As I stood in line, waiting for my turn on the uneven parallel bars, I prayed fervently to be saved by the bell. Anything to put this dreaded moment off. I was a clumsy, slightly chubby 16-year-old drowning in self consciousness.
School gym class, for as long as I can remember, was something to be endured, not enjoyed. Growing up in Chicago, I was an active tomboy who played Red Rover and Running Bases with the whole neighborhood. But something happened during those prepubescent years that created a huge dislike of social physical activity.
Perhaps it was the ugly red gym bloomers my high school, Maine South, required us girls to don in the late '70s. I also seemed to lack any form of coordination when it came to basketball, gymnastics, baseball, you name it. I wasn't as tall and athletic as the jock girls, and I wasn't thin and graceful like the cheerleaders.
Having moved to a new suburb during high school complicated the problem even more. I was a chubby Italian city girl in a suburb full of blond, blue-eyed Wasps—or so it seemed to me. When you are overweight and uncoordinated, in your mind, everyone is judging you harshly.
It's difficult to reconcile the person that I am today with that awkward teenager. Physical activity is something that I love and enjoy participating in daily. I've been fortunate to train, teach and write about fitness and exercise for the last 20 years. How did the disconnect of my youth happen?
Kids today have a much wider selection of sports and activities, and you don't necessarily have to be the best to play. There are intramural teams for most sports, and while many debate the merits, kids today get awards and trophies for everything. We have several boxes of trophies stored in our basement from all three kids, most garnered in their early years.
But all these opportunities and awards still don't make up for reality. Some kids are just naturally talented and coordinated.
Then, there are those of us who couldn't hit a ball if our life depended on it. Insecurity and self-consciousness are the hallmarks of puberty. Kids judge themselves and each other, especially during those pre-teen years. Without other choices, this could possibly lead them to develop unfavorable attitudes towards exercise and fitness.
For me, the moment of change came when I walked into my college fieldhouse and saw people running. It was like a beacon of light. Here were people of all shapes and sizes working up a sweat and enjoying it. I could take a kickboxing class and initially hide in the back while I got the hang of it. I discovered that I actually was good at something physical, and a career was born—not to mention a healthier lifestyle.
Fortunately, several of our local fitness centers offer children's programming—and not just for athletes. You can find something for everyone.
Grand Opening Celebration
, a new fitness studio at 123 N. York in downtown Elmhurst, aims to incorporate the whole family, no matter what level, into its fitness programming, said owner-trainers Jill Giorno and Jennifer Knuth. The studio offers a variety of opportunities for families to explore physical activity together in a non-judgmental environment.
FITT-RX will hold its grand opening celebration from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 30. The whole family is invited to try out a variety of 20-minute sampler classes, complimentary massages and healthy snacks, and perhaps even win a raffle prize.
The studio also offers Family Fun Fridays on the first and third Fridays of each month, Giorno said.
"We change the format each time; we've done Zumba and yoga so far," she said.
Everyone participates, even the dads who might not be familiar (or comfortable) with a dance class like Zumba. And the studio partners with a local restaurant that offers specials after class.
"I look forward to Family Fun Night at FITT-RX because it is awesome to spend time with my family exercising," 7-year-old Andrew Erhardt said. "I have even written the dates on our calendar to make sure we go, and also like the coupons at the end."
Knuth, who just gave birth to a son last month, knows the challenges of trying to juggle exercise with a family. The Mini 'n Me Boot Camp is designed for moms (or dads) and their young child to exercise together. And, any of us who have parented through the teen years know firsthand the difficulties of getting an older child to do something they don't want to do.
Ultimately, it's about modeling good behavior. Studies show that kids who have parents who lead a healthy lifestyle are more likely to exercise themselves. In a world where childhood obesity has tripled since 1980, it's important to break the cycle of unhealthy lifestyles.
Do As I Do
"First of all, parents need to set a good example themselves," said Josh Rupprecht, trainer and owner of Transform Fitness in Elmhurst. At 927 South York Road, Transform Fitness is another new studio that offers a variety of small-group and private personal training sessions.
Rupprecht says it's important to make fitness fun. He incorporates functional training tools like boxing, ropes, kettlebells and more. And who doesn't enjoy hitting a boxing bag?
He offers this advice for kids:
"Start with a group of friends that have similar interests—perhaps a couple of friends from band, for example. Incentives and small competitions are also great ways to make it fun."
Rupprecht stresses that it's important to offer options to kids so they feel like they are in control.
(This also works well with spouses, by the way!)
FITT-RX and Transform Fitness also offer sports-specific and core training for young athletes through both private and group training.
Even adults often fall into the trap of viewing exercise as something boring that they have to do, rather than a fun release that's also good for their bodies. A client will mention to me that they didn't get a chance to workout for a couple of days, because they were on a bicycle trip. Hello—that is a workout! By incorporating hiking, biking, canoeing, rock climbing and more into your family activities, kids will have fun in a non-judgmental way.
And for Something a Little Different ...
Martial arts disciplines can also offer children the opportunity to get physically fit while also building self esteem. Just because you aren't good at basketball doesn't mean you can't excel at a martial art. From to , you'll find a plethora of fun programming for both children and adults, alike.
The Eastern art of yoga can also be a fun way to introduce activity; it's a singular and disciplined practice. The offers a variety of classes designed for children and teens.
We are often too body conscious in our country, which is ironic considering we live in a land where obesity is an epidemic. But for me, working out has been so much more than a way to keep fit and healthy. Whenever I'm feeling stressed or blue or hormonal, I always know that I can count on my trusted friend, exercise, to lift my spirits. I never, ever have regretted a workout, and I'm always a happy, positive and energetic person when I'm done.
So invite your kids out to exercise at one of the many great options in town. It just might be the life-saver they need.