Feature Article - November 2009
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Fit(ness) Designs

Meeting a Growing Need

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Kids & Teens

Design solutions: "When you're looking at design [with kids in mind], dual or multipurpose rooms is a fantastic way to think about it," said Chris Conti of Atlanta-based Innovative Fitness Solutions (IFS), a full-service firm that offers clients assistance with everything from business plans to facility design to equipment to management. Pint-sized patrons are not likely your primary clients (someone has to bring them!), so create flexible spaces that can also be used for more mature exercisers.

A prime place to do this? The pool. "Those have dramatically changed," said Mark Hulet, senior vice president of membership services for the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. During a series of renovations in the late 1990s, several KC Ys built two pools—one for "warm-water activities" like group exercise and lessons and kids playing, and a cooler multi-lane pool for more serious swimmers, he explained. But now one pool encompasses both.

Lap swimming has been on the decline for some time, he added, so YMCA pools focus on kid-friendly fun with zero-depth entry, spray features, slides and shallower water overall. In fact, the last four new KC Ys include outdoor spray parks, rather than pools. "They're safer and have lower operational costs, but people are still able to gather and sun," Hulet said. "This centers not just on teens and kids—they drag their parents," he explained. Multipurpose water areas cater to the whole family.

Essential equipment: The key to engaging this group is to meet them where they are—and that doesn't mean smaller sets of free weights or tiny treadmills. "I grew up watching TV, but in the middle school [aged] target demographic…they were three the first year that video games were more popular than TV," noted Judy Barker, director of product marketing for a fitness company that offers equipment with a videogame-like component. "They've been using virtual reality since they could walk and talk."

And they'd prefer not to stop when they get to the gym—especially if it wasn't their idea to go in the first place.

This is why the company's bikes include interactive screens and an array of gaming-style features, including allowing you, via a ghost rider, to visually compare your current ride to your past performance on the same route. The bikes are also part of a computer network, so if kids (or adults!) log in, they can race the willing rider of any other bike in the room. The newest member of the family is sized for the junior-high set, making it even more comfortable for kids.

Interactive video games like the Wii Fit also offer some real benefits. ACE research found that 30 minutes of Wii Fit boxing or tennis "can be an effective way to burn a couple hundred calories…about like a 30-minute walk," McCall said. "It shouldn't be the only thing you do, but it's a way to take something teens are familiar with and get them interested," he added. "Whet their appetite to help introduce them to the benefits of exercise."

On the analog equipment front, your youngest exercisers may not be ready for strength training, but balls, ramps and foam play forms can captivate their imagination and get them moving in the process, Conti suggested.