So here’s the answer to whether or not obese kids should do pushups:
This should be based on a case-by-case standard. There are interesting variables.
In general, as a fitness expert and former personal trainer, I’m not a proponent of obese people (children or adults) doing pushups.
Pushups are extremely difficult for obese adults and kids to perform. People of normal weight, who are not in good condition, will struggle with these.
Thinner people as well, lacking upper body strength, will flounder.
So why would you want to make your obese child, then, learn to do pushups?
I can think of only one circumstance under which this should be considered: martial arts training.
Visit any “hard style” martial arts school, and you’ll quickly see that pushups are a staple exercise for kids, including in the beginner class.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for kids to be required to knock off a certain quantity of pushups as part of their belt testing, and obese students are not excluded from this requirement.
But outside martial arts training (of which I myself have had years of, and hence, know what is expected of children of all sizes), I see no practical reason to make obese kids do pushups.
I’d rather see them jogging laps, hiking, swimming, playing basketball, and of course, learning martial arts, where they will be struggling through plenty of pushups.
If you want your obese child to get serious about exercise, then figure out what kinds of exercise he or she will easily adhere to.
Pushups will not be one of these, guaranteed. If an obese child must valiantly struggle with an exercise, finds that it’s very uncomfortable, and despite a lot of effort, still fails to complete one, let alone several, repetitions, he or she will not want to stick to this type of exercise and will be seriously discouraged.
Pushups are likely to cause this reaction in overweight children.
On the other hand, few obese children cannot jog from point A to point B. Get them jogging.
They’ll quickly get winded, but at least they actually performed this exercise.
Thus, their goal won’t be the actual performance, but rather, duration: sustaining a jog down the street, and then adding onto that with sections of the block, or local track, or time spent on a treadmill (no holding on).
Overweight kids should be encouraged to ride bikes, hit and throw balls, jump rope for fun, dance, roller blade, etc.
They will not struggle to do these activities, with the exception of the initial balance issues with roller blading, or need for swimming lessons.
But pushups for obese kids? What would be the purpose?
If you want your older obese child to get into strength training, I’m all for this, but this can be accomplished with strength training equipment, dumbbells and barbells. Any heavy child can work out with weights and resistance machines.
But pushups will likely make obese kids feel like weaklings, like they’re too fat to exercise, and that it’s hopeless to exercise.
They’ll have an “I can’t do this!” approach, whereas, with walking, jogging, hiking, etc., they’re actually succeeding by performing the activity, albeit initial short duration.
And of course, they’ll have no problem getting through a sensible strength training session with light dumbbells and light weights.
If your obese child, however, is sincerely interested in mastering pushups, then by all means, encourage it, but within reason, as overtraining can harm shoulder joints.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.