Summer fun can be a blessing and a curse. The lack of routine is tough for parents trying to keep a family schedule including their own exercise routine, but it can be hard on kids, too.

A 2014 CDC survey of research on childhood obesity concluded kids are more likely to gain weight in summer, simply because meals and activity are less structured. Despite every parent’s plea to go play outside, the kids end up playing video-games.

Brian Grasso has found the key to keep families moving in the summer and beyond. Grasso is co-author of “Total Body Breakthroughs,” CEO of the Mindset Performance Institute, former founder of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) to certify trainers to work with young athletes, former coach to elite athletes in the United States and Canada, and a former amateur mixed martial arts fighter. Despite his impressive credentials and work with elite and youth athletes, Grasso’s insights had to pass the test with his now 12- and 10-year-old kids.


Grasso has found the secret to keeping everyone off the couch is play – not just for the kids, but the whole family. “There are two rules and a formula,” he explains. “It’s counterintuitive, but a little rigor is necessary to make sure that the fun part of play naturally follows.”


  1. Make play mandatory. There are a few areas where parents must rule: Nutrition is one, and activity is another. Grasso recommends starting with 20 minutes of play a day.
  2. Lead by example. Grasso is emphatic: “We can’t ask our children to do what we don’t. So don’t tell them to go outside and play; go out and play with them. And if you’re active and your kids are not, enforce rule number one.” He points out that parents who don’t ask their kids to join in could be instilling a habit of observation instead of a habit – and even love – of physical activity.


If the idea of forcing your kids and yourself to play doesn’t inspire you, Grasso says not to worry. He adds that adults who think play doesn’t sound demanding enough are bound to be set straight by a game of tag: all those sudden stops, explosive starts and pivots will leaving you breathing pretty hard, pretty fast.

There are three components to Grasso’s time- and kid-tested formula for starting a family play habit this summer.

Make it fun. Grasso points out that “fun” activity does have a few requirements to keep it from becoming boring.

  • Be prepared and willing to be silly. Quite simply, he says “it means a lot to your kids.”
  • Set a time limit, starting with 20 minutes. Grasso explains the psychology of the time limit is that it lessens the required part of play – it’s just 20 minutes.
  • Have a game plan starting with one or more games. Grasso points out that play without a plan can create pressure and frustration that sounds a lot like boredom. (“What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”)

He also advises making play a regular appointment – play at the same time every day. “Stick with it for two weeks, even if it’s just asking everyone to show up at the appointed time. In about a week, they’ll be likely to be willing to try something since they’re already there.”

Make it imaginative. As adults, we tell ourselves exercise has to be regimented and performed a certain way. “That’s okay,” Grasso says. “Just trust your ability to reconnect to your instincts, and focus on creating collective play.”

  • You make the first move, then ask the kids to make the next move. They’ll teach you how to play again.
  • Remember that play does not include judgment. Grasso says, “Try it one way, and if it doesn’t work out – it’s not challenging or it’s not “fun enough” – that’s fine. Just try something different. That’s what children do.”

Make it multiplanar movement. Grasso points out that play is not sitting on machines and pushing or pulling weights, or moving in a straight line on a treadmill or elliptical machine. He continues, “As adults, we truly need multiplanar movement – or movement in all directions – because our bodies are built for it, and we if don’t use it, we lose mobility and stability.” So especially for the grownups’ sake, Grasso says games need to involve four elements:

  • Balancing
  • Crawling
  • Bending
  • Reaching


“Our family started playing when the kids were small,” says Grasso.

“We made it a habit that extends to family trips, where my wife gets out the GPS and we make it a point to seek out local parks and playgrounds to explore. The kids’ play has evolved to reflect their growth – and they’re keeping it lively for us by adding new challenges.”

Familiar games like freeze tag and “Simon Says” are easily adapted to Grasso’s formula. There are some basic rules (a leader who gives commands or takes action and the players must obey), and there’s plenty of room to get creative without getting complicated (tag players must freeze with one foot off the ground and hold it for 10 seconds).

Grasso has long made play not only a part of his family routine, but also a component of his seminars and workshops for fitness leaders and professionals: “One favorite, ‘Scramble to Balance,’ is just as engaging – and fun – for four as it is for 800.”



  • Choose a leader.
  • Everyone lies down on their bellies with eyes closed.
  • When the leader says “go,” everyone – with eyes closed – scrambles to get up and balance on one foot.
  • Change the leader, and let the new leader change the challenge: scramble to balance with hands on head, and so on.

No equipment or skills are required in the kind of play that Grasso recommends, and the rewards can extend past the summer to healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Find more of Grasso’s game ideas here.