Fitness & Exercise: A Family Affair

By Meredith Haff and Cheryl Hamilton


ow often have we witnessed our children wanting to do the same things we do as adults? If the ultimate goal as a fitness facility is to promote wellness, why not involve entire families working together toward a balanced and healthy lifestyle? Teaching children good habits while they are younger will benefit us all in the long run.

While economic times are difficult for many, it is important to remember that wellness is still within our control. As a fitness facility, developing programs specifically for families can provide an opportunity for families to interact in a meaningful, constructive way—either competitively or recreationally.

It Takes a Village

A popular trend is to open up established facilities to larger communities, which allows members of all ages to work out together. The Grundy Center PE4Life Academy in Grundy Center, Iowa, for example, strives to address childhood fitness within a community wellness program.

"…[T]rends in physical education today are moving toward a lifestyle approach toward fitness," said Steve Hinderhofer. "Lifestyle approach meaning that we are looking to educate students to take care of themselves for the long term—for a lifetime. We as physical educators can provide support and guidance until students enter college. At that point we have to make sure that they are ready to take care of their bodies, minds and souls."

The Grundy Center incorporates an indoor rower into programs that are suitable for kids and adults. The rower is a durable, low-maintenance piece of equipment where the user controls the intensity of the workout. Rowing comes naturally to most children and is suitable for children as young as 6 or 7. The manufacturer offers motivational challenges at no cost that you can incorporate at your own club.

For example, the Olympic "Row to Beijing" Challenge this summer counted meters rowed on the indoor rower to move a virtual boat across the world to Beijing, China. Participants posted their meters in online logbooks that contributed to the total meters rowed. A variety of challenges like this are offered throughout the year to encourage club members to work together as a team and win prizes.

Initiate a Program

You can set up your own challenges to encourage families to work together or compete as teams against others. Choose a time frame that works best for your facility and is scheduled to give enough time to promote the event, register participants and distribute awards. Even simple, inexpensive awards (or certificates) can become cherished prizes when participants have to work for them! Choose an activity that is appropriate, attainable and fun. A pure fitness challenge (such as speed) may intimidate some members; distance or participation goals may be more appropriate.

This past summer, the YMCA of Callaway County (Mo.) issued a rowing challenge for local members to try out their indoor rowers. A 6-year-old boy rowed over 52,000 meters (or 32.6 miles) over the summer with the support and encouragement of his dad. This level of rowing and attention span should not be expected of all kids—but it gives you an indication of what it possible. It is important to provide opportunity and motivation and then let the kids find the level of achievement that is right for them.

You can start an indoor rowing program for families at your facility with just one to two machines. If the staff is not familiar with rowing, review the rowing technique online, and become familiar with the challenges, online logbook and world ranking.

Choose a simple program to create interest in rowing for families. Here are a few ideas:

  • Join an indoor rowing challenge.
  • Play the four-minute Fish Game on the machine's monitor.
    Post the scores on the wall and award the best Family of Fishermen.
  • Set up a challenge between teens and adults. This could be competitive!
  • Use the indoor rower along with other equipment. Set up an easy scoring system.
  • Set up your own challenges in conjunction with other regional or local events.

Be sure to post results of the above challenges. Most people like to be recognized. A few pictures on the wall go a long way. If possible, provide small prizes or other fun incentives for accomplishments. Start out with an easy challenge to see how families respond. Requesting their feedback will help you develop the next program.

An important part of any family program is to recognize the diverse definitions of "family" you may encounter. Rowing is appropriate for all ages and allows all ages—even grandparents—to participate. At some clubs, it may help to pair children up with teams to give them the opportunity to participate. Family fitness nights and annual health fairs can encourage parents to think about wellness programs for their entire families.

Investing in the health of our children is an investment in our future.


Meredith Haff joined Concept2 in 2007 in the role of Marketing - New Customer Development. Rowing has become a family affair for the Haffs: Meredith rowed competitively in college, and her parents have been cranking out meters on their indoor rower since 1999.
Cheryl Hamilton joined the customer service group at Concept2 in 2001, at which time she learned how to row on and off the water. She has had an ongoing interest in public health and fitness since her college years. For more information, visit

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