids Active

Amy Linnen, Photo: Courtesy Linnen
Amy Linnen, Photo: Courtesy Linnen

With kids stuck inside staring at screens a lot more than usual as of late, East End parents have been on the hunt for new, creative ways to keep the family active and healthy. With a master’s degree in health, nutrition and wellness and bachelor’s degrees in communication and physical education, Amy Linnen is something of an expert on the subject. Her long athletic career has bestowed many titles upon her including two-time American Ninja Warrior competitor, Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge competitor, NCAA National Division 1 collegiate record holder and two-time champion in women’s pole vault, U.S. Olympic Trials finalist, Pac-10 champion and Athlete of the Year, two-time Sag Harbor Paddle for Pink champion, two-time Riverhead Paddle Battle champion, Warren Miller Ski Cup winner, New York State health and physical education teacher, surf instructor, nutrition coach and yoga instructor.

What are some basic exercises that parents and kids should keep in their weekly/daily routine to remain healthy in quarantine?
Keep it simple with body weight exercises and functional movements—jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, jumping rope, running in place, planks, mountain climbers, jumping side to side, jumping forward and back, shoulder taps, squats, lunges, calf raises, balancing on one foot, side planks, wall sits, dancing and stretching.

Functional body weight movements— for example push-ups, sit-ups, squats and burpees—are my go-to. They cover all the muscles in the body, and they are easy to do in any space. Running, walking, riding a bike, climbing up and down the stairs, roller skating, jumping rope, skipping and hopping are great to incorporate into a daily routine. I would recommend trying to combine both functional body weight movements with locomotor movements. For example, pick two exercises from the list. Select a time, starting at one point in the house do 10 push-ups, skip from living room to kitchen up the stairs to the bedroom and do 10 sit-ups and repeat for 10 minutes. Make it fun, keep it simple, but continue to change it over the days to keep it interesting and work different muscle groups. Workouts do not have to be an hour long; five minutes of work is better than none.

What are some fun activities parents can do with their kids to keep them active that may not seem like exercise to the little ones?
I have been posting ideas on my YouTube channel, but one idea I thought was fun was hopscotch. Another idea is the word of the day game. Pick a word—for example we are hearing the word “mask” a lot right now—every time you hear the word “mask” you and the whole family do an exercise.

The freeze game is a great game. Play your favorite song; pick a way to move, and when the music stops people have to freeze. If people do not freeze you can add an exercise as a consequence. I am also a fan of musical chairs. Fly a kite! If you don’t have a kite, make one and see if it flies. Little ones will have to run to keep it up! Learn a new yoga pose! Scavenger hunts! Running bases! Everyone is it tag! Just Dance! Hula-hoop! Jump rope or double Dutch! Twister!

How often would you recommend families go outside for walks, sun and fresh air?
I encourage everyone to get outside at some point every day. Do a little bit of yard work, dig holes, plant flowers, rake the yard, play with the dog. Get creative! Take pictures, paint, teach little ones to tie their shoes, have older kids make a sundial, use your imagination. Get outside and cloud bust—look at the clouds and visually watch them separate. There is also thank you hour, so I want everyone to get some time to reflect and say what they are thankful for. If nothing else, get outside and just breathe.

What are some creative ways parents can sneak healthy foods into their kids’ diets with limited resources?
Substitution is key to tricking not only kids but adults. If you enjoy pasta and sauce or mac and cheese. You can substitute regular pasta with chickpea or lentil pasta. It offers more nutrients and the best part is that kids will not notice the difference in taste. As far as the sauce is concerned, try making your own tomato sauce using tomatoes, garlic and olive oil (avocado oil is a better choice). Mac and cheese can be made with cashews and nutritional yeast. There is a recipe on my YouTube channel. Make smoothies! I suggest buying frozen berries and fruit. When making a smoothie it is easy to sneak in spinach. Spinach is a great source of fuel and goes undetected in a smoothie.

Are there any apps or online resources you recommend to help keep families on a healthy routine?
In order to keep a healthy routine, I would have a family sit down and discuss what needs to be done every day. Then, I would discuss how long it would take and what time of the day it should be done. Create a schedule for waking up, eating, working, exercising, playing, creativity, socializing virtually and bedtime.

As far as apps are concerned, I would like to share with you a few of my favorites and how I use them. First is SmartWOD. It is an exercise timer. There are four different time modalities which can help keep one from getting bored. You can vary the exercises and the time, the reps or the way one gets to workout. This variation keeps people motivated and accountable.

Another great resource is YouTube—Just Dance, POPSUGAR Fitness, Moe Jones, Little Sports are a few kid-friendly exercise platforms. My favorite is [Cosmic Kids’] Zen Den! It takes you on different yoga adventures!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Also check your school district’s webpage. The physical education staff at each district is posting ideas and lessons for all different ages and abilities across the country. I encourage K–12 graders to make an effort to check their teachers’ resources and lessons first. In the end, all the teachers want for students and their families is a sense of normalcy, fun and to make exercise/sport a daily occurrence in everyday life. It is kind of forced at school between recess and physical education class. During a time when there is no one encouraging or motivating one to move it might be more of a struggle both for kids and parents. Once people are engaged, they find themselves laughing, sweating and having fun. It is just a matter of getting ideas and executing them. I will continue to post ideas on my YouTube channel for those who might need a little extra encouragement.

I also recommend watching educational and motivational TED Talks (such as this one on how exercise changes the brain), YouTube videos and documentaries about health and fitness (here’s a simple one from TIME about exercise’s surprising benefits).

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