Feature Article - March 2008
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Fit to Be Hip

A Look at the Latest Fitness Trends

By Dana Carman

Child's Play

Fitness for kids isn't a new idea, but it's increasingly an important one.

Celia Kibler says she's a big kid, which is part of the reason she started Funfit Family Fitness Center in 1987 along with her sister, Maddi Cheers. The other, much larger, part was that the sisters identified a strong need for a different kind of exercise program for kids.

The program originally started through Baltimore County Recreation where Kibler and Cheers were already fitness instructors for adults. Working with a cardiologist, orthopedic surgeon, speech pathologist and early childhood educator, Kibler and Cheers created Funfit, an exercise program for kids, but one that uniquely incorporated families. "We really wanted to create a program, not just for kids," Kibler said, "but to also include the parent so it would be a family program and so that they worked together. Parents are their strongest role models, so if parents are sitting around, there go the children. Our programs were created to counteract that effect."

Kibler was also concerned with making sure her exercise programs incorporated the element of fun. Not only are physical education classes being cut, leading to a more sedentary—and therefore more obese, less healthy—lifestyle for kids, but Kibler feels that most physical education classes aren't all that much fun and are designed for kids with sports ability rather than to encourage fitness habits. Regardless of their level of fun for most kids, she feels strongly that those along with arts classes should not be among the first to get cut when budgets get tight. "Children learn better when they're able to exercise and learn creatively," she said.

Enter Funfit. Classes are available for infants up to kids age 13. Babies start at 6 months in "Crawlers" classes that encourage movement, socialization, coordination and cognitive development, and incorporate music and stories. Toddler classes or "Tots," utilize hoops, streamers, parachutes and lots of movement and games to bring the heart rate up and keep it up for 20 minutes (after a warm-up), then cool down with a march or game, followed by a story-timed stretch.

"The majority of classes are 45 minutes long and are based on an interval training concept," Kibler said. "They go slow, get themselves warmed up, do a high-activity section, then cool down."

As the children age, the structure of the classes is basically the same, so that kids get the proper warm-up and cool-down. Older kids' fitness games include some of the more traditional, such as dodgeball, tag, stick hockey and soccer play, but all are integrated within the framework of a non-competitive, stress-free, fitness-encouraging environment.

Funfit also offers a yoga program, Kung Fu and a weight circuit, which utilizes hydraulic equipment so there is no fixed load against kids' muscular or skeletal systems. (In other words, it won't put pressure on their joints or growth plates, which is why kids aren't allowed to work out in health clubs until they're fully developed.) Music and arts class are also on the roster, and special needs children are encouraged to participate in all activities.

The "Circuit" is always open and parents can take advantage of it as well. While the emphasis at Funfit is on fitness mixed with fun for a high-energy yet entertaining workout for kids, parents are a big part of the recipe for success. For the toddler classes, parent participation is required. In the older age groups, parents are encouraged to join.

Kibler said that parents get their workouts too, as well as socialization—for both groups. "It's just a lot more fun," she said. "And you fit in your workout."

She noted that in the older kids' yoga class, no parent is required, and every parent in the class participates. Another unique spin to Funfit: Families pay per child not per child plus additional cost for a parent. "I really believe it's good for them," Kibler said, "and good for their kid."

For more information, visit www.funfit.us.